Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Journey of the Two Worms (Manchu)

Many, many years ago, two worms--an older but dumb worm and his younger but clever brother--lived together in the moist soil by Jingbo Lake. Whatever hard work was to be done, you could count on the older brother to do it cheerfully without complaint. As for the younger brother, well, he did all the thinking for the pair.

Now one fine morning, the younger worm, having done some deep thinking, slithered up to his older brother and said, "Say, I have heard that not far from here lives a very old worm, and this old worm can teach worms like us how to become dragons. Let's go seek this old wise worm and ask him to become our teacher. Who knows? Perhaps we'll even become dragons!"

"Splendid idea! Let's go," responded the older worm, and off they went.

After many days of slithering through mud and crawling over rocks, they finally arrived at the spot this wise old worm called his home. The younger worm, used to doing all the talking, respectfully approached the wise worm and asked him to teach him and his brother how to become dragons.

"So, you two wish to become dragons," said the old wise worm. "Very well. I agree to accept you as my students but only on one condition: You must follow every one of my instructions."

"Absolutely, Master," said the younger worm. "We shall follow your words without question."

And so the two brother worms stayed by the side of their teacher and did what he said, working all day long every day, doing what worms do--turning the soil over and over. Needless to say, it was grimy, gritty and thankless work, but still they worked away harder than they had ever done before.

After one particularly grueling afternoon of turning the soil, the younger worm crawled next to his brother and, making sure their master was out of earshot, said to him, "I have just about had it with all this backbreaking work. Why, we're no closer to becoming dragons now than we were when we started. I am beginning to think that this teacher of ours is nothing but a humbug."

"Hush!" cried the older worm, shocked at his younger brother's attitude. "How dare you speak that way about our teacher."

"All right, all right. Just hear me out. Let's just ask him how long it's going to be for us to become dragons. There's no harm in that, is there?"

"I guess not," the older brother answered, and they went to ask their teacher the big question.

Once again the younger brother did all the talking. "Master," he said, "we've been working hard without complaint for six long months, and we have yet to turn into dragons. With all respect, may I ask you how much longer it will take?"

"I've been expecting this question for some time now," replied the wise old worm. "I know you both have been working very hard, and so today I shall tell you how you may finally become dragons. Starting tomorrow you are to go to the nearby farm field. There, you are to plow the field for exactly one hundred days. After one hundred days, you are to make your way to Jingbo Lake. Once you arrive there, you will have become dragons."

The two worms were joyful at the news, and early the next morning they headed for the farm field where they were to plow for one hundred days. Turning the soil was one thing, but actual plowing, quite another. However, plow they did for ninety-eight days.

On the morning of the ninety-ninth day, the younger worm came to a decision. Working like this is crazy, he said to himself. If my brother wants to work for a full one hundred days, he can go ahead. I shall head for Jingbo Lake today and plow as I go. One day can't possibly make a big difference! So while his older brother was faithfully plowing away, the younger brother sneaked off without a word and headed toward the lake, plowing as he went.

He began to feel a bit strange as he slithered and plowed and slithered and plowed his way to the lake. He felt his head grow larger and larger as he made his way. "It's happening!" he shouted with glee. "I'm beginning to look like a dragon!" He was very close to the shores of Jingbo Lake when thunder and lightning sent him scurrying back into the earth. When he reemerged at the shore, he discovered he was stuck and unable to move. He now had the head of a dragon but still the body of a little worm. All he could do was lie with his face in the cold water of the lake, lapping up all the water he could drink whenever he was thirsty. There he remained, perhaps even to this day.

And what of the older brother? He plowed a full one hundred days, and then and only then did he crawl to the lake. When he reached the shore, he discovered that he had indeed turned into a real dragon, a lovely and lucky white dragon that to this day resides at the bottom of Jingbo Lake.

(from The Wonderful Treasure Horse)


Heilongjiang minjian gushixuan 31, p. 559-562.

European versions also exist. Motifs: B11.1.3.1, "Dragon from worm"; and D418.2.7, "Worm transformed to other animal." Jingbo Lake ("Mirror Lake") is in Heilongjiang Province, near Mudanjiang.

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