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Literature / The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship

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The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship or The Flying Ship (Russian title: Летучий корабль) is a Russian Fairy Tale collected in Andrew Lang's The Yellow Fairy Book (1899) and Arthur Ransome's Old Peter's Russian's Tales (1916).

A proclamation went out through all the land that whosoever could build a flying ship would win the hand of the Tsar's daughter. The youngest son of a simple peasant shows up to claim her, and the dumbfounded Tsar quickly has second thoughts, setting several 'impossible" tasks for 'The Fool of the World' and his remarkable friends.

The original fairy tale is in the public domain and can be read hereor here.

The story has been translated into a children's book that was written by Uri Shulevitz titled The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship in 1968 and was well known for winning the Caldecott Medal in 1969, for best illustrations.

The story has also been translated into a Stop Motion animated feature film called The Fool and the Flying Ship, produced by Cosgrove Hall for The Cannon Group and the Rabbit Ears Productions version narrated by Robin Williams.

Tropes present in this work:

  • Abusive Parents: The fool's parents are verbally abusive to the fool, not being supportive of him when he wanted to go out and build a flying ship. They also only gave him scraps of food for his journey instead of the lovely meal they gave to his two brothers.
  • Animated Adaptation: Has two animated adaptations which included Cosgrove Hall's Stop Motion animated version and Rabbit Ears Productions version narrated by Robin Williams.
  • Big Eater: The Eater can finish a whole basket-load of bread in one mouthful.
  • Hitchhiker Heroes: It's understood, if unspoken, that Fate or some Higher Power is directing the encounters, given that the Fool is told he must give a ride to anyone who asks him; and of course each person he encounters does ask him. He picks up, in short order and completely unconnected: a man who runs extremely fast; a man who can hear things miles away; a man who can see things miles away; a man who can keep eating and never be full; a man of extraordinary strength who generally seems to be a weakling; and a man with a bundle of sticks which he can turn into soldiers. Various versions add to or subtract from the lineup, but the Plot Tailored to the Party at the end always requires each of their strengths, in some combination.
  • An Ice Person: One of the Fool's companions is a farmer with a bundle of straw that makes things colder, rather than hotter, when burned.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: The Sharpshooter, who wakes up the Runner by grazing him with a bullet from some several hundred miles away.
  • Kindhearted Simpleton: The titular fool is naive and child-like, but a good and friendly person. He is described as "simpler than some children, and he never did any one a harm in his life."
  • Old Beggar Test: The Fool's brothers ignore the strange old beggar at the side of the road, and are never heard from again. The Fool greets the beggar kindly and shares his lunch, and the man tells the Fool where to find the flying ship. The stop-motion animation adaptation expands on this. The old beggar asks the brothers to share their food, but they throw garbage at him to make him go away. The Fool offers to share but admits that he doesn't have much food. The beggar repays the Fool's kindness by slyly conjuring more food for them to eat.
  • Plot Tailored to the Party: Each of the Tsar's impossible tasks turns out to be perfectly tailored to the supernatural powers of one of the travelers the Fool picked up on the way in.
  • Power Limiter: The Runner, who has to tie one of his legs up or he'd move so fast he'd travel to the ends of the Earth in an instant.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Let's see, there is the titular character who is known as the fool of the world and his companions which includes a man who can see across the world, a man who can eat tons of bread, a man who can run fast around the world and a man who can create an army out of wooden sticks.
  • Sauna of Death: The tsar locks the fool into his bathhouse and orders the furnace cranked up to kill him. The fool, of course, borrows his friend's straw that can soak up any heat and actually has to try to stay warm in the bathhouse.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: In the original story, the Fool's brothers are never heard from again, and we never find out if they met some gruesome end or simply faded into obscurity. In the Cosgrove Hall stop-motion adaptation, the two squander their money on gambling and fancy food and drink; the story ends with them alive, but humbled, when their simple but kindly brother (now a wealthy prince) saves them from debt.
  • Superhero Speciation: Each of the Fool's passengers has an amazing ability all their own, which solves every "impossible" job the Tsar can think of to give him.
  • Youngest Child Wins: The Fool is the youngest sibling, and he gets the princess.

Alternative Title(s): The Fool Of The World And His Flying Ship