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Posts Tagged ‘folk tales’

As we were packing up for the end of the school year, I happened upon this retelling of a Chinese folk tale. So if you were wanting to hear about Mozart’s opera, The Golden Flute, you’ll have to forgive me. The translation here is by Robert Morgan, with illustration by Anik McGrory. I tried to find other versions of this story, to confirm that it actually is of Chinese origin, but I didn’t have any luck. Bear that in mind.

There once was a woman who lived in the mountains along with her daughter, Little Red. But one day a horrible dragon swooped down and snatched Little Red. The mother ran after it, wailing and crying, but she couldn’t keep up. As the dragon vanished into the west, Little Red’s voice floated back to her. “One day my brother will rescue me!”

The grieving mother wept as she went home. Little Red was her only child, so how could a brother save her? She passed close to a bayberry tree growing at the side of the road. Her hair got tangled, and she stopped to free herself. It was then she noticed a bright red berry hanging on the branch. She ate the berry and went on her way.

When the woman got home, she suddenly doubled over in pain. Soon she gave birth to a little boy with red cheeks like the berry she had eaten. She decided to call him Bayberry. Indeed this was a remarkable child, for he grew so quickly that within a few days he looked like a teenager. The mother longed to tell Bayberry about his sister’s plight, but she also feared losing her second child to the dragon, so she said nothing.

But this was a secret too powerful to keep. Bayberry was working in the yard when a crow started scolding him. “Your sister suffers while you live in comfort!” Bayberry went to find his mother. He asked, “Do I have a sister?”

When the woman heard what the crow had said, her eyes filled with tears. “Yes, my son. Your sister is called Little Red, and an evil dragon snatched her away.”

Bayberry picked up a big stick and said, “I’m going to find her and kill that dragon so nobody else has to suffer.” Off he went, while his mother smiled through her tears.

Next time, Bayberry’s adventures begin in earnest!

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Chylde Wynde received a desperate plea from his home in Northumberland. A dragon was ravaging the countryside! He barely made it ashore in a boat of enchanted Sorb, but then he and his companions were enveloped in blinding fog. As they stumbled forward, they saw a huge eye, the color of a lemon, surrounded by the malevolent glitter of scales. A savage muzzle pierced the fog.

The soldiers closed ranks, and fearless Chylde Wynde raised his sword . Margaret-the-dragon let loose a great cry of despair as black magic forced her to attack her own brother. Somehow, within the howling, the knight recognized his dear sister’s voice. Though horrified to see her so changed, he knew what he must do.

Chylde Wynde ordered his men to stand down, while he sheathed his sword and approached the dragon. Her breath scorched his cheeks and stung his eyes, but he knelt to kiss her face. Sharp scales tore his skin, but still he embraced his sister. Twice more he kissed her. Margaret-the-dragon gave another shriek and stumbled back. Her fearsome body began to decay. The hellish light went out of her eyes and the scales crumbled like autumn leaves. From the midst, a naked girl stumbled out. It was Margaret, restored to her former beauty! Chylde Wynde ran forward to give her his cloak, and they shared a tearful reunion.

Soon he and his men escorted Margaret back to Bamburgh Castle, where their father was overjoyed to see them. But Chylde Wynde still had work to do. He burst into the chambers of his mother-in-law, the wicked queen, only to find her backed into a corner of her room. The moment the ship of Sorb had touched the shore, her magic unravelled. All she could do was stare in dread as he approached with a rod of Sorb from his ship.

The queen wailed in agony when the magical wood touched her. She withered and shrank into the form of a toad, which finished her scream as a shrill croaking. Everyone was shocked, but then Chylde Wynde burst out laughing. The toad sprang away, pursued by mockery. Down the stairs she fled, over the drawbridge, and no one ever saw where she finally took refuge.

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Terrified by the sudden appearance of a dragon in their midst, the people of Northumberland called upon a wizard. The sage quickly perceived the connection between this event and the sudden disappearance of Princess Margaret. He told them, “Only one person can restore our princess to her true form and punish the one who did this. You must seek Chylde Wynde beyond the seas.”

The old king could not believe what his new wife was accused of, but he also mourned the loss of his dear daughter. After many sad days losing sheep into Margaret-the-dragon’s maw, he learned that if he poured out a huge trough of milk each day the creature would drink it and fall into a deep sleep. Thus he shielded his people from the loss of their stock.

Chylde Wynde had been away for several years, fighting in the Crusades, but at last word reached him of events in his home. He set off at once aboard a ship made of sorb, a wood that ancient lore held as proof against evil magic. The queen got news of his coming and prepared a cruel welcome. Even as Bamburgh Castle came over the horizon, the ship was attacked by spirits of the sea. The wicked spirits were invisible except for the light of their eyes and the gleam of their teeth. They circled the ship like malevolent bats and whipped up a great storm. It seemed that all was lost, but the power of sorb wood protected that vessel. The spirits eventually exhausted themselves and sank back into the waves, allowing the ship to approach the shore.

Alas, the queen had been watching all this. She had a back-up plan. Even as Chylde Wynde’s ship drew near to land, Margaret-the-dragon uncoiled from her slumber. The queen’s power compelled her to prowl the shore. She saw her brother’s ship and recognized his banner, but could not resist the queen’s command. Margaret plunged into the sea, using her powerful tail to swim out and intercept the vessel. Her great head crashed into the prow, unseating the oarsmen and making the hull creak alarmingly. The sorb wood held — but just barely.

Twice more the brave seamen tried to land. Each time the dragon forced them back. In the end, Chylde Wynde ordered them to fall back. He remembered a small spit farther down the shore. They turned their oars and aimed for that spit. This time no dragon barred the way. Chylde Wynde alighted on a beach of pebbles and water weeds. He advanced with his men, but a sudden fog blew up. Seagulls cried warning of some danger they couldn’t see.

What could it possibly be?? Check back on Saturday for the rest of the story.

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Centuries ago, the kings of Northumberland lived in Bamburgh Castle. The somber fortress stood on a headland over the village and the sea. At this time, the king was an older man with two children. His son, Chylde Wynde, was a knight fighting in the Crusades, while his daughter, Margaret, devoted herself to her father.

Long widowed, the king decided to ease his loneliness by taking a new wife. At the wedding, Margaret greeted her new mother-in-law with every courtesy, but the new queen was haughty in response. During the banquet, her cold demeanor surprised many of the courtiers. Beneath the music and dancing, they murmured how charming and lovely their own princess was compared to the bride.

Perhaps the new queen heard this. By the end of the celebrations, her husband and all the court lay snoring. As the moon rose high, the queen slipped into the castle courtyard and began to draw mysterious symbols upon the stones while chanting a curse. Some time later, Margaret awoke with a strange sensation in her limbs and a fierce hunger. A great paw, scaled and clawed, glittered in the moonlight. She jumped, startled, and the paw moved! She cried out, but a horrible croak emerged instead. Worse and worse, as she tried to escape, a great tail and wings battered around her, demolishing the furnishings. At last the newly-made dragon collapsed in a swoon.

But the morning proved this was no mere nightmare. Margaret-the-dragon was hungrier than ever. She went in search of food, and everyone who saw her ran away shrieking. Margaret fought back the impulse to bite at them, and was saved by another scent blowing into the courtyard. Sheep grazed on the slope between the castle and the town. She swooped down and savaged the flock, while courtiers and commoners alike watched with terror.

What shall become of poor Margaret and her kingdom? Check back on Tuesday to find out!

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In the 1300s, a samurai’s daughter named Tokoyo went to search for her exiled father in the Oki Islands of Japan.

She stopped to rest on a beach, but was soon awakened by the sound of weeping nearby. She looked for the reason and saw two people dressed in white atop a nearby rock. A priest clapped his hands and prayed, “Namu Amida Butsu” (a Buddhist prayer, literally “think of Buddha” but more poetically “you will be remembered”). Meanwhile a beautiful maiden sobbed with despair. The priest was about to push the girl into the sea when Tokoyo rushed up and stopped him.

She demanded why this was happening, and the priest replied with sorrow that a dragon named Yofune-Nushi lived in a cave deep beneath this cove. The wicked creature had been terrorizing the people of the island for centuries, raising storms at sea and destroying their fishing fleet. It demanded the sacrifice of a virgin woman every spring. The villagers couldn’t live without fishing, and so they had to give in.

Tokoyo replied that her heart was already broken by losing her father, so she offered to be the sacrifice and let the younger girl go home. The priest was very surprised, but the maiden gratefully accepted. They changed clothes, so that Tokoyo wore the white robe of sacrifice. Holding a small dagger in her teeth, she leapt into the sea.

Moonlight illuminated the clear water of the cove, so she was able to swim down past fish and seaweed. She came to a grotto where gleaming pearls and awabi (abalone) shells surrounded a wooden statue. Tokoyo recognized that this represented Takatoki Hojo, the same man who had banished her father. She was furious, and wanted to destroy the statue, but she realized it would be easier to do this if she took it up to the shore.

Before she could lay hands on the statue, a horribie monster lunged at her. This was the dreaded Yofune-Nushi — a twenty-foot-long serpent with clawed legs, fiery eyes, and phosphorescent scales. The dragon assumed she was his annual sacrifice and approached without fear. But as he closed in, Tokoyo slipped aside and struck at his right eye with her dagger. Yofune-Nushi reeled with shock and pain. He tried to flee to his lair, but in turning he exposed his neck. Tokoyo’s blade struck true, and that was the end of the evil sea dragon.

Half-conscious, the brave samurai’s daughter swam back up with the statue and the body of the dragon. The priest and the maiden were very surprised to see her. By the blood in the water, they thought she must have perished. The priest ran to help her out of the waves, while the maiden brought help from her home village. They celebrated until dawn that their village had been saved by the valiant heroine, Tokoyo.

A few days later, the priest reported to his lord, Tameyoshi, that Yofune-Nushi had been slain. In turn, Tameyoshi reported to Hojo that a statue with his likeness had been pulled out of the sea. It turned out that Hojo had been very ill with a disease no physician could understand, but just a few days ago he had miraculously recovered. Now, with the priest’s report, it was evident that he had not been ill but cursed. Since Tokoyo had unknowingly broken the spell, Hojo showed his gratitude by releasing her father from prison. The two of them returned to their home and lived happily for many years.

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This draconic legend is something of an oddity. It was published in 1918 as part of Richard Gordon Smith’s volume, Ancient Tales and Folk-Lore of Japan. However, many aspects are more reminiscent of European dragon lore. Even the author admitted that the tale couldn’t be authenticated as Japanese. This raises a question: where did the story come from?

Sometime in the 1300s, there lived a samurai named Shima Oribe, who fell into disgrace and was banished by his lord, Takatoki Hojo. Shima was commanded to live on an island called Kamishima, in the Oki island group. Oribe had a beautiful daughter, about 18, named Tokoyo. She was devoted to her father, as he was to her. Alone in her house, she wept for over a year.

When Tokoyo could no longer bear the loneliness and grief, she set off to find her father. She was a courageous young woman who knew how to sail and had learned how to swim from the women of her village. At times, she even dove with them to collect oysters and awabi (abalone). Having sold a few of her fine possessions, Tokoyo made her way to a village called Akasaki, where the Oki Islands could be seen in the distance. She asked the local fishermen to take her there, but her money was nearly gone. They refused to help her.

Tokoyo had a bold heart. She found a small boat and sailed off on her own. Coming to land, she searched for her father. He was not there, so she sailed on, from island to island, day after day, always searching. Despairing, she found a sheltered place to rest on land.

Wait a minute — wasn’t there supposed to be a dragon in this story? Yofune something? Check back on Saturday and see if he shows up!

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Previously, I related how Sir John Lambton unwittingly loosed a lindworm that ravaged his home.

As a returned Crusader, Sir John was not afraid of battle. But he remembered that he’d already thought he killed the creature once before, and so he sought aid. A wise woman lived in the village of Durham, not far away. Sir John told her why he must defeat the lindworm and asked for her advice. The wise woman told him to put spear blades on his armor and that he must face the wyrm in the River Wear. If he fought it on dry ground, he would surely lose.

But there was more. Because he had turned his back on this task as a young man, a curse had now grown up with it. To break the curse, Sir John had to slaughter the next living thing he saw after defeating the wyrm. If he failed to do this, the curse would fall upon him and his family. For nine generations, not one of them would die peacefully in bed.

Sir John returned home and explained the wise woman’s instructions. His father agreed to help fit the armor with spear heads, and they planned that , if Sir John defeated the wyrm, he would blow his horn three times. The father was then to release his favorite hound. Sir John planned to kill the hound and avert the curse.

When all was ready, Sir John went down to the River Wear. The lindworm was now wrapped around a rock at mid-stream.The moment it saw him, it attacked! They first fought on the bank, where the evil beast tried to catch him in its coils. Luckily, the sharp blades kept it from getting a grip. Sir John struck back, but soon discovered that any piece of the wyrm he lopped off would instantly re-attach itself and the wyrm was just as strong as ever!

Remembering the wise woman’s advice, Sir John backed into the river, where the current was strong. Now when he cut the beast, the pieces floated away and could not re-grow. Not long after, Sir John finished the lindworm off and sounded his horn three times. Alas, the father was so relieved to know his son was alive, he forgot about letting the hound go first. He rushed to the riverbank, where Sir John was aghast to see him. For in order to lift the lindworm’s curse, he would have to kill his own father!

As a loyal son, Sir John could not bring himself to do that. The two men returned home and killed the hound, but it was too late. Though the Lambton family eventually rebuilt their fortunes, the curse shadowed their descendants. For nine generations, no man of that family died peacefully in his own bed.

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