Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Spider Shapeshifters--Part Two (Han & Hui)

The old woman saw the fear on the young man's face.

"Listen to me," she continued. "This is what you must do. Tonight, when you're wife is asleep, look beneath the sleeping mat, and you shall find a length of red thread with a needle attached. Take the needle to the door and open the door. Then, pull the needle and thread outside the door until you can pull no more. See where the outstretched needle lies, and there, just beyond the needle, empty your bladder. Once you do so, climb back into bed . . ."

The old woman saw the skeptical look on the young man's face.

"You have doubts about what I am telling you, don't you? You must absolutely follow my directions. It's the only way you can save yourself. If you don't believe me, go back to their home right now. Neither one is home now. So, prepare quickly to return home before your father-in-law and wife get back. There's a small house behind the house you now live in, isn't there?"


"Well, Boy, enter that little house before your wife and her father return. You shall find ninety-nine heads of the men who came before you! Go and see for yourself!"

He did as the old woman had said. He rushed home before his wife and father-in-law returned. He went to the little house in the back and opened the door. Sure enough, as he opened the door, he beheld a huge mound of human heads--each one having belonged to some man. He shuddered and shut the door. No sooner than that he heard his father-in-law and his wife's voices. He found them heading over to the main house.

"Father . . . " he said, "where did you go?"

"We went out looking all over the mountain for you!" the old man said, forcing himself to mask his fury, for the man he had wanted dead was still very much alive. "You had us greatly worried! We had feared the worst because of the sudden rainstorm! We could find neither head nor tail of you. We finally figured you had perhaps somehow made it back home."

The old man bid the newlyweds a good night and went to his room. The young man and his wife did the same.

That night, once his wife had fallen asleep on the kang, he followed the advice he had heard from the older woman. He found the needle and red thread where he had been told to look for them. He took the needle out to the other side of the door with the thread trailing behind. There, he relieved himself as instructed. He then climbed back into bed.

There was no endless chasm between his wife and him this time! And this time they could sleep side by side.

Sometime in the night, his wife awoke and said to him, "You know, you are such a handsome man. I could never ever bring myself to harm you. Tomorrow, though, Father will definitely kill you, I'm afraid."

The two made a plan. They would escape that very night. At midnight, the young husband and wife stole out of the house, taking a stout knife and a sword with them, as well as some coins. They then left the mountain. They kept on walking and walking, unaware that daylight had already crept up upon them.

From the south a very dark green cloud seemed to follow them.

Looking up, the wife said, "That's my father. He's found us. I guess I will have to battle him to death. I'll do whatever I need to do to free us of him, so let me handle it. Make sure you keep the sword handy. In a moment be ready if you see a red cloud appear nearby. If the red cloud sends down a hand toward you, place the sword into its hand. Did you hear me?"


As soon as she heard his reply, the blackish green cloud, as big as the sky itself, engulfed them. In the blink of an eye, the wife was gone without a trace. A wispy red cloud did appear, but it seemed overpowered by the dark green cloud. The young many marched away from the dark green cloud, which then extended an open hand towards the young man. He ignored the hand.

He was now standing apart from the dark green cloud and the ever-expanding expanding red cloud. At this point, a long arm and hand appeared from the red cloud, with the outstretched open hand right before him. He quickly handed the red cloud his sword.

The red cloud then grew bigger and bigger as the other cloud shrank.

In a flash, the dark green cloud evaporated. The young man turned his attention to a nearby river. Floating in the river was a carcass as big as a cow. It was no cow, however; it was a headless spider.

His wife came running up to him from nowhere and said, "All right! Let's keep going!"

On and on they walked, looking for a new home. Eventually, they got to the point where they had no more money.

"Now, what do we do?" he asked.

"I'll need to turn myself into a donkey," she said. "You'll take me to a market to sell me. After that, leave. I'll catch up with you within forty days. After forty days, if I haven't found you, that means I'll be a donkey for the rest of my life. You'll then need to go on with your life without me."

The young man was worried but agreed to go along with his wife's plan. She then changed herself into a donkey.

The young man took the donkey to market and found a buyer, a farmer, who then happily took the donkey back to his farm. He had his foreman, himself a formidable shapeshifter, examine the animal.

After taking a look at the donkey, the farmer's foreman said, "Boss, this is no ordinary donkey. For the next forty days, you'll need to take some precautions. First, it will need to be fed something other than common hay. You'll need to keep this donkey apart from both people and all other donkeys. You must always keep it indoors. I suggest that you also make sure every possible hole in the donkey's stall, whether in the walls, ceiling, or door, is stuffed with paper and kept that way for forty days. Otherwise, it's liable to escape. After those forty days are over, you won't need to be concerned about anything."

The farmer followed his employee's suggestions, and all was well for thirty-nine days. On the morning of the fortieth day, the farmer went into town. His daughter had heard rumors of a special donkey sequestered in a stall all by itself and not available to be viewed by onlookers. With her father away, she figured one little peek at the donkey couldn't hurt. She asked her two sisters-in-law to go with her to the little stall that had been off limits to everyone but the farmer and his trusted foreman.

The three women headed off to the stall.

The daughter didn't dare try to open the door to the stall. Instead, she removed a wad of paper from a hole in the door to get a look at the donkey inside. Inside the stall, there was a donkey indeed. However, it was crying, weeping the way a person would weep!

"Huh . . ." said the girl to her sisters-in-law, "I didn't know donkeys could cry . . ."

Immediately, the donkey--or, rather, the daughter of the late spider shapeshifter--took this opportunity to transform herself into a fly and buzz herself right out of the newly unplugged hole and away from the otherwise enclosed stall.

Once safely beyond the stall, she next changed herself into a jackrabbit and sprinted farther away.

"Hey!" a voice called out.

The wife, now in the guise of a rabbit, had been spotted by the foreman, who transformed himself into an eagle to catch the rabbit.

The rabbit spotted this transformation and quickly changed herself into a sparrow.

The eagle chased the sparrow across the sky but was no match for the smaller, swifter sparrow which darted like a veritable arrow.

Moments later the sparrow spotted her husband down below. She instantly changed herself into a silver coin and deliberately dropped herself just a pace or two ahead of her husband.

"Oh, a silver coin . . ." said the young man, picking up the coin and pocketing it.

"Hey, just one moment, Friend!" called a voice from behind.

The young man swung around to see the shapeshifting farm foreman come running towards him.

"Yes? What can I do for you?"

"Give me back my coin that you just placed into your pocket! That's what!"

"Hold on a minute," said the young man. "How can that be your coin when it just fell in front of me while you were way behind me?"

"I don't care! I know it is my coin, a silver coin! Now, hand it over if you know what's good for you!"

The two proceeded to have a noisy quarrel right there on the road and were ready to escalate it to fisticuffs when a goodnatured passerby intervened. The young man and foreman each gave his version of events to this older gentleman.

"Well, now," said the passerby to the foreman, "this other man has a point. After all, the coin landed in front of him when you were still a good distance behind him."

"That is my silver coin!" yelled the foreman. "I can identify it! Take it out of your pocket and see if I'm lying about its being a silver coin!"

"All right, all right!" said the young man, fishing for the coin in his pocket. "I'll take it out . . . "

He clutched it from his pocket and opened his hand. The coin in question was copper.

"Well?" he asked.

The foreman sheepishly strode away. The young man bid adieu to the passerby and continued walking. Out of curiosity, he took the coin out again. It was copper, but then before his eyes, it turned into a silver coin again. And then . . . it turned back into his wife.

Joyfully reunited, the husband and wife walked together towards the three-way fork in the road where, sometime before, he and his brothers had parted ways. They continued walking until they were back at the young man's family home, and there they joined his two older brothers. They all recounted their adventures. The brothers decided to start a business, a shop, and made their youngest brother the manager. With his gift of finesse and with his wife's skills and charm, the business prospered, enabling the two older brothers to have eventually wives of their own. They all happily lived their lives together.

海原民間故事 [Folktales From Haiyuan] (see 8/8/18 for complete citation).

This story, as will be seen below, has many transformation motifs, especially in connection with the magic flight, suggesting its origin in a shamanistic tradition. (See the comments for 7/16/17). The micturition ritual motif that enables the newlyweds to sleep side-by-side and which then enables the young man to escape becoming the 101st male victim of the female spider shapeshifter is barely delineated in the original text, leaving me no other alternative but to improvise cautiously. My wife, a native speaker of Chinese, was likewise stymied by the lack of details in the passage. 

Motifs: D133.1, "Transformation to cow"; D150, "Transformation: man to bird"; D151.8, "Transformation: man (woman) to sparrow"; D152.2 "Transformation: man to eagle"; D185, "Transformation: woman to fly"; D235, "Transformation: man (woman) to gold object (coin)"; D285.1, "Transformation: man to smoke (cloud)"; D332.1, "Transformation: ass (donkey) to person"; D381, "Transformation: spider to man"; D670, "Magic flight"; cD1520.2, "Magic transportation by cloud"; G530.2, "Help from ogre's (shapeshifter's) daughter"; H310.1, "Tests for hero, husband of supernatural wife"; H315.1, "Suitor test: to make the princess (shapeshifter's daughter) fall in love with him; H1023.2, "Task: carrying (drinking) water in a sieve"; N122.01, "The choice of roads"; R236.1, "Fugitive aided by magic mist (cloud); R315, "Cave as a refuge"; S110.3., "Princess (shapeshifter) builds tower of skulls (heads) of unsuccessful suitors."

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