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Fraiberg, S. (1954). Tales of the Discovery of the Secret Treasure. Psychoanal. St. Child, 9:218-241.

(1954). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 9:218-241

Tales of the Discovery of the Secret Treasure

Selma Fraiberg


Tales of the seeking or accidental discovery of treasure or wealth comprise one of the most persistent myths of all times. It is a striking fact that the essential characteristics of this myth have remained unchanged throughout the ages. The elements of the ancient folk tales of treasure are preserved in all the later versions of such stories down to modern times.

Typically the treasure story follows this pattern: A poor boy or man accidentally discovers a secret which leads him to buried treasure or to the acquisition of great wealth. Usually the treasure is the stolen loot of a bandit, a pirate or an evil sorcerer; it may be buried in the ground or in a mysterious cavern. The hero obtains secret knowledge of the treasure either through a conniving and evil person who wishes to use the innocent hero for a tool, or through the accidental "overhearing" or "overseeing" of an event which betrays the secret, or through the acquisition of a magic formula or device or a map or code. Usually, too, the hero must overcome an evil opponent who seeks the treasure. The treasure is successfully won by the hero who vanquishes his enemies, marries a beautiful princess, or brings wealth and prestige to his mother, elevating her from her humble and impoverished station.

The time of treasure hunting is childhood, and these stories of buried treasure are among the favorite tales of children. But they are not the exclusive property of children; they belong to all ages and all times. The evil magicians of the fairy tales gave way in time to one-legged pirates, and they, in turn, to eccentric millionaires and bank robbers. There have been mysterious caverns and desert islands, gothic castles and combination safes. But always there has been a fearless and honest fellow who accidentally discovered the secret, outwitted the sorcerer or the pirate, and entered the perilous enclosure to claim the heaped-up wealth.

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