'Clever Manka' | Circle Round 13

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(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

We’ll start today’s show… with a riddle.
Okay. Ready?
What has hands… but cannot clap?
Any idea?
A clock!

Riddles can be a lot of fun - they twist your brain in all sorts of ways. And in today’s story, we’ll meet a woman who’s all about solving riddles… the trickier, the better!

You’ll hear different versions of today’s story in many countries, from Poland to Germany to India! The version we’re sharing comes from a country in Europe, once known as Czechoslovakia. The tale is called “Clever Manka” as you’ll learn, is a very important character in our folktale.

Today's story was adapted by Rebecca Sheir and Jessica Alpert.  Music and sound design by Eric Shimelonis.  The talented cast includes Eric Messner, Mitch Hebert, Brendan Dalton, Tom Story and Bridget Moynahan. You grown-ups can catch Bridget on “Blue Bloods,” on CBS.  Casting is by Amy Lippens, CSA.


ADULTS! Print out this picture so everyone can color as they listen.  Share your art with us on Instagram with #CircleRound or on Facebook.  We love to see what you create!

Things To Think About After Listening

Pretend you are Clever Manka. Find a family member or friend… someone you have fun with… and ask them to tell you the biggest problem they’ve faced today.

Listen to their problem, and offer your advice. And remember how creative Manka got…? Encouraging that farmer to fish in the town square…? You, too, can be as creative as you’d like! Who knows? You might change somebody’s day… for the better!

Story Transcript

NARRATOR: There once was a man who owned a small inn; that’s another name for a hotel. The innkeeper was very wealthy… and very proud… and very greedy.

The wealthy, proud and greedy innkeeper often hired people to do odd jobs at his inn. One day he brought in a tailor to mend the tablecloths and curtains. The tailor was a humble man whose only delight in the whole wide world was his very kind and very clever daughter, Manka.

Now, as a reward for helping with the mending, the innkeeper had promised the tailor a lovely brown cow. But when the time came, the innkeeper refused to give it to him!

INNKEEPER: I never said I’d give you a brown cow!

TAILOR: Yes, you did!

INNKEEPER: No, I didn’t!

TAILOR: Yes, you did!

NARRATOR: The two men argued like this for a while, until Manka – the tailor’s kind, clever daughter – stepped in.

MANKA: Listen, listen! Instead of fighting, how about visiting the judge of the town? He’s a young man, and he’s new to the job, but word has it he’s a very fair judge. He may have an answer to this problem.

NARRATOR: So, the innkeeper and the tailor walked to the town hall to meet with the judge. Manka went with them.

JUDGE: Hello, good sirs and good lady! What can I do for you today?

NARRATOR: The innkeeper and the tailor explained their situation to the judge.

JUDGE: Alright, alright. Here’s what we’re going to do. Instead of deciding this case, I will ask both of you a series of riddles. Whoever gives me the best answer, he’s the one who gets the lovely brown cow. Sound good?

NARRATOR: The innkeeper and the tailor nodded. Manka sat to the side and watched with interest, her eyes shining brightly.

JUDGE: Well, then, gentlemen: here are my riddles. Now listen carefully. The first riddle is: what is the fastest thing in the world? The second riddle is: what is the sweetest thing in the world? And the third riddle is: what is the richest thing in the world?

NARRATOR: Now, you may remember that the innkeeper was a very wealthy, very proud, and very greedy man. He immediately jumped out of his chair to answer.

INNKEEPER: Why, Your Honor, these riddles of yours are ridiculously easy!

JUDGE: Are they?

INNKEEPER: Of course! The fastest thing in the world is my strong, black horse, for nothing can ride more swiftly than she! The sweetest thing in the world is the honey I get from my beautiful beehives! And the richest thing in the world is the chest of gold coins I’ve been saving in the barn behind my house. Those are the answers to your riddles!

NARRATOR: The innkeeper crossed his arms and laughed. He was so pleased with himself that he didn’t notice Manka – the tailor’s kind, clever daughter – whisper something in her father’s ear. The tailor stepped forward.

TAILOR: Now it is my turn to answer your riddles, Your Honor. The fastest thing in the world are the thoughts we think, for they can run any distance in no time at all! The sweetest thing in the world is sleep, for when we are tired, nothing could be sweeter! And the richest thing in the world is the earth, for it is from the earth that we get all the world’s riches!

NARRATOR: The judge reached out and patted the tailor on the shoulder.

JUDGE: Well done, man! What fine, fine answers! The lovely brown cow is yours!

NARRATOR: The wealthy, proud and greedy innkeeper was disappointed that he’d been bested by the tailor.

INNKEEPER: What? Seriously? Guess I have no choice. I’ve lost, so I’ll go home now and get that cow for you.

NARRATOR: After the innkeeper trudged away, the judge pulled the tailor aside.

JUDGE: Tell me, my friend: how did you know the answers to my riddles? Did you really think them up all by yourself?

NARRATOR: The tailor was a very honest man, so he motioned to his kind and clever daughter, Manka. She got up from her chair and walked over to the two men.

MANKA: It was I who thought up the answers, Your Honor. When you asked your riddles, they just came to me, in the twinkling of an eye!

NARRATOR: The judge was impressed… and intrigued.

JUDGE: I’d like to see whether you’re really as clever as you seem, Manka. Please come back and see me tomorrow. But here are the rules: you must not come by day or by night… you must not be riding or walking… and you must not be dressed or undressed.

NARRATOR: Manka’s father was perplexed. Under his breath, he whispered to his daughter.

TAILOR: Manka: do you have any idea what he’s talking about? This man is talking nonsense!

NARRATOR: But Manka just smiled.

MANKA: Alright. I will come back tomorrow. I must not come by day or by night… I must not be riding or walking… and I must not be dressed or undressed. (pause) Your Honor? You have yourself a deal!

So, do you know what she did?

She went to the fisherwoman next door and asked to borrow her fishnet. Then she went to the shepherd across the street and asked to borrow one of his goats.
She then went to bed, and awoke at dawn. She took the large fishnet and draped it over herself. Then she tossed one foot over the goat’s back, and kept the other foot on the ground.

And that’s how she returned to the judge at the town hall.
So, now, I ask you:
Did Manka go by day or by night? Neither! It was dawn, when the night is not yet over, and the day has not yet begun.
Was she riding or walking? Neither! She had one foot on the ground and the other foot over a goat’s back.
And was she dressed or undressed? Again, neither! After all, wasn’t she covered with a big old fishnet?
When Manka reached the town hall, she called out to the judge.

MANKA: Your Honor, Your Honor! It is I, Manka. I’ve come neither by day nor by night, neither riding nor walking, neither dressed nor undressed.

NARRATOR: The judge was delighted.

JUDGE: A most brilliant solution, Manka! Clearly you and I share a gift for cleverness. I suspect we could talk and tell riddles the rest of our lives!

NARRATOR: Well, that day, Manka and the judge talked and told riddles for hours and hours. After that, they began spending more and more time together. Soon, they fell in love and then they were married. The day after the wedding, the judge asked Manka to come sit with him at the table.

JUDGE: My dear Manka. Being with you is such a joy; I learn something new every day! But I have to tell you: you must never use your cleverness in any of the cases I am judging. You must leave those cases up to me. If you ever give advice to anyone who comes to me for judgment, I will put you out of my house at once and send you home to your father’s cottage. Do you understand?

NARRATOR: Manka had a rich, full life of her own, and saw no reason to get involved with her husband’s job.

MANKA: Of course, my dear! I understand. I must never give advice to anyone who comes to you for judgment.

NARRATOR: And she stayed true to her word.
Until one day, when she spied a man coming out of the town hall. The man wore a frown on his face, and was hunched over with sadness. Manka’s kind heart went out to him.

MANKA: Sir! Good sir! You look so upset! Did something happen to you inside the town hall?

NARRATOR: The man looked up at Manka, his eyes glistening with tears.

FARMER: Oh, I was just telling my problem to the town judge. You see, I am a farmer. I once owned a horse who had a colt – an adorable baby horse – right in the middle of the marketplace! The little creature was born, right then and there! The little colt’s legs were shaky – he had, after all, just come into this world – but he immediately ran under the wagon of another farmer. After that, the other farmer claimed the colt was his.

MANKA: So, did the judge make sure you got your colt back?

FARMER: No! He said, “The man who found the colt under his wagon is, of course, the owner of the colt.” He sided with the other farmer! Can you believe it?

NARRATOR: Manka was sad that the farmer had lost his colt. And she was angry that her husband, the judge, had made such a foolish decision.

MANKA: Alright, friend. Here’s what you must do. Tell me: do you have a fishing pole?


MANKA: Good. Go home, fetch your fishing pole, and come back to this very spot. Then I will tell you how to get your colt back.

NARRATOR: So the farmer ran home and returned with his fishing pole. He and Manka strolled around the town square, as she told him her plan. When she was finished, she made the farmer promise one thing.

MANKA: You must not tell the judge that I thought of this plan. Do you promise?

FARMER: I promise!

NARRATOR: That afternoon, when the judge left the town hall to head home for the day, he spotted the farmer – though he didn’t recognize him as the same man who’d come in earlier, asking for his colt back.
Because, you see, now the farmer was sitting outside the town hall… on the ground… with a fishing pole. And he appeared to be casting his fishing line on the hard pavement of the town square!

JUDGE: Um, excuse me, sir. What do you think you’re doing?

NARRATOR: The farmer kept flicking his fishing line onto the pavement, where it kept landing with a tap, tap, tap.

FARMER: What am I doing? Why, I’m fishing, of course!

NARRATOR: For a moment, the judge was speechless. His eyes grew wide.

JUDGE: Fishing?!? Here?!? What in the world are you thinking?!? You’ll never catch a fish on the hard pavement!

NARRATOR: The farmer smiled and said exactly what clever Manka had told him to say.

FARMER: Well, Your Honor… it's just as easy for me to catch a fish on the hard pavement... as it is for a wagon to give birth to a colt!

NARRATOR: Suddenly the judge recognized the man as the farmer from before. And he realized that the decision he had made about the colt? It had been all wrong.

JUDGE: I am so, so sorry, my friend! Of course that colt belongs to you. And I’ll make sure you get him back. But tell me: did you think of this clever plan all by yourself?

NARRATOR: The farmer was so excited about getting his colt back that he forgot his promise to Manka.

FARMER: Why, no, Your Honor! I am not nearly so smart. A most kind and clever woman told me what to do. Her name… is Manka!

NARRATOR: As soon as he heard his wife’s name, the judge became very angry. After all, Manka had promised she wouldn’t get involved in any of his cases, and here she was, meddling in this one. When he got home that night, he asked her to sit down with him at the table.

JUDGE: My darling, darling Manka. Do you remember what I told you about giving advice to those who come to me? By talking to that farmer today, you have broken your promise. Now you must go back home to your father, the tailor. But I won’t have people going around saying I treated you poorly. So when you go, you may take one thing with you: the one thing that you like best in this whole house.

NARRATOR: To the judge’s surprise, Manka remained very calm.

MANKA: Very well, my dear husband. I shall do as you say. I shall go to my father's cottage and take with me the one thing I like best in this whole house. But please: don't make me go until after supper. We have been so very happy together and I should like to enjoy one last meal with you. Let us be kind to each other as we've always been, and then part as friends.

NARRATOR: The judge was still cross with Manka, but he loved his kind, clever wife so much that he couldn’t help but agree.

JUDGE: Alright. One last friendly meal.

NARRATOR: That night, Manka prepared a fine supper of all the judge’s favorite dishes: roast duck and potato dumplings, cabbage soup and sourdough bread, with the most delicious apple strudel for dessert.
The judge ate… and ate… and ate. He ate so much that he grew drowsy and fell sound asleep, right there at the table!
The next morning, when the judge awoke, he was very groggy… and very confused.

JUDGE:  Huh….?!?

NARRATOR: As he rubbed the sleep from his eyes, the judge realized he was not in his own bed. He wasn’t even in his own house! Instead, it looked more like a cottage… the tailor’s cottage!

JUDGE: What is the meaning of this????!!!?

NARRATOR: Suddenly, Manka appeared before him. Her eyes were shining bright. Turns out, after the judge fell asleep, Manka lay him down in a wheelbarrow and rolled him to her father’s house!

MANKA: Well, my dear husband, last night you told me I must leave and return to my father’s cottage. And you told me I could take with me the one thing that I liked best from your whole house. And because I love you with all of my heart… I took you!

NARRATOR: The judge was quiet for a moment. Slowly, a grin spread across his face... and he laughed. Louder and more heartily than he’d ever laughed before.

JUDGE: My dear, dear, Manka. When we first met, I said you and I share a gift for cleverness. Well, now I realize you are far more clever than I could ever dream of being! Come, my dear, let's go home.

NARRATOR: And so they did. And never again did the judge ask Manka to stay out of his cases. In fact, whenever someone came to him with an especially difficult or challenging case, he always said the same thing:

JUDGE: I think we had better consult my wife. You know, she's a very clever woman!

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Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



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