The Sea Queen and the Serpent

by Vicky on June 28, 2010

I wanted to tell a mermaid story this week, but I wanted it to be engaging for the many boys in our Page Presents class.  I finally found the perfect story in the Japanese tale of “The Sea Queen and the Serpent,” in Mermaid Tales from Around the World, retold by Mary Pope Osborne and illustrated by Troy Howell.

The Sea Queen and the Sea King live in the marvelous World Beneath the Waves, where the Sea King is kept busy overseeing the tides and governing rain and storms, not to mention ruling over all the denizens of the deep.  But the Sea Queen likes to ride her great green dragon up through the waves to visit the island world above, where she is able to dress as one of the Empress’s ladies.  She builds a summer palace on the island and plants beautiful gardens and orchards.  Then, one day when she is away, a terrible sea serpent comes ashore and destroys her palace and plantations.  When the Sea Queen returns, she is overwhelmed with the destruction and cries out, “Who will slay the terrible Ja!” 

Toda, a young warrior is passing by, and he hears her plea for help.  “I will do my best,” he tells her.  Of course he does slay the monster, but is rather taken aback when the Sea Queen rides up on her green dragon.  But she soon reveals her true identity and invites him to her palace in the World Beneath the Waves.  There they are greeted by sea fairies wearing gorgeous headdresses of living sea creatures, which snap their claws, wave their tentacles, and click their shells as the sea fairies dance for the Sea Queen and her guest.  The Sea Queen rewards Toda with casks of rice, jars of wine, silken robes, a mighty sword, and a great bronze bell.  He soon discovers that the barrels of rice and the jars of wine are always full, the robes never wear out, and the sword vanquishes every foe.  The bronze bell can still be heard today.  It is said that, when it rings, you can sometimes look down through the water and see the Sea Queen’s palace in the World Beneath the Waves.

For Mr. Matt’s Minute, we told the kids that part of the story was going to be taking place in the World Beneath the Waves.  Matt passed out scarves to everyone and told them to be fish or underwater plants moving with the sea currents.  I played two Japanese folk songs on my flute (Moon on the Ruined Castle and Sakura Sakura) as the kids bent and swayed with their gauzy scarves.  Afterwards, Matt told me that he had worried that the boys would find this music and movement activity too girlie, “But did you see The Crew?” he asked me (referring to a group of boys who come every week), “They were really getting into it!”

I had made puppets of the Sea Queen and Toda from the Noreen Crone-Findlay’s pattern for Flat Fanciful Dolls.  She made hers out of wood, but I used a double thickness of manila folder.  I had to use yarn for their hair, because I didn’t have time to look for my embroidery floss (in deep storage!).

Then I designed some clothes for them from origami paper, but I gave them both the elegant short kimono designed by Noreen Crone-Findlay.  I found a trident swizzle stick for Toda’s weapon, and I gave the Sea Queen a golden fan and  a clamshell hair ornament.

My red dragon puppet played the part of the terrible sea serpent, Ja, and I had planned to use a green eel for the part of the green water dragon.  But when I got to that part of the story, Page the Bookworm piped up and begged for a part.  So I wrapped him up in lime green crêpe paper, and he made a fine water dragon!

While planning the craft, I happened to run across some paper plates left over from my very first story-time last fall, when I had to fill in for a colleague and we made bat hats.  As I picked them up, the fluted top of the plate reminded me of a shell, and the shape at the bottom made me think of a Mardi Gras mask.  Voilà!

Embellished with some of the clip art provided by the Collaborative Summer Library Program, they would look very much like the headdresses worn by the sea fairies in the story.

The kids enjoyed this craft a lot, even the boys, and they were all eager to have their pictures taken.  Many of the sea creatures on their masks actually did move around quite realistically since the air conditioning was running full blast.

I wish I had thought to bring the recording of The Aquarium from Saint-Saëns’ Carnaval des Animaux.  I’ve used this piece with the children before, and it really seems to appeal to their imaginations.  It would have been so cool to have them re-enact the dance of the sea fairies in the World Beneath the Waves.

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