Pushkin’s The Fisherman and the Golden Fish

Good morning/afternoon/evening my friends! For those of you that follow my Instagram, you’ll have seen that I announced last week that if I had anything of interest to report on for my book, I would do so. While this post may not be a book update, it will, however, keep you in the loop with my book. This post is on Pushkin’s fairytale, The Fisherman and the Golden Fish. For those of you that don’t know, my book, The Coffin-maker’s Basement, is set in Russia. This fairytale we’re about to discuss is Russian, and may or may not have a foothold in my novel. 😉

Pushkin’s tale goes a little something like this:

Once upon a time, a fisherman was out on the docks, and he caught a gold fish. The fish pleaded with the fisherman for her life, promising him that she would grant any wish he might have. The fisherman –having never come across a talking fish– let the gold fish go without asking for anything in return. He went home later that day and told his wife his story. His wife wasn’t nearly as frugal as he. She told the fisherman to go back to the docks and ask for a new washtub, then a new house, then to become a noblewoman, then to become a tsarista. All of this the gold fish gave when the fisherman asked. The fisherman never asked for anything for himself.
One day, the fisherman’s wife, this tsarista, brought her husband forward and told him to go to the docks one last time. “Tell the fish,” she said, “that I want to become the ruler of the seas!” The fisherman went to the docks and called for the gold fish to come. When she did, the fisherman apologized and told her his wife was still not satisfied. “She wants to become the ruler of the seas!” the fisherman told the fish. The fish swam off. The fisherman waited.
After what seemed like a long time, the fisherman returned home to find his wife wasn’t the ruler of the seas, nor was she a tsarista, she wasn’t even a noblewoman. Their house had returned to the mud hut it was before, and their washtub lay broken.

It is said that Pushkin wrote his fairytales to comment on Russian history, this particular tale belonging to Catherine the Great who wanted to rule all the land surrounding the Black Sea. This explains Pushkin’s inspiration for the fisherman’s wife who wants to rule the seas.
I love that Pushkin commented on history by way of fairytales, but I would like to just focus on the fairytale itself, and zoom in on what life lessons it has to teach us.

The fish wanted one thing, she even offered to grant the fisherman anything he desired, provided he gave her her life. The fisherman, a modest man who was impressed enough by the fact that the fish could talk, gave her what she asked and wanted nothing in return.
The two, by themselves, worked very well together given what little interaction they had. The fish had a desire, the fisherman helped and asked for no reward.
But, the fisherman’s wife, who saw value in what the fish had, took more, and more, and more from the fish. Until she asked for too much, and the fish, and all her granted possessions, disappeared.

The lesson: don’t ask for more than you are given. The fish certainly didn’t, and the fisherman, who could have said, “Please tweak my wife’s personality so that she allows me to have some peace,” didn’t. Both the fish and the fisherman took what they were given. The fish had her life back, the fisherman accepted his life for what it is. Even though it was his wife’s greed that got them into trouble. In the story, once the fisherman’s wife becomes noblewoman, she has her husband thrown out on the streets. Once she becomes tsarista, she has her guards take him away. Not once did the fisherman wish for her to be different, though her self-righteousness caused him a lot of pain. Later, after she wishes for more than the fish will allow, she winds up with less than she had before.

Even the historical allegory of this story is about greed to some extent. Catherine the Great usurped her husband for the throne and sought to become the ruler of the seas herself. Talk about wanting more than you are given.

And this all is wrapped up in a story about a little fish.


Thanks for reading,


If you would like to read more on Russian folktales, or learn more about my novel, The Coffin-maker’s Basement, click on my CMB tag. (Home -> right-hand side -> tag cloud)

If you would like to know more about what life as a writer looks like, follow me on Instagram!


*Featured imagine is titled Gold Web by Uldus. You can find more of her photos by clicking on my Ted file at the top of the page and scrolling down to the link: Fairytales as You’ve Never Seen Them.

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