Playing Dead

folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 1
and related stories
selected and edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2000-2018


  1. Reynard Steals Fish (Europe, Joseph Jacobs).

  2. Two Foxes Steal Herrings (Scotland, J. F. Campbell).

  3. The Fox and the Lapp (Lapland, Andrew Lang).

  4. Mr. Fox Goes a-Hunting, but Mr. Rabbit Bags the Game (African-American, Joel Chandler Harris).

  5. How Brother Fox Was Too Smart (African-American, Joel Chandler Harris).

  6. Playing Dead Twice in the Road (Virginia, USA).

  7. The Fox (Palestine, J. E. Hanauer).

  8. Mantharaka's Rescue (India, The Panchatantra).

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Reynard Steals Fish

Joseph Jacobs

Reynard saw a man driving a cart full of fish, which made his mouth water. So he ran and he ran and he ran till he got far away in front of the cart and lay down in the road as still as if he were dead.

When the man came up to him and saw him lying there dead, as he thought, he said to himself, "Why, that will make a beautiful red fox scarf and muff for my wife Ann."

And he got down and seized hold of Reynard and threw him into the cart all along with the fish, and then he went driving on as before. Reynard began to throw the fish out till there were none left, and then he jumped out himself without the man noticing it, who drove up to his door and called out, "Ann, Ann, see what I have brought you."

And when his wife came to the door she looked into the cart and said, "Why there is nothing there."

Two Foxes Steal Herrings


A man was one day walking along the road with a creel of herrings on his back, and two foxes saw him, and the one, who was the biggest, said to the other, "Stop here and follow the man, and I will run round and pretend that I am dead."

So he ran round and stretched himself on the road. The man came on, and when he saw the fox, he was well pleased to find so fine a beast, and he picked him up and threw him into the creel, and he walked on. But the fox threw the herrings out of the creel, and the other followed and picked them up. And when the creel was empty, the big fox leaped out and ran away. And that is how they got the herrings.

The Fox and the Lapp

Andrew Lang

Once upon a time a fox lay peeping out of his hole, watching the road that ran by at a little distance, and hoping to see something that might amuse him, for he was feeling very dull and rather cross. For a long while he watched in vain; everything seemed asleep, and not even a bird stirred overhead. The fox grew crosser than ever, and he was just turning away in disgust from his place when he heard the sound of feet coming over the snow.

He crouched eagerly down at the edge of the road and said to himself, "I wonder what would happen if I were to pretend to be dead! This is a man driving a reindeer sledge; I know the tinkling of the harness. And at any rate I shall have an adventure, and that is always something!"

So he stretched himself out by the side of the road, carefully choosing a spot where the driver could not help seeing him, yet where the reindeer would not tread on him; and all fell out just as he had expected. The sledge driver pulled up sharply, as his eyes lighted on the beautiful animal lying stiffly beside him, and jumping out he threw the fox into the bottom of the sledge, where the goods he was carrying were bound tightly together by ropes. The fox did not move a muscle though his bones were sore from the fall, and the driver got back to his seat again and drove on merrily.

But before they had gone very far, the fox, who was near the edge, contrived to slip over, and when the Laplander saw him stretched out on the snow he pulled up his reindeer and put the fox into one of the other sledges that was fastened behind, for it was market day at the nearest town, and the man had much to sell.

They drove on a little further, when some noise in the forest made the man turn his head, just in time to see the fox fall with a heavy thump onto the frozen snow.

"That beast is bewitched!" he said to himself, and then he threw the fox into the last sledge of all, which had a cargo of fishes. This was exactly what the cunning creature wanted, and he wriggled gently to the front and bit the cord which tied the sledge to the one before it so that it remained standing in the middle of the road.

Now there were so many sledges that the Lapp did not notice for a long while that one was missing. Indeed, he would have entered the town without knowing if snow had not suddenly begun to fall. Then he got down to secure more firmly the cloths that kept his goods dry, and going to the end of the long row, discovered that the sledge containing the fish and the fox was missing. He quickly unharnessed one of his reindeer and rode back along the way he had come, to find the sledge standing safe in the middle of the road; but as the fox had bitten off the cord close to the noose there was no means of moving it away.

The fox meanwhile was enjoying himself mightily. As soon as he had loosened the sledge, he had taken his favorite fish from among the piles neatly arranged for sale, and had trotted off to the forest with it in his mouth.

Mr. Fox Goes a-Hunting, but Mr. Rabbit Bags the Game

Joel Chandler Harris

One day Brer Fox came along all rigged out and asked Brer Rabbit to go hunting with him, but Brer Rabbit, he sort of felt lazy, and he told Brer Fox that he had some other fish to fry. Brer Fox felt might sorry, he did, but he said he believed he would try his hand anyhow, and off he went.

He was gone all day, and he had a monstrous streak of luck, Brer Fox did, and he bagged a sight of game. By and by, towards the shank of evening, Brer Rabbit sort of stretched himself, he did, and allowed that it was almost time for Brer Fox to be getting along home.

Then Brer Rabbit, he went and mounted a stump to see if he could hear Brer Fox coming. He hadn't been there long when sure enough here came Brer Fox through the woods singing like a Negro at a frolic. Brer Rabbit, he leapt down off the stump, he did, and lay down in the road and made like he was dead.

Brer Fox, he came along, he did, and saw Brer Rabbit lying there. He turned him over, he did, and examined him, and he said, "This here rabbit is dead. He looks like he's been dead a long time. He's dead, but he's mighty fat. He is the fattest rabbit that I ever saw, but he's been dead too long. I am afraid to take him home," he said.

Brer Rabbit didn't say anything. Brer Fox, he sort of licked his chops, but he went on and left Brer Rabbit lying in the road. Directly he was out of sight, Brer Rabbit, he jumped up, he did, and ran around through the woods and got in front of Brer Fox again. Brer Fox, he came up and there lay Brer Rabbit, apparently cold and stiff.

Brer Fox, he looked at Brer Rabbit, and he sort of studied. After a while he unslung his game bag, and he said to himself, "This here rabbit is going to waste. I'll just leave my game here, and I'll go back and get that other rabbit, and I'll make folks believe that I'm Old Man Hunter from Huntsville," he said.

With that he dropped his game and loped back up the road after the other rabbit, and when he was out of sight, old Brer Rabbit, he snatched up Brer Fox's game and put out for home.

The next time he saw Brer Fox he hollered out, "What did you kill the other day?" he said.

Then Brer Fox, he sort of combed his flank with his tongue, and hollered back, "I caught a handful of hard sense, Brer Rabbit," he said.

Then old Brer Rabbit, he laughed, he did, and up and responded, "If I'd have known you were after that, Brer Fox, I'd have loaned you some of mine," he said.

How Brother Fox Was Too Smart

Joel Chandler Harris

One day Brer Fox heard Mr. Man coming down the big road in a one-horse wagon carrying some chickens and some eggs and some butter to town. Brer Fox heard him coming, he did, and what did he do but go and lay down in the road in front of the wagon. Mr. Man, he drove along, he did, clucking to the horse and humming to himself, and when they got almost up to Brer Fox, the horse, he shied, he did, and Mr. Man, he took and hollered "whoa!" and the horse, he took and whoaed.

Then Mr. Man, he looked down, and he saw Brer Fox lying out there on the ground, just like he was cold and stiff, and when Mr. Man saw this, he hollered out, "Heyo! There's the chap that's been nabbing up my chickens, and somebody's done gone and shot off a gun at him, which I wish it had been two guns -- that I do!"

With that Mr. Man drove off and left Brer Fox lying there. Then Brer Fox, he got up and ran around through the woods and lay down in front of Mr. Man again, and Mr. Man came driving along, and he saw Brer Fox, and he said, "Heyo! You're the very chap that's been destroying my pigs. Somebody's done gone and killed him, and I wish they'd have killed him a long time ago."

Then Mr. Man, he drove on, and the wagon wheel came mighty near mashing Brer Fox's nose. Yet, all the same, Brer Fox leaped up and ran around ahead of Mr. Man and lay down in the road, and when Mr. Man came along, there he was all stretched out like he was big enough to fill a two-bushel basket, and he looked like he was dead enough to be skinned.

Mr. Man drove up, he did, and stopped. He looked down upon Brer Fox, and then he looked all around to see what the occasion was and why the fox was dead.

Mr. Man looked all around, he did, but he didn't see anything, and neither did he hear anything. He sat there and studied, and by and by he decided to see what had got into the fox family, and with that he got down out of the wagon, and he felt Brer Fox's ears. Brer Fox's ears felt right warm. Then he felt Brer Fox's neck. Brer Fox's neck felt right warm. Then he felt Brer Fox's short ribs. Brer Fox's short ribs were sound. Then he felt Brer Fox's limbs. Brer Fox's limbs were sound. Then he turned Brer Fox over, and lo and behold, Brer Fox was right limber.

When Mr. Man saw this, he said to himself, "Heyo, here! How come? This here chicken nabber looks like he's dead, but no bones are broken, and I can't see any blood, and neither can I see any bruises; and more than that, he is warm and limber. Something is wrong here for sure! This here pig grabber might be dead, and then again, he might not be. Just to make sure that he is, I'll give him a whack with my whip handle."

And with that, Mr. Man drew back and fetched Brer Fox a clip behind the ears -- pow! -- and the lick came so hard and it came so quick that Brer Fox thought for sure that he was a goner. But before Mr. Man could draw back and fetch him another wipe, Brer Fox scrambled to his feet, he did, and did he make tracks away from there.

Playing Dead Twice in the Road

Virginia, USA

Version A

Once a rabbit and wolf went out one day to catch some fish. The wolf caught all the fish, and the rabbit didn't catch any.

So the rabbit said to himself, "I am going home to my wife."

Then he said to the wolf, "Brer Wolf, you have caught all the fish, and I have not caught any; and tomorrow morning your wife will be eating fish, and mine will be qu'rrling."

"I don't care," said Brer Wolf.

"Please give me some fish for my wife!"

" I'll not, Brer Rabbit."

Then Brer Rabbit said to himself, "Never mind! I will go and lie in the road where Brer Wolf has got to come along."

Brer Rabbit went and laid in the middle of the road. The wolf came along with his basket of fish. The old rabbit pretended to be dead.

Brer Wolf kicked him over, and said, "Ha! here is an old dead rabbit," and passed on.

The rabbit went under the hill and got in the road again, and lay in the road as if he was dead.

The old wolf came on and kicked him over, and said, "Ha! here is another dead rabbit," and passed on.

Brer Rabbit went around him and got into the road again. When Brer Wolf came along to this dead rabbit, he set his basket of fish down, and went back to get the first rabbit; and then the rabbit got his basket of fish.

Version B

A rabbit once said to a fox, "Let us go fishing!"

"All right!" said the fox.

The fox took the basket and went in the boat; while the rabbit sat upon the hill and played the violin, which she said would make the fish bite.

When she saw that the fox had his basket full of fish, she ran down the path some distance, feigning to be dead. When the fox came along and saw her, he wondered, but passed on. After the fox had passed some way, the rabbit jumped up and ran through the bushes, heading the fox, and lay down in the road as before. And the rabbit did this way the third time; and when the fox found the third dead rabbit, he said that he would go back and count them. He put his fish down by this last dead rabbit, and went back to count; but when he returned, he had found no dead rabbits and his fish were gone; for, when he turned his back, the rabbit got up and took the basket of fish away.

Version C

Near St. Louis there lived a bear who loved to go a-fishing. Once he fished all day in the Mississippi River. A cunning little hare thought of a trick to play on the bear to rob him of his nice string of fish. He ran around in front of the bear, and lay down across his path as if he was dead. The bear kicked him, and, seeing he was stiff, jumped over him. The hare got up and ran around the bear, and lay down across his path again.

"There lays another old dead hare," said the bear. The hare jumped up and ran around a third time, and lay down across the bear's path.

"What a nice meal I should have if I had those two which are left behind!" said the bear.

He laid down his fish and went back to get them. He could not find them; and when he hurried back to get his fish, there was no trace of them, nor of the hare which he had left with the fish.

Version D

Once a fox heard a rabbit had outwitted a wolf. He decided not to be friends to her any more. But Mis' Rabbit came and begged his pardon, and it was granted.

Mr. Fox offered to go hunting with Mis' Rabbit; but the rabbit was lazy and played off sick, and stayed at Mr. Fox's house till he was very near ready to come back. Then she ran way down the road, and curled up and played off dead. Brer Fox came 'long and looked at her; but he thought probably she had been dead too long, so he passed on.

As soon as Brer Fox was out of sight, Mis' Rabbit jumped up and ran through the field and got ahead of him, and laid down again to fake Mr. Fox.

This time he looked at her and he looked into his bag. His bag was large enough to accommodate one or two more, so he put Mis' Rabbit in, and put his bag in the grass, and went back to get the other rabbit. Before he was around the corner Mis' Rabbit jumped up and ran home with Mr. Fox's game.

So Mr. Fox found no game when he returned.

But one day Mis' Rabbit was walking along, and she asked Mr. Fox what he killed. He said he killed a lot of game, but he had learned a headful of har' sense.

She laughed and went on.

The Fox


The fox is the most crafty and cunning of beasts. His tricks and wiles are innumerable.

If there are partridges about, he notices the direction in which they will be likely to run, and then he runs ahead of them and lies down as if dead, foaming at the mouth. When the birds come to the spot, they think him dead, and peck at him. They dip their bills in the saliva running from his mouth, and then he snaps at and catches them.

He one day played a similar trick on a peasant woman who was carrying a basketful of live fowls to market. Seeing the way she was going, he ran ahead and lay down as above described. When passing the spot she saw him, but did not think it worth her while to stop and skin him. As soon as she was out of sight the fox jumped up and, making a detour, again ran ahead of her and lay down a second time in the road at a point she would have to pass.

She was surprised to see him, and said to herself, "Has a pestilence broken out amongst foxes? Had I skinned the first I saw lying by the roadside it would have been worth my while to stop for this one, but as I did not do so then, I shall not do so now."

She went on her way, and her surprise was unbounded when, after a while, she noticed what she believed to be a third fox dead on the roadside.

"Verily I have done wrong," thought she, "to neglect the good things Allah has placed in my way. I shall leave my fowls here and secure the pelts of the first two before the others take them."

No sooner said than done; but before she had time to return wondering, but empty-handed, the cunning fox had secured his prey and departed.

Mantharaka's Rescue

The Panchatantra

There were once four friends, a deer named Citrânga (having a spotted body), a crow named Laghupatanaka (flying fast), a turtle named Mantharaka (moving slow), and a mouse named Hiranyaka (golden colored). One day a hunter captured the turtle, tied him to his bow with strands of grass, then set off toward home carrying his evening meal over his shoulder.

Learning of their companion's capture, the three remaining friends quickly devised a scheme to set him free. The deer ran ahead of the hunter and laid himself in the path, pretending to be dead. The crow made the feigned death appear even more real by pecking lightly at the deer's head. The mouse hid himself beside the pathway and readied himself to gnaw away his captured friend's bonds.

The scheme worked as planned. The hunter, bearing the captured turtle, saw the deer, apparently dead by the side of the pathway. Setting down his burden to free his hands, he advanced toward his unexpected find. As the hunter neared his prey, not only did the crow fly away, but the deer itself suddenly jumped up and bounded into the forest. Cursing his bad luck, the hunter retraced his steps to reclaim the captive turtle, but he found only the gnawed-off bonds. Mantharaka had disappeared into a nearby swamp.

And thus were the four forest friends reunited.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Revised April 17, 2018.