The False Man and the Boy


“Hey, where you goin’?”
   Said the false man upon the road:
“I’m goin’ to school,”
   Said the little boy, standing still.
“What is that upon your back?”
“Oh, it’s just my books.”
“And what’s that you’ve got
in your hands?”
“Oh, it’s just my keys.”
“But who owns this land?”
“It’s me and my family.”
 “Well, how much of it is mine?”
“All that can stand up can
“I wish you were up on a tree:”
“With a good ladder under me.”
“And the ladder will break:”
“For you to fall down.”
“I wish you were stuck in the
“With a good bottom under me.”
“And the bottom will break:”
“For you to be drowned.”
“I wish you’d follow me to
“Yes—you in, and I out.”
“Ah, well I wish you’d follow
me to heaven:”
“Yes—I in, and you out.”
This was adapted from “The False Knight Upon the Road,”
from James Childs’ book, The English and
Scottish Popular Ballads
. The ballad explores the idea of the devil dressed
as a knight trying to trick a little boy into following him to hell by
challenging him with a verbal gauntlet; however, the boy succeeds in outwitting
the knight at every turn and stays out of hell. I find, as well, a theme common
to fairy tales in warning children of the dangers of strangers, with haunting
modern echoes of child kidnappings.

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