Remembering “Puff the Magic Dragon”

Some of my childhood memories centre on music in some capacity. When I was a toddler, my mom would sing “Hush Little Baby” and “Rock A-Bye Baby.” My memory is fragmented at best, but these songs and the rose print wallpaper in my room have seared their impressions in my mind. Just like The Friendly Giant and Mr. Dressup, Puff the Magic Dragon is forever a part of who I am; a part of the fabric of my life.

In 1959, university student Leonard Lipton wrote a poem that would become the basis for Puff the Magic Dragon. Lipton stated that the poem was about a boy that befriends a dragon but then grows up and doesn’t have time for his friend anymore. The song became famous once Peter, Paul and Mary produced it in 1962.

Puff the Magic Dragon by Peter Yarrow, Lenny Lipton, Eric Puybaret. Sterling: New York.

Let’s check out some of the verses:

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. oh

 

We see this mysterious beast that is normally considered to be dangerous and ferocious as kind and gentle. Puff, doesn’t bound and attack, but rather frolics in the sea mist. Obviously, Honah Lee is a made-up island, but always reminded me of Scotland or Ireland.  But why would Jackie Paper bring Puff strings, sealing wax, and other fancy things? Maybe these were gifts to keep Puff coming or to show Puff how much he enjoyed their friendship.

 

Enter the chorus:

 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.

 Next stanza:

 Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail

Jackie kept a lookout perched on Puff’s gigantic tail,

Noble kings and princes would bow whenever they came,

Pirate ships would lower their flag when Puff roared out his name. oh!
 

Jackie and Puff would travel together to other lands by boat and what a journey they would have meeting Kings and noblemen. Even the pirates revered Puff. Puff is possibly the most infamous dragon that ever lived in one’s imagination.

Chorus:

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.

Next Stanza:

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.

Inevitability reigns over imagination and Jackie stops believing in his make believe world; thus, his mystical world that houses Puff disintegrates. Unfortunately, Puff is no longer the fearless dragon:

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. oh!

In fact, Puff’s kryptonite is a child’s lack of imagination. Puff and Jackie gleaned strength from their belief in each other and the world they created. Without both of their imaginations, neither one was capable of creating the mystical world. I feel sorry for Puff as Jackie has left him behind for a more grown-up and sophisticated, albeit less magical, existence.

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.

As a child, I loved the magic and innocence of Puff and Jackie’s relationship. I appreciated that Jackie had to grow-up and that Puff would never grow-up. After all he would stay the same forever embedded in the minds of children. Puff’s friendship was pure and unadulterated.

Peter Yarrow, Lenny Lipton, and Eric Puybaret. Sterling: New York. 

Peter Yarrow, Lenny Lipton, and Eric Puybaret. Sterling: New York. 

Now let’s take a journey ourselves, dear readers, to my young adulthood. It’s a crazy place full of exploration and expression with a complete lack of innocence. As I became an adult, I started to think about an alternate analysis to Puff the Magic Dragon. What if Puff is a euphemism for marijuana or opium? What if little Jackie Paper is not a boy at all but papers or acid tabs? Maybe Honah Lee is the drug-induced world that the narrator goes to when high.  And in this drug induced state, all the travelling to far off lands full of kings, princes, and pirates can be all a part of the irrational hallucinations that one can have while intoxicated. Kings, princes, and pirates could be friends, acquaintances or dealers. But once the drugs wear off, the narrator’s mind is clear and the places they travelled to while high are so far from reality. Losing the unfettered mindset of being high can be likened to a child losing a part of their imagination. 

Don't we all want to believe in magic? Don't we all want to forget about reality for a while and just imagine a far off land that is extraordinary. What do you think? 

 

~Jennifer Ward

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