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To think about using our intelligence and wit to achieve what we want

by Gordon and Ronni Lamont

Suitable for Key Stage 2


To think about using our intelligence and wit rather than strength to achieve what we want.

Preparation and materials

  • Familiarize yourself with the story of Arild Ugerup.


  1. Ask the children what the word 'cunning' means. Can they think of any examples of cunning, particularly in stories? Aesop's fables might be a good source of inspiration - see the assembly on the theme of 'I can'. You might also mention Baldrick's various 'cunning plans' in Blackadder.

  2. Introduce the Swedish legend below and tell it in your own words. Ask the children to listen out for the 'cunning plan'.

    The story of Arild Ugerup

    This story happened a long time ago. The Swedish and Danish people were great friends - which was just as well as their countries were right next door to each other. Arild Ugerup was the son of a noble Danish family. He had a sweetheart, Thale Thott, and every day he would go to visit her. They were in love and planned to marry. But before they could make the arrangements, King Erik of Sweden declared war on the Danish people and Arild was captured.

    Poor Arild, he was thrown into a dark and lonely prison cell and left there. How he missed his home, his family and most of all Thale Thott. The days dragged by and Arild wondered if he would ever be free again. Then, one day, his jailer brought him a letter. This is what it said:

    My dearest Arild,
    You know how much I miss you and wish that I could be with you, even for just one hour. Now I must bring you bad news. My father wants me to marry soon and he says that, as there is no chance of you coming home, I must marry a nobleman from the next village. I fear I will never see you again, dear Arild. It is terrible but I must obey my father.
    Your sweetheart,
    Thale Thott

    Arild was so cross when he read the letter that he threw himself at the door, shook the bars at his window and tried to dig his way through the floor. 'If only I were stronger,' he thought. 'I could break out of here and go to Thale.'

    That night, though, when he had calmed down, he had another thought: 'I'll never be strong enough to break out of here - not strong enough in body, no one could be. But maybe I'm stronger in another way. Maybe I'm strong enough in cunning.'

    He thought all night and the next morning he wrote a letter to King Erik:

    Your Majesty,
    I accept that I am your prisoner but I would like to ask one small favour. I have a sweetheart who I must marry soon or I will lose her. I beg Your Majesty to let me go home and marry her. I will stay only as long as it takes to plant and harvest a crop - for it would not be right to leave my wife as soon as we are married. I solemnly swear that after harvesting the crop I will come straight back to prison.
    Your trusty prisoner,

    Arild sat and waited. Before too long a reply came. King Erik had agreed to his plan. Arild could go free to get married as long as he came back to prison after the harvest.

    All went according to plan. Arild and Thale were married and the planting took place. After a while a messenger came from King Erik saying: 'You should have harvested your crop by now - it's time you went back to prison.'

    But Arild laughed and said, 'I'm afraid the King will have to wait. There's no harvest yet.'

    'No harvest?' said the messenger. 'Why, what on earth did you plant?'

    And Arild replied: 'Pine trees.'

    The messenger went straight to the King. But when he heard what had happened, King Erik laughed too: 'What a cunning fellow,' he said. 'He deserves his freedom.'

  3. Make the point that Arild found that strength wasn't going to help him, but sitting back and thinking made him much stronger. Are there times when we need to think first and act later?

Time for reflection

Cunning is a type of thinking
Thinking through a plan.
Cunning is a way of scheming
And getting what you can.

Cunning can be as simple as
Thinking before you act.
If we all did that - the world would be better
And that's a cunning fact.


'Tis the gift to be simple' (Come and Praise, 97).

Publication date: June 2004   (Vol.6 No.6)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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