3. ‘Pottle of Brains’

A 'droll' told by the same person as 'Coat o' Clay', a story collected in Lincolnshire by Balfour which was sent to Andrew Lang to be included in Longman's Magazine and Folklore in 1890. Both Coat o' Clay and Pottle o' Brains were included in More English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs.


There was once a fool who wanted to buy a pottle of brains as he was always getting into scapes because of his foolishness and was laughed at by everyone. He heard that the old wise-woman at the top of the hill might be able to help and he asked his mother if he should see her. His mother agreed that it would be a good idea and added that he would need brains if she died so that he could look after himself. After tea he went to see the wise-woman who told him to bring “the heart of the thing thou likes best of all.” When he gets home he kills the pig as he likes fat bacon best of all. She gives him the riddle “What runs without feet” to answer and when he fails to solve it tells him he had not brought the right thing. He goes home to find that his mother was dying. He realises he loves her most of all and carries her dead body over his shoulder to the wise-womans cottage. She asks him “What's yellow and shiny, but isn't gold?” and again he can't answer. He goes home upset and a local lass sees him and asks what is the matter. He tells her he has no one to look after him and she offers to help. They went off to get married and they were happy together. One day he remembers the wise-woman and tells his wife all about his visits and the riddles. His wife agrees to go with him to try to get his pottle of brains and when he is asked the two riddles she whispers the answers ('water' and 'the sun') in his ear. The fool is then asked “what is it that first has no legs, and then two legs, and ends with four legs.” His wife whispers “a tadpole” and he tells the wise-woman the answer. The wise-woman then says that he has got his brains already...they are in his wife's head!