Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Defeating the Wolf Goblin by Strategy (Manchu)

Deep in a cave in a ravine lived an old wolf goblin, a malevolent shapeshifting creature.

Right across from this ravine lived an old man, a widower, and his four sons. Now this was a hardworking bunch, and through the efforts of their sweat and energy they were able to acquire a corral full of mules, a pen full of hogs, and a yard full of ducks and chickens.

This family of five men had high walls and a forbidding gate, but these were not enough to hide these animals from view or to discourage the wolf goblin who wanted them all for himself to eat.

What was stopping him from getting what he wanted? The front gate and the five men inside. The wolf goblin waited, bided his time, until one particularly very dark night . . .

On this black night, the wolf goblin, transformed into the likeness of an old man, came up to the front gate.

Kuang! Kuang! he knocked at the door.

"Yes?" came a voice from the other side. The oldest son stood behind the gate's door.

"Please let me in for the night. Before me, there's no village; behind me, no shop. I'm an old man without a place to spend the night."

"You need to be careful," the father whispered to his oldest son.

The oldest son climbed up the wall and peaked over the top of the gate's door. Below, in the moonlight, there was an old man all right, but what was that dangling behind him from his trousers? A long bushy tail!

He then knew that this was an evil being and kept the gate locked.

The next night the wolf goblin turned himself into an old woman and once again came up to the front gate.

Dang! Dang! he knocked.

"Yes?" asked a voice from behind the gate; this time it was the second oldest son.

"Master of the house, please let me in. I'm dying of thirst. Before me there's no village; behind me, no shop. Please let me in, or I'm afraid that this old woman will have had it."

"Exercise some caution here," whispered the father to his second oldest son.

Son number two crept over to a fissure in the wall and peered through. There was an old woman standing under the moonlight all right, but her eyes! They glowed like a pair of mung bean insects in the dim light.

He then knew that this was some malevolent creature and kept the gate locked.

The next night the wolf goblin changed himself into a lovely, charming young lady. Once again he approached the gate.

This time there was no knocking.

"Master of the house," he called in the most beguiling and feminine voice he had, "please let me in. I'm starving. Do you not have some food for me? Before me there's no village; behind me, no shop. Please help me! If you do not, I believe I shall die right here and now."

"One moment," said the third son.

"Be prudent, my son," whispered the father.

Son number three went inside the house and came out again with a berry tart upon a small dish. He headed towards a slot in the gate. "Stick your hand through here to get something to eat," he said.

The wolf goblin did so and snatched the tart but not before the son saw the thick black hair that sprouted from the wrist to the elbow. A maiden indeed!

The third son wisely kept the gate good and locked for the night.

Three nights in a row and no entry! This was too much for the wolf goblin, so he climbed upon the millstone outside the gate and screamed curses throughout the night at the family inside the house.

Son number four was livid and wanted to rush outside and confront the wolf goblin right then and there.

"Now is the time to be careful, my son!" said the father. "Curses cannot kill. Just wait it out."

Before dawn, exhausted from all the yelling, the wolf goblin dragged itself back to its cave.

The very next day at sundown, the father poured ice water upon the millstone.

Later in the night, the wolf goblin, this time in its true form, showed up. He planted himself on top of the millstone and proceeded again to curse the family inside, showering them with the vilest words imaginable.

For hours he did this. When he was hoarse, he decided to go home but discovered he couldn't--his bottom was frozen stuck to the millstone!

"All right, boys! Have at him!" cried the father.

From out of the front gate rushed the four sons, armed with axes and clubs. They set upon the wolf goblin, which desperately tried to escape but couldn't, and finished him off once and for all.


from Minjian gushi (Folktales), Lu Yao, ed. (Shijiazhuang, Hebei: Hebei shaonianertong chubanshe, 2005). p. 191.

I chose to drop a motif or detail from the Chinese original text in which the father prays to the god of the millstone ("the millstone king") for intercession. Malevolent, shapeshifting creatures abound in both Chinese and Japanese folklore, with the most common being were-foxes, were-tigers, and, here again, werewolves. For other folktales in which shapeshifters appear, see the posts for 6/8/07; 6/22/07; and 12/23/07.

No comments:

Post a Comment