The Old Woman and her Pig

A favourite traditional chain tale from England.

Here is a short video clip taken during a performance at the 2009 ZauberWort storytelling festival in Nuremberg.


The video clips here are all amateur quality, shot in various theatres.
Their intention is just to show the range of my storytelling and give a flavour of a live performance.
Permission is granted for use in non-commercial educational contexts.
The videos are © Richard Martin.
Professionally recorded CDs and DVDs are available here.

Watch another video clip, What Women most Desire, filmed at the same performance.
LoudspeakerListen to a complete telling of the tale.
This recording is © Oldenbourg Verlag.
Here is the skeleton of the Old Woman and her Pig:

Old woman found a sixpence - "I'll buy a pig."
Went to market, bought pig.
But leading pig home, came to a hedge with a stile.
Pig too heavy to lift over. "Piggy, jump over - or I won't get home before midnight."
But pig wouldn't!

She went a little further, came to a dog.
"Dog, piggy won't jump over stile, and I won't get home before midnight. Dog, bite pig!"
But dog wouldn't.

She went a little further, came to a stick.
"Stick, dog won't bite pig, piggy won't jump over stile, and I won't get home before midnight. Stick, beat dog!"
But stick wouldn't!

She went ...
Fire. "Fire, stick won't beat dog, dog won't bite pig, piggy won't jump over .... Fire, burn stick!"
But fire wouldn't.

Water ... - quench fire. But water wouldn't.
Ox ... - drink water. But ...
Butcher ... - kill ox. ...
Rope ... - hang butcher. ...
Rat ... - gnaw rope. ...
Cat ... - catch rat.

And the cat said,
"Yes - if you bring me a saucer of milk from the cow."
Old woman: "Cow - may I have a saucer of milk for the cat?"
"Yes - if you bring me a handful of hay from the haystack."
So she went to the haystack, took handful - gave it to the cow.

Cow gave her milk.
She gave it to the cat.

Then the
cat started to catch the rat
rat started to gnaw the rope
rope started to hang the butcher
butcher started to kill the ox
ox started to drink the water
water started to quench the fire
fire started to burn the stick
stick started to beat the dog
dog started to bite the pig.
So the pig did jump over the stile, and the old woman did get home before midnight.

A teaching activity: Last-Line Race

When I tell this story in school or in teacher-training workshops, I often use it to practise speaking fast.

After telling the tale, I write, with the students prompting me, the first sentence of the final run on the blackboard:
The cat started to catch the rat.
rat → gnaw → rope
rope → hang → butcher
butcher → kill → ox
ox → drink → water
water → quench → fire
fire → burn → stick
stick → beat → dog
dog → bite → pig
So piggy did jump over the stile.
And the old woman did get home before midnight.

Students are partnered off. They establish who is A and who is B.
I point out that each part of the last line (with the exception of the final two sentences) has two verbs: started to plus infinitive.
Together, I lead them through a choral rendition of the last line, pointing to the nouns and the verbs as we go.
I also point out that there is a logical thread to the characters and their actions: e.g. butcher → kill → ox → water → drink. Because of this, it is easy to remember where one is in the thread and so one does not need to read it on the blackboard or a piece of paper. Moreover, if we do read it, that will slow down the telling, which will not help us win the Last-Line Race.
Then I clean the blackboard!

Now I explain that all the A partners will tell their partner the last line, beginning with
The cat started to ... and ending with
And the old woman did get home before midnight.

As soon as someone has finished, they must put up their hand.

I show them my official Olympic timekeeper's watch, give them On your marks, get set, GO! and attempt to time as best I can.

When the A's have finished, the B's have a go.
I usually repeat this once or twice as they tend to get a lot faster.

If desired, the fastest A and fastest B can come out for the Great Olympic Last-Line Final in front of the class.

Language note:

I usually point out that the final two sentences use did + infinitive to emphasise the verb.
Students can be encouraged to show this by clapping their hands on the did.

The teaching activity is © Richard Martin, 1994.
Permission for non-commercial classroom use with citation is granted.

About the tale and a note on political correctness

The story is numbered AaTh 2030 in Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson's international index of tale-types The Types of the Folktale.
To see how wide-spread it is, go to this page on Distributed Proofreaders which has versions in 26 different languages.

This version, the one I remember from my own English childhood, is found in the collection by Joseph Jacobs English Fairy Tales (1890). As you see, it involves beating, killing and hanging.
In teacher-training workshops for primary schools in Germany and Singapore I have discussed the acceptability or otherwise of using this traditional version with young children. The clear consensus of opinion was that they did not feel this was a problem in such an obviously stylised traditional tale.
But if you feel uncomfortable about it, there are other versions around which do not involve such contentious actions.

The tale is also on one of my earliest recordings, The Wife's Letter and other Tales.

This recording is part of a CD issued with Primary English (June 2006), where the story skeleton and teaching activity described above were also published.
Both are reproduced here with kind permission of Oldenbourg Schulbuchverlag GmhH.
If you like listening to this story, you'll love the CD:
Jack goes Hunting and other Tales

Do you want to tell this tale?
Go here to read my position on permission to tell

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Go here for a list of all tales included on this site

You are a teacher? Read this: Telling stories in the classroom: basing language teaching on storytelling

Want to record your own performances? Here are some suggestions