Jim Henson's The Storyteller

Season 1 Episode 1

The Soldier and Death

Aired Sunday 7:00 PM May 15, 1988 on NBC

Episode Recap

From an early Russian folk tale.

After 20 years of war, a soldier returns home with only three dried biscuits to his name. He gives them away to three men he meets on the road and is given in return a new whistle, a new dance, a pack of cards which can never lose, and a magical sack. Anything that is ordered into the sack will have to comply, so the hungry soldier catches three geese for his supper. The soldier hears of the Tzar's palace which has been overrun by devils who play cards every night. He challenges them to a game and they play all night. Even though the devils cheat they still lose and when morning comes they decide to eat the soldier, but he orders them into his sack. He releases them after extracting a promise to leave and never return, but he catches the last devil and makes him promise to serve him whenever called. The devil agrees and they all race back to hell. Now he is the toast of the town and becomes a rich gentleman, his reward from the Tzar.

One day, many years later, his son falls ill and nothing will stop the fever. He calls upon his devil, reminding him of the promise of servitude. The devil shows the soldier a glass where Death can be seen. If Death is at the foot of the bed, the victim will recover with a splash of water from the glass, if Death is at the head, they will not. His son is saved and the soldier releases the devil from his promise in return for this magical glass. One day, the old Tzar falls ill but he can't be saved, until the soldier exchanges his life for the Tzar. When Death comes for the soldier, he shows Death the sack and orders him into it. In the thickest forest far, far away, the soldier hangs Death from the highest limb.

As time passes nothing dies. Battles are fought and no-one is killed, duels last all day... One day, the soldier sees the people outside, the old and sick, waiting for Death, unable to be released from their torment, and the soldier takes pity and releases Death. But after his confinement, Death fears the soldier and his sack, and flees from him rather than take him.

The soldier, unable to die, journeys to Hell. There at the gates, the devils remember him and the sack and are afraid to let him in. They finally give him a map to Heaven and 200 souls so that he will go away and take that sack with him. At the gates of Heaven, the 200 souls are let in but the soldier is not. He gives the sack to one soul he asks them to order the soldier into the sack once that soul is inside Heaven. But Heaven is paradise and souls forget and so, after waiting a long time, the soldier journeys back to Earth and wanders there still.
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