Folktales, Legends, and Stories


Popolvar, The Greatest in the World

 Poplvár najväčší na svete


Part 1: To the Golden Forest and Back


In the seventy-seventh country, beyond the Scarlet Sea, the Crystal Mountain, and the Wooden Cliffs, where water sifts and sand flows, there was a certain town, a king and his three sons lived there. The two older sons were skillful young men, but the third was a sort of half-baked fellow named Popolvar, who liked nothing better than lounging around near the stove.

One day the king called them to himself and said, “My sons, the time has come for you to go out into the world and perform some feat that will make you famous!”

“I will go first,” said the oldest son. He asked his father for plenty of money, a fine horse, and glistening armor. He wandered for an entire year through mountains, valleys, and wastelands, until he came to the Copper Forest. “I have wandered enough,” he said. “I will break off a sprig and take it home to my father as a memento from this forest.”

“So how did you fare, my son?” asked the king.

“Oh, I went far, very far, Father! I brought you this sprig from the copper forest!”

“It took you a whole year to reach the Copper Forest, where I used to go with your mother for breakfast? Truly, you have done nothing very praiseworthy.”

The king merely waved his hand and summoned his middle son: “Now it is your turn to go out into the world. I’m curious to see what you will have to show”

The second son mounted a fine horse, donned his shining armor, took plenty of money, and left. After a year he too came to the Copper Forest. He also broke off a twig as a memento, but he went farther along the road. He didn’t want his father to ridicule him for doing no more than his oldest brother had done.

So he roamed the hills and valleys for another year, until he reached the Silver Forest. “This is a kind of splendor that people rarely see!” he cried. He broke off a silver twig, so his family would believe him. Then he hurried home.

“Father, I’m bringing you a twig from as far as the Silver Forest!” he shouted from a distance.

“You have done nothing very praiseworthy,” said the king. “Your mother and I used to go there before noon. Neither one of you has demonstrated any kind of heroism. What can I possibly expect form the third?”

“Well, I’ll go out into the world to try my luck too!” said Popolvar. His older brothers laughed so hard that they rolled on the ground. “What can be expected from someone who can’t even move away from the stove?” the king had to agree with his older sons. He could not defend his youngest.

Popolvar moped about sadly because his father and brothers thought so little of him. He wandered to the manure pile, where a mangy little horse lay. Unexpectedly, the horse addressed him: “Don’t worry, Popolvar. Go to the king again and ask his permission to go out into the world. For your journey ask only for me and for the rusted sword that hangs in the storeroom. Your father will not want to give it to you, but you must insist. And then you will be fortunate!”

Popolvar thanked the little horse for his advice and went to see his father again.

“I suppose you too want to go out into the world?” sighed the king.

“Yes, father, I do!”

“And what do you want for your journey?”

“Nothing, Father, except the rusted sword that hangs in the storeroom and the mangy little horse lying near the manure pile.”

At first the king did not want to grant Popolvar’s requests, but finally he agreed, so Popolvar buckled on the rusted sword, took the little horse, and set off into the world.

His brothers laughed until their stomachs hurt when they saw how Popolvar was equipped. But he trudged along arduously with the mangy horse, and wasn’t bothered at all by the laughter that accompanied him as he set off.

As soon as they were outside of the town, the little horse shook himself and was transformed into a noble steed: “Well, Popolvar, don’t think for a moment that I’m an ordinary nag. I’m our father’s steed. And the sword fastened around your waist isn’t just any sword, but a magical one. If you command it to, it will slash you out of any danger. Now, before we start on our journey, give me a trough of oats and a trough of fire.”

Popolvar did what the horse had asked. He fed him, then climbed on his back, and together they flew over mountains and over valleys. In what seemed like an instant the horse stopped: “We have arrived at the Copper Forest, where your oldest brother came after a year. I used to bring your mother and father here for breakfast. Now, dismount and give me a trough of oats and a trough of fire.”

Popolvar fed the horse, and they continued their journey, flying over mountains and valleys. In what seemed like the twinkling of an eye the horse stamped his hooves: “We have arrived at the Silver Forest, where your middle brother came after two years of traveling. I used to bring your mother and father here before noon. Now, dismount and give me a trough of oats and a trough of fire.”

The steed ate his fill of oats and fire, and they continued their journey, until they found themselves at the Golden Forest: “Your brothers never were here. Feed me one more time, and I will take you overnight to your father’s friend.”

As soon as the horse had eaten his fill he made a few mighty leaps, and they found themselves in the courtyard of a great castle.

Popolvar entered the castle and bowed respectfully to the old king, who was very happy to see his unexpected visitor. “Welcome, Prince,” said the king. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a living soul here. Your father was my best friend. We fought together in our youth against the evil sorceress. Didn’t your father ever tell you about it?”

“He told me nothing,” answered Popolvar.” He only gave me this old sword!”

“That sword cut the witch’s soldiers to pieces more than once! And the more of them we annihilated the more there were to swarm against us! But these old legs no longer have the strength to do battle against the witch,” sighed the king.

“Don’t worry, I’ll test the sword’s mettle!” said Popolvar decisively.

“You had better think twice about that, and return home. The witch has prepared her entire army to march against me. They will attack in the morning, and I see no salvation. If I die, be sure to take the news of my death to your father.”

But Popolvar would not let himself be talked into leaving. As soon as morning dawned, he mounted his steed and set out against the witch’s army. “Now fight boldly!” shouted the young man, and he ordered his sword to slash and cut. Heads began to fall like poppy seed pods. The more Popolvar cut down the more there were to fight. Finally he was able to battle his way to the sorceress herself. She defended herself in vain. The magic sword chopped her to pieces. Then there was a clap of thunder and a bolt of lightning, and the witch and her entire army were swallowed up by the earth. Not a shadow or whisper of them remained.

The king was overjoyed and thanked Popolvar for his help. The king wanted Popolvar to remain. He offered him his crown, as well as his daughter in marriage.

Popolvar agreed, but first he wanted to visit his father, so he could tell him all about his achievements and ask his permission to marry the princess.


 Read Part 2: The Iron Monk and The Princess, to find out the end of Popolvar's story. To be Published Soon!

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This story was taken from Slovak Tales for Young and Old by Pavol Dobsinsky in English and Slovak, translated by Lucy Bednar. Published by Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc. Wauconda, Illinois, in 2001.