Old, Older, and Oldest

folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 726
about old men, their fathers, and their grandfathers
selected and translated by

D. L. Ashliman

© 1999-2018


  1. The Three Old Men (Germany).

  2. Old Age (Germany).

  3. The Seventh Father of the House (Norway).

  4. The Dwarf of Folkared's Cliff (Sweden).

  5. Harry Jenkins (England).

  6. The Three Old Men of Painswick (England).

  7. Searching for the Kingdom of the Green Mountains (Scotland).

  8. Old, Older, and Oldest (Ireland).

  9. Three Generations (USA).

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The Three Old Men

Germany, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

There are people still living today in the Duchy of Schleswig, in the region of the Angles, who remember the following story. They heard it from the mouth of Pastor Oest, who died some time ago and who is known for several scholarly works. However, it is not known if he himself experienced the events, or if it was a neighboring preacher.

In the middle of the eighteenth century it happened that a new preacher was riding around the boundaries of his diocese in order to familiarize himself thoroughly with its circumstances. In a remote area there was a lonely farmstead, and the road led directly past the front yard of the farmhouse. An old man with snow-white hair was sitting there on a bench and crying bitterly. The pastor wished him a good evening and asked him what was wrong with him.

"Oh," answered the old man, "my father gave me a beating."

Surprised, the preacher tied up his horse and entered the house. He was met in the entryway by an old man even more aged than the first one. He was openly agitated and making angry gestures. The preacher addressed him kindly and asked him the cause of his anger.

The old man spoke, "Oh, the boy dropped my father!"

With that he opened the parlor door. The pastor was struck with silence and astonishment when he saw there an old man, bent over with age but still energetic, sitting in an easy chair next to the stove.

Old Age

Germany, Johann Peter Hebel

In Scotland there are people who grow very old. Once a traveler came upon an old man in his sixties who was crying. When asked what was wrong with him, he said that his father had slapped his face. The stranger could hardly believe that a man of his years would still have a living father and that he would still be under his discipline. When asked why he had been slapped, the man in his sixties said that he had carelessly dropped his grandfather while helping him into his bed. Upon hearing this the stranger asked to be taken to their house to see if the situation was as the old man stated.

Yes, it was so. The boy was 62 years old, the father 96, and the grandfather 130. Afterward, while recounting the story, the stranger told how unusual it was to thus see 288 years together in one little room.

The Seventh Father of the House

Norway, Peter Christen Asbjørnsen

Once upon a time there was a man who was traveling about, and he came at length to a big and fine farm. There was such a fine manor house there that it might well have been a little castle. "It would be a nice thing to get a night's rest here," said the man to himself, upon entering the gate. Close by stood an old man with gray hair and beard, chopping wood.

"Good evening, father," said the traveler. "Can I get lodgings here tonight?"

"I am not the father of the house," said the old man. "Go into the kitchen and speak to my father!" The traveler went into the kitchen. There he met a man who was still older, and he was lying on his knees in front of the hearth, blowing into the fire.

"Good evening, father. Can I get lodgings here tonight?" asked the traveler.

"I am not the father of the house," said the old man. "But go in and speak to my father. He is sitting at the table in the parlor."

So the traveler went into the parlor and spoke to him who was sitting at the table. He was much older than the other two, and he sat there with chattering teeth, shaking, and reading in a big book, almost like a little child.

"Good evening, father. Can you give me lodgings here tonight?" said the man.

"I am not the father of the house. But speak to my father over there. He is sitting on the bench," said the man who was sitting at the table with chattering teeth, and shaking and shivering. So the traveler went to him who was sitting on the bench. He was getting a pipe of tobacco ready, but he was so bent with age, and his hands shook so much, that he was scarcely able to hold the pipe.

"Good evening, father," said the traveler again. "Can I get lodgings here tonight?"

"I am not the father of the house," said the old, bent-over man. "But speak to my father, who is in the bed over yonder."

The traveler went to the bed, and there lay an old, old man, and the only thing about him that seemed to be alive was a pair of big eyes.

"Good evening, father. Can I get lodgings here tonight?" said the traveler.

"I am not the father of the house. But speak to my father, who lies in the cradle yonder," said the man with the big eyes. Yes, the traveler went to the cradle. There was a very old man lying, so shriveled up, that he was not larger than a baby, and one could not have told that there was life in him if it had not been for a sound in his throat now and then.

"Good evening, father. Can I get lodgings here tonight?" said the man. It took some time before he got an answer, and still longer before he had finished it. He said, like the others, that he was not the father of the house. "But speak to my father. He is hanging up in the horn on the wall there."

The traveler stared around the walls, and at last he caught sight of the horn. But when he looked for him who hung in it, there was scarcely anything to be seen but a lump of white ashes, which had the appearance of a man's face. Then he was so frightened, that he cried aloud, "Good evening, father. Will you give me lodgings here tonight?"

There was a sound like a little tomtit's chirping, and he was barely able to understand that it meant, "Yes, my child."

And now a table came in which was covered with the costliest dishes, with ale and brandy. And when he had eaten and drunk, in came a good bed with reindeer skins, and the traveler was very glad indeed that he at last had found the true father of the house.

The Dwarf of Folkared's Cliff

Sweden, Herman Hofberg

It is probably that there are few places more gloomy and uninviting than certain parts of the parish of Sibbarp, in the Province of Halland. Dark heaths cover a good portion of the parish, and from their dull brown surface rises, here and there, a lonely, cheerless mountain. One of these is Folkared's Cliff, in the southern part of the parish, noted of old as the abiding place of little trolls and dwarfs.

One chilly autumn day a peasant, going from Hogared, in Ljungby, to Folkared, in Sibbarp, in order to shorten his journey took a shortcut by way of the cliff, upon reaching which he perceived a dwarf about the size of a child seven or eight years old, sitting upon a stone crying.

"Where is your home?" asked the peasant, moved by the seeming distress of the little fellow.

"Here," sobbed the dwarf, pointing to the mountain.

"How long have you lived here?" questioned the peasant in surprise.

"Six hundred years."

"Six hundred years! You lie, you rascal, and you deserve to be whipped for it."

"Oh! Do not strike me," pleaded the dwarf, continuing to cry. "I have had enough of blows already today."

"Who have you received them from?" asked the peasant.

"From my father."

"What capers did you cut up that you were thus punished?"

"Oh, I was set to watch my old grandfather and when I chanced to turn my back he fell and hurt himself upon the floor."

The peasant then understood what character of person he had met, and grasping his dirk he prepared to defend himself. But instantly he heard an awful crash in the mountain, and the dwarf had vanished.

Harry Jenkins


Bolton-upon-Swale, a chapelry in the parish of Catterick, [is] famous for being the birth-place of Henry Jenkins, who affords such an astonishing instance of longevity, as to have been "the oldest man born upon the ruins of this postdiluvian world."

He was born in the year 1500, and followed the employment of fishing for one hundred and forty years. When about eleven or twelve years old, he was sent to Northallerton with a horse-load of arrows for the army of the Earl of Surrey, on its march to the north, all the men being then employed at harvest.

When he was more than one hundred years old, he used to swim and wade across the river with the greatest ease, and without catching cold. What is the most remarkable, he retained his sight to the last, having made without spectacles two artificial flies for fishing the year before he died; his hearing also continued till his death. Being summoned to give evidence in a tithe cause in 1667, between Charles Anthony, Vicar of Catterick, and Calvert Smithson, owner and occupier of lands in Kipling, he deposed, "That the tithes of wool, lamb, &c., mentioned in the interrogatories, were the vicar's, and had been paid to his knowledge six score years and more." And in another cause at York, between John Grubham Howe, Esq., and Mrs. Wastell of Eilerton, about the royalty of the river Swale, he gave evidence to one hundred and forty years.

Previous to Jenkins's going to York, when the agent of Mrs. Wastell went to him, to find out what account he could give about the matter in dispute, he saw an old man sitting at the door, to whom he told his business.

The old man said, "He could remember nothing about it, but that he would find his father in the house, who perhaps could satisfy him."

When he went in he saw another old man sitting over the fire, bowed down with years, to whom he repeated his former question.

With some difficulty he made him understand what he had said; and after a little time got the following answer which surprised him very much, "That he knew nothing about it, but that if he would go into the yard, he would meet with his father, who perhaps could tell him."

The agent upon this thought that he had met with a race of antediluvians. However into the yard he went, and to his no small astonish ment found a venerable old man, with a long beard and a broad leathern belt about him, chopping sticks. To this man he again told his business and received such information as in the end recovered the royalty in dispute.

As this was a singular piece of service to Mrs. Wastell's cause, which without this man's evidence must have been given to her antagonist, some little annuity might have been settled upon him; but so far from it, that in his old age he went about asking charity and lived the remainder of his life upon very coarse diet.

The Three Old Men of Painswick


(A Ballad Exemplifying the Longevity of that Famous Town 200 Years Ago.)

Oh! Painswick is a healthful town.
It hath a bracing breeze,
Where men by nature's rules might live
As long as e'er they please.

Before the glass and baneful pipe
Had robb'd man of his strength,
And water only was his drink,
He lived a greater length.

Two hundred years, or more, ago
A pilgrim passed that way;
And what that pilgrim heard and saw
I will relate today.

And while he stopp'd outside the town
To rest his weary bones.
He saw a very aged man
Upon a heap of stones.

The pilgrim saw him with surprise,
And surely thought he dream'd;
The poor man was so very old,
Methuselah he seem'd!

He'd travelled o'er the wide, wide world.
Amid its heat and cold,
But he had never, never seen
A man one-half so old.

His face was wrinkled like a skin
That's shrivell'd by the heat;
His hair was whiter than the snow
We tread beneath our feet.

It made the pilgrim very sad.
As he was passing by,
To see his old eyes fill'd with tears.
To hear him sob and cry.

The man was crying like a child,
His tears fell like the rain;
The pilgrim felt for him, and ask'd,
"Old man, are you in pain?

"Oh, tell me, tell me, poor old man,
Why do you sob and cry?"
The old man rubb'd his eyes, and said,
"Feethur's bin a byutting I!"

"Old man, old man, you must be mad.
For that can never be;
Your father surely has been dead
At least a century."

"My feethur be alive and well,
I wish that he weer dy'ud.
For he ha bin and byut his stick
About my face and yud."

The pilgrim pick'd the old man up.
And walk'd to Painswick town;
"Oh show me where your father lives.
And I will put you down.

And I will tell the cruel man
Such things must not be done,
And I will say how wrong it is
To beat his aged son."

The pilgrim shook a garden gate.
An old man ope'd the door;
His back was bended like a bow,
His white beard swept the floor.

If Adam he had lived till now,
And lengthen'd out his span,
Then Adam really would have seem'd
Another such a man!

The pilgrim felt amazed, indeed,
When he beheld his sire;
He held a great stick in his hand,
His face was flush'd with ire.

"Old man, old man, put down your stick.
Why do you beat your son?"
"I'll cut the rascal to the quick
If he does what he've done.

Why up in yonder apple-tree
Grandfeether risk'd his bones;
And while the old man pick'd the fruit,
The rascal dubb'd with stones."

The pilgrim turn'd his head and saw,
In a spreading apple-tree,
A very, very aged man.
The eldest of the three.

The pilgrim was a holy man,
Whose hopes were in the sky;
He fled -- he thought it was a place
Where man would never die.

Searching for the Kingdom of the Green Mountains


The following episode is an extract from the longer tale "The Kingdom of the Green Mountains."

He [the soldier] was going on, and inquiring for the road to the kingdom of the Green Mountains. He was told by those of whom he made inquiry that they had never heard of such a kingdom. He was travelling from place to place, but was getting no information about the kingdom.

He was ridiculed for speaking at all of such a place. He came one day to houses, and saw an old man putting divots [turf for roofs of houses] on a house, and said to him, "Ah! how old you are! and yet you are putting divots on the house."

The old man said, "I am old; but my father is older than I."

"Ah!" said the soldier, "Is your father alive?"

"He is," said the old man. "Where are you going?"

I am going," said the soldier, "to the kingdom of the Green Mountains."

"Well," said the old man, "I am old, but I have never heard of that kingdom. Perhaps my father knows about it."

"Where is your father?" said the soldier.

"He is conveying the divots to me," said the old man, and will be here in a short time, when you may speak to him about that kingdom."

The man who was conveying the divots arrived; and the soldier said to him, "Ah! man, how old you are!"

"By Mary, I am old; but my father is older than I," said the old man.

"Is your father still alive?" said the soldier.

"He is," said the old man.

"Where is he?" said the soldier.

"He is cutting the divots," said the old man.

They then went to the man who was cutting the divots; and the soldier said, "Ah! man, how old you are! And yet you are cutting the divots."

The old man said, "I am old; but my father is older than I."

"Ah!" said the soldier. "Is your father, I wonder, still alive?"

"He is," said he.

"Where is he?" said the soldier.

"He is hunting birds in the hill," said the old man.

The soldier said to him, "Have you ever heard of the kingdom of the Green Mountains?"

"I have not," said he; "but perhaps my father has; and when he comes home tonight you may ask him."

He remained with the old man till evening, when the fowler came home.

When the fowler came home the soldier said to him, "Ah! man, how old you are!"

"I am old," said he; "but my father is older than I."

"Ah!" said the soldier, "is your father, I wonder, still alive?"

"By Mary! he is," said the fowler.

"Where is he?" said the soldier.

"He is in the house," said the fowler.

The soldier said to him, "Have you ever heard of the kingdom of the Green Mountains?"

"I have not," said he; "but perhaps my father has."

They went down to the house ; and when they went in the old man was being rocked in a cradle.

The soldier said to him, "Ah! man, what a great age has been granted to you!"

"Well! Yes, a very great age," said he.

The soldier said to him, "Have you ever heard of the kingdom of the Green Mountains ?"

"Really," said the old man, "I have never heard of that kingdom."

Old, Older, and Oldest


The following note refers to the tale above Searching for the Kingdom of the Green Mountains.

This is a very wide-spread incident, but, as the following extract from a letter of Dr. Hyde's will show, it is by no means necessary to assume borrowing to account for its appearance at different times and in different lands.

Curiously enough, I met a doctor from County Sligo the very day before I received your proofs of this story, and he told me he had seen a very old man putting scraws (divots) on a house, and he said to him, "How old are you?' and the man said, "Ninety-six."

"You're a great old man to be working like that," said the doctor.

"No, but if you were to see my father, you'd say he was the great old man."

The father came out, apparently as hale and hearty as the son, and he was 115 years old. I mention this as a curious coincidence, for next day I read your story.

Three Generations

United States of America

A seventy-year old man visited a doctor for a routine examination. Impressed with his patient's vitality and health, the doctor decided to ask him some questions about his lifestyle. After hearing responses about diet and exercise, the physician continued: "And may I also ask about your sexual activity?"

"Of course," answered the seventy-year-old. "I usually have sex three times a week."

"That's remarkable," said the doctor. "Would you happen to know how late in life your father remained sexually active?"

"Oh, Dad? He's a bit of an embarassment to us. He's ninety, and he visits a prostitute every week."

"Ninety!" exclaimed the doctor. "You do have good genes. How old was your grandfather when he died?"

"Granddad? He's still alive. He's 110 and getting married next week."

"Getting married at 110! Why does he want to get married at that age?"

"Oh, he doesn't want to get married. He has to!"

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Revised November 13, 2018.