September 07, 2023

#08-342: Puff, the Magic Dragon

A cartoon dragon (probably not "Puff") (Wikimedia)

Note: This sweet nostalgic story has been a favorite for generations--and it's fun to sing!

Get Ready: What do we gain by growing up? What do we lose?

In 1959, a 19-year-old physics student read a poem by the American poet Ogden Nash called "The Tale of Custard the Dragon," about a girl named Belinda who had "a little black kitten... a little gray mouse... and a little yellow dog" and a "realio, trulio little pet dragon" named Custard.

Although Custard had big sharp teeth, spikes and scales, a "mouth like a fireplace," and "daggers on his toes," he kept crying that he wanted nothing but a "nice safe cage." Everyone thought Custard was a coward, but in the end, he was the only one in the house who stood up to a pirate that climbed in the window--in fact, "he went at the pirate like a robin at a worm" and "gobbled him, every bit."

That physics student, Leonard Lipton, felt he could write a better poem about a dragon. A few years later his friend Peter Yarrow borrowed and rewrote his effort and it became the beloved children's song, "Puff, the Magic Dragon."

The song tells how Puff lived by the sea in a place called Honalee (sometimes spelled Honah Lee). He was loved by a boy named Jackie Paper, who "brought him strings, and sealing wax, and other fancy stuff."

Puff and Jackie would sail around on a boat, and Jackie would sit up on Puff's tail to keep a lookout. Wherever they went, they would be received with honor by "noble kings and princes." And with a roar, Puff could defeat a pirates' ship!

Sadly, although "a dragon lives forever," little boys don't. Jackie Paper grew up and became interested in other toys, and he stopped coming to visit Puff.

In deep sorrow, Puff lost his roar, bowed his head, and lost some scales. He just couldn't be brave without his friend. At last, he "sadly slipped into his cave."

And that's where the story of the song ends. But in 2007, Lipton and Yarrow wrote a book that featured the song's lyrics with painted illustrations. The final pages of the book show a young girl coming to play with a brightly-smiling Puff. Someone even suggested she might be Jackie Paper's daughter!

In a post-script, Peter Yarrow writes, "In this way, Puff and Jackie's friendship continues through new children like you."


Practice: Match the term to its definition:

Term Definition
  1. daggers
  2. fancy
  3. gobbled
  4. lookout
  5. physics
  6. post-script
  7. robin
  8. scales
  9. sealing wax
  10. spikes
  1. the scientific study of matter and energy
  2. a soft material used for making seals
  3. a watch, as though expecting trouble
  4. a red-breasted bird often seen in spring
  5. sharp pieces
  6. some writing added to a longer work
  7. elegant; impressive
  8. sharp knives
  9. thin flat plates like those found on the body of a fish
  10. ate quickly

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for September 7, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. h; 2. g; 3. j; 4. c; 5. a; 6. f; 7. d; 8. i; 9. b; 10. e