Searching for Fear
adapted from Andrew Lang's The Boy Who Found Fear At Last,
(The Olive Fairy Book, 1890)
on a cool autumn night, very near Halloween, a mother raccoon sat by a fire
telling scary tales to her three children.
In the middle
of one story, one of the children cried out, "Mother, stop! You're frightening
us," and his older sister said, "I'm terrified."
youngest raccoon whose name was Gregory opened his eyes wide with surprise
and looked at his brother and sister. "I don't understand," he said. "What
you mean you're afraid?"
said his sister, Sarah.
didn't understand. "What does that feel like? Being afraid?"
something," said their mother wisely.
thought about for a moment as he stared into the fire trying to remember if
he had ever felt such a thing.
"You have goosebumps," Sarah said boldly.
"Your heart races," added his brother, Sam.
"You want to close your eyes," Sarah said.
"Or run away," Sam added.
Gregory stared into the fire, trying to remember if he had ever felt such a
thing. "I've never feared something," Gregory said.
Sam spat. "You're not telling the truth."
was. "I've never felt that way," he said sadly. "Perhaps I'd better go into
the world to see if I can find fear."
And though his mother felt terribly sad sending her son into the world, she agreed it would be well if Gregory found fear, and the very next day he set off on his journey.
Gregory walked all day long, and when night fell and the air turned bitter
cold, he reached a hill where he found a pack of coyotes sitting around a fire.
The fire looked so inviting, Gregory ran towards them, but when he was very
near, one of the coyotes growled, "How dare you come near our pack!" He looked
the little raccoon up and down. "What makes you so bold, little fellow?"
cocked his head. He wasn't sure he knew the answer to that. "I left home to
search for fear," he said. "I've been walking all day, and I thought perhaps
you could tell me where to find it."
bared their fangs, raised their heads and howled at the moon, and in the moonlight
Gregory saw how very bright their eyes looked, and how very long their fangs
were, and how very loudly they howled. He listened happily to their song, and
the melody soon made him sleepy, so he crept close to the fire to warm his
by his fearlessness, the coyotes stopped singing and looked at him. "Little
fellow," said the chief coyote, "I'll help you find fear."
"How kind!" Gregory said, sitting up straight.
"You see that graveyard on the far side of the hill," the wily coyote said.
"Go there and at the first grave you come to you'll find a bone buried deep
in the dirt. Dig up that bone and bring it to us, we'll show you fear!"
coyotes howled with laughter.
Gregory said, sad to leave the fire but pleased to know he'd soon find fear.
He leaped up and raced to the graveyard.
and found the grave, and began to claw in the dirt until he found the buried
bone. This he clutched between his paws, but just as he was ready to run back
to the hilltop, a long, pale hand with bony fingers stretched up out of the
said a ghostly voice, "is that bone for me?"
clutched the bone more tightly. "No!" he said angrily, "why would I give a
perfectly good bone to the dead?"
"Then I'll take it!" said the hand, but as the hand came near him, Gregory
scratched it with his claws.
The voice wailed in pain.
"That will teach you not to steal!" Gregory said, and putting the bone between
his teeth, he raced back to the fire.
the coyotes and held the bone up in the air. "Here it is!" he said.
They stared at him, amazed. "And did you find fear?" the wily coyote asked.
shook his head. "I saw nothing but a hand from the grave, and it wanted your
bone. I said no," of course." And once again he crept close to the fire to
warm his toes.
It was a very cold night.
began to whisper among themselves. "How will we teach this lad? He fears no
ghosts or beasts, what shall we do?"
And at long last, just as Gregory was drifting to sleep, one of the coyotes
said, "I think we can help you, but you'll have to go to the lake on the far
side of the hill."
"Point me there," Gregory said.
"The lake is very deep and very dark," the coyote said. "There you'll find
"I do hope
so," Gregory said, and off he ran.
he saw the lake ahead, and he noticed a tiny golden kitten sitting on a branch
overhanging the lake. The poor creature was meowing piteously, and his sad
song hurt Gregory's heart. "Kitten," he said as he approached, "what makes
you so sad?"
"My brother is drowning in that lake," the kitten wept, "and I can't swim."
said Gregory, and he leaped into the water, but as he did the kitten turned
into a ferocious lion, and that lion leaped upon Gregory's shoulders and pushed
him underwater. The poor raccoon would drown, or so it seemed.
would have none of this nonsense! He was on a vital mission, after all. So
he gathered all his strength, and he kicked and pushed and twisted and turned,
and he managed to throw that lion backwards, right onto the bank.
As the lion landed with a terrible thud, a gold chain dropped from its neck. "Ooph," the lion moaned, and passed out.
Now Gregory saw the gold glittering in the moonlight and he thought it looked so beautiful, he picked it up and placed it around his own neck.
my reward for my efforts to save the kitten's brother," Gregory said, and with
that he dashed back toward the hill.
On his way
back to the coyotes, Gregory had to pass an ocean shore, and there, out on
the ocean, he saw a boat sinking beneath the waves. The crew was waving their
arms and shrieking, "Help! Help save us! We're afraid."
Gregory said, and he dived into the water. Now, surely, he would find fear.
Fueled by this thought, he swam so fast he had nearly reached the boat when
suddenly he saw a maiden beneath the waves. She was tugging at an enormous
chain that was fastened to the bow of the boat, and each time she tugged, she
pulled the boat deeper under the water.
"Don't do that!" Gregory called, and he dived down and swam toward the maiden.
When he reached her, he bit down, hard, on the arm that tugged that chain.
the maiden screamed, though her screams sounded like gurgles, but she let go
of the chain, and instantly the boat righted itself.
in pain, she let go of the chain, and the boat instantly righted itself.
the sailors shouted as Gregory swam to the surface. "Hooray for the brave raccoon
who rescued us from certain death."
Gregory waved, "Thank you," he called, and then he swam to shore, but when
he looked back at the ocean he saw three doves plunge into the waves.
For one moment he thought he must save them too, but then they rose out of
water he saw they had turned into three beautiful raccoons. Each one held a
drinking cup made out of luminous shells.
"Wow," Gregory said, and he stood very still watching the three raccoons swim
toward the shore.
When they reached shore they raised their cups in the air and shouted, "Here!
Here! Here's to Gregory!"
Gregory blushed. "What have I done?" he asked.
The first raccoon bowed down to him. "You are the young raccoon who scratched
my hand when I stretched it out of the grave," she said. "Your fearlessness
released me from my spell. I owe you my life!"
Then the second raccoon raised her cup and said, "You jumped into the deep,
dark lake to save a kitten, and I was that lion. You broke me from my spell
as well. You've saved my life!"
the lad who bit my hand and saved a sinking ship. Fear did not stop you from
releasing me from my spell. I bow to you."
did you become so brave?" the first raccoon asked.
Gregory asked. "I'm not brave. I'm just searching for fear, and I will not
rest until I find it, so I must be off." And with that he ran into the forest,
on his way to the hill.
But before he reached the hillside, Gregory came to a clearing, and there he saw a gathering of animals. Deer and elk, wolves and worms, boars and bears, squirrels and owls, and dozens of other beasts and birds turned when they saw the raccoon.
The fox reached out to touch the chain around Gregory's neck.
Then the biggest, brownest bear cried, "It is he! This is our king!"
Everyone began to cheer. "Our king! Here here! Our king!"
Gregory looked around at all the creatures applauding and whistling and bellowing.
"Wait," he said. "Stop this. I'm not your king."
bear smiled. "Oh yes, you are, Gregory. You're the bravest among us, and so
you will forever rule us all!"
Gregory stood very still. "But what does this mean?" he asked in a tiny voice.
"You'll take care of us," the squirrel said.
"You'll give us rules," the owl hooted
"You'll protect us," whispered the deer.
And Gregory began to imagine his life as the king. He pictured himself trying
to bring wealth to the poor, and joy to the unhappy. He imagined trying to
make the littlest creatures feel safe. He imagined telling the other what to
do and what not to do. He pictured everyone bowing down and counting on him
cried, "I cannot be your king," but the crowd wasn't listening. They were applauding
and cheering still.
Gregory heard a voice from nowhere whispering in his ear. It sounded awfully
like his mother. "This is your destiny," said the voice. "The others need you."
Gregory bowed his head as his vision of his future unfolded. King. Ruler of the beasts and birds. He must accept this job. He would serve all the creatures on this earth, and now he felt goose bumps running up his spine, and he felt heart pounding in his ears. A little part of him still wanted to run away. And then he understood. He had, at last, found fear.