Magic: A Fairy Tale

I took my 5-year-old to see The Princess and the Frog back when it was in theaters a couple years ago. I can’t say he enjoyed it much, and the representation of “Shadow Magic” particularly confused and scared him a little. He asked me a lot of questions about it, and at some point I told him that the villain had been eaten by the bad magic because he had promised to feed it but didn’t. When this only caused more questions to arise, I came up with a story that went something like this:

Once there was a little boy who lived in a cabin in the woods with his mother. The boy helped his mother by doing things like cutting wood and working in the garden to make sure they had plenty of vegetables to eat. He milked the cow and fed the goat and pigs.

There were wild animals living in the woods around the cabin, and the boy’s mother often told him to beware of them. “Leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone. Never leave any food out where they might come to get it; we want them to stay away from the cabin.”

Because he wanted to be a good and helpful son, the boy listened to his mother. But one day while he was weeding the garden, the boy noticed a wolf standing on the hill by the trees. It was a beautiful wolf, but it was skinny too, and the boy felt sorry for it because he thought the wolf must be hungry. But the boy remembered what his mother had said and so ignored the wolf and went back to his work.

However, when it came time to feed the goat and the pigs, the boy saw the wolf was still there. And he decided it couldn’t hurt so very much to throw a little something out for the wolf to eat. So he did.

The next day, when the boy went out to chop wood for the morning fire, he saw the wolf again. This time it stood a little farther past the trees, closer to the cabin. The wolf was not really any less skinny than it had been before; the boy knew just one meal would not satisfy a wolf. But the boy ignored the wolf and went on with chopping wood, milking the cow, and working in the garden, until it was time to feed the goat and pigs again. Then the boy threw a little extra out for the wolf once more.

The next morning the wolf was halfway down the hill, sitting and waiting. The boy did just as he had before, completing his chores and then throwing food to the wolf. He began to wonder if maybe he could tame the wolf. What a splendid pet it might make! And a good watchdog as well.

The next day the wolf was right in the garden. Instead of waiting, the boy gave the wolf scraps from his own breakfast and tried to teach the wolf to sit and lie down. The wolf complied for as long as the boy had food to give, but once the food was gone, the wolf was no longer interested in learning.

On the next morning, the boy opened the cabin window and discovered the wolf sitting right beneath it. By this time the wolf was looking less skinny, and its fur was beginning to grow even more thick and lovely.

“I don’t have anything to feed you,” the boy told the wolf. “I haven’t chopped the wood yet, so there is no fire, and so no breakfast.”

The wolf watched and waited while the boy chopped wood. It watched and waited while the boy milked the cow while and his mother cooked the breakfast. But the boy was very hungry that morning and forgot to save any scraps for the wolf. When he went outside to work in the garden, the wolf followed him, growling.

“You’ll have to wait,” the boy told the wolf.

But the wolf did not want to wait. The wolf was used to being fed, and the more the boy fed it, the hungrier and greedier it became. So the wolf went to the pig sty and ate a piglet.

When the boy discovered this, he knew he could not keep the wolf as a pet, could not train it or trust it. He knew his mother had been right when she’d said he should not feed wild animals.

The boy looked and found the wolf lying in front of the cabin door. When the boy tried to step over, the wolf growled and snapped its jaws. So the boy went to fetch his axe. He swung the axe at the wolf, and the wolf jumped up and out of the way. It ran off into the woods.

Relieved, the boy thought that was the last he would see of the wolf. But the next morning it was again under the cabin window. The boy decided to ignore it. But when he went out to chop wood and milk the cow, the wolf followed. Finally, the boy told the wolf, “I have nothing to feed you, today or any day. And if you kill another piglet, I will use this axe on you for good.” Then the boy turned to go back inside to eat his own breakfast.

But as he did, the wolf lept on the boy and ate him up instead.

The idea was that dark magic might be tempting, but once you start to “feed” it, it will only want more. It will hurt the things and people you care for, and it will eventually hurt you, too. Idle threats won’t work against it; if you get mixed up in something like that, you have to be prepared to kill it outright if you want to be free. It’s an imperfect analogy, of course, but not all bad as a story.