Bibliographic Information:

Pellowski, Anne.  “Clever Manka” in Storytelling: Art & Technique, by Ellin Greene.  New Providence, NJ: R. R. Bowker, 1996, pp. 224-229. 

Ethnic Origin:


Running Time:

Fifteen minutes

Power Center:

·         Manka’s accepting, patient, instructive love for the burgomaster


In many folktales, the prince saves the princess he loves from some horrible fate.  In “Clever Manka,” however, it is the woman who saves the man.  Manka’s love saves the burgomaster from a lonely life filled with good-intentioned mistakes.  I chose this particular power center because it demonstrates the capabilities of a woman, confident and dedicated.  In addition, Manka loves the burgomaster despite his foibles.  The burgomaster realizes Manka’s wonderful qualities, and incorporates them into his work.  Someday I would like to have a relationship similar to the one between Manka and the burgomaster at the end of the story. 


·         Manka

·         Burgomaster

·         Manka’s father, a poor peasant

·         A rich peasant and his wife

·         Two quarreling peasants

·         Townspeople


1)      Rich peasant and poor peasant quarreling

2)      Burgomaster giving riddles

3)      Peasants talking about riddles with wife and Manka, respectively

4)      Peasants answering riddles before burgomaster

5)      Burgomaster and Manka exchanging riddles and answers, marrying

6)      Burgomaster making bad ruling, Manka interfering

7)      Manka kicked out, taking Burgomaster with her

8)      Manka rules with Burgomaster happily


Two peasants were quarreling over a heifer.  The poor peasant owned the cow, but the animal escaped its pen and wandered onto the rich peasant’s property.  Both peasants claimed the cow as their own, so they decided to take the case before the town burgomaster.  The burgomaster gave the men three riddles, and the man who gave the best answers would win the heifer.  The riddles were: 1) what is the richest thing in the world?  2) what is the heaviest thing in the world?  and 3) what is the swiftest thing in the world?.  The rich peasant’s wife gave her husband the following answers: our chest of golden ducats is the richest thing in the world, our iron anvil is the heaviest thing in the world, and our gray mare is the swiftest thing in the world.  The burgomaster was not impressed with the rich peasant’s arrogant answers.  The poor peasant’s daughter Manka provided the following, successful answers:  the earth is the richest thing in the world, for it provides all the riches of the world; sorrow is the heaviest thing in the world, for what weights more heavily on a man’s soul?; and thought is the swiftest thing in the world, for the mind can be around the world and back in the twinkling of an eye. 

The burgomaster was so impressed with the poor peasant’s answers that he asked the man who gave him his answers.  When the peasant replied that his daughter Manka had helped him, Manka and her clever answers intrigued the burgomaster.  The burgomaster gave the peasant a dozen eggs, and told him to tell Manka to have the eggs hatched by tomorrow.  In response, Manka took the burgomaster a handful of millet the next day, and told him that if he could have the grain planted, grown, and harvested by the next day, then she would provide the 12 chicks.  Again, Manka impressed the burgomaster, who presented another riddle.  If Manka would come to him neither by day nor by night, neither riding nor walking, and neither dressed nor undressed, then the burgomaster would marry her.

On the appointed day, Manka arrived at the burgomaster’s home at dawn, wrapped in a fishnet, and straddling a goat.  They were married later that day.  The burgomaster made a request that Manka not interfere with his rulings.  Manka agreed, and for a time they were happy.

One day, the burgomaster made an incorrect decision while solving a quarrel.  One man’s mare had given birth to a foal overnight.  In the morning, the foal was under another man’s cart.  Both men claimed the horse.  The burgomaster awarded the foal to the man who owned the cart.  The foal’s rightful owner petitioned Manka, who helped him on the condition that he wouldn’t tell anyone.  The peasant pretended to fish in the road, and when he told the burgomaster that he was as likely to catch a fish in the dry road as a cart to give birth to a foal, the burgomaster realized his mistake.  However, he also forced the man to expose Manka’s role.

The burgomaster told Manka to return to her father’s house, but Manka asked to stay until after dinner and to take her favorite thing from the house.  The burgomaster agreed, and returned that evening to eat the feast Manka had prepared.  As soon as the burgomaster fell asleep, Manka took him to her father’s house.  When the burgomaster woke, Manka told him what she had done, and the couple returned to their home.  The burgomaster began to consult Manka in solving quarrels, and soon people came from across the country to have Manka and the burgomaster solve their fights. 

Rhymes/Special Phrases/"Flavor":
Several phrases stand out from different variants of “Clever Manka.”  First of all, I have chosen to use the term burgomaster instead of judge because it is older, more interesting, and more exciting.  The burgomaster’s three riddles are a combination from different variations; I chose the riddles and answers most meaningful to me.  I particularly liked the phrasing of Manka’s responses:

I invented another special phrase for the end of the story, describing the burgomaster’s realization of Manka’s cleverness and the reaction of the townspeople to Manka’s inclusion in solving quarrels:

These phrases emphasize the importance of human values over material wealth.


“Clever Manka” is a tale about the relationship between Manka and her husband the burgomaster.  As such, this story is appropriate for adult audiences.  Many developmentalists agree that forming loving, stable relationships is a concern in late adolescence and adulthood.  In particular, one of Erikson’s Eight Stages of Man is the young adulthood “Intimacy vs. Isolation.”  Here, people focus on developing intimate relationships with others.  Among other developmentalists, Fenwick and Smith list “stabilizing relationships” as a milestone in late adolescent development.  In my own experience as an adult, intimate relationships seem central to personal well being, for my friends and me.  Adults will identify with the process of finding a companion, and will understand the complexities of the relationship between Manka and the burgomaster.  In addition, adults will enjoy the ending of the tale—Manka and the burgomaster live “happily ever after,” but after some difficulties.  In this time of high divorce rates, perhaps some will derive hope, that it is possible to work at a relationship successfully.

Bibliographic information on other versions/variants:

Carter, Angela, ed.  “The Wise Little Girl” in The Virago Book of Fairy Tales.  London: Virago Press, 1990, pp. 28-31.

Hoffman, Mary.  Clever Katya.  New York: Barefoot Books, 1998.

Lurie, Alison.  “Manka and the Judge” in Clever Gretchen and Other Forgotten Folktales.  New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1980, pp. 9-16. 

Brief comparison of all versions/variants in terms of language, rhythm, "tellability," "flavor," content, etc. Stress the differences in style rather than those of content.

Although I have followed the Pellowski version of “Clever Manka” most closely, I have changed its focus.  Pellowski’s wording emphasizes the inequality of clever Manka and her blundering husband, whereas I have chosen to accentuate the process by which Manka helps the burgomaster to improve.  Pellowski also stresses the arrogance and pride of the rich man in the beginning of the story.  The riddles in this version are more light-hearted than others, because the burgomaster requests the swiftest, the sweetest, and richest, allowing Manka to respond with positive human virtues.  Overall, Pellowski’s version is a playful, light-hearted tale that feels like it took place a long time ago. 

Lurie’s version is similar in plot, but varies slightly in style.  Because the word “judge” is used to describe Manka’s husband, the story loses some of its intrigue.  The quarreling peasants are not as well developed as in Pellowski’s version.  The riddles are a little more serious than Pellowski’s: richest, heaviest, and swiftest, allowing Manka to discuss sorrow as the heaviest thing in the world.  The interactions between Manka and the burgomaster are more straightforward than they are playful, since the two do not exchange riddles before they are married.  At the end, Manka drugs the burgomaster to make him fall asleep, lending a more serious feel to the story. 

The Virago Book of Fairy Tales contains a Russian variant of “Clever Manka” called “The Wise Little Girl.”  Because the little girl is only seven years old, the tale does not focus on the relationship between the girl and the tsar.  Instead, this story emphasizes riddles and intellectual competition.  In the beginning, the rich brother appears stupid instead of arrogant.  Because there is only one quarrel, the story is more complex, with the girl and the tsar sending riddles back and forth.  This variant is less playful and more intellectual than the others.

Another Russian version, the Hoffman tale is similar to the Virago variant.  However, this story is concerned more with the character of the tsar than the intellectual exchange of riddles between Katya and the tsar.  The tsar is presented as an intelligent man having a little fun with the quarreling brothers, instead of an inexperienced man not knowing what to do.  All of the characters seem warmer and more personable.  The child Katya and the tsar appear to tease each other with the riddle exchange.  As a result, this version is more light-hearted and fun than the other Russian version.