I first read this story in an Isaac Asimov book. It was supposed to be the originator of the term a shaggy dog story. That term is used to describe any anecdote that draws people in on the presumption that it’s going to have a witty ending. It then rambles on, keeping people waiting, till finally, the audience begging for mercy, it ends with a weak pun. I happened to like the wordplay in this one so it stuck with me even though I must have read it a good 35 years or more ago.
Once upon a time…
…there was a queen who had a big, big problem.
Her kingdom was being plagued by a dragon who burned up the crops and snacked on her subjects.
So she called her people to the great hall one evening and said, ‘who is going to rid us of this dragon?’
A huge knight stepped forward and said, ‘I am not afraid, I will deal with the dragon.’ And with much cheering from the people, he leaped onto his horse and off he charged.
Alas, his encounter with the dragon did not go well. The dragon roasted him in his armour and gobbled him up.
The queen called her people together again and said, ‘once again, who will rid me of the dragon?’
A group of three knights stepped forward and said, ‘if one can’t do it, we three will succeed.’
So with much cheering, off they went, but sadly they fared no better.
Once again the queen was forced to ask for volunteers. This time there was much shuffling of feet and people nudging each other and avoiding eye contact, especially with the queen. Finally, a band of knights said that they would fight the dragon.
They went off to great cheers from the crowd. The people were sure such a large group would succeed. They were mistaken and once again the dragon killed every last man and gobbled him up.
Now everyone, including the queen, was feeling very gloomy and the weather reflected their mood. Wind howled and rain lashed down as the queen called everyone together again.
‘I am at my wit’s end,’ the queen said. ‘Is there anyone left who can defeat this dragon?’
‘I’ll do it, your majesty,’ a little man said and pushed his way through the crowd to stand before the queen.
‘That’s impossible,’ the queen said, ‘you’re far too small, why, you’re too small even to ride a horse.’
‘I can do it,’ the little man said and puffed out his chest.
‘It would be nothing but murder, besides, you can’t be a knight without a trusty steed.’
‘There’s your solution, your majesty,’ a man shouted from the crowd. ‘Give him another mount for we need a knight to rid us of the dragon.’
‘Perhaps the knight can use my dog,’ a courtier said pointing at his big, shaggy wolf hound.
‘Don’t be silly,’ the Queen said, ‘I can’t send a knight out on a dog like that!’
Boom, boom, end of joke.
But if you are like me, you want to know how the story ended.
So we’ll pick up with the little knight. He accepted the dog, leaped onto him and rode like the wind to the dragon’s lair. Because it was late now and raining down in buckets the dragon was tucked up inside fast asleep.
The little knight knew that he couldn’t defeat the dragon with brawn so he used his brain instead. He wrapped up his armour so it wouldn’t make a noise, sneaked into the cave and chopped off the dragon’s head before it even had a chance to wake up.