Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What are the origins of "crying wolf"

In an effort to better edify you, my trusted readers, I have decided to take a brief hiatus from my normally sardonic tone. Recent weather events have caused many to discuss the possible repercussions of crying wolf, but where does this phrase originate?

Once upon a time in the far off Russian satellite of the Ukraine lived a young composer, Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev (April 27, 1891 – March 5, 1953).

Prokofiev suffered persecution in Russia and was forced to flee to America for a time, returning to Russia in 1935. In 1936 Prokofiev wrote a piece for his son based on the story, “Peter and the Wolf”. This is the story from which came the phrase, “…cry wolf…”.

Here is the story quoted verbatim from Wikipedia.org:

Peter, a Soviet "pioneer" scout, is at his grandfather's home in a forest clearing. One day Peter goes out into the clearing, leaving the garden gate open, and the duck that lives in the yard takes the opportunity to go swimming on the nearby pond. She starts arguing with a little bird ("What kind of bird are you if you can't fly?" - "What kind of bird are you if you can't swim?"). Peter's pet cat sneaks up on them, and the bird – warned by Peter - flies into a tall tree while the duck swims to safety in the middle of the pond.

Peter's grandfather scolds Peter for being outside in the meadow ("Suppose a wolf came out of the forest?"), and, when Peter defies him, saying that "Pioneers are not afraid of wolves," takes him back into the house and locks the gate. Shortly afterwards "a big, grey wolf" does indeed come out of the woods. The cat quickly climbs into the tree, but the duck, who has excitedly jumped out of the pond, is chased, overtaken and gulped down by the wolf.

Pioneer Peter fetches a rope and climbs over the garden wall into the tree. He asks the bird to fly around the wolf's head to distract him, while he lowers a noose and catches the wolf by his tail. The wolf struggles to get free, but Peter ties the rope to the tree and the noose only gets tighter.

Some hunters, who have been tracking the wolf, come out of the forest ready to shoot, but Peter gets them to help him take the wolf to the zoo in a victory parade (The piece was first performed for an audience of pioneers during May Day celebrations) that includes himself, the bird, the hunters leading the wolf, the cat and grumpy grumbling Grandfather ("What if Peter hadn't caught the wolf? What then?").

In the story's ending, the listener is told that "if you listen very carefully, you'd hear the duck quacking inside the wolf's belly, because the wolf in his hurry had swallowed her alive."

Though charming in and of itself, the story is augmented by instrumental themes for each of the participants.

It is something once heard, never forgotten.

The Pine River Public Library has a copy of the CD, narrated (The story is told with a background of musical themes.) by David Bowie. There are also other renditions of “Peter and the Wolf” throughout the Kitchigami Library system.

Take a break from television and enrich your life and the lives of your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, neighborhood children, or anybody at all. Listen to “Peter and the Wolf”.

Until next time, I remain...

the library cat.

P.S. The cat’s theme is played on clarinet! How fitting. I am also black like a clarinet.

Printed in the Pine River Journal Sept 25, 2008

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