Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Childhood Redemption In The Land Of Honah Lee

When I was very young my mom bought me one of those sing along albums (yes in the days of 33 RPM records) for children. It had the usual assortment of songs (On Top Of Old Smoky, John Jacob Jinkelheimer Schmidt) but the title song on the album always hit deep with me. It was Puff The Magic Dragon. I had this weird bittersweet feeling every time I heard the song. To be honest I hated hearing it, but still listened to it over and over. When I hear it today it brings me back to my childhood days sitting in my bedroom listening to that album.

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee,
Little Jackie paper loved that rascal Puff,
And brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff.

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee,
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee.

Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail
Jackie kept a lookout perched on puffs gigantic tail,
Noble kings and princes would bow whenever they came,
Pirate ships would lower their flag when puff roared out his name.

First, I'll address the cynical side of the song. Peter Yarrow, who wrote the song clearly states that it is not about drugs. He is pretty adament about it. I know it's cool to find hidden meanings in things, but also I think it goes to our need for controversy. I'll take him at face value on this one. The best interpretation I've heard is that Puff is actually a dragon kite that sparks Jackie's imagination to pretend he goes to exciting places with his magical friend. What could be cooler for a kid then to have these adventures with this fierce magical creature as your friend? As a kid, it sparked my imagination to what those castles and places would look like. It also speaks to the love of boys have for powerful and fierce things. Who wouldn't want a friend like Puff?

A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened, Jackie paper came no more
And puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.

His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain,
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.
Without his life-long friend, puff could not be brave,
So puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave.

The last verse then takes a turn towards a harsh reality. Jackie grows up and forgets about Puff. New things fascinate him and he moves on in life. Likely, Puff the kite is stuffed in a closet to be forgotten. As a five year old this is a tragedy! Why would Jackie forsake his awesome friend? The moral has a tragic side: we all have to grow up and put away childish things.

What complicates things for me (even today) is that there's a fine line between childish and child-like. I still don't like that Jackie leaves Puff. There's something important that Jackie leaves behind: child-likeness. Yes, we are not to be childish and live completely in a fantasy world. There are responsibilities and maturity to be accomplished. Yes, the kite has to at some point go into the closet. But for some reason, as adults we completely kill the child in us. Christ himself desires for us to come to Him as little children. Christ calls The Father daddy. In all this pressure to grow up we missed something? I think so!
I believe we all still need to imagine, play and laugh. We should fly kites, run through grass and roll down hills. I feel in our stiff theology we miss out on the God that plays, creates and imagines.

Back to Jackie Paper: I've read that Peter Yarrow actually wrote a third verse to the song. He somehow lost the words along the way, but it tells us that Jackie does eventually return to find Puff. Jackie, now a grown man, then introduces Puff to a little girl (implying that it's Jackie's daughter). The little girl and Puff then go on magical adventures and Puff once again has a friend! Given this part of the song I see that Jackie has not lost his child-likeness and has passed on the beauty of adventure, play and imagination to his little girl! I wish at five, this verse was on that album! This for me, heightens the great message of this song. Grow up but don't lose your sense of play, wonder and laughter; that we are to be child-like and live life full of both responsibility and play.

So today, I will take care of my responsibilities and then I am going to go out and play and pretend I'm in the land called Honah Lee.

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