Wednesday, April 27, 2022

The Dog That Became a King (Dai)

There was once a cast-off mangy, hungry dog, so starved that his rib bones were clearly visible. The wondrous monk Laxi took pity on this dog and took him in, caring for him so that before long the dog became healthy and active once again. Not only that, the dog became incredibly brilliant while under Laxi's skillful and magical tutelage. 

One day Laxi asked the dog, "If you could, would you like to become a person?"

"I don't only wish to become a person," replied the dog. "I would like to become the king!"

"Very well," said Laxi. "Come and jump through the hoop in my staff!"

The dog did so, and when he had touched the ground again, he instantly turned into a man. The man bowed and thanked Laxi. 

Patting the man's head, Laxi said, "Your name henceforth shall be Maxi'xiang!"

Now, it so happened at this time that the kingdom of Menghuidihai had recently suffered the death of the king, and there were no suitable heirs to the throne. It would be an understatement to say the kingdom was in a complete uproar as to what to do. Councilors carrying lanterns went out into the night and combed the area, searching for anyone who could possibly become the next king. 

Eventually, they came to the renowned Laxi for his help and suggestions. Maxi'xiang just happened to be with the monk, too. 

"Gentlemen," said Laxi, "you need not search any longer. This is Maxi'xiang. He can be the next king!"

On the spot, Maxi'xiang provided an audition, if you will, by demonstrating his advanced ability, thanks to Laxi, in martial arts and by reading aloud ancient texts on the science and art of being a ruler. 

The councilors looked at each other and nodded. Yes, they thought, this is the right man for the job. They escorted Maxi'xiang back to the palace, where he was thereupon made king. 

So, Maxi'xiang had now become king and wore the regal robes and crown. He sat on the throne with councilors by his side, with everything at his bidding just by the snap of his fingers. 

Yes, he had everything he could possibly want but one thing--a sense of security. He knew he had once been a dog, and he feared the day would come when this secret would be made known to everyone in the kingdom. But how could this secret ever come to light? Who could possibly give the game away? Only one name came to mind: Laxi! Laxi, the man who had saved his life and who had enabled him to become a human and king. 

King Maxi'xiang decided then and there that Laxi had to die. 

He issued an arrest warrant for Laxi on a trumped-up charge and ordered his guards to seize and to kill his former benefactor.

When the guards showed up at Laxi's residence, the wise and powerful monk was waiting for them. He came out to speak to them, and none of them, seeing him there before them, in all his powerful presence, felt able to approach him, let alone to kill him.  

"Who has ordered you here to do me harm?" he asked them. 

"The . . . king . . ." one of them answered. 

"Well, you go back and tell your king that I still have plenty of magic power to teach him," said the monk. "Kill me now and that power will be lost forever. The day may come when the king will realize this and blame you for having killed me. So, go back and tell him I still have many things to teach him, which I will very willingly do. If he's not interested, you can always return here to carry out his order. You know where to find me."

The guards scurried back to the palace and told the king what Laxi had said about teaching him further magic. The king thought about what Laxi had told the guards. Yes, he decided, there was still a lot for him to learn. The only way he'd ever be able to defeat Laxi and thus preserve his legacy would be to learn all the magic powers Laxi had. Only then, with Laxi gone forever, would he be able to rule with confidence and the dignity supported by abundant confidence. 

King Maxi'xiang left the palace and went directly to Laxi's home. There, he humbly apologized for his actions and intentions. Laxi just smiled. 

"You were correct, Master," said the king. "I have still much, much to learn! Would you still graciously teach me all your powers?"

"I shall teach you if you are able to squeeze through the hoop in my staff," said Laxi. 

"Hmm . . . all right . . ." said the king. 

The king squeezed through the hoop and touched the ground, whereupon he instantly turned back into the mangy starving dog with protruding ribs. 

And so, Maxi'xiang, once the king, was now again a dog. 


Daizu minjian gushixuan 傣族民间故事选 [An Anthology of Dai Folktales]; Fu Guangzi, Yang Bingli, Feng Shouxuan, Zhang Fusan, eds; Shanghai Wenyi Chubanshe, 1992; pp. 250-251.

For another Dai folktale, see the posting for 1/1/09. For another story about a dog that was transformed into a man, see 7/26/12. 

The staffs carried by monks may have large loops at the top; however, the story implies that either the loop in this story is particularly wide and accommodating or Maxi'xiang, in both his animal or human form, is adept at squeezing through openings. (A Google image search for "monk's staff" will result in many photographs of different staffs with loops at the top.) 

Laxi (腊西) is presented just matter-of-factly without any background information, leading me to believe he might be a legendary or cultural hero of the Dai people, someone without the need for an introduction. 

Motifs: B211.7, "Speaking dog"; B300, "Wise Animal"; cD22, "Transformation: common man to exalted personage"; D141, "Transformation: man to dog"; D341, "Transformation: dog to person"; D1254, "Magic staff"; K2061, "Treacherous plan of hypocritical animal detected & prevented"; N848.0.1, "Holy man as helper"; Q261.1, "Intended treachery punished"; R165, "Rescue by saint (holy man)." 

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