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Three Fat Men

A Revolutionary Fairy Tale
by Yuri Olesha

Illustrations by M. Dobuzhinsky



Doctor Gaspar's Day Is Disturbed

The time of magicians has passed. But sometimes the uneducated would mistake the distinguished and very learned Dr. Gaspar Arneri for a magician because of the amazing things he could do. He was the master of a hundred sciences.

One day, Dr. Gaspar decides to go to the park by the Palace of the Three Fat Men to collect various grasses and insects. When he gets to the city's edge, however, he finds that the city gates are closed and a huge crowd is gathered there. The guards are letting no one out of the city because the armorer Prospero and the gymnast Tibul have led a mob to storm the Palace of the Three Fat Men. The rebels are routed in a bloody battle and Prospero, the hero of the people, is captured. Dr. Gaspar climbs a tower to watch the battle, but a stray shell destroys the tower.

Ten Gallows

In the commotion, Dr. Gaspar loses his hat, coat, eyeglasses, shoe heels, and consciousness. When he awakens, it is night and he hears waltz music. He comes upon a fancy party. Outside, the carriage drivers and flower sellers are gossiping in concern about the fate of Prospero, who has been put in an iron cage in the Palace of the Three Fat Men. A fancy lady is happy that he is locked up. A boy says that Tibul is still at large. A solemn procession of guards and 100 carpenters passes by. They are on their way to construct ten gallows. All the rebels will be beheaded.


Star Square

At a menagerie, a clown parodies the Three Fat Men, portraying them as fat sacks of grain and concluding that "Their last days have come". The fat people in the audience are outraged; the more slender ones are approving. Guards set fire to homes in the workers' district as they search for Tibul.

Dr. Gaspar, trying to get home, comes upon a commotion and a crowd in the town's main square, called Star Square. The square is constructed with a cupola of glass over it and a gigantic lantern suspended on cables in the center. (The lantern is called the "Star", and hence the name of the square.) Gymnast Tibul--wearing a green cape and multicolored tights as he usually wears when performing his tightrope-walking act at fairs--is crawling along a roof, fleeing from the guards. Some in the crowd are cheering him on, others cursing him. Tibul climbs to the edge of the roof, then starts to walk across one of the cables toward the Star. An officer of the guards takes aim and is about to shoot Tibul when suddenly one of the guards shoots the officer instead. The guards break into two groups--pro-Tibul and anti-Tibul. Tibul reaches the Star in the center of the square and pulls a lever, extinguishing the bright lantern. In the darkness, Tibul escapes through a hatch in the glass cupola. Dr. Gaspar returns home and notes in his diary the events of the day. He hears a noise, turns around, and sees Tibul himself.



The Amazing Adventure of the Balloon Seller

The next day, it is very windy. A Balloon Seller, holding onto his bunch of balloons, is carried aloft in the wind. As he sails overhead, one of his large slippers falls off his foot and lands right on the head of dance instructor Razdvatris ("One- two-three-s"), who was reprimanding some noisy children.

The Balloon Seller drifts out of the city and right into the window of the pastry kitchen in the Palace of the Three Fat Men. He lands on top of giant cake that is being prepared for gala breakfast being held by the Fat Men to celebrate the crushing of the rebellion. The pastry chefs decide that the only way now to save the cake is to use the Balloon Seller and his balloons as an ornament. So they immediately plaster the Balloon Seller all over with cream and candies. He and the giant cake are then carried into the dining hall where the enormously fat Fat Men are entertaining many guests.

The Fat Men decide to exhibit Prospero (who is being kept in a cage in a menagerie) for all the guests to see. At first, when they bring in Prospero, everyone is fearful. One miller faints. Prospero denounces the Three Fat Men, saying that the peasants, miners and workers will no longer slave for their benefit. The First Fat Man says Prospero will sit in his cage until they catch Tibul, then the two of them will be executed together. The Fat Men boast of their wealth. The First controls all the grain, the Second all the coal, and the Third all the iron.

Prospero is led away, and everyone turns their attention back to the cake. They are greatly intrigued by the "ornament" of the Balloon Seller. They wonder what delicious treat is inside this "ornament"--maybe candy, maybe champagne. They are about to chop of its head to see when they are interrupted by the heir Tutti.

The heir Tutti is a 12-year-old boy whom the Fat Men, themselves childless, have chosen as heir. He is crying inconsolably and announces that his life-sized girl doll has been ruined, stabbed with sabers by guardsmen. Tutti's tutor relates how, in the park, they were approached by 12 surly guardsmen, who sneer at Tutti, calling him a wolf cub raised by three fat pigs. (The First Fat Man, puzzled, asks, "Who are these three fat pigs?") The guardsmen taunt Tutti, then stab the doll with their swords and chant support for Prospero. Tutti's bodyguards merely saluted the 12 guardsmen and told them that soon all the soldiers would be on the side of the people.

Everyone is shocked at this story. The most loyal guards are immediately posted at all entrances and exits to the park and palace. The Three Fat Man weigh themselves and discover that, despite the furor, they have not lost an ounce of fat. For this, the chief doctor is arrested and put on a regimen of bread and water.

Tutti hugs his doll, which is torn and tattered and has a broken internal spring. The State Council decides that the famous Dr. Gaspar must repair the doll. They dispatch a message to him giving him until tomorrow to effect the repair. He can have any reward he wants if successful. If he fails, severe punishment is promised.

Meanwhile, the giant cake with the creamed-over Balloon Seller on it is carried back into the pastry kitchen. There, the Balloon Seller gives his balloons to 20 kitchen boys who promise to help him escape. Following their instructions, the Balloon Seller climbs into a giant copper pot, and the boys cover him with the lid.



Earlier that morning, while the Balloon Seller was enjoying his flight, Dr. Gaspar's housekeeper, Auntie Ganymede entered Dr. Gaspar's study. There she noticed something burning in a crucible and was shocked to see a black man in red underpants also in the room.

Gaspar and the black man go out for a walk. They see a notice that the Three Fat Men have arranged for a festival to be held that day in the Fourteenth Market--it will held at the same time that the executions of the rebels are scheduled to take place in Judgment Square.

Gaspar and the black man go to the festival. One performer, a Spaniard, thinking that the black man is an actor, tells him that the Fat Men have hired all the performers for this festival and paid them well as long as they praise the Fat Men and condemn the rebels in their performances. Any performers who refused were arrested. As the show begins, a clown comes out and says some words in praise of the Fat Men, but is hit in the face with a cake.

Strongman Lapitup comes out and gives a weight-lifting demonstration. He bangs some barbells together and says that is how the Three Fat Men will smash the heads of Prospero and Tibul. The black man calls him a traitor and tells him to shut up. The strongman is unnerved when the black man says he knows Lapitup's personal history--his father is a blacksmith and his sister a washer-woman. The black man gives Lapitup until the count of three to leave. Confused and fearful, Lapitup flees. The black man tells the crowd that is the way the people will chase off the three Fat Men. The people in the crowd become suspicious, thinking that the black man is really just another one of the Fat Men's stooges. The black man, however, reveals that he is really Tibul in disguise.

Just then a carriage containing the captain of the palace guard, Count Boneventura, and the broken doll thunders into the square. The guardsmen identify Dr. Gaspar, usher him into the carriage, and thunder off with him. Lapitup chases after the guardsmen to inform on Tibul. The Spaniard, armed with pistols, comes out on stage and says they must turn Tibul over to the Fat Men. The Director of the show supports the Spaniard. They are joined by Lapitup, who failed to stop the guardsmen. Tibul runs and jumps over a fence into a vegetable garden. He snatches up cabbage heads and hurls them at his pursuers, causing them great confusion. He then bends down to grab another cabbage head, but it's not a cabbage--it's the head of the Balloon Seller, who is just emerging from an underground tunnel, which was his means of escape from the Fat Men's palace (the tunnel began in the big pot). The Balloon Seller tells Tibul about his escape. Tibul pulls the Balloon Seller out of the ground, then runs off. Meanwhile, the Spaniard is distracted by one of the balloons (lost by the kitchen boys), floating overhead. He tries to shoot it, but misses and instead shoots the hat off the Director's head. The gunshot startles a dog, who chases after the trio, nipping Lapitup on the calf and forcing the Director up a tree.



The guardsmen take Dr. Gaspar back home to his lab and show him the broken doll, ordering that it be repaired by the next morning. The guards leave. Dr. Gaspar examines the doll, which is of amazingly fine workmanship. He looks at the doll's face, which is very lifelike, and he feels that it is familiar, but from where? It almost seems as if it were a real girl who was turned into a doll. Further investigation reveals that an internal gear is broken on the doll. Dr. Gaspar knows how to fix it, but it will take at least two days to prepare the special metal--more time than he was given for repairs. With trepidation, Dr. Gaspar decides to take the broken doll to the Palace of the Fat Men and try to explain the situation.


On the way to the Palace of the Three Fat Men with the doll, Dr. Gaspar falls asleep in the carriage. He is awakened by shouting outside the carriage. It is guardsmen, who have been ordered not to allow anyone within one kilometer of the Palace. Dr. Gaspar says he must get to the Palace and identifies himself. The guards laugh in disbelief. Dr. Gaspar, they say, is home in his workshop repairing Tutti's doll. Dr. Gaspar, about to show them the doll, then sees that it is missing. It must have fallen out of the carriage while he was asleep. So Gaspar and the carriage turn around. He and the coachman search for the doll, but to no avail. Dr. Gaspar then thinks that the doll must really have been alive and that it ran away.


Dr. Gaspar assumes that he will certainly be beheaded now, but becomes distracted by his hunger. All the restaurants are closed, but he smells food coming from a circus wagon. The wagon belongs to Brizak, in whose troupe Tibul performed. Dr. Gaspar knocks on the wagon door and is admitted by August, an old clown. He says they've been hiding from the guardsmen and have no idea where Tibul is now. August is pleased to see Dr. Gaspar and reminds him of an incident a year ago when the troupe was giving a performance in a public square and his daughter, Suok, was singing. She sang a song about a cake that preferred to bake in the oven than disappear into the stomach of a fat landowner. A fashionable lady in the crowd took offense and ordered her servant to beat the girl, but Dr. Gaspar intervened and stopped the beating.

August call his daughter. She steps out and Dr. Gaspar is shocked to see that she is....heir Tutti's doll!


The Difficult Role of a Little Actress

Dr. Gaspar is now convinced that Tutti's doll was really a living girl who jumped out of his carriage while he was sleeping. He demands that Suok tell him who she really is. (In his confusion he didn't see that Suok was not dressed elegantly as was the doll and that--most importantly--she had no holes in her chest.) Just then, a black man enters. Everyone, except Dr. Gaspar of course, is terrified. The black man hugs Suok, but she squirms to get away. The black man then pours a solution over himself. The black color fades away, revealing that it is Tibul! Everyone is overjoyed! Dr. Gaspar tells Tibul of the lost doll and of the resemblance Suok bears to it. Tibul tells Suok that she must pretend to be the doll and go with Dr. Gaspar to the Palace. There they can help Prospero escape through the secret tunnel he learned about from the Balloon Seller.

As dawn breaks, Suok puts on her fanciest dress and rides off in a carriage with Dr. Gaspar. As they ride, they see a man trying to snatch something out of the jaws of a dog--the same dog which earlier bit Lapitup. The man is successful and runs off, clutching his prize to his chest--it is Tutti's doll! And the man is dance instructor Razdvatris.

The Doll With a Big Appetite

Dr. Gaspar and Suok arrive at the Palace. A crowd of courtiers and servants gathers as Dr. Gaspar presents the repaired doll with the "improvements" of the ability to walk and talk. Heir Tutti is thrilled and excited. The Three Fat Men, covered with sweat from their exercise session, enter. (The First Fat Man has a black eye--the result of being hit in the eye by a ball thrown by the Second Fat Man.) They examine the doll. Tutti's beaming face puts them in a good mood. They tell Dr. Gaspar that he can name any reward he wants. Dr. Gaspar requests that all the prisoners who were to be executed be set free and that the gallows be burned. All are shocked. The Secretary, who was about to write down the request, drops his sharp quill pen and it sticks right in the foot of the Second Fat Man. The Second Fat Man hops around in pain, then takes the pen out of his foot and hurls it angrily at the Secretary. The pen misses the Secretary and lands in the rear end of a guard standing on duty. The guard, faithful to his duty, does not flinch and the pen is not removed until his duty shift ends.

The Fat Men refuse Dr. Gaspar's request as "criminal". Dr. Gaspar whispers to Suok, who begins to squeak and stagger around as if dying. Dr. Gaspar says it's because her system is extremely sensitive and that she will be completely broken unless his request is granted. Tutti stamps his feet and wails, so the Fat Men finally agree. Dr. Gaspar leaves.

Tutti takes the "doll" Suok out to the garden, then orders breakfast. Suok is uncertain if dolls should eat, but she can't resist the sight of the tasty cakes and eats some. Tutti is pleased, saying, "Before, it was so boring to eat alone." Suok then hears a "tuk-tuk", not a "tick-tock". Tutti says it is the sound of the beating of his iron heart.

The Menagerie

Tutti leaves Suok for his lessons. Suok knows that Prospero is being kept in Tutti's menagerie and tries to think of a plan for freeing him.

Tutti had been raised away from other children. He never had a living playmate. He never heard the sound of laughter. The Fat Men wanted to raise a cruel and evil heir, so they denied him the company of other children and gave him only a doll, which could smile, but not talk--so Tutti never learned about poverty, prisons, suffering, etc. And the Fat Men gave him an animal menagerie, reasoning that the sight of the tiger eating raw meat and a boa swallowing a live rabbit would make Tutti hard and cruel. But it didn't work out that way. Tutti loved the company of the doll much more than the animals.

When Tutti returns, Suok says that when she was broken she had a dream that she was a circus actress who would walk on the tightrope, dance, do acrobatic stunts; that she and her troupe were poor and sometimes went hungry. Tutti doesn't understand the concept of "poor" and Suok has to explain. For hours until nightfall, Suok continues telling Tutti of her "dream", eventually forgetting that it was supposed to be a "dream". She says she can play a waltz on apricot seeds made into whistles. Tutti is intrigued. She says she can even play a waltz on a key. Tutti says he has a special key from his menagerie given to him by the Chancellor which he keeps hanging around his neck. He gives the key to Suok, who blows over it, playing a song. Tutti does not notice how she then pockets the key.

That night, Suok, with the key, sneaks down to the menagerie. She takes the lantern from the sleeping guard and searches among the animals. She finds whom she assumes is Prospero. But he is strangely changed--fur growing on him like a bear; his ears human, yet somehow wolflike; long nails; apelike hands; overall like a gorilla. He is dying. But before he expires he hands Suok a note which, he says, explains everything. Suok gasps and drops the lantern. All is dark.



Candy Death

When Suok dropped the lantern and gasped, all the animals in the menagerie woke up and began roaring, growling, etc. The sleeping guard also awoke and summoned other guards, who immediately searched the area. The found nothing suspicious, but noticed a trace of pink high up in a tree. Assuming it is Laura the Parrot, escaped from her cage, the Zoologist, the administrator of the menagerie, climbs up the tree to retrieve it. However, he sees something terrifying, yelps, and falls down, getting caught on a branch with his nightgown. The guardsmen also cry in terror and start running around in confusion.

Fifteen minutes earlier, the Fat Men had received distressing news. In the city, the workers have gotten hold of guns and are rioting, throwing all fat people into the river. Tibul is organizing the people, and many guardsmen have gone over to his side. As usual whenever they are alarmed, the Fat Men start to get even fatter, their stomachs growing and their collar buttons bursting. The State Council immediately took up two questions: (1) How to stop the fattening of the Fat Men, and [2] How to put down the rebellion. On the first question the Council decided that dance was the answer and the dance teacher was to be summoned immediately. It was then that they heard the commotion in the menagerie.

A big crowd rushes to the menagerie to see what's the matter, but as soon as they get there, they turn around and flee the other way in terror because of what they see: A gigantic, red-headed man in a torn jacket. It is Prospero. In one hand he holds the iron leash of a snarling panther. On his other arm sits Suok. Prospero then releases the panther. He and Suok pick up pistols which were dropped by fleeing guardsmen. They then climb in through the window of the pastry kitchen--the same window which the Balloon Seller had drifted through.

"Hands up!" shouts Prospero. All the cooks and kitchen workers immediately obey, dropping pots of compote and syrup. Prospero then begins a frantic, messy search for the giant escape pot. He tosses bottles and pots of sweets and syrups everywhere, creating a small sweet lake on the floor of the kitchen. He finds the pot and jumps in. Before Suok can follow, the panther bursts in, followed by guardsmen. The panther leaps down into the pot. Thinking that the panther has killed Prospero, a disheartened Suok surrenders to the guardsmen. Then, however, gunshots ring out inside the pot. The guardsmen look down into it, then pull out the carcass of the panther. Prospero lives! The guards start to drag Suok to the Fat Men.

Dance Teacher Razdvatris

Dance teacher Razdvatris is conducting a class. None of the elegant people there are worried about the uprisings in the city. They fully expect the guardsmen, with the cannons, to put down the rebellion. Guardsmen then arrive summoning Razdvatris to the Palace. The teacher gladly packs some costumes, musical instruments, wigs, etc. He is placed--facing backwards--on one of the guardsmen's horses, and they set off.

As they ride through the city, Razdvatris sees servants chasing after their masters threateningly with sticks. In one instance he sees servants beating their master, dust rising up from him like from an old rug.

Razdvatris and his escort are stopped by a group of rebellious guardsmen. A battle ensues. Razdvatris faints. When he comes to, he sees that his box of possessions has been ripped open. All his costumes, etc., are still there, but the most important thing is missing--the doll! At that very moment, a group of rebellious guardsmen are galloping to the Palace. One of them, a blue-eyed one, is clutching to his chest...the doll.


On the previous night, about an hour after Suok had been captured, three mysterious figures crept into the bedroom where Tutti was sleeping. Tutti's tutor, who was keeping guard in the room, was a coward and hid behind a chair. He watched as the figures put ten drops of a powerful sleeping potion in Tutti's ear. They whisper among themselves saying Tutti will now sleep for three days and not interfere when the doll appears before the court. They fear that if Tutti were present, he would cry and plead for the doll and that the Three Fat Men would relent and spare Suok's life.

Meanwhile, Suok, in custody, sat with her tongue sticking out at the guardsmen for a solid hour just to spite them. The Chancellor then appeared and ordered that Suok be brought for her trial. Suddenly, the guardsmen and the Chancellor are ambushed. Someone grabs Suok and whispers, "Don't be afraid."

The Three Fat Men and their entire court are eagerly awaiting Suok's arrival for her trial. The Fat Men were sweating. Drops of sweat, the size of peas, keep falling on the papers in front of them, so secretaries are constantly changing the papers. Then three guards arrive, carrying the girl. The Fat Men ask where the Chancellor is. One of the guards, a blue-eyed one, says the Chancellor suffered some indigestion on the way. This satisfies the Fat Men.

The guardsman puts the girl down on a bench in front of the court. She is questioned, but she remains silent, refusing to answer. The Fat Men summon the Zoologist as the only witness. He had been hanging on the tree branch all night and they only just now got him down. When he enters and sees Suok, he trembles in fear. He testifies that as he was climbing in the tree, he saw Suok in the branches. Having never before seen a living doll, he fainted. Thus he doesn't know how Suok freed Prospero. He suggests, however, that they call as a witness one of the talking parrots from the menagerie, who probably overheard and can repeat whatever conversations took place there during the night.


The parrot is summoned and gives its report. We hear how Suok found Prospero and told him of the man-beast she saw. Prospero said that was Tub. Suok used the key she got from Tutti to free Prospero, who broke his chain and released the panther.

Suok is sentenced to be torn apart by tigers. When this horrible sentence is pronounced, Suok still doesn't bat an eye and says not a word.

The Fat Men and their entourage go to the menagerie to watch the punishment. They are protected behind bars as Suok is placed in an open area in front of the cages. Three tigers are then released. One sniffs at the girl, one touches her with his paw, and the third tiger completely ignores the girl and growls at the Fat Men. Only then did everyone realize that this wasn't a real live girl, but a doll.

Bombs begin exploding in the air over the palace. The people have cannons and are attacking. The Fat Men run out to the park, but are surrounded and arrested by a surging mass of the poor, led by Prospero and Tibul. Even the guardsmen are all on the side of the people. The entire town then takes up a song of victory. The rich hurry to the harbor, hoping to flee the country. But they are stopped and arrested by sailors.

The three arrested Fat Men are displayed to the people in the great hall of the Palace. Prospero gives a speech announcing the dawn of a new era. He advises everyone to, "Remember this day, remember this hour." When he says, "hour", everyone turns to a large grandfather clock in the room to see exactly what time it is. The door of the clock suddenly (the last "suddenly" in the book) opens, revealing that the clock works have been removed and that hiding inside is...Suok! The crowd cheers and rushes to hug and kiss her.

The Three Fat Men are locked in the same cage in which they had confined Prospero.


A year later, a festival is held to honor the anniversary of the overthrow of the Fat Men. Suok performs on stage with Tutti, who is in fact her brother. All is explained in the note Suok received from the wolflike man she saw in the menagerie when searching for Prospero. In the note, the scientist Tub relates how when Suok and Tutti were five years old, they were kidnapped by the Fat Men's guardsmen. Tub was then ordered to make a doll in the exact image of Suok. But not an ordinary doll. A doll that would grow exactly like the real Suok would. Once Tub made the doll, Suok was sold to a traveling circus in exchange for a talking parrot. The Fat Men also ordered Tub to make an iron heart for Tutti, so that he would be cruel and feel no emotion. This Tub refused to do, saying a real human heart can never be replaced. For this refusal, Tub was locked in a cage in the menagerie, where he grew into his animallike state.



Biography of Yuri Olesha

Olesha, Yuri Karlovich. Born 3 March (19 Feb, Old Style) 1899 in Elizavetgrad, Ukraine, the son of former land owner.

Family moved to Odessa in 1902. He began to write poetry in the gymnasium. After graduation from the gymnasium, he enrolled in the law faculty at Novorossik University. At the same time, he participated in literary discussion groups in Odessa, along with Ilya Ilf, Valentin Kataev, and Eduard Bagritsky.

In 1919, despite the monarchist attitudes of his parents, Olesha joined the Red Army. ... (...Continued...)

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