'The Elephant’s Tub' | Circle Round 91

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

Have you ever been jealous of someone?

Jealousy happens to all of us. We might wish we owned our friend’s awesome new sweater, or we might envy that new kid in school for being so cool.

In today’s story, we’ll meet a man who’s jealous of his neighbor. So jealous, in fact, that he tries playing a big trick on her - with help from an unsuspecting king!

Our story is called “The Elephant’s Tub.” Versions of this tale come from the Burmese people of Southeast Asia.

Voices in this episode include Elle Borders, Amy Brentano, Chris Tucci, Analeigh Tipton and Stephen Tobolowsky. You grown-ups might know Analeigh Tipton from movies like Crazy, Stupid Love and All Nighter. Look for her in the upcoming movie Vengeance, written/directed by B.J. Novak and co-starring Issa Rae, Boyd Holbrook, and Ashton Kutcher. Stephen Tobolowsky has appeared in countless TV shows and films (like Spaceballs and Groundhog Day) and has his own podcast, The Tobolowsky Files. Season four of his comedy series, One Day At A Time, premieres on Pop TV March 24th.

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Circle Round’s executive producer, Katherine Brewer. Circle Round’s original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on FacebookTwitterInstagram or Pinterest, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Things To Think About After Listening

Think about something kind you can do for a neighbor. Maybe you can draw them a card, drop off flowers, or offer to help rake leaves or shovel snow. Whatever it is, talk with a grown-up about your plan, then go out and be a good neighbor!

Musical Spotlight: Gong Circle

East and Southeast Asian music has incorporated the flat, circular, resonant metal disc known as a "gong" for centuries. The gong circle refers to a number of gongs (often 16) that you attach to a rack shaped like a circle; each gong is tuned to have its own pitch. You sit in the middle of this circle and use mallets to strike the gongs around you. You can see a wonderful example of the gong circle in action in this video from some very high-energy Burmese musicians!


NARRATOR: Once upon a time... in a small village in a faraway kingdom... two neighbors lived side by side. One neighbor was a potter; the other was a laundress.

Now, the potter hadn’t always been a potter. Long ago he was a sculptor who used clay to craft beautiful, ornate statues of humans and animals that people all over the kingdom wanted to buy.

But over the years he had grown lazy. These days, the potter lounged in bed until noon…

POTTER: (ad-lib over-the-top lazy waking-up yawn/stretch/etc.)

NARRATOR: ...threw a couple of pots on his potter’s wheel…

[SOT: clay thrown haphazardly on potter’s wheel]

NARRATOR: ...then took them to market to sell…

POTTER: (half-hearted) Clay pots! Anybody want any clay pots?

NARRATOR: ...but not very successfully.

POTTER: (half-hearted) No takers? Really? (ad-lib sigh, groan, etc.)

NARRATOR: Next-door to the potter was the laundress. Unlike the potter, the laundress hopped out of bed at the crack of dawn…

LAUNDRESS: (ad-lib chipper little yawn) What a lovely morning!

NARRATOR: ...then pranced down to the river to collect water.

[SOT: water being collected from river]

NARRATOR: The laundress heated the water in a clay tub, then spent all day washing clothing, blankets and towels... humming to herself as she worked.

LAUNDRESS: (humming a happy tune)

NARRATOR: The laundress put a lot of effort into her work... and by the time she finished scrubbing her laundry, even the filthiest, greyest rags would gleam white as the snow!

The laundress developed a reputation as the most talented washerwoman in all the land. Soon, her line of customers grew to be so long, it snaked all the way next door — to the potter’s yard! And that made the potter… whose business wasn’t exactly booming... burn with jealousy.

POTTER: Hmm… All that woman does is heat water in a pot and scour other people’s dirty skivvies. How is her business such a raging success??? (beat) I must find a way to ruin her good fortune!

NARRATOR: One afternoon, the potter had just rolled out of bed when he overheard two of the laundress’s customers chatting outside his window. They were talking about... the king.

The king lived in a towering marble palace… sat on a glittering golden throne… and kept a stable full of grey elephants. You see, in this part of the world, elephants were considered a great treasure. But the most treasured elephant of all… was the white elephant. Legend had it that these rare and sacred white elephants came straight from the heavens… and brought good luck and good fortune.

CUSTOMER 1: Have you heard about the king? He’s still searching high and low for a white elephant! Word has it he sends his hunters to the jungle every single day, but they have yet to find the elusive creature!

CUSTOMER 2: (setting up a joke) But, wait — doesn’t the king already have a bunch of grey elephants?

CUSTOMER 1: He does - in his royal stable!

CUSTOMER 2: So, why doesn’t he just take one of his grey elephants and send it here? To the laundress? Last time I gave her my husband’s dingy, grey socks, they came back white as a swan!

CUSTOMER 1: / CUSTOMER 2: (ad-lib laughter)

NARRATOR: As the potter eavesdropped on the two women, his envious heart skipped a beat. Suddenly he knew exactly how he would bring the laundress down.

Quick as a wink, the potter got dressed and rushed to the palace. He told the royal guards he was there on urgent business. When they led the potter inside, he found the king dressed in silken robes, sitting high on his golden throne.

POTTER: (laying it on thick) Your Most Illustrious Highness. I live along the river, where I make humble pots out of clay. But my neighbor… makes magic! This laundress can take the greyest of clothes and turn them white as a jasmine blossom!

NARRATOR: The king tilted his crowned head.

KING: (not getting it) Alright… So, what does any of this have to do with me?

POTTER: Well, Your Majesty... Everyone knows you’ve been searching high and low for a white elephant. You already own many magnificent grey elephants. (beat) What if you got this laundress to work her magic... on one of them?

NARRATOR: The king raised an eyebrow.

KING: You really think that would work…? This magical laundress could take one of my grey elephants and bathe it until it was white...?

NARRATOR: The potter smiled a devilish smile.

POTTER: (relishing this) There’s only one way to find out!

NARRATOR: So the laundress was summoned to the palace. She listened carefully as the king explained his quest to track down the divine white elephant.

LAUNDRESS: That’s a most admirable mission, Your Highness. A white elephant would bring good luck and good fortune to this entire kingdom!

KING: Exactly! (beat) And that’s where you come in.


KING: Yes!

NARRATOR: The king gestured toward the potter.

KING: This potter has been raving about your washing... and how magical it is! He tells me you can take the greyest of greys and turn them the whitest of white! Therefore… I order you to take one of the grey elephants in my stable… and wash it until it is white as the clouds in the sky! (beat, serious) If you fail, you will be banished from this kingdom.

NARRATOR: At first, the laundress thought the king was joking. But the expression on his face was absolutely serious.

The potter, on the other hand... was smirking. That’s when the laundress recognized him — he was the unfriendly man who lived next-door! The one who used to create beautiful, grand sculptures out of clay… but now slept ‘til noon, and tried selling his hastily-made pots at the market! The potter always grumbled and glared whenever she said hello, and she had long suspected he was jealous of her success. Now she knew she was right… and her envious neighbor was trying to destroy her!

But she refused to let him.

Thinking fast, the laundress turned to the king.

LAUNDRESS: (formulating a plan, laying it on thick) Your Majesty, I am humbled to hear of the potter’s high praise! I work hard on my washing — all day long — and I appreciate him recommending my services. (beat) Thus, it would be my honor to wash your grey elephant… on one condition. I will only wash your elephant... if I can wash him the way I wash all my other laundry.

KING: Of course! You may wash the elephant however you’d like!

LAUNDRESS: But that’s the thing. I wash all my other laundry with soap… and water… in a clay tub. And I’m afraid my clay tub is far too small to bathe an elephant! I would need a much, much bigger tub. (laying it on thick, playing dumb) If only there were someone who knew how to make a big clay tub…

NARRATOR: The laundress snuck a glance at the potter. Just as she’d hoped, his smirk was gone, and his face fell. The king’s face, however, lit right up.

KING: (excited) You need someone who can make a clay tub, you say?? Well, I know someone who can do that! We both do!

NARRATOR: He pointed a bejeweled finger... at the potter.

KING: You, sir, know how to make things out of clay! Therefore... I order you to craft a clay tub big enough to bathe an elephant. I’ll send my men to pick up the tub first thing tomorrow! (beat, serious) If you fail, you will be banished from this kingdom.

NARRATOR: The potter couldn’t believe his lousy luck. Because remember… he wasn’t just a jealous man… he was a lazy one. As he thought about how much work it would take to craft a tub fit for an elephant, he began to sweat.

POTTER: (worried, desperate) Um... Your Highness… you’ll need the tub tomorrow, you say? Why can’t our laundress here just bathe the elephant in the river?

NARRATOR: The laundress shook her head and waved her hands.

LAUNDRESS: (laying it on thick, knowing she’s got him trapped) Oh noooo! All my soap suds will get washed away in the current! And besides, I always put my clay tub on the fire, to heat up the water. How could I possibly heat an entire river?

KING: The laundress makes an excellent point! She must use a tub to wash my royal elephant.

NARRATOR: The king fixed the potter with a steely gaze.

KING: (slow, deliberate, authoritative, no-nonsense) And you, sir, are going to make it. (beat, ominous) Or else!!!!

NARRATOR: Now that the conniving potter has been caught in his own trap, will he wiggle his way out of it?

We’ll find out… after a quick break.


NARRATOR: Welcome back to Circle Round. I’m Rebecca Sheir. Today our story is called “The Elephant’s Tub.”

When we left off, the king was determined to own a white elephant — a divine, sacred animal that would bring good fortune to his entire kingdom.

A jealous, lazy potter had tricked the king into giving a clever, hardworking laundress a seemingly impossible task: washing one of the king’s grey elephants until it was white!

Once the laundress realized what the potter was up to, she decided to snare him in his own trap. She told the king she needed to bathe the grey elephant in a clay tub. And, just as she’d hoped, the king ordered the potter to make that tub!

So the potter went home and spent hours gathering clay from the river. He worked all night long… harder than he’d worked in years... and by the time the sun came up, he had fashioned a tub that looked big enough to fit the royal elephant.

When the king’s men showed up to collect the tub and hoist it onto their cart, the potter was so tired, he could barely keep his eyes open. But he followed the cart to the palace, where the king was waiting, with the laundress by his side.

KING: Good morning, Potter! I commend you on coming through. (beat) Men! Put the tub on the fire and fill it up!

NARRATOR: The king’s men lit a fire, then heaved the giant tub on top. They poured in jug after jug of soapy water. As the fire blazed beneath the tub, the laundress tested the sudsy water with her finger.

LAUNDRESS: (slowly, testing the water as it gets warmer) Mmmm, not quite warm enough… still not warm enough… getting closer… closer... There!

NARRATOR: Once the water reached the proper temperature, the king let out a whistle…

KING: (whistle)

NARRATOR: ...and in lumbered one of the royal grey elephants.

With its long, curved tusks, massive ears, and twisting trunk, the great beast trundled over to the clay tub. But the minute it lifted its hulking grey foot and stepped inside, there was a loud crash...

NARRATOR: … and the clay tub shattered into a thousand pieces! Foamy water sprayed everywhere… dousing the fire… and drenching the king’s silken robe.

KING: (angry) Potter! Your tub may have been large enough to fit an elephant… but it was too fragile! Too thin! (beat)

LAUNDRESS: (laying it on thick) You are absolutely right, Your Majesty!

NARRATOR: The laundress smiled innocently.

LAUNDRESS: I can’t bathe this elephant until the potter makes a tub that’s strong enough! (beat) Why don’t we give him another chance?

KING: (grudgingly) Fine. Go home, Potter, and make me another tub. My men will pick it up first thing tomorrow.

NARRATOR: The potter shot the laundress a withering glance, then trudged back home and spent all night toiling away. By the time the sun came up, he could hardly stand up! But, he had crafted a tub that seemed thick and sturdy enough to support the elephant’s hefty weight.

Once again, the king’s men carted the tub to the palace, where, once again, the king and the laundress were waiting.

KING: Welcome back, Potter! I commend you on crafting another tub. (beat) Get to it, men!

NARRATOR: Just like yesterday, the king’s men hefted the tub onto the crackling fire. They filled the tub with suds. Then the laundress began testing the water.

LAUNDRESS: (slowly, testing the water) Definitely not warm enough… still not warm enough… (confused) still not warm enough…!? (beat) Nothing is happening! This water is just as cold as it was to begin with!

NARRATOR: The king scowled at the exhausted potter, who was practically asleep on his feet.

KING: (angry) Potter! Your tub may be strong enough to hold an elephant… but its walls are too thick! The heat from the fire can’t get through!

LAUNDRESS: (laying it on thick) You are 100-percent correct, Your Majesty!

NARRATOR: The laundress rested a hand on her hip.

LAUNDRESS: I can’t bathe this elephant until the potter makes a tub that can let in enough heat!  (beat) Whuddya say we give him another chance?

KING: (grudgingly) Oh, alright. Go home, Potter, and make me another tub. My men will pick it up first thing tomorrow.

NARRATOR: The potter narrowed his eyes at the laundress, then stumbled back home and got to work on yet another new tub. He worked harder than he ever had before. But when the king’s men carted the tub to the palace and the elephant stepped inside...

NARRATOR: ...the tub was too fragile!

KING: (annoyed) Potter!

NARRATOR: So the potter made another tub. But this one...

LAUNDRESS: (slowly, testing the water) ...still not warm enough…

NARRATOR: ...was too thick.

KING: (even more annoyed) Potter!

NARRATOR: The potter kept trying...

NARRATOR: ...and trying…

LAUNDRESS: (slowly, testing the water) … still not warm enough!

NARRATOR: ...over and over and over again. And as the weeks wore on, the laundress began to take pity on her neighbor. For the first time in years, she saw how hard the poor fellow was working, and she got an idea.

One evening, she walked next-door to the potter’s house. He was toiling away on yet another clay tub. He rolled his eyes when the laundress walked in, but she convinced him to take a break and hear her out.

LAUNDRESS: (sincere) Neighbor... your labor over these past weeks has been incredible. I haven’t seen you work this hard since you made all those beautiful, lifelike statues, way back when. (beat) Do you remember those days? When you were a sculptor?

NARRATOR: The potter wiped his brow.

POTTER: (fondly/sadly remembering) I do…

LAUNDRESS: Well… what if I told you you didn’t have to bring the king another clay tub? What if I told you you could bring him something else instead? Something that could bring good luck and good fortune to the entire kingdom?

NARRATOR: The potter listened carefully as the laundress laid out her plan. By the time she was finished, the man’s eyes were twinkling.

POTTER: So... you really think this’ll work?

NARRATOR: The laundress reached out and squeezed her neighbor’s hand.

LAUNDRESS: (with a smile) There’s only one way to find out!

NARRATOR: For what felt like the millionth night in a row, the potter stayed up working. But the next morning, when the king’s men arrived with their cart, the potter wasn’t the least bit tired or weary. He was excited, and walked with a spring in his step as he followed the cart to the palace, where the king was waiting, as usual, with the laundress by his side. But as the men unloaded the cart, the king rubbed his eyes and looked at the potter quizzically.

KING: Potter??!??

NARRATOR: You see... the potter had not made another tub. 


For the first time in years, he had sculpted... a statue. A grand, ornate, clay statue with long, curved tusks… massive ears… and a twisting trunk.

It was, yes, an elephant… with a body that gleamed as white as the snow… or a swan… or a jasmine blossom… or the clouds in the sky.

POTTER: (gaining confidence, but still humble/sincere) It’s meant to be a fountain, Your Highness, with water flowing out of its trunk. You can put it in the square in front of the palace, and your citizens can toss coins into it. (beat, with a smile) Don’t they say tossing coins in a fountain brings good luck and good fortune? (beat) I figure, until you find a real white elephant... this one’s the next best thing.

NARRATOR: The potter held his breath as he waited for the king to respond. The laundress did, too. They waited… and waited… until at last... the king grinned.

KING: I like it. I like it very much. I’ll have it installed in front of the palace right away! (beat, friendly) Bravo, Potter. ...Though I should probably call you “Sculptor” from now on... eh?

NARRATOR: And so… in a way… the king got his white elephant. The kingdom got some good luck and good fortune. And the hardworking laundress... and the hardworking sculptor… well, they each got a new friend.

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



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