"Puff, the Magic Dragon"

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I met Peter Yarrow once, and he was a really nice guy.  I bet he gets pretty tired of baby boomers giving him a wink-wink and a nudge-nudge and telling him they "know what 'puffing the magic dragon' is really about."  So that's not what I'm addressing here.  Besides, are there any children who hear this song for the first time and think, "Why, those lyrics could be construed as a hidden extended metaphor for cannabis use!"

No, I'll tell you what they think when they hear this song for the first time:

Hey, a song about a dragon!
Dragons are awesome.
This dragon is friendly and plays with a kid just like me!
They even scare off pirates!  Cool!
Wait--where did Jackie go?
Why is Puff crying?
Why is Puff crying?
Why am I crying?

Before I ever really listened to the song's lyrics, I assumed things would turn out really well for Puff and Jackie.  After all, Children's Video Library had made a cartoon version in 1978, followed by Puff the Magic Dragon in the Land of Living Lies (1979) and Puff and the Incredible Mr. Nobody (1982).  The existence of sequels tends to bode well for beloved characters in movies, right?  But the movies just confused me more.  In the first one, for example, there's a Jackie Draper and a Jackie Paper, who's like some kind of 2-D alternate self, if I recall correctly.

The movie certainly doesn't end with a depressed dragon with green scales falling like rain.  Poor Puff.  It's amazing how much pathos can be worked into a few simple lyrics about a magical dragon.  Hmmm, maybe I'll feel better about this after a good frolic in some autumn mist.

Lesson learned:
If you never abandon your imaginary friends, you'll need therapy.  But if you ever abandon your imaginary friends, they'll need therapy.

Leonard Lipton and Peter Yarrow.  "Puff, the Magic Dragon."  Warner Bros., 1963.
Puff The Magic Dragon - Book and CD Package


  1. When I was a kid I thought the line "Jackie Paper came no more" meant Jackie died! It was totally traumatic! My parents played Peter, Paul, and Mary all the time. I never shared my grief and kept it inside. Fifty years later, I still haven't learned my lesson.

  2. If it makes you feel any better...there's a fairly recent picture-book version of the song which, on its last pages, shows a young girl visiting Puff, while her father (presumably the grown Jackie) looks on from a distance. Jackie didn't forget Puff after all...and there will always be children who'll believe in dragons.