Juan Bobo and the Riddling Princess

This Folktale was taken from the following address:


scupture by Lindsay Daen

All this has happened many times before, but this time it happened in
that noble and faithful municipality, Rabid City, in the province of
Cur, in the kingdom of Going-to-the-Dogs, in the reign of the great
king Don Pedro Growl. There was in this kingdom a boy called Juan, a
fool like many another, a bobo.

Now the king had a beautiful daughter who was blind in one eye and
cross-eyed in the other. The king put out a notice telling the Rabid
Citizens that he would give a handsome dowry and the hand of the most
beautiful Princess Rabies (which in their language means Rosebud) to
the man,

whoever he might be,
whether deaf in the knees,
or squint-eared,
or lame-flanked:

he would give his gorgeous daughter as a bride to

whoever unriddled the riddle she posed,
and posed in turn a riddle she could not unriddle.

With Her Cleverness herself would he reward the one who entered and won.

"Ay, Madre," said Juan Bobo, "I'm going riddling."

"Where is it you think you're going, you donkey-brain? Are you tired
of all the ways you used to worry me, and ready to start tormenting me
in some new way? Let's see if you can go to bed!"

But the foolish boy made a bundle with his one nightshirt and headed
off for the city where they were promising a princess. As there were
no roads, he wandered over mountains and through wilderness until he
came to the edge of the sea. There he saw a little fish flopping
around on the beach. He picked it up and tossed it in the water.

"Thank you, Juan Bobo," said a husky voice. It was the fish's mother.
"God preserve you from wolves and other wild animals."

He went on his way, well pleased with that good wish. Soon he came to
the shore of a river, tried to ford it, and couldn't. Then he spotted
an old horse standing high on the bank. He realized that it wanted a
drink but couldn't get down to the water, so Juan filled his hat and
gave it water to drink.

"Thank you, Bobo of all bobos," said the horse—and, by the way, it was
all skin and bones. "Help me down to the river, and then get on my
back." [End Page 299]

Well, Juan, being a bobo, did exactly that, and the horse took off. It
was going so fast that it would have trampled on some baby pigeons if
that bobo on its back hadn't seen them in time. But Juan did see them
and turned the horse aside.

"They've fallen out of their nest," said the horse. "There it is, up
in that tree there, the one with its crown up there in the clouds.
See, their mother's crying for them. Climb up and take them back to
their mother."

So that's what the bobo did, climbing and climbing. He was gone on
this difficult ascent for six days, feeding himself on fruit he picked
from the tree. When he came down exactly six days later, he found the
horse, all skin and bones, still waiting. He got on its back and it
took off so fast that in the blink of an eye they came to the city
ruled by the king who had promised his daughter in marriage. Juan
noticed that inside the great gate of the city there was a wall of
human heads. They were the ones who couldn't unriddle the riddles
posed by the princess, nor pose a riddle that she couldn't unriddle.

Without a word to anybody, Juan Bobo headed straight for the palace.
But before he got far he spotted a huge bonfire, a full league across,
burning in front of the royal castle. It was fed with the bodies of
those who had tried their hand at riddling.

Juan Bobo stuck his spurs in the bony flank of his horse and—oh, to
have seen it—it jumped right across and landed in the courtyard, to
the astonishment of everybody there.

"Whoosh, Whoosh," panted the horse.

"Here I am," said Juan, "to riddle and not be unriddled."

"Stranger, as you came through our fair city didn't you wonder about
the piles of heads and bodies that you saw?" one of the guards asked

But he gave this guy an order: "I've come to riddle and not be unriddled."

They brought him to the king, who looked up and down in disdain at
this bobo wearing a coat made of mattress ticking. Just then the
princess came in. She lost no time in posing her riddle:

Though not from so high as a star,
Still I fall from on high,
And I am, for the man who finds me
The apple of his eye.
But you, with your foolish rashness,
Bold stranger at my door,
Will surrender your head to my father,
As wiser men have, before.

"I've got one in my pack," said Juan. "It's a star apple, a star
apple, by God." And he pulled one of the delicious maroon-colored
fruit out of his bag. [End Page 300]

So the princess had lost the first round: star apple was indeed the
answer to her riddle. So immediately Juan said,

You can pump me all you want,
Or go and ask your kin,
But the answer is so easy
To miss it is a sin.

They couldn't unriddle it. Juan Bobo, laughing all the while, gave
them three days. They consulted the great wise men. They sent
emissaries to all the countries, discovered and undiscovered. Nobody
knew. They gave up and admitted defeat.

Then Juan Bobo told them: "If you make a mistake and eat a gourd
instead, it'll kill you. It's pumpkin, by God, a pumpkin."

They all agreed that a pumpkin had to be the right answer. "The bobo
is mine," said the princess.

"You're going to have to suck your thumbs a bit longer," said the
king. And then to Juan: "The other day, while the princess was taking
a walk on the beach, she lost a ring. And the winning riddler has to
unriddle where it is and bring it back."

Figuring that he could escape on his horse, Juan said, "Give me a little time."

He went out into the courtyard, hopped on, and galloped away. He
spurred the horse and it took off like a lightning.

When they came to the ocean the horse stopped dead, planting its
hooves on the beach.

"Now is no time to stop. You can't be tired. Giddyap, horse."

But the horse said to him, "Look how you're talking. I'm no more horse
than you are. Light down, foolish boy." And he turned into a caballero
(the horse, that is: Juan already was one). He pulled out a long,
strange-looking whistle and blew a long, ear-splitting blast on it.
Suddenly all the fish were there at the edge of the beach.

"Please, SeƱores," said the horse-caballero, "which of you knows
anything about the ring of the Biscay princess?"

"I don't know, I don't know," they all answered.

"We need the grouper," said the juey, the giant crab.

So the horse-caballero blew his whistle again. Immediately the grouper
showed up with his huge, bulging stomach. "Do you know anything about
the ring of the Biscay princess?"

"I was just about to get it when the porgy snapped it up right under
my nose," said the grouper. "So I brought them both, the ring and the
porgy. Here they are." And he spit them out on the spot. [End Page

Crazy with joy, Juan Bobo ran to the palace and gave the ring to the king.

"There's still one little thing," said the king. "You will have to
pick her out from a whole crowd of girls that I will show you." The
king had set up a search for all the cross-eyed girls in his kingdom
and in all others. He had taken such care in selecting them that they
all looked exactly alike.

You can imagine what a tight spot Juan was in. But suddenly three
young birds fluttered through the window and landed on one of the
girls, settling on her head and on each shoulder. Juan recognized the
three birds that he had helped to their nest.

"Oh, wonder of wonders, my darling," cried the king proudly. "Even the
birds come to celebrate your beauty."

Nobody could deny that Juan had picked out the princess. There was
nothing for the king to do but let Juan and her get married.

When the king died, Juan was chosen king. He ruled and governed his
people with wisdom, without being absolutely absolute in his rule.
What I am trying to say is, he was a model king. And he didn't forget
his mother either. He had her come live in the castle!