Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Persian Tales: Nim Tanak, or Half-Boy

This story begins with a fairy-tale motif that you will recognize: thanks to a magical helper (in this case a holy man or dervish), a childless king obtains a special substance that will allow his wife (in this case, his wives, plural) to become pregnant. For one of the wives, however, the pregnancy does not turn out quite as planned and she gives birth to a "half-boy" who will be the hero of the story.

The boy's enemy is a Div, or demon. You can read more about the folkloric tradition of the Div at Wikipedia.

Explore: For another story of an unexpected hero, see Muhammad Tirandaz, The Archer. For another story about a supernatural spouse, see Fayiz and the Peri Wife.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Persian Tales unit. Story source: Persian Talestranslated by D.L.R. Lorimer and E.O. Lorimer and illustrated by Hilda Roberts (1919).

Nim Tanak, or Half-Boy




Once upon a time there was a time when there was no one but God.

There was a King to whom no children were born, and this made him very sorrowful, till one day from grief and sorrow he wandered out alone into the desert. As he went he overtook a derwish and they exchanged greetings, then the derwish asked: "Who are you, and where are you going to?"

Thereupon the King told him how matters were.

"How many wives have you?"

"Four," answered the King.

On this the derwish gave the King four apples and said: "Give one of these to each of your wives to eat." The King was greatly pleased, and took the apples home and gave them to his wives. Three of them ate their whole apples, but the fourth ate only half of hers and put the other half on a shelf, meaning to eat it later in the day, but a crow came and carried it off and flew away, and she was too much afraid to tell the King.

In due time children were born to all the wives; one of them had a daughter, two of them had sons, and the fourth had half a son. The King was very angry with the mother of the half-child, and drove her and her infant from his presence and treated them with great unkindness. But he was full of affection and goodness for his daughter and his two sons, and educated them well, and brought them up carefully, and sent them to the madrasah, and made them his heirs, but poor Nim Tanak, the half-boy, had to play with the children of the servants and slaves, and never dared enter his father's presence.

Now it came to pass that a Div fell in love with the King's daughter. One day when she was out hunting with her brothers the Div suddenly appeared in the air and carried off the Princess, and flew with her to the cave where he lived.

When this news was brought to the King he was very sorrowful and wept a while. Then he gathered an army together and sent it under the command of his eldest son to fight the Div.

From afar the Div saw them coming and asked the King's Daughter: "What is that?"

She answered:
Dust I see, and a cloud of sand,
A youthful horseman is at hand.

"What's he doing?" asked the Div.

"Drinking water," replied the girl.

"How's he drinking?"

"He's drinking slowly, sip by sip," said she.

"Come, then," said the Div, "let us laugh till we can laugh no more, for victory is ours."

Then the Div took his weapons and went out to battle with the youth. As soon as the lad saw him his arms grew limp with fear. The Div seized him and carried him off into the cave and hung him up by the top-knot of his hair. Meanwhile the army fled and brought the news to the King.

The King gathered a second army and entrusted it to his second son, and they marched out as the former had done. When they approached the cave the Div asked the Princess: "Well, what do you see?"

She answered:
Dust I see, and a cloud of sand,
A youthful horseman is at hand.

"What's he doing?"

"Eating grapes."

"How's he eating them?"

"One at a time," said the maiden.

"Come, then, let us laugh till we can laugh no more, for this time victory is ours."

To cut a long story short, he seized the young prince like his brother and brought him to the cave, and hung him up by his eyelashes. The army fled and brought the news to the King, who was in despair.

Then Nim Tanak saw that it would be no use to ask his father for an army, so all alone he mounted his horse and rode out to give battle to the Div. As he drew near the cave the Div again asked the girl: "What do you see?"

Dust I see, and a cloud of sand,
Nim Tanak riding close at hand.

"What's he doing?"

"Drinking water."

"How's he drinking it?"

"He has bent down over a stream and he's drinking up water and mud and everything there is in it," answered the Princess.

"Come, then," cried the Div, "let us weep till we can weep no more, this time defeat is ours."

As he came nearer the Div again said: "Look and see what he's doing now."

"Eating grapes."

"How's he eating them?"

"Bunches and bunches at a time, leaves and stalks and all," said she.

"Come, then, let us weep till we can weep no more, defeat is ours."

The Div this time hadn't the courage to go out and fight. The Div was forced to take up his weapons and go out.

Nim Tanak came right up to the mouth of the cave, and at last the Div was forced to take up his weapons and go out. Nim Tanak gave him no pause and no respite; he smote him with his sword and cut him in two halves.

The Div fell to the ground and began to wail and lament, saying: "Strike me once more with thy sword and make an end."

Nim Tanak was just about to smite him once again to kill him outright, as he thought, when his sister cried: "God forbid! If you strike him again he will come to life."

So he left the Div in two halves and set his brothers free, and carried off his sister, and they went home to the King. Then his father loved Nim Tanak greatly, and set the two brothers aside and made him his heir.

And now my story has come to an end, but the sparrow never got home.


(1000 words)




















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