Shadow Storytelling

  • A Chinese Fable
    The Foolish Old Man Who Removed The Mountains
    The Foolish Old Man of the North Mountain was nearly ninety years old. His house was in the backyard of two huge mountains, each a hundred thousand feet in height and seventy square li in area. Not only they shut off his view, but blocked his way so badly that he had to make a detour around them whenever he went out. He called a family meeting.

    “Let’s remove the mountains,” he said to his family. “Let’s chisel away the rocks and level the mountains to the ground.”

    Everybody in the family agreed except his wife. “How absurd!” she said. “How can you expect to remove them? You can’t even remove a mound. Besides, where can you put away the mud and rocks chiseled off the mountains?”

    “We’ll throw them into the East China Sea,” others in the family replied.

    So the old man, together with his children and grandchildren, began to break the rocks and dig the soil with chisels and spades. The mud and rocks were placed in baskets and pans and then carried to the seashore every day. Their neighbor’s son, a seven-year-old boy, also came to join them.

    One day on his way to work, the Foolish Old Man was stopped by the Wise Old Man of the River Bend.

    “Be sensible, my friend,” said the Wise Old Man with a scornful twist of the lips. “You’re over ninety. You cannot even pull up weeds on the mountain—let alone carry mass of mud and rocks!”

    “You’re short-sighted, I’m afraid,” said the Foolish Old Man with a sigh. “Don’t you see that when I die, there will be my children to carry on the work? When they die, they will have their children and grandchildren. And those grandchildren will have their children and grandchildren. My family line will carry on forever, but the mountains will not grow any higher. Why can’t we remove them?”

    The Wise Old Man raised his eyebrows, not knowing what to say. Their conversation was overheard by God. He was so moved by the Foolish Old Man’s faith he sent down two angels to carry the mountains somewhere else.
  • I created an irregular shaped accordion book to tell the story about a home being blocked by mountains, the journey of removing these mountains, and coming full circle to return home peacefully. The irregular shape along with the form of the accordion allows the space of the story to be explored. And because it is a papercut, the story can be told by shining a light on it to play the shadow show version.