Half Man, Half Limping Rabbit
A simple folk tale on the surface, this tale holds deeper meaning that students can probe, ultimately examining the possible advantages of mortality over immortality.
After studying the letter and engaging in classroom activities, students should be able to explain how or why:
- Change can be a powerful and positive force.
- Sometimes the beauty of a country, or of a culture, is not always obvious to the people living there.
- For older students, talk briefly about the novel Dracula, by Bram Stoker, or show a film clip from a classic film version of the story. Review the concept of mood (the feeling that a reader gets from a literary work, brought on by the setting, the events, or the choice of words). Ask students to describe the feelings they get from hearing or viewing a selection from Dracula. They will likely suggest words such as "ominous," "scary," "evil." For younger students, simply ask if they have ever heard of Dracula and what they know about this character.
- Explain that the story of Dracula comes from the country of Romania. Introduce the story by giving background on Romania and on Nina Porzucki, if students are not already familiar with this material. Tell the class that they are going to hear another folk story from Romania about a different kind of being, one who is half man and half rabbit. Ask students whether they know or can guess the meaning of kitschy [cheap, tasteless, cheesy].
- Read Porzucki's folk tale aloud, using lots of expression. Then check for understanding by asking questions such as:
- Why was the baby so important to the king and queen? [They had waited a very long time to have a child and heir.]
- Why did the baby refuse to be born? [He wanted life to come with a guarantee against old age and death.]
- Why do you think the king took over and lied to the unborn baby when the queen could not bring herself to do so? [Answers will vary.]
- Why did the young prince set off from his kingdom? What did he find on his search? What did he lose in the process? [He left to find youth without old age and life without death. He found many adventures, and finally a land where life was eternal. He also found a wife, the queen of the realm. He lost all his memories of his home and family.]
- Why did the prince leave this magical land? [He was hunting and chased a creature that was half man, half rabbit—which, allegorically, was change. When he crossed the stream, he recovered his memories and felt homesick for his family.]
- What happened to him when he returned home? [He became very old, and found his family was dead and his castle crumbled.]
- What did the prince find in the old trunk that had been saved from the castle? [Death] Why does the story say this is where all his hopes had been waiting? [Answers will vary.]
- Ask students how they felt about the story as you were reading it aloud. Did their feelings change through the course of the story? If so, remind them that the literary term for this is mood, and that a story can have different moods in different sections.
- Give students copies of the story and ask them, by underlining and annotating the page, to read it and identify ways the author creates the mood of the story. After they finish, ask them to share what they have found with a partner or in small groups, and then with the class as a whole. They should identify things like:
- Foreshadowing: the king must lie about the possibility of "youth without old age and life without death" and the queen later acknowledges to the prince that it was a lie.
- Magical elements, such as the baby speaking from inside the womb and traditional fairy tale elements such as dragons, monsters, elves, and fairies.
- The use of water as a symbol of a new life, reversed as the prince returns across the stream. Define and discuss the term archetype at this point.
- Descriptive words and phrases, such as "legendary bronze, silver, and gold forests" on the prince's journey to the new land, and "wrinkled," "shriveled," and "shrunken" as the prince returns to his original home.
- Conclude by reminding the students that many folk tales have a moral or lesson. What is the lesson of "Half Man, Half Limping Rabbit"? How does Porzucki relate this lesson to life in Romania today? To her view of the United States?
Frameworks & Standards
- Folk tales often convey important messages that contain ideas about culture.
- Storytellers use specific techniques to change the mood of the story they are telling.
- What can we learn about a culture from listening to its stories?
- What are some of the methods a good storyteller uses to capture an audience's imagination?