The Master Thief

the master thiefThis Norwegian is about a boy whose poor father sends him out into the world to earn a living. He joins a group of robbers, and proves to be so good at stealing that he becomes their leader. The Master Thief returns home a rich man and decides to marry the Governor’s daughter. But the Governor has other ideas, and sets the Master Thief a series of s in order to win the girl. To meet the final challenge, the Master Thief uses the body of another thief who had been hung for his crimes. This raises the question of why the Governor did not immediately hang the Master Thief when he found out who he was. Could a of the story be that it is OK to be a thief as long as you are clever enough not to get caught?

English Learner Vocabulary Help

The words and expressions in our in our Pre-Intermediate level Simplified English story which are not in our 1200 word list are: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , and .

There is also a word that is in our Pre-Intermediate word list but has a meaning in the story which is different to the one most commonly used. When the Master Thief’s father sent his sons away, he told them that they could go anywhere they wanted in the kingdom, and learn any trade they wished. The word here means a job that requires special training and skills and that is done by using your hands. There is also a non-word in the story: Brrrrr… the sound some people make when they are very cold.

General Comments on the Story

red fairy bookOur source for this story was The Red Fairy Book, one of a series of twelve collections of folk and fairy tales for children edited by Andrew Lang. This is the second book in the series, and was first published in 1890. It can be downloaded as an e-book from Project Gutenberg here. An audiobook is available from Librivox here.

In our introduction to the story, we questioned why the Governor would not immediately hang the Master Thief when he found out who he was. Another English version of the story had been published six years earlier in the original translation of Household Tales by the Brothers Grimm. We have also included a copy of this above. It is interesting to note that the Grimm story is different to Lang’s in two important ways:

  • In the Lang story, the Master Thief is a villain who beats his father cruelly when he refuses to go and ask the Governor for his daughter. In the Grimm version, he is painted as a ‘good’ thief and says to his father:

Do not imagine that I steal like a common thief, I only take some of the superfluity of the rich. Poor people are safe, I would rather give to them than take anything from them.

  • In the Lang story, the Master Thief is set three challenges in order to marry the Governor’s Daughter. In the Grimm version, he must meet the same challenges in order not to “marry the rope-maker’s daughter” (in other words, not to be hung).

Lang cites his source as the Norwegian Folktale collection of Asbjørnsen and Moe. It is likely that the Grimm story came from the same source, but was changed in translation to satisfy English tastes and morals.

There are many famous thieves in folklore. Some, like Ali-Baba of Arabian Nights fame or England’s Robin Hood, are regarded as heroes for stealing from people who are cruel or dishonest and/or sharing the proceeds of their crimes with the poor. This is not so with the “Master Thief” type stories common in European and Asian folktales. Master Thieves will steal from anyone, either for money or the pleasure of it. There are two very early literary sources in which the basic parts of many modern Master Thief stories can be found. The first is the legend of Autolycus (sometimes referred to as the “Prince of Thieves”) from Greek mythology. The second is the story of Rhampsinit and the Masterthief recorded by the Greek historian Herodutis; for anyone interested, we have also included a copy of this above.

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folktale(n: folktale pl folktales) A story that is part of the traditions of a group of people and was handed down in spoken form before books and printing. 9000

(n: challenge pl challenges) 1. A difficult task or problem; something that is hard to do. 2. The act of questioning someone's power, a statement etc. 3. An invitation to compete in a game, fight, etc. 2000

moral(n: moral pl morals) The lesson to be learned from something that happens or from a story.
(adj: moral) Concerning what is right and wrong in human behavior. A moral person is always does what they believe to be the right thing to do. 2000

angel(n: angel pl angels) 1. A messenger or attendant of God. 2. A person (such as a child) who is very good, kind, beautiful, etc. Your son is such an angel! Be an angel and get me a cup of tea, would you?
(adj: angelic) Like an angel. 4000

(n: barrel pl barrels) 1. A large, usually wooden container with round sides and flat ends. 2. A tube in a gun through which a bullet goes when it is fired. 3000

barrels gunbarrel

beggar(n: beggar pl beggars) A person (often homeless or disabled) who lives by asking others to give them money, food, etc. 2000

branch(n: branch pl branches) An arm-like part of a tree that grows out from the central part. 2000

brandy(n: brandy pl brandies) A strong alcoholic drink made from wine. 5000

bury(v: bury, buries, buried, burying) To place in the earth and cover with soil. 3000

cart(n: cart pl carts) A vehicle with two wheels that is pulled by an animal such as a horse or donkey. The farmer packed the vegetables into his cart to take them to market. 3000

devil(n: devil pl devils) The most powerful spirit of evil; The ruler of Hell; Satan. 3000
(adj: devilish) Looking or acting like a devil; wicked, evil.

forward(adj: forward) 1. Moving or directed ahead or toward the front. A forward movement. 2. Near or belonging to the front part of something. The forward part of a ship is the 'bow'.
(adv: forward or forwards) 1. Moving ahead or towards the front. He moved forwards. 2. To a later time. From this time forward. 1000

gallows(n: gallows pl gallows) A structure on which a criminal who has been sentenced to death is killed by being hanged. He was sentenced to death on the gallows. 12000

goose(n: goose pl geese) A web-footed bird that swims like a duck, but is larger and has a longer neck. 4000

heaven(n: heaven, singular) In some religions, the place where God or the gods live, and where good people go when they die. Also known as 'Paradise'. 2000
(n: heavens) Used informally to make a statement or question more forceful or to express surprise, etc. Good heavens! Have you won the lottery again?; Heaven's above, I haven't seen you in years.

knock(v: knock, knocks, knocked, knocking) To make a loud, sharp noise by hitting or tapping something [especially a door to get someone to open it]. 1000

master(n: master pl masters) 1. A person who has become very skilled at doing something. 2. Someone who has control or power over others. 3. A polite title for a boy. 2000

nightdress(n: nightdress pl nightdresses) A loose dress that is worn in bed, especially by women and girls; also called a nightgown. 8000

ox(n: ox pl oxen) A bull that has had its sex organs removed, once widely used on farms to pull carts, plows [British: ploughs] etc. 7000

priest(n: priest pl priests) A man who leads people in the worship of a god or group of gods; a man who leads or performs religious ceremonies. 4000

sack(n: sack pl sacks) A large bag of strong cloth, paper or plastic. 2000

shiver(v: shiver, shivers, shivered, shivering) To move back and forth or from side to side slightly because you are cold, afraid, etc. 5000

shake(v: shake, shakes, shook, shaken, shaking) To move back and forth or up and down with short, quick movements. 2000

stable(n: stable pl stables) A building in which large animals are kept. (คอก สัตว์) 5000

steal(v: steal, steals, stole, stolen, stealing) To take (something) from the owner in a way that is wrong or against the law. (ขโมย) 3000

thief(n: thief pl thieves) Someone who takes (something) from the owner in a way that is wrong or against the law; a robber. The thief got away with all my money. (ขโมย) 3000

wig(n: wig pl wigs) Artificial hair that you wear on your head because you are bald or in order to change the way you look. She was wearing a blonde wig. (วิก) 3000

wipe(v: wipe, wipes, wiped, wiping) To clean or dry something by using a cloth, your hand, etc. (เช็ด) 2000

witch(n: witch pl witches) 1. A woman who is thought to have magic powers. (แม่มด) 2. [informal] A very unpleasant woman. His mother-in-law is a bitter old witch. 4000
(n: witchcraft) Magic practised by a witch etc. (การใช้เวทมนตร์คาถา) 12000
(n: witch-doctor) A person who is believed in some cultures to be able to communicate with spirit worlds and use magic spells to cure people who are sick, to tell or control future, etc. (หมอผี)

(v: trades, traded, trading) 1. The activity or process of buying, selling, or exchanging goods or services. Japan trades a lot with the U.S.A.. (ค้าขาย) 2. To give something to someone and receive something in return; to exchange. I traded my watch for a bicycle. (แลกเปลี่ยน) 1000
(n: pl trades) 1. A job that requires special training and skills and that is done by using your hands. I am a carpenter/electrician/beautician by trade. 2. A business, occupation, or job. He's in the jewellery trade. (อาชีพ)1000

bartering tradesmen

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