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
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
- 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
“The Toad is the Heaven Emperor’s uncle,
Whoever beats up the
toad will be struck by lightening
(as ‘ordered’ by the
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.
Nguoi-Dep-Magazine (NYC), Dec. 2007 issue.