This week for #FolkloreThursday I have been having some fun reading fairy tales about theft, sin and immorality. I mean, these are not uncommon themes in fairy tales, given that the faerie universe is basically a hotbed of deception, abuse, infanticide and people generally being arseholes to each other...
My favourite, and one I haven't read before was a Chinese fairy tale called either Theft of a Duck or The Man Who Wouldn't Scold; as with most fairy tales there are several versions to be found.
The tale introduces us to a miserly, lazy, good-for-nothing man called Wang. Or maybe Lin, depending on which website you visit.
I'm going to go with Lin, because I am basically a child and will otherwise get drawn into a lot of unacceptable and culturally insensitive sniggering about Wangs.
Lin is a terrible human being. He's the kind of bloke who "forgets his wallet" when you go to the pub, or leaves just when it's time for his round. He LOVES to eat, but hates buying food - so he's basically the world's worst dinner guest.
Lin - not a cool guy. ^^
So one day, Lin is chilling out beside a river, feeling a bit peckish. He's not had many dinner invitations recently, because everybody is fed up with his freeloading, so he's been living on water and eating scraps to save cash.
A flock of his neighbour's plump white ducks* come swimming down the river, and suddenly Lin's only got one thing on his mind...
Yep, that's right. Lin steals one of the unsuspecting ducks and takes it straight home for a clandestine crispy duck feast.
Since Lin has more of an appetite than a conscience, he tucks himself into bed that night, congratulating himself on a nifty way to continue his lazybones, miserly ways without compromising on delicious food. That's a win for our Lin.
He settles himself down to sleep, with a full stomach and contented thoughts of plenty more duck-thieving in the days to come.
But unknown to Lin, the powers that be have had just about enough of his terrible behaviour. That night, they put him on the list for a visit from a fairy.
No. Not a tiny green temptress, I mean a full-on, badass VENGEFUL FAIRY.
So the vengeful fairy comes to Lin in a dream and tells him that as punishment for his wicked ways, she needs to teach him a lesson.
An itchy, feathery lesson.
Lin wakes up at midnight with his skin on fire, and spends the rest of the night itching and scratching, consumed with terror about what the fairy has done to him.
Sure enough, when the sun rises in the morning, Lin sees that he has grown a beautiful, but hella uncomfortable coat of white duck feathers all over his body.
This does not please Lin.
He begs the vengeful fairy for mercy. I mean, the feathers REALLY itch, and Lin's not exactly the resilient type, what with all the lying around and the gluttony.
The fairy sees her chance to make him repent, and tells him that the only way to get rid of his new eiderdown onesie is by getting the owner of the recently-digested duck to give him a good scolding.
But Lin has a problem. The erstwhile owner of the duck is a really nice guy.
I mean, this dude doesn't have a bad word to say about anybody.
Lin tries first to pin the blame for on the poor family next door, in the hopes that he might be able to avoid taking the telling-off on the chin himself.
But his kind-hearted neighbour just smiles and forgives his other neighbours, because they can't help being poor, and really what's one duck between friends?
...at which point Lin's feathers start itching unbearably, and he realises there's nothing for it but to face the music.
He confesses the theft to his neighbour, promising to mend his ways if only his neighbour will give him a good talking-to.
But his neighbour really doesn't like to be hard on people; he'd rather just forgive Lin, because sharing is caring right?
By this time, Lin's practically out of his mind with pain, and literally BEGGING his neighbour to give him a dressing-down.
He explains the whole thing to his kindly neighbour - the vengeful fairy, the magical coat of duck feathers, and how he just needs a good scolding to make things right.
His neighbour thinks it over; and being a decent sort and inclined to be helpful, he gives it a go.
And as soon as the scolding is delivered, Lin's feathers fall out and the unbearable itching stops. He is consumed with relief and gratitude, and does indeed mend his ways, living out the rest of his life in industry, generosity and honesty.
Big props to Lin for finally seeing the error of his duck-thieving ways.
'Mon the reformed characters!
So to me, this is a story chiefly about the awakening of conscience, and the pain that humans experience when they know in their heart that they've been up to no good.
Also, if we look at Lin's neighbour it's a tale about boundaries. The neighbour's story tells us that it's possible to be "too nice", which not only does you no good (I mean, do you want people to keep stealing and eating your ducks?), but is actually unhelpful for would-be duck rustlers, who will genuinely benefit from being held to account for their bad behaviour.
Thank you Chinese folklore; every day's a school day.
I hope you enjoyed this foray into the world of theft, immorality and sin for #FolkloreThursday. See you again next week for more fun with fairy tales and fables.
In the meantime, if I can tempt you with a feminist breakdown of Disney's The Little Mermaid via the medium of comedy GIF, please click here.
*Thankfully not this white duck.