Today it’s a very cold and windy day. Blustery, as Pooh might say. In fact, I’m quite sure Piglet would be carried off very easily today. Thanks to everyone who was able to check out the premiere of the The Wolf Prince & The Toymaker’s Boy or has watched it since. You can view it on YouTube below.
Author Notes on The Wolf Prince & The Toymaker’s Boy
I wrote this short story in November. It initially sprang from a few different things. My general love for folk tales, enjoying the wintery folklore of Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale, my reading of The Annotated Hobbit, and my desire to write something that would be fun to read.
Tolkien famously incorporated songs and poems into his writing. So some of that seeped in here, certainly. My goal was to write something that had a certain amount of rhyme and meter but that wasn’t too structured that it could come off sing-song-y. In other words, the text intentionally breaks the meter. Or reverses the expectation of the rhyme scheme or, hopefully, is somewhat surprising in other ways. Below, I’ve replicated the full text as it was originally written. This is 95% the same as what appeared in the video. But there is one difference, which I’ll go into a little later.
The Wolf Prince & The Toymaker’s Boy
By Jon Wesley Huff
Long ago in a land gripped by snow, there was a town that history forgot. Although the town was not sprawling, it was the largest of the lot— at least within the region. Its frosted windows flickered orange in the long night, and they set out offerings to the wild things that roamed the woods. The shops welcomed travelers and locals alike, lured by their finely displayed wares and goods.
In this town there was a toymaker, old and kindly with deft, nimble hands. He sawed and sanded and painted and hammered all sorts of marvels into existence. Queens, princes, knights, and monsters all glittered and shined on his well-kept shelves. His young boy—Garrett—loved them all, but the toymaker reminded him sadly they could not keep any for themselves. Many were given as gifts to the poor, although the toymaker could count himself among them. And then there were the men who knocked on the door, with angry eyes like black beady gems. There for their cut, and there for their due—although as to what they actually did, Garrett had no clue at all.
One day the toymaker’s boy—bundled up in knitted cap and scarf and gloves—walked to the edge of the wood. He set out, on a small pine stump, two loaves of bread, some salt, and a thimble of mead. He turned to go, but a shadow flicked behind him. He knew he should run but found he couldn’t just then. So, he turned slowly, and wondered if death might near. Instead, there was a boy, his age, with snowy skin and a face bereft of fear that looked at him questioningly with brilliant-blue eyes.
“It’s good,” he said, as he shoveled the bread and salt into his mouth. Garrett wanted to protest, to shoo the boy away and shout: “These are for the wild things that darken the wood!” But one better look and the toymaker’s boy understood for it was plain to see this boy was no boy such as he. He wore no clothes to keep out the cold, except a fine cloak of white wolf fur and a loincloth of the same. Yet he looked so sure. So at home in the dying light of the day, and he winked at Garrett’s confused stare. “Stay,” said the wolf boy as Garrett turned to go.
“I can’t, some of us freeze when we linger in the snow and the bitter cold. Some of us are not so bold and wild and free. Surely you can tell that by looking at me.”
“I am the Wolf Prince,” said the boy. “And it’s not wise to tell me no.” He gripped the boy’s hand with his pale one and spoke words into his ear—chilled and slow. “Stay just one hour in the night wood. Do not fear the cold or the dark while I am near.”
“I am called Garrett,” the toymaker’s boy said. For he was a shy boy who worked too much and did not easily make friends. And though clearly wild and no human to be sure, he thought the Wolf Prince might be a good friend for just such a boy. “My father is probably sleeping in our tiny room above the shop, so an hour more won’t matter to my pop but what would you show me in these snow-covered trees?”
The Wolf Prince smiled, and up whirled a breeze, that danced his wolf-pelt cloak about the air as he fell to his knee.
“I shall be your humble guide, young Garrett, to the world you can’t see. And I’ll prove to you that you can be as wild and bold and free. One little hour is all I ask you give me.”
Garrett smiled and nodded and then they were running, faster than rabbits and most feathered things. The Wolf Prince took him to moon-lit pools frozen in time, past faeries that sang winter songs from hovels of clay, through caverns of crystals that glowed like the day, and ice-covered reeds that tinkled like chimes.
True to his word, the toymaker’s boy knew no cold nor bitter chill. He held onto his new friend’s hand and laughed at the thrill of cold wind at his back. But the hour was late, and the stars glittered—as icy white as the Wolf Prince’s skin—in the sky.
“I must go home, I’m afraid,” Garrett said with sadness, though he could not say why. But the Wolf Prince smiled crookedly and nodded his head.
“I’ll take you safely then, to the wood’s edge.” And so, he did, and the toymaker’s boy saw his town glitter underneath the snow, only broken by one dark plume that rose from below.
“Have I been gone so long, or have they started the bonfire early?” But the Wolf Prince was gone without a word. This made the toymaker’s boy feel hurt and a bit surly, to feel so quickly abandoned and unheard. He was not far from the town when he heard the frantic cries and saw the men with buckets and smoke-stung eyes. He followed them, frantic, although he knew what he’d see. The toyshop was a dark husk, splintered and smoldering.
“Who could have done this?” a woman cried, hugging her little girl close. “That poor old toymaker and his little son—lost.” Garrett’s tears froze as they filled his eyes. He backed away from the crowd, and the hurt, and realized that the men with their dark beady gem eyes watched the wreckage with knowing.
He ran from the town to the edge of the wood, his lungs filled with ice until his limbs were no good and he fell into a bank of snow piled by a great pine. He looked up at the stars through the black tree branches, until all was black and he took his chances in the cold embrace of sleep.
He woke in the light of the crystal cave, the Wolf Prince wrapped around him with his cloak like a salve—a gentle balm against the cold. The toymaker’s boy did not feel warm but did not feel chilled and shot up with a start in confusion.
“My brother,” the Wolf Prince said, “it’s good to see you alive.” Garrett was about to speak when he looked at his hands, as white as his friend’s cloak’s hide. “I know it seems cruel, perhaps beyond your ken—we wild things can’t meddle in the world of men. But I’d seen you walk to these woods so many years, your cheeks reddened, and eyes set against your fears that I—”
“Saved me from a fiery fate,” said the son of no one, at last fully awake. The Wolf Prince smiled, pleased not to have to say more, and handed the boy a dark black wolf fur cloak. Garrett took it and was surprised to find it was no dead thing to be in, but was in fact his own long-lost skin.
He and the prince growled in delight as they flexed backward on their haunches, and propelled themselves into the night, through snow draped branches and white patches of moonlight.
I basically wrote the entire story in one go. Most of the revisions involved tightening up the flow or reworking it as I read it aloud. The other major change during my writing was going back and forth between calling Garrett the “Toymaker’s son” or the “Toymaker’s boy.” I was drawn to the latter for a few reasons. One, I thought it might be interesting, when thinking about his life, if it wasn’t explicit that Garrett was the Toymaker’s biological son. So “boy” sort of separated him out from that. It also helped with the necessary repetition of “son” throughout the piece. Now, I could vary it a little. I used “boy” for the most part, but had “son” at the ready for a little variety. Also, at least as I was saying it, “boy” tended to flow better, as “son” has a harder stop built into it.
This is an example of the small ways I tried to embellish and deepen the story. On its surface, it’s very much a simple tale. But I liked that it had interesting shadings to it. If Garrett is adopted, and as is suggested has been put to work at a young age, I think it casts some interesting light on the Toymaker. What about this rule that Garrett couldn’t have any of the toys? Is what happens to Garrett tragic or freeing? And so on.
Mind you, I am not providing answers here. The joy of the short story, and the use of myth and folklore in general is that you can crease space for ambiguity. If I’d made this into a long form short story or novel, I’d have had to explain things in more detail. I’d have to make decisions about exactly who this Toymaker was to Garrett. How Garrett felt about him. What exactly was the Wolf Prince, etc. With the story, I can offer hints and suggestions, but I can leave some of this even for myself to wonder about.
The Story Deepens
That’s what I found so interesting about writing this. I wrote it very quickly, with some thought and intention behind it, sure. But I was continually surprised after how it resonated with me in different ways. How I could read it and come away with different thoughts about what it meant to me. In this way, the story became strangely personal. In ways I didn’t realize at first, I felt like the story expressed something within me—something about myself and my point of view—that I don’t think I could express as plainly or as precisely if I’d tried to write a novel about it. Even trying to explain it here feels clunky. Which is why I’m not going to try to explain it in any more detail.
Also, part of the fun for me is letting it exist in its own way for other people. I don’t want to tell you what it means to me. I want you to figure that out for yourself. And it doesn’t have to be anything deep. Hopefully it exists in a way that people can just enjoy it for what it is. And then, if they wish, they can dive deeper. That’s my hope, any way.
Just a Little Change
Did you spot the change from the story to the video? There are, shall we say, “visual inconsistencies” between the text and the illustrations. These are by design. Basically, when it was time to illustrate the story, I decided I wanted Garrett’s hair showing the whole time. So no knit cap. Also, two loaves of bread was more complex visually than one. And I liked the Wolf Prince grabbing his shoulder instead of his hand. I’d thought about going back and changing the text, but I knew only a few people would actually notice, and I liked the way it read as is. The only actual change I made was swapping the phrasing around the hovels of clay and the tinkling reeds so that the rhyme was a little smoother than it was written.
I hope you enjoy this little peak behind the curtain about how The Wolf Prince & The Toymaker’s Boy was made. If you have any thoughts or comments about the story, I’d love to hear them. And it’d make a nice change from the spam comments I usually get.