Dlouhý, Široký a Bystrozraký

This fairy tale comes from the Czech folklore tradition. Karel Jaromír Erben collected them just as Božena Němcová and other Czech National Revivalists did in the 19th century. In contrast to his peers, Erben preferred stories with more fatal and gloomy aspects and would adapt the language and style into quite a rich poetic diction.

The story has several significant features. First, the text is rich in figurativeness even in the characters’ speech. The protagonists do not use everyday language; their lines are full of metaphors and symbols. They are well aware that there is fatal predestination beyond their control and they refer to this notion, using a style that can be read with additional meaning and interpreted as symbols.

Second, the text contains mystery of the quest. The prince, the main protagonist, has to undergo a quest full of danger instead of other easy ways. Such a quest might remind one of the Holy Grail tales. Here, however, his action is not determined by his personal qualities as courage, focus, or bravery. It is predetermined fate that makes the plot move. The prince plays the role that was assigned to him rather than seeking his identity or dwelling on his uniqueness.

Third, the text perfectly meets the fairy tale format by including the three assistants who are immediately willing to help the prince (see Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale, 1928). Each of these helpers is equipped with a single ability, a property that reminds us of the commedia dell’arte principle. As soon as they finish their assignment, they are going to leave. No one is able to possess them. They are like universal pilgrims, always ready to help. However, they do not help everyone in need, but only those who are predetermined to meet them.

Finally, the text is marked with the arrival of the modernity era. This can be found in the strong iron-motif symbolism. It is the iron gate, the iron bridge, and iron circle that must be crossed or broken.

As a whole, the story represents more Romanticized tendency in the folk tales collecting. Erben’s criteria to include stories into his collection are not motivated by the intention to illustrate the customs and folklore of ordinary Czech people. The story is based on a principle of strong plot and adventure. That is why it does not have to end up with the depiction of everlasting idyll and happiness of the newly married that can be seen in other folk tale collections such as those by Božena Němcová.

The story was recreated into a humorous play entitled Dlouhý, Široký a Krátkozraký (The Long, the Wide, and the Nearsighted) by Ladislav Smoljak and Zdeněk Svěrák in their Cimrman theater in the 1970’s.