Nudity in Folktales

One of the most famous examples of nudity in folktales or fairy tales is “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” In that story, the main character is tricked, through the manipulation of his own vanity and his own fears, into believing that his body could be clothed when it was not covered at all. There are many analyses of that well-known story, but my focus here is on a parable or folktale that I had not known of until recently when I happened across a version of it in Spanish online. It’s called “The Parable of Truth and Falsehood,” although it is also known by other similar titles.

It’s related to “The Emperor’s New Clothes” in that there is an element of trickery – one character is tricked out of her clothes. But it’s more closely related to the old trope of going swimming (in what should be the standard sense of the word – skinny dipping) only to discover that someone has stolen the clothes left on the bank.

These kinds of folktales have been classified by several scholars. One of the most widely used classification systems is the Stith Thompson Motif Index, which is excellent regarding European folktales and good for Asian as well (but poor regarding folktales from the rest of the world). According to the Stith Thompson index, for example, there is an entire category of folktales under the heading “the magic bath,” in which swimming in a particular body of water transforms characters – often their skin color – as a way of explaining phenotypical differences among the peoples of the world.

Yet this parable is not an example of “the magic bath” either. Here is my translation of the version I found in Spanish, along with the art that is included on the page. Below are some links to other versions online – it’s interesting to note the differences in each version.

Truth Getting out of the Well. Jean-Léon Gêrome. 1896.

In the Spanish, the nouns for Truth and Falsehood are feminine in gender (la Verdad y la Mentira), which produces an understanding of them as female characters. In this more extended version that has nothing to do with bathing – in both Russian and English – the characters are also female, but in this version, which does have to do with swimming, both characters are male – twin brothers, in fact. What’s interesting to me is that these different versions not only share the essential metaphor of nudity as truth and clothing as deceit. They also share, unfortunately, an attitude unfavorable to nudity being seen or accepted outside contexts such as swimming or bathing (or sleeping, in the Russian example). In fact, in that Russian example, not only does Truth end up naked but also covered in soot, forcing an association between nudity and filth.

In other words, in all of these examples, truth continues to be upheld as a moral value, but the expression of truth as nudity (a frank or undiplomatic truth) is undesirable. Also, oddly, the differing versions confirm that naked Truth is a victim of Falsehood or Deceit, which means that a truth with a little covering to it – maybe a little white dress / a little while shift / a little white lie – has not (yet) been victimized. What also follows is, of course, the moral of the story: that a lie dressed in the trappings of truth will be preferred over the naked truth. From a naturist point of view, it would be great to learn of a folktale that actually celebrates nudity as truth!

A few questions for you, reader: Was this folktale already known to you? Do you know of other versions of the same parable? Do you know of positive examples of nudity in folktales?

4 thoughts on “Nudity in Folktales”

    1. Wow – I had not known of this one, either. Yes, she is certainly very clever. Thanks, Paul!

  1. I remember a version where falsehood went swimming.falsehood stole truth’s clothing and left her own. Rather no than be clad in lies, truth elected to be naked.

    Hence we have the naked truth.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Fred. Is the version you remember different from the one in the post above?

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