Honest Axe

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

In one of Aesop's Fables, a workman dropped his axe into the river. The god Mercury found out what was wrong, and offered his aid. First Mercury pulled out a silver axe, and asked whether it was the one the workman lost. He told the god that no, it wasn't. Then Mercury pulled out a golden axe, and asked whether it was his. Again...no. Finally, Mercury pulls out the original axe. The man says yes, this is his. For his honesty, Mercury gives him the golden and silver one as well. Another workman, hearing of this, drops his axe purposely into the water and says it was a golden axe. He gets nothing, not even his original axe back.

This story has been modified by many cultures with the alteration of Mercury being replaced with a "Water Sprite" or a river/lake spirit, or a more culturally relevant religious figure, such as a Buddha or even God.

It is worth noting that, yes, a gold or silver axe would be worse than average for cutting, since they're soft metals. But they are A) trophies and B) a reasonable amount of a precious metal that the workman could exchange for far more than enough money to replace the original axe if he was anywhere near a town. Anyway, it sounds impressive.

Sub-Trope of Secret Test of Character.

Examples of Honest Axe include:

Anime and Manga

  • This is one of several folktales spoofed in episode 5 of Bobobo-Bo Bo-bobo, during Bo-bobo's battle with the Ochazuke Alien ("Did you drop this silver pig, or this golden pig?" He chooses the golden one.)
  • This happened once in Pani Poni Dash!, done by the always... odd... Ichijou.
  • Spoofed in the anime Mahou Tsukai Tai! when Takeo is in the bathroom. A mysterious being asks him which roll he was using, the gold toilet paper or the silver toilet paper. Takeo responds that it was just regular toilet paper, and probably recycled paper at that.
  • Haunted Junction played with this. A ghost dropped his giant scissors into a lake, and another spirit came up offering him the choice the original scissors and a gold pair. Less a matter of honesty and more his attachment to his possessions in life; being both dead and a kid, what need would he have of gold?
  • In Those Who Hunt Elves, Junpei is trying to fish when a female sprite emerges, asking, "Did you drop the golden worm or the regular one?" Junpei isn't happy with this, as he just wanted to fish.
    • The joke goes on several more rounds, with Junpei ignoring the fable and trying to fish, until he falls in the lake... the group catches up and the sprite asks them, "Did you want golden Junpei or regular Junpei?" The joke doesn't stop there...
      • Well honestly, if you were a water sprite would you want somebody throwing hooks and worms into your home?
  • After seemingly being Killed Off for Real in her own show, Nurse Witch Komugi herself was offered one of three magic syringes to maybe bring her back maybe. Gold syringe, silver syringe... dangerous syringe. Guess which one she picked. It's a good thing, too; The dangerous syringe not only brought her back to life, but she was elevated into her Super Mode. This is likely a reference to The Soul Taker, the anime in which her character was originally developed as a psychotic nurse with a fetish for giant syringes.
  • Spoofed in an episode of Pokémon: After finding out about a golden Sudowoodo in a forest, Jessie thinks of capturing a normal Sudowoodo and throwing it in a lake, so a fairy (that looks like her) would come out and offer to return the normal Sudowoodo or a golden one.
  • Spoofed late in the Violinist of Hameln manga, when Raiel's piano falls into the sea for convoluted reasons. A beautiful mermaid immediately floats up, asking if the lost piano was "this golden one or this silver one". Raiel points to the golden one, and she promptly sinks back, calling him a liar. The problem is, he was being perfectly truthful, as his piano really was made of gold...
  • Spoofed in Galaxy Angel. Mint is offered a gold animal costume and a silver animal costume at a time when she believes that wearing an animal costume will kill her. She's not very happy when the water sprite tries to give her both.
  • Spoofed in Nyoron Churuya-san. Churuya throws smoked cheese into the lake, and receives golden cheese in return. Said golden cheese is inedible.
    • Nyoro~n
  • There was a Tsukihime doujinshi where Arcueid offered Shiki to choose which Ren has he dropped - black one or white one. White Ren was promising like a politician during elections to qualify for a gold axe, but Shiki chose black Ren. He was "rewarded" with both of them and had to explain why there are two underage girls in his bed now.
  • Spoofed (yeah, again) in Keroro Gunsou - Tamama accidentally smashes the soccer ball belonging to a new friend of his, and Momoka offers to replace it with a gold ball or a silver ball. Tamama just wants the old ball back the way it was, and it is repaired in due time.
  • This is how the Kinniku Tribe got the Gold and Silver Masks in Kinnikuman.
  • Subverted early in .hack//Sign. Tsubasa throws an axe into a pond, and a spirit pops up to ask if it was the gold or the silver axe... at which point he attacks it, sending it fleeing in terror. Bear notes that he likes to do the same thing when stressed.
  • In the Manga Ayu Mayu, while wading through a river Yousuke accidentally drops his compass, the river spirit Oguchi appears and asks him whether he dropped "this" compass (Yousukes) or a Bulgarian one. Yousuke replies that it doesn't fucking matters which one he gives him and that he should just hurry up. He furthermore calls the water spirit a cosplaying old timer and tells him to shut his face whereupon a fed up Oguchi throws both compasses into the river and disappears.
  • One segment of Shugo Chara Pucchi Puchi has Dia play the role of the angel when Pepe's pacifier falls into the pond. However, Pepe doesn't like the golden pacifier and drops it back in to get her old one back. Dia then gets annoyed at the gift being thrown away and keeps both.
  • In A.I. Love You, Hitoshi throws his computer out of the window, and Number Thirty and Number Twenty fall into the roles of the water sprites, asking him if he dropped an old 286 or a new Pentium. He lies, claiming it was the Pentium.
  • In Doraemon, one of the gadgets from the 22nd century is a pond in which you drop an object, the spirit will appear with a more valuable item. Nobita was honest and received a more valuable item but Suneo was greedy when he was granted a more valuable remote control airplane which he obviously lied and had it taken away. At the end, Gian fell in the pond and a handsome figure of himself appeared at the hands of the spirit. Nobita and Doraemon desperately denied it's him. The real Gian desperately trying to escape from the pond.
  • There's a The Lord of the Rings short manga where the various Fellowship members fall into the pool and lose their stuff. Highlights include:
    • Gandalf truthfully asks for his wooden staff, but the sprite can tell from his greedy face that he's trying to be Genre Savvy.
    • Boromir fails to grasp the situation entirely and just asks for the golden shield. She is not pleased.
    • The sprite really wants to give Legolas the golden bow (among other things), but he takes the wooden one instead. A golden bow is useless.
    • Finally the sprite drowns Frodo when the greedy little hobbit wants the golden ring instead of the wooden ring he dropped... oh, wait. Oops.
  • A recurring theme in the Yonkoma bonus section of the Please Twins! manga. The deity in question is called the Pier Goddess, and virtually every character gets a chance to drop and retrieve something.
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure Steel Ball Run, giving a dishonest answer will result in death via disembowelment.
  • Another spoof appears in the Kaichou wa Maid-sama! anime, during an All Just a Dream episode based on a variety of fairy tales. Those Two Guys (in the roles of Dog and Monkey) drop their last dumpling into the ocean while fighting over it, and Misaki's little sister Suzuna (in the role of water spirit) appears to ask if they dropped the dumpling, a set of coupons offering a chance to win more dumplings, or a postcard offering a chance to win a grand prize set. The hungry Dog and Monkey ask to just have the dumpling back; the spirit, impressed by their honesty, gives them the postcard instead - and doesn't give them back the dumpling.
  • A Fullmetal Alchemist omake comic had Armor!Alphonse falling into the lake. The fairy emerges with golden!Armor!Alphonse, and even better, human!Alphonse. Edward gave the obvious answer of what he wanted, and ended losing both Alphonses.
  • Mio of Azumanga-alike show Nichijou runs into (or rather runs away from) a bear-headed schoolgirl, who asks her if she dropped a wooden fish...or a GOLDEN fish. Having dropped neither, Mio pays the bear two thousand yen to go away. Lesson learned?
  • Being a fairytale-based show, Hime Chen! Otogi Chikku Idol Lilpri had one of its recurring Fairylanders be a water sprite that had this as her primary shtick.
  • A variation of this happens in K-On! with a slightly different "axe". In episode 2, Season 2, Sawa-chan asks the girls to sell off an old guitar that was sitting unused in the clubroom for years. When the girls take it to a music shop, its appraised for 500,000 yen, since it's a valuable albeit old guitar. Later, Sawa-chan asks how much they got for the guitar, and Ritsu, the club president, lies and says they got 10,000. When Sawa-chan asks for the receipt so she could add the money to the club funds, Ritsu tries to eat the receipt, but is stopped by Sawa-chan. After she finds out how much they really got, she says she'll put the 10,000 Ritsu claimed they got for club funds, and says a shelf they bought used up the rest of the funds, and tells them that had they of been honest with her about how much they got, she would've allowed them to keep it all.
  • My Neighbors the Yamadas played this mostly straight when Shige asks some kids if the ball they lost in the Yamada yard was the old worn-out one, or the new rubber one. (the scene even briefly features a storybook drawing depicting the woodcutter and the nymph) However, after she gives away both balls and shares An Aesop about honesty, some other kids ask her if she saw the new rubber ball they lost, prompting her to deny finding it.
  • Inevitably, this has been parodied in hentai. In Postgirl San Ha Hurimukanai, a girl delivering packages crashes her bike, and a package containing a fleshlight falls into a lake. A spirit asks her if she dropped a gold fleshlight, a silver fleshlight, or a regular fleshlight. (When she complains that she can't even use a fleshlight, the spirit remedies that problem.)
  • Toward the end of Ah! My Goddess, Keiichi was shown a divine recording of a long-ago version of this. It featured not an axe, but a minstrel's harp, and not Mercury, but the goddess of the lake. The minstrel simply asked for his own harp back, and nearly drowned when she handed him the gold and silver harps, which are after all very heavy and caused him to fall into the lake. Then he and the goddess fell in love. And then it got tragic. Shortly afterward, Belldandy's father offered K1 the choice of gold or silver motorcycles....

Comic Books

  • Parodied in Usagi Yojimbo, where a water demon gives a woodcutter a gold axe to replace a lost iron axe. The woodcutter freezes to death in the winter because gold is too soft to cut firewood with. That's what you get for annoying water demons by dropping things in their lakes.
  • Specifically parodied in the graphic novel Flight, in the story "The Maiden and the River Spirit". There, a young woman drops her thermos into the river. The spirit brings up a gold thermos, which she says isn't hers, then a silver one, which she also denies. He finds the original thermos and gives it to her... and nothing else, save "the satisfaction of having been honest." After he was back under the water, she muttered to herself, "What a gyp."

Live-Action TV

  • Toku example: In Mahou Sentai Magiranger, the main objects of Applied Phlebotinum are cell phones that extend into magic wands. Kai drops his into a spring while sparring with Hikaru. The Goddess of the Mini-Spring lets him play Honest Phone, offering a silver version of his phone or a golden version of his mentor's. He's not honest and takes the gold one, and it works great for a time... until a misspoken spell turns him into a giant spider monster, and then the phone stops working. He can't change back until he learns his lesson.
  • A Japanese stand-up comedy/skit TV show called "Spirit of Entertainment" (Enta no Kami-sama) featured a famous Japanese comedian named "Tomonori Jinnai". One of his on-stage skits features him playing with his pet dog, who he can now understand thanks to an extremely accurate bark-to-speech translator. After accidentally throwing the dog's ball into a pond, the same exchange takes place between the dog and a female spirit living in the pond. However, after rejecting the golden and silver versions of the ball, he claims the ball that was lost was a diamond one, losing out on both of the precious versions and getting his original one back. Even more hilarious, the dog later steals a toupee from someone and accidentally drops it into the pond, this time being honest and coming back with a pure-gold version of the toupee.

Tabletop Games

  • Alluded to in the illustration for the Yu-Gi-Oh! card "Half or Nothing".
    • Also in Fairy Of The Spring. Only it's a gold or silver "Wicked Breaking Flamberge - Baou" instead of axes.


  • Sort of happened in The Merchant of Venice, with a gold box, a silver one and a lead one. Guess which one entitles the suitor to everything - daughter of a rich merchant included?

Video Games

  • A variety version appears in the H-game Brave Soul, only with swords: You still pick between gold, silver, and iron, but choosing iron will just get you the same sword back, no other reward. However, having a certain party member with you takes the option away, she answers instantly and you get a special piece of equipment for her. Alternately, you can say you dropped all 3 in the lake. The spirit is so astonished at your greed she actually gives you a sword that replaces your exp gain with gold.
  • The original four .hack games had this as a primary means of altering weapons.
    • To clarify: there are pools of water scatted across most above-ground maps. You can drop any weapon you happen to be carrying into these pools, at which point a water spirit (one of several different subtypes) pops out and asks if you dropped a golden axe, or a silver axe. Answering that you dropped one of the precious-metal axes will get you an item that you can sell for a fair amount of money, but is useless in combat. Answering "neither" causes the water spirit to give you a different (usable) weapon than the one you dropped in—usually a better one (depending on the type of water sprite who came out of the pool). At higher levels, its almost always preferable to answer "neither" since even weapons below your level sell for more than either the gold or silver axes. If the item can't be altered by the spring (as in it's too strong already) the sprite will direct you to a stronger sprite and give both the golden and silver axes along with what you tossed in.
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past does this twice: first with a normal fairy that will upgrade your boomerang and shield to a magic boomerang and red shield then with a fat fairy that will upgrade the Master Sword or Tempered Master Sword into a gold one and a regular bow and arrow into silver ones (which you need to defeat Ganon). Both will also give you green medicine of magic in one of your bottles in the same way. However, in both cases you actually throw the things in the water (and if it's anything but the right item they'll simply give it back and ask that you be more careful with it). It is also done more like the legend to get upgrades in Oracle of Ages and The Minish Cap.
    • In Oracle of Ages, there is a pond, accompanied by a sign reading "Do not throw things into the pond!" If you disobeyed it and tossed in a bomb, the fairy would ask what kind of bomb you dropped. Telling her it was gold caused her to bomb you down to one heart, claiming it was silver had her confiscate your bombs, and of course the honest answer upgraded your bomb bag. The same sequence appears more or less identically in Minish Cap.
  • Spoofed in Mega Man Battle Network 6.
    • Also spoofed in Battle Network 5, possibly in 4.
  • Spoofed in Silent Hill 3, where one can get a silver pipe and gold pipe weapon (with no difference in attack value).
  • Spoofed in the intro to Wario Ware: Touched!, where Wario drops a Game Boy Advance and a GBA SP into an open sewer, and an old man appears to ask Wario whether he dropped the older systems or a Nintendo DS. Wario, naturally, tackles the old man and takes all three.
  • In Fire Emblem 4, Lex can trigger an event where he drops his Iron Axe in water and a spirit offers him a silver and then golden axe. He refuses them, which nets him the powerful Hero Axe.
  • Played with in Dragon Quest Monsters. One of your monsters falls into a lake, and the lake spirit first offers you a piece of meat and an old man. If you're dishonest (including saying that your original monster didn't belong to you), you're simply booted out of the level. If you're honest, you get to fight a boss which you can recruit. So your reward for honesty is to be attacked by a giant insect...
    • And Dragon Quest III had a spring into which you could drop an item, summoning a fairy offering you a powerful axe weapon; however, there was no way to get it—if you were honest, she wouldn't give it to you because it wasn't yours, and if you lied, she wouldn't give it to you because you lied. If you actually got an axe of that type from a monster that drops it, then drop it in the spring as your item, she would give it back if you were honest, but this was absolutely pointless.
      • Dragon Quest seems to be fond of this trope. In Dragon Quest V, you come across an old man in a cave about mid-way through the game. He will ask if you dropped three valuable items; a mini medal, a reasonable defensive item, and a T'n'T Ticket. If you say no to all three, he gives you them all, despairing that so few people are honest these days.
  • Spotted in Animal Crossing: Wild World: If you give Pascal the Scallop, he will tell you that he dropped it on the beach. He will then ask you if you dropped a golden axe or a silver axe on the beach.
    • Subverted: You have to ask for the Golden Axe to get it from him. Otherwise, you get his picture.
    • Serena, the goddess of the fountain in City Folk, seems to set this up... only to be ridiculously finicky about whether or not she rewards you for your efforts. Guide Dang It doesn't even begin to cover it, as being honest, flattering her, or even admitting that you hate her is not guaranteed to yield any results.
  • Parodied in We Love Katamari; one of the stages has a water god rise out of a lake bed holding a gold axe in one hand and a silver axe in the other.
  • Ape Escape 2 has a parody of this story amongst its unlockables, but with bananas instead of axes.
  • Parodied in Atelier Iris. There's a lake with a key item, and in order to get it, you have to drop something into it. When you get there, a cutscene plays where Norn throws Delsus' wallet into the lake and you are asked if you dropped a stone or a Jewel, it doesn't matter which one you choose. Later, you can drop any item into the lake and get a choice of one of two different items. Also, Delsus does not get his wallet back.
    • The spirit actually begins to complain about people dumping stuff in the spring. She offers the stone and jewel to get the party to leave and doesn't care about the wallet at all.
  • The Gold Axe Silver Axe Magichange attack works this way. Your character's grip on the Magichanged Orc fails and it falls into the water, only for the Orc God to appear and offer a gold or silver axe. Your enemy runs up to grab the axe being offered, and the Orc God casts the axe towards the enemy... before becoming very angry and planting it into the foe instead!
  • The Dark Spire more or less plays this exactly. You attempt to chop down a tree with a Rusty Old Axe, but it flies out of your hands and lands in the water. A fairy appears holding a Golden Axe and asks if this was your axe. If you're honest she will give you the Golden Axe, which allows you to chop down the tree. You also keep it afterwards, but it's a weak weapon and you cannot sell it.
  • You can get it as an Asmodian quest in Aion, granted by an item sometimes dropped by White-Foot Daru. The honest answer gets you a speech about the importance of honesty and compassion for Asmodians, given their difficult living conditions, and all three axes—the iron axe and the silver axe are just Vendor Trash, but the Gold Axe is a fairly good mace-type weapon for the point in the game the quest is available.
  • Parodied in this one Touhou fan comic.
  • In Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, Mario is asked whether he dropped a treasure of everlasting wonder or a "shabby mustachioed man in green" into a strange pond of liquid. The player is not allowed to respond; it automatically assumes Mario would have chosen the treasure, up until Mario insists that the "shabby mustachioed man" is his brother, and he doesn't care about the treasure.
  • Sakura Wars V has a cutscene at the start of chapter 3 where Rikaritta/Rosarita asks if you want to be shot with a gold gun or a silver gun. Only thing is both guns are hers, and the one you pick is the one she'll shoot you with.
  • Monster World IV: In the water temple, there's a part where you must throw a bucket in a well and then honestly tell the magician which of the buckets is yours. If you lie, you have to restart the conversation. If you tell the truth, he wonders aloud if you cheated.
  • In Puyo Pop Fever, Popoi will offer Amitie a gold or silver axe before his battle. She declines, even when he offers both axes for her honesty, since she is after Ms. Accord's flying cane.
  • Appears in Harvest Moon, wherein a fairy in a magic spring will replace all of your basic tools with more effective gold versions.
  • Samurai Warriors Chronicles has a variant involving swords: Talking to Aya after a battle may give you a scene where she'll offer the protagonist a gold sword, then a silver sword, and then the protagonist's own sword. Answering honestly improves the protagonist's friendship level, and then Aya will say that she'd let you take the sword you accepted to battle, with the gold and silver swords being much worse for the cutting down of the many enemy soldiers and commanders you face in a battle.

Web Comics

  • On this page of Gastrophobia, the shapeshifting mockingbird princess Mim offers to retrieve Phobia's sword from the lake bottom. Phobia and Klepto demonstrate their Genre Savvy.

Klepto: If she comes up with a sword made of gold, refuse it.
Phobia: Obviously.

Western Animation

  • An episode of Ewoks has one of the characters drop her flute into the water, and a hermit-crab creature offers a jeweled golden flute as a replacement. Naturally, it's cursed.
  • An episode of Adventures from the Book of Virtues adapts this story, only with a water sprite and with the honest woodsman. Plato narrates this story to Zach, who realizes thanks to a mistake his teacher made, he accidentally ended up on the honor roll and wants to keep it a secret to make his dad proud. The woodsman was cutting many trees because he wanted to earn money to buy his children toys and his wife a nice shawl she was admiring, out of guilt that there was barely enough to put food on the table. When the sprite offers him the golden and silver axe, he thinks about how he could provide for his family, but then asks himself what about his honor? So he says neither the gold nor silver are his. The sprite rewards him the gold and silver after he identifies his plain ax. Zach says it's a nice story, but the teacher can't magically give him points to end up on the honor roll for real if he were honest.


  • There's also an extension of the joke, where the same woodcutter has his wife falling into the same river. Mercury appears again, carrying Pamela Anderson and asks "Is this your wife?" The woodcutter thinks and answers "Yes!" Mercury chews him out for lying. The woodcutter explains himself: "Great Mercury: If I had said no, you'd have pulled out Naomi Campbell next and asked again. I'd have said No, and then you'd have pulled out my wife, and then I'd have said Yes, and then you'd have given me all three women for my honesty. But I'm a poor woodcutter and can't possibly feed three women. So I had to lie, you see?"
    • There is also a female version where the axes are replaced by thimbles, and Pam and Naomi are replaced by attractive actors. Rather than claiming that she can't feed all three men, she says that she wouldn't have the energy to keep all three happy.
    • There's also a version where he says yes, knowing full well he'll keep her.
  • There's an alternate version of the story in which the man is awarded only the golden axe for answering truthfully. He quickly discovers that gold is far too soft for cutting wood, but he can't sell the golden axe to buy a new one because giving away or selling a gift from the fair folk is a terrible insult that would result in a curse on his family line, so he ends up freezing to death that winter.
  • Danbooru has a tag for parodies of this. As expected of the site, it's somewhat Not Safe for Work and roughly half Touhou.
  • This fairy tale is referenced in the Vocaloid song Romeo and Cinderella, where the singer proclaims that she dropped the golden axe after deciding to herself that it's best to be honest in her desires.