The Toad and the Heavenly King

Collected anh retold by Thoai Lien


Since the old days, the toad is still as ugly as it looks now.  But Toad was well-known among all terrestrial creatures for its bravery.  And with that blood running in it, its liver became pigmented with purple color.


One year when there  was a drought, the sun was so hot that the lakes, ponds, and ditches were running dry, and trees and bushes were dying.  All creatures, big or small, were lacking water.  They lay here and there, tongues sticking out, awaiting death.  None of them was able to come up with any plan to save itself and other creatures.  The big animals only took advantage of their chubby bodies to overpower the small ones, but none thought of challenging the Heaven Emperor.  Only that small toad had the guts to go to heaven to petition for the rain to save them all.


In the beginning, there was only the toad itself going solo, but Toad did not give up.  When it passed a dry swamp, it met a big crab.  Crab asked where Toad was heading. Toad told Crab its plan and asked Crab to join it.  Initially, Crab hesitated, thinking that it had rather stay and die where it was than to go far away in vain.  But the big crab was impatient seeing others of its kind shy away (Crab moves sideway, thus the symbol of speaking like ‘crab’ implies ‘shying away’), it did the opposite.  It joined Toad.


The two en route met the tiger lying panting, and the bear sweating nearby.  Toad invited them to join the team.  While the tiger hesitated, the bear applauded,

-  Toad is right.  We cannot stay here waiting to die of thirst.  Even “shying away” like Crab still joins in.  Why not us?

The bear thus joined in, and so did the tiger.  En route, the team met the swarm of bees whose honey was dried up, and the fox whose fur was seared by the sun ray.  They all joined Toad to petition against the Heaven Emperor.  They all were enthusiastic.


Toad led the team on and on until they reached the heaven gate.  There, the solemnity of the heavenly scene intimidated all of them except Toad, who assumed the leading role.  He told the team:

-  Now, you all listen to me.  There is a water reservoir covered with lush greenery over there.  You Mr. Crab go hide yourself there.  You Bees hide yourselves up on the archway.  Mr. Fox stay on my left, Mr. Bear on my right, and Mr. Tiger lie behind me (and the drum).  We need to win this battle to get what we want.


When all the teammates agreed to take orders from Toad, it jumped onto the drum and started to hit it.  The noise woke up the heaven near and far.  The Heaven Emperor was having a noon nap.  He woke up, ordering the Thunder Genie to step out to take a look.  Thunder Genie went out and found the small toad on the drum.  He wondered if he would be able to hit Toad with his giant ax.  He came back, reporting what he saw to the Heaven Emperor.  The Heaven Emperor was angry.  He ordered the Rooster to go out to get rid of that impudent toad.


The heaven Rooster took the order, rushing out.  Toad ground its teeth, ordering the fox to stop the rooster.  The fox immediate jumped out, biting the rooster by the throat and dragged it away.  Toad again hit the drum.  The Heaven Emperor was angry, ordering the heaven Dog to confront Fox.  The heaven Dog took the order, rushing out.  Toad again ground its teeth, ordering the bear to stop the heaven Dog.  Immediately, Bear jumped out to strike at the Dog.  The Dog fell to the floor and died at once.


Toad continued to hit the drum, annoying the Heaven Emperor.  He started to take things more seriously by ordering the Thunder Genie to go out to smash the Bear.  The Thunder Genie was well known for his art.  Every time he lifted his ax, thunder followed, deafening the universe.  So, after having order the Thunder Genie to exterminate those earthy animals, The Heaven Emperor went back to bed, thinking that the job would be done this time.


As the Thunder Genie stepped out, Toad ground its teeth, ordering the Bees to attack the Thunder Genie.  The swarm came down from the roof, aiming at the Thunder Genie’s nose to attack.  Terrified, the Thunder Genie ran toward the chunk of water to immerge his head into water to hide from the bees.  There, the Crab used its pincers to grasp at the Thunder Genie’s neck.  The Thunder Genie was so painful that he swung around, breaking the chunk… Then, as he tried to run away from the bees, Toad ground its teeth, ordering the tiger to launch forward to attack the Thunder Genie.  Immediately, the Tiger jumped forward and tore the Thunder Genie apart.


As the sound of the drum arose again, the Heaven Emperor was really frightened.  He proposed a truce, and asked Toad to let him have the body of the Thunder Genie back.  Toad ordered the tiger and the bear to pick up and return the Thunder Genie’s body to the heaven Court.  The Heaven Emperor then used his magic power to resurrect the Thunder Genie.  The moment the Genie’s life was restored, he thought of a rematch because he was not willing to accept such an easy defeat.  But the Genie, with the experience still freshly registered in his mind, stepped back and hid himself behind the Heaven Emperor – while other staffs were still on break.


Being trapped in such an awkward situation, the Heaven Emperor had no choice but asked,

-  What brought you to heaven?

The toad by then jumped forward and landed on the arm of the throne, and said,

-  It has been four years that we have had no rain on earth.  Trees from the forests are drying, and all creatures are dying of thirst.  We thus come up here to ask why you did not give us some rain.


The Heaven Emperor examined all of those earnest soldiers, then ordered his staff to summon the Rain Genie to the court.  By then, he realized that the Rain Genie had been wandering around in the past few days, forgetting his duty.  (A day in heaven was believed to be equal to a year on earth).  After a few words of reprimanding, the Heaven Emperor ordered the Rain Genie to bring his troops down to earth to start making rain.  He then turned to the toad and said,
- From now on, if you ever need rain, just grind your teeth to inform me.  I will dispatch the Rain Genie immediately.  You don’t need to come up here.

Toad, Fox, Bear, Tiger and the Bees happily bid goodbye to the Heaven Emperor.  When they came back to earth, they found all lakes, ponds, ditches, and swamps were filled with water.  And everyone greeted them with great appreciation.


But many years later, the toad’s accomplishment was forgotten.  Some poor fellows caught toads, and tried to kill them for food.  Unfortunately, one of them, when panicked, ground its teeth, sending the wrong message to heaven.  The Rain Genie’s team came to make some rain, along with it came the lightening, that struck the toad killer.  From that day on, there came a rumor that the little toad was the Uncle of the Heaven Emperor, and that whoever had the guts to kill it would be punished by the Heaven Emperor as the proverb implicated below:

“The Toad is the Heaven Emperor’s uncle,

Whoever beats up the toad will be struck by lightening

(as ‘ordered’ by the Heaven Emperor)”.


Author’s input:  In Vietnamese, there was a proverb, “Tam sao, thất bổn”, which means “three times transcribing, the original meaning is lost.”  Indeed, it is so often that people like to add their own words to things they recite and interpret.  That’s why it is hard to back-track things passing down verbally such as the link between the toad and the Heaven Emperor in the story above.  An onlooker may say “comparing the number of people sacrificed in the Iraq war in the past few years, it amounts to hundred folds higher than the number killed in the Twin Tower disaster.


Admittedly, this is the correct judgment in term of the total number of deaths.  But in term of sufferings, I personally believe that the monetary value for those killed in the 9-11 if calculated by John Edwards would still exceed the amount suffered by those sacrificed in the war – and this… only the Rhode Island Night Club survivors could answer it justly.  Seeing the dead corpse rolling out of the fire when exposed to cremation could not tell how much pain a person was burnt alive.  Thus, the interpretation of those who have never been burnt will vary from man to man.


Published in Nguoi-Dep-Magazine (NYC), Dec. 2007 issue.