The Trial of Puff the Magic Dragon

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

Green Desklamp

Puff the Magic Dragon—Marijuana menace, or allegory for the temporal nature of youthful innocence? This is the topic we’ll be exploring here today at Brad OH Inc.

Since the song was recorded in 1963 by the folk group ‘Peter, Paul, and Mary’ it has been the subject of much heated debate. On the surface, the song tells the tale of a fictional dragon—Puff—and a little boy—Jackie Paper—who comes to visit him in the land of Honah-Lee. Together, the pals frolic about, experiencing wonderful childish adventures together and forming a lifelong bond.

According to critics however, this fun little song is more than it appears—for underneath the playful tune and heartfelt lyrics lingers a threat so insidious and vile, it threatens to shake the very foundations of our dear society.

That’s right; we’re talking about the reefer.

Now, here at Brad OH Inc. we aren’t inclined to pass judgement on anything which doesn’t directly harm people save by the enforcement of its restriction; but moral judgements are beside the point here. The question we seek to answer is exactly this: is ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ really a subversive allegory for drug use, or is it simply the story of innocence lost which it purports to be?

Let’s consider the evidence. Critics of the song claim that the words ‘Puff’ and ‘Paper’ are overt references to ‘puffing on a joint’—a marijuana cigarette rolled in, you guessed it, paper! Further, the ‘autumn mist’ referred to in the song is accepted as a clear reference to either marijuana smoke or a general drug-induced state. Finally, the word ‘dragon’ sounds a lot like ‘dragging’, a term for inhaling from a joint. Together, these observations are said to support the notion that the song is indeed a secret love song to the society-destroying problem of pot.

Pretty shaky evidence if you ask me, but let’s consider the other side of the coin for a minute. If this song isn’t about smoking pot, as can potentially be extrapolated from approximately four words contained within it, then just what the heck is it about?

Well, if we are to be so bold as to interpret the song literally—based on the entirety of the words in it and the story they form when put in order, then the song is about something much less dangerous—although perhaps a lot more scary.

‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ is, if taken literally, about the death of imagination. Throughout the majority of the song, Puff and his human friend Jackie experience countless adventures travelling around Honah-Lee. Near the end of the song however, the lyrics reveal a strange and terrible twist:

“Dragons live forever, but not so little boys,

Painted wings and giant’s 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.”

What has happened here, exactly? Well, if we are to take the lines as literal, then we are hearing about how the young Jackie Paper has outgrown his childish fantasies, and stopped daydreaming about the imaginary dragon of his youth. The rest of the song continues, telling about Puff’s overwhelming grief at having lost his friend, and retiring sadly into his cave.

If the song truly is about drugs however, these lines take on a far more sombre tone. Jackie Paper moving on from Puff—taken to mean his use of marijuana—and onto ‘other toys’ might imply Jackie falling into harder drugs; a harsh warning of the potential for marijuana to act as a ‘gateway drug’. The remainder of the song, this being the case, would describe, I suppose, how sad Puff/ Pot is that Jackie Paper no longer partakes.

It’s a strange image, to say the least.

So what are we to conclude? How shall we interpret these abysmal accusations? Is ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ a simple song about growing up, or a veiled glorification of Marijuana and other drugs?

Well, the evidence is circumstantial at best, and moreover seems to have been gleaned from the song with the pointed desperation of an addict crawling the carpet in search of dropped narcotics. Dim-witted word-associations form the thrust of the argument, with no attention paid to context, narrative, or stated intention (song writer Peter Yarrow has expressed repeatedly that the song was written with no hidden meanings).

But maybe that’s the point. There’s no shortage of irony in the fact that a song about the loss of innocence is plagued to this day by hair-brained nitwits trying to find illicit intentions behind something innocent and good. Rather, it’s the leitmotif of a society driven to find that darkness—raised to be suspicious of anything with pure intentions.

Puff is most certainly just a dragon. Sadly however, until people give up their steadfast determination to darken the world around them with hysterical hatred and paranoia, he will remain a dragon under self-imposed isolation, grieving for better times.

And what of these fiends so desperate for someone to vilify that they would make effigy of a beloved childhood image? Who can they pin their hopes on if not Puff, where can they find the satisfactions of conspiracy and blame they so desperately desire?

I don’t know. Go ask Alice…

-Brad OH Inc.

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