In the middle of our small village there stands an ancient wooden statue. The statue is not there for beauty, for it is not beautiful. It is not a monument to a great and famous hero, for none can remember him. The statue is just that of a man since the weather has worn away the features that would distinguish him from any other. This statue stands in the village square as a reminder of a sad story and a hard lesson learned. I am here to tell the story of the statue and to pass it on to all who will listen.
A long time ago, on the outskirts of this very village lived a woodcarver and his daughter, Mara. They were very poor, but hadn’t always been that way. When they had first moved to the village, the woodcarver’s work was very popular, but now it seemed like no one wanted any carvings. He was lucky to sell just one or two little figures to a traveller passing through.
A lot of the woodcarver’s business took place at the village inn where he had carved an ornate border around the fireplace. Each night the woodcarver would send Mara to the inn with his latest carvings to sell. The inn was the most popular place to gather in town, and the people staying there hopefully noticed his woodwork around the fireplace.
One night, while Mara was at the inn with a fresh load of her father’s work, a hunched and cloaked stranger appeared out of the night. Walking toward the fireplace to warm up, he pulled back his hood to reveal white hair and a long, thin beard. Noticing Mara and her table of carvings, he came over to examine the small figures. “These are very good,” he said in a wispy voice. “Are they yours?”
They’re my father’s carvings,” Mara replied.
The old man was quiet and stared at the table of carvings. Finally, he picked up one of a cat. “I have no money, but how about a trade? I will give you this woodcarving knife in return for this exceptional figure.”
Mara knew that her father’s knife was getting worn and chipped so she agreed and took the knife. The handle was old and worn, but the blade looked as good as new. “Remember this,” she heard the man say, “Don’t get greedy, life has to come from somewhere and all wells dry up eventually.” Puzzled, Mara looked up to thank the man, but he had left, and when she looked out the window into the night, he was nowhere to be seen.
After selling several other small carvings, Mara packed up and headed home to give the earnings to her father. “You traded my best carving for someone’s second-hand knife?!” he cried when she told him about her trade. “Here, you can have it!” and he threw the knife on the table and left, slamming the door.
Upset, Mara took the knife and a small block of wood and began to carve with determination. Mara finished just as her father came down to eat breakfast. Holding her small, roughly-made carving of a dove out for her father to see, something amazing happened. The carving, now the soft white grey of a dove, opened its wings and flew to the fireplace where it sat just long enough to coo before flying out the open window.
Eyes wide in surprise, the woodcarver exclaimed, “Magic!” and grabbed the knife out of Mara’s hand. The woodcarver put the knife to the test right away. By lunch, he knew the knife was capable of turning wood into food (though it had a slight woody taste) or animals. No matter what size the carving was, the figure would become life-size and alive once set down. “The old man said not to be greedy,” warned Mara.
“He was just trying to stop us from becoming the richest people in the world,” her father snapped back.
“Then why did he give it to us?”
“That doesn’t matter, it’s ours now.”
The woodcarver spent all day in his work room carving with the old man’s knife. At first it was just things they needed to get by; food to fill the cupboards, thatch to repair the roof, a new bucket for the well. But over time the carvings became more and more extravagant such as fine jewellery, silk clothes, decadent food, and even a couple of servants. Sometimes he would spend whole nights carving gold coins out of wood even though it was completely unnecessary with the magic knife.
Everything seemed normal during the first few weeks of their new life, but the more the woodcarver carved, the more changes Mara began to see in her father. At first, his skin lost its smoothness and became coarse. Then his joints began to stiffen up and Mara had to move his belongings to his work room so he didn’t have to leave the room. When Mara mentioned the changes to her father, he told her he was fine and that nothing was wrong. By the next morning, the healthy glow had left her father’s eyes and all emotion was gone from his face.
Seeing nothing wrong with himself, the woodcarver continued on with his work. Sick of carving normal riches and gold, the woodcarver was determined to find something to carve that was unique, something that the whole village would be envious of. At last, he thought of it. “I will carve myself a wife, a woman more beautiful than any other.” So he set to work. Day and night he spent carving. Mara only saw him briefly to bring his daily meals and had to leave right away so he could concentrate on his work.
Finally, the woodcarver emerged from his work room dragging a not quite finished statue of a woman, hidden beneath his blanket. “I will finish her where all can watch and see my triumph. Mara, carry this to the town centre. I am tired.” So Mara took the statue and followed her father into the village. Getting everyone’s attention, the woodcarver used the magic knife to add the finishing touches to the statue, stepped back and stopped. There was a great cracking sound and the wood of the statue fell away to leave a beautiful young woman. Everyone cheered and applauded the woodcarver’s great feat, but the woodcarver did not hear it. He had turned into a wooden statue.
The woodcarver had been warned by his own daughter not to get too greedy, but he did not listen. Each carving with the magic knife had taken some of his life, and as a result, his life well ran dry leaving him as empty as the wood he carved from. The statue has been left in the village square to remind people of the consequences of greed. I am the woman that the woodcarver used up his last bit of life to create and I remain to tell people of his story. As for the knife, it is still clutched in the woodcarver’s hand, but none dare take it.
© 2004 The Richmond Hill Public Library Board