Grandfather’s Eyes, originally titled “Grandfather’s Eyes: The Story of the Three Wicked Yezinkas,” is a magical story from a collection of Czechoslovak fairy tales published in 1919. The Czech stories were gathered by Parker Fillmore and translated into English. He wanted to tell these stories in a way that would please American children, but he was passionate about preserving the cultural heritage of the stories he published. Fillmore also collected fairy tales and folklore from Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro, Russia, the Ukraine, Poland and other Eastern European countries.
(Czech Fairy Tale)
Once upon a time there lived a poor boy whom everybody called Yanni. His father and mother were dead and he was forced to start out alone in the world to make a living. For a long time he could find nothing to do. He wandered on and on and at last he came to a little house that stood by itself near the edge of the woods. An old man sat on the doorstep and the boy could see that he was blind, for there were empty holes where his eyes used to be.
Some goats that were penned in a shed near the house began bleating and the old man said, “You poor things, you want to go to pasture, don’t you? But I can’t see to drive you and I have no one else to send.”
“Send me, grandfather,” the boy said. “Take me as your goatherd and let me work for you.”
Yanni introduced himself and the old man agreed to take him. “And now,” he said, “drive the goats to pasture. But one thing: don’t take them to the hill over there in the woods or the witches may get you! That’s where they caught me!”
Now Yanni knew that these wicked witches lived in a cave in the woods and went about in the guise of beautiful young women. If they met you they would greet you modestly, and say something like “God bless you!” to make you think they were good and kind and then, once they had you in their power, they would put you to sleep and gouge out your eyes!
“Never fear, grandfather, the witches won’t get me!”
The first day and the second day Yanni kept the goats near home. But the third day he said to himself, “I think I’ll try the hill in the woods. There’s better grass there and I’m not afraid of the witches.”
Before he started out he cut three long slender switches from a blackberry bramble, wound them into small coils, and hid them in the crown of his hat. Then he drove the goats through the woods where they nibbled at leaves and branches, beside a deep river where they paused to drink, and up the grassy slopes of the hill.
There the goats scattered this way and that and Yanni sat down on a stone in the shade. He was hardly seated when he looked up and there before him, dressed all in white, stood the most beautiful maiden in the world. Her skin was red as roses and white as milk, her eyes were black as sloe berries, and her hair, dark as the raven’s wing, fell about her shoulders in long waving tresses. She smiled and offered Yanni a big red apple.
“God bless you, shepherd boy,” she said. “Here’s something for you that grew in my own garden.”
But Yanni knew that she must be a witch and that, if he ate the apple, he would fall asleep and then she would gouge out his eyes. So he said politely, “No, thank you, beautiful maiden. My master has a tree in his garden with apples that are bigger than yours and I have eaten as many as I want.”
When the maiden saw that Yanni was not to be coaxed, she disappeared.
Presently a second maiden came, more beautiful, if possible, than the first. In her hand she carried a lovely red rose.”God bless you, shepherd boy,” she said. “Isn’t this a lovely rose? I picked it myself from the hedge. How fragrant it is! Will you smell it?”
She offered him the rose but Yanni refused it. “No, thank you, beautiful maiden. My master’s garden is full of roses much sweeter than yours and I smell roses all the time.”
At that the second maiden shrugged her shoulders and disappeared.
Presently a third one came, the youngest and most beautiful of them all. In her hand she carried a golden comb.”God bless you, shepherd boy.”
“Good day to you, beautiful maiden.”
She smiled at Yanni and said, “Truly you are a handsome lad, but you would be handsomer still if your hair were nicely combed. Come, let me comb it for you.”
Yanni said nothing but he took off his hat without letting the maiden see what was hidden in its crown. She came up close to him and then, just as she was about to comb his hair, he whipped out one of the long blackberry switches and struck her over the hands. She screamed and tried to escape but she could not because it is the fate of a witch not to be able to move if ever a human being strikes her over the hands with a switch of bramble.
So Yanni took her two hands and bound them together with the long thorny switch while she wept and struggled.
“Help, sisters! Help!” she cried. At that the two other witches came running and when they saw what had happened they, too, began to weep and to beg Yanni to unbind their sister’s hands and let her go.
But Yanni only laughed and said, “No. You unbind them.”
“But, Yanni, how can we? Our hands are soft and the thorns will prick us.”
However, when they saw that Yanni was not to be moved, they went to their sister and tried to help her. Whereupon Yanni whipped out the other two blackberry switches and struck them also on their soft pretty hands, first one and then the other. After that they, too, could not move and it was easy enough to bind them and make them prisoners.
“Now I’ve got the three of you, you wicked witches!” Yanni said. “It was you who gouged out my poor old master’s eyes, you know it was! And you shall not escape until you do as I ask.”
He left them there and ran home to his master to whom he said, “Come, grandfather, for I have found a means of restoring your eyes!”
He took the old man by the hand and led him through the woods, along the bank of the river, and up the grassy hillside where the three witches were still struggling and weeping. Then he said to the first of them,”Tell me now where my master’s eyes are. If you don’t tell me, I’ll throw you into the river.”
The first witch pretended she didn’t know. So Yanni lifted her up and started down the hill toward the river. That frightened the maiden and she cried out, “Don’t throw me into the river, and I’ll find you your master’s eyes, I promise you I will!”
So Yanni put her down and she led him to a cave in the hillside where she and her wicked sisters had piled up a great heap of eyes—all kinds of eyes they were: big eyes, little eyes, black eyes, red eyes, blue eyes, green eyes—every kind of eye in the world that you can think of. She went to the heap and picked out two eyes which she said were the right ones.
But when the poor old man tried to look through them, he cried out in fright, “I see nothing but dark treetops with sleeping birds and flying bats! These are not my eyes! They are owls’ eyes! Take them out! Take them out!”
When Yanni saw how the first witch had deceived him, without another word he picked her up, threw her into the river, and that was the end of her. Then he said to the second sister, “Now you tell me where my master’s eyes are.”
At first she, too, pretended she didn’t know, but when Yanni threatened to throw her likewise into the river, she was glad enough to lead him back to the cave and pick out two eyes that she said were the right ones. But when the poor old man tried to look through them, again he cried out in fright, “I see nothing but tangled underbrush and snapping teeth and hot red tongues! These are not my eyes! They are wolves’ eyes! Take them out! Take them out!”
When Yanni saw how the second witch had deceived him, without another word he picked her up, and threw her also into the river, and that was the end of her. Then Yanni said to the third sister, “Now you tell me where my master’s eyes are.”
At first she, too, pretended she didn’t know, but when Yanni threatened to throw her likewise into the river, she was glad enough to lead him to the cave and pick out two eyes that she said were the right ones. But when the poor old man tried to look through them, again he cried out in fright, “I see nothing but swirling waters and flashing fins! These are not my eyes! They are fishes’ eyes! Take them out! Take them out!”
When Yanni saw how the third witch had deceived him, without another word he was ready to serve her as he had served her sisters. But she begged him not to drown her and she said, “Let me try again, Yanni, and I’ll find you the right eyes, I promise you I will!”
So Yanni let her try again and from the very bottom of the heap she picked out two more eyes that she swore were the right ones. When the old man looked through them, he clapped his hands and said, “These are my own eyes, praise God! Now I can see as well as ever!”
After that the old man and Yanni lived on happily together. Yanni pastured the goats and the old man made cheeses at home and they ate them together. And you may be sure that the third witch never showed herself again on that hill!
Did you enjoy this fairy tale? If so, please share it with your friends and family. These beautiful stories deserve to be cherished for generations to come.
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I ‘m glad to have read this and like the illustrations. I assume stories like this survive because they convey a message that society values, have a moral or tap into some deep shared feelings. I’m not seeing a traditional moral other than be clever, ignore the warnings of elders, and strike first without mercy.
Here, the possibly unprovoked assault, capture and murder of crying women is OK, because everyone knows they are witches. It’s pretty dark if you assume they aren’t supernatural wicked witches. Then maybe don’t trust kind women and take what you want by force seems like the lessen for kids.
I’d love to hear a more positive interpretation.
Hi, I’ve been teaching folklore for over 30 years now so perhaps I can address some of this.
Some fairy tales exist simply to delight, while others carry morals that reflect a particular society in that particular time. In this instance, the lesson is about persistence and vigilance, something that is a running theme throughout many of the stories.
This story isn’t about the assault of women – that would be applying a modern lens and interpretation onto a traditional story instead of looking at it within its context. As modern readers, it’s easy to allow our belief of misapplied faith that led to persecution of women to negatively color stories like this but they have their own social norms.
Witches should be treated as a folkoric achetype or figurehead that represents cunning, ambition, and temptation (they are not literally women, but negative morals in which people should overcome). Remember, witches in fairy tales are known for stealing – such as this old man’s eyes – kidnapping, and boiling children alive for their ointments, so overcoming one was considered heroic. If one can use any means to overcome evil that is known for trickery, they are considered wise. If they are able to succeed in avenging a wrong from long ago, it is considered just.
Thank you so much for your insight! It’s so exciting to have a deeper interpretation of the fairy tale. Thank you for your kind words about the artwork. I’m glad it brought you joy and I appreciate you sharing it with your students.
I teach mythology, folklore, and art at a university and one of my students told me about this piece. It’s quite wonderful! I love the detail in the story itself and the art truly brings this alive. This story is quite rare and to find a truly unique application of medium upon it is a gem. I love how the eyes sparkle. The illustrations are adorable! I’m going to share with all of my students.