Wednesday, December 15, 2004


the clay man

"free will, sovereignty, and ultimate love - as a children’s story"

Update ~ 14 Apr 05 ~ My seven-year-old daughter Rosie made a series of eight pencil drawings to illustrate this story. I hope you enjoy them.


It was his birthday, and there were stacks and stacks of presents awaiting the king’s son. But none caught his eye like the one from Grandmere. She always gave such interesting and amazing gifts!

“What did you bring me, Grandmere?” he asked. But she only smiled and said that he would see when it was time.

When it was time! Oh, but when would it be time? The birthday feast seems to last forever. The cake and ice cream were nice, of course. But when would it be time to open the presents?

And then at last it was time. To be polite, he opened everyone else’s gifts first, for he knew that as soon as he opened Grandmere’s, he would not want to play with any of the others.

Ah, at last. The final present. The box was not large, but the wrappings were so beautiful. It seemed almost a pity to tear them.


The beautiful wrappings fluttered to the floor as the king’s son lifted the lid…Ah!

It was modeling clay. Only that? But, oh - such beautiful soft modeling clay! Such vivid colors: red shining like rubies, yellow bright as gold, blue clear as the summer sky, green like the lushest grass you ever saw…

“Oh, thank you, Grandmere!” the king’s son cried as he sprang up and hugged her round the neck. And then he vanished with his prize to go to his room and play.


And what would he make with it? He spread out the colors, looking them over. He took up the orange and squished it in his fingers. What a wonderful feel this clay had! So soft and pliable. He could make anything with this.

He rolled some of the orange into a ball the size of his thumb. Then he rolled out a thick cylinder to attach to the ball. Thinner cylinders, four of them, for arms and legs. What wonderful clay, so easy to work with!

And soon he had a man. A little clay man. He was so pleased.

He called him Happy.

The king’s son brought out his blocks and made a house for the clay man. He brought out his toy animals, too, to surround the man. He played with the clay man. For a long time he played, giving him rides on the animals, sending him on adventures.

But what a pity that my little man is not real, he thought, and cannot enjoy the adventures with me.

And he took up the clay man in his hand and looked at him. Very carefully he looked at the little man. And he thought, he looks so much like me. But he is not breathing the way I do.

So the king’s son brought the clay man close to his own face, and carefully he put his mouth to the clay mouth. And he blew. Just a tiny puff of breath.

He looked again at the clay man in his hand. He looked - and the little clay chest began to move up and down, in and out. The clay face yawned; clay arms stretched; clay eyes opened.

The clay man sat up.


“How wonderful!” said the king’s son. He was very pleased.

“Wonderful,” said the little man.

“Hello,” said the king’s son. “I just made you. I’m your maker.”

“Maker,” said the clay man.

“Your name is Happy,” said the king’s son.

“Happy,” said the clay man.

“Wonderful!” said the king’s son. “What would you like to play?”

“Play?” said the clay man.

“Yes. You could build with blocks. Or ride on the animals. See?”

He set the clay man down. The little man turned first towards the blocks, then towards the animals.

“Here,” said the king’s son. He tore down the house he had made and helped the clay man to build it again. After that he helped the clay man to ride on the animals, and to slide down a slide made of a pile of books. They played together happily for some time.

And yet… The clay man never actually did anything on his own. Whatever the king’s son wanted, the clay man did it. Whatever the king’s son said, the clay man echoed it. And whenever the king’s son asked the clay man what he wanted to do, the clay man just stood there, baffled.

He has no strings, the king’s son thought, but he might as well be a puppet. I am enjoying our games, but is my little clay man?

“I love you, Happy,” said the king’s son.

“Love you,” said the clay man. “Happy,” he said.

But was he happy? thought the king’s son. Could anyone really be happy who did not have the choice to be unhappy? For that matter, could anyone really love who did not have the choice to hate instead?

But what if the clay man could choose to be happy, and chose to be unhappy instead?

That is still better than being a puppet, thought the king’s son. My clay man could not breathe, and I gave him breath. He cannot choose, so I will give him that, too.

And the king’s son took up the clay man in his hand. And, very gently, he kissed the clay man, right on the forehead.

The clay man shivered all over himself. He blinked his eyes a lot. He looked up into the face of the one who had made him.

“I love you, Happy,” said the king’s son again.

"Where am I?" the clay man asked.

"Here, in my hand," said the king's son.

"Can you put me down?" said the clay man.

"Sure," said the king's son. And very gently, so that he would not squish the clay man, he placed the little man on the floor among the blocks and the stacks of books and the toy animals.

"What would you like to do now, Happy?" the king's son asked.

"Is that my name?" said the clay man.


"I don't like it," the clay man replied.

"Oh!" said the king's son. "Well... what name would you like then?"

The clay man frowned. "I don't know. Anything but Happy."

"Oh. Well." The king's son picked up one of the toy animals. "What would you like to play then? Would you like to ride the animals?"

The clay man frowned again. "Not really."

"Or slide down the books?"

The clay man shrugged. "Maybe later."

"Well then, would you like to build with the blocks?"

"No. I don't think so."

The king's son sat back on his heels and glanced about the room, looking for something else to offer to his clay man. "Then what about...?" he started to ask.

But the clay man interrupted him. "No."

"No?" said the king's son. "But I didn't even finish saying what I was going to offer to you."

"Doesn't matter," said the clay man rudely. "I don't want to do anything with you. I just want you to leave me alone."

"You do?" said the king's son. How unhappy his clay man seemed! “But why?” he asked kindly.

The frown on the little orange face twisted into an ugly scowl. “Because I don‘t want to play with you anymore!" he said. "I don’t like you! We've been playing and playing and playing just now. And we always had to play your games! You never let me play my own games! You never let me choose!" His tiny face glared up at the king's son above him. "What do you think I am?" he said. "Your puppet?”

The king’s son was sad. Why, the clay man did not understand! The very reason he had given the clay man choices was so he would no longer be a puppet! “I am giving you your choice now,” the king’s son said gently. “What would you like to play?”

“Nothing with you!” said the clay man. And he frowned another very ugly frown up at his maker. Then he turned to run away. And as he left, he knocked over the toy animals. He also knocked down his house of blocks.


The clay man ran. He ran to the bookshelf and began to climb up. It was quite high, and the king’s son thought the clay man was really brave to try to climb it. Higher and higher the clay man climbed. He was soon so high that, if he fell, he would be splattered on the hard floor below. So the king’s son came and stood close by to watch over him.

Higher the clay man climbed, and still higher. He wanted to climb up to a place where the king’s son could not reach him. He scrambled up books and onto higher shelves, over and over. Until he finally reached a shelf where there was nothing to climb on to go any higher.

What do I do now? thought the clay man.

And then he saw it. Dangling over the edge of the shelf above him hung a very thick rope. It was as big around as he was and orange like he was, but with stripes. It was also hairy. He wondered what it was, but then decided that it didn’t matter what it was. As long as he could use it to go higher, he thought.

So he grabbed hold of the thick orange rope and began to climb it. The thick hair made it easy to hang on. And again the clay man climbed up higher, hand over hand, up the orange rope.

And then the orange rope began to move!

The clay man grabbed even tighter to the orange rope. The rope twitched and shook. And then the clay man saw what the orange rope was attached to.

It was not an orange rope. It was the tail of an orange cat.

The cat, who was lying on the shelf just above, twitched its tail some more. The clay man buried his hands deep in the tail, trying to hang on and not fall.

The cat’s tail gave the hardest twitch yet - and the clay hands could not hang on. The clay man went flying through the air, falling towards the hard, hard floor below…


The clay man was very surprised. Instead of landing on that very hard floor, he had landed in a strange place where he was surrounded by colorful fish and colorful plants and colorful pebbles. He was also surrounded by water. Oh, how he wanted to scream and cry for help! But he couldn’t. Because he was drowning...

And then a great hand came and plucked him out. The king's son took him to his own bosom. Then he began very gently to use the tail of his own nice party shirt to pat the clay man dry.

"What happened?" said the clay man.

“You landed in the fish tank," said the king’s son. “And that was a good thing, too. If you had landed on the floor, you would have gone splat.” And then he added, "It was a good thing too, that I could pull you out of the water right away. You could have drowned. Or melted.”

The clay man began to struggle. “Put me down!” he cried.

"I will,” said the king’s son. “When you are dry again."

"No, now," said the clay man. "I don't want to be in your hand."

"You don't want to be safe and dry?" asked the king's son.

"Safe? When you could drop me at any second?"

"But I would never drop you," said the king's son softly. “I just now rescued you.”

“I’m trying to get away from you,” said the clay man. “I don’t want you to rescue me. You’re smothering me. Put me down!”

With a sigh, the king's son set the clay man on the floor again. How sad he felt for the clay man! Having choices was making the clay man sad. But not having choices had made him a puppet.


The clay man scampered off across the floor. He ran behind a chair to hide. The king’s son stood and watched over him. He wanted to see where the clay man was going, so that the little man would not get hurt.

Oh, how nice it would be if the clay man would stop being angry! the king's son thought. Then they could be friends again.

The clay man scurried even further under the chair. And then he ran along under the table as well, following the wall. When he got to the corner, he found to his surprise that there was a little hole in the wall.

I can hide in here, he thought. My maker will not find me here. So the clay man started to crawl into it.

“Oh, no! Don’t go in there,” said a voice. And the king’s son’s hand came and plucked him up again.

“Stop it!” cried the clay man, little clay tears springing up in his eyes. “I’m trying to get away from you!” And he was so angry he didn’t notice the squeaking as a long pointy nose peeked out at him from the hole he’d nearly crawled inside. There was a scrabble of claws and the swish of a long naked tail as the rat in the hole ran away from the sight of the king’s son.

"You could have gotten hurt in there," said the king's son. "Or even killed. Don't you know what lives in a hole like that?"

"I don't care! I don't care! I just want to get away from you!"

"Even if you get killed?"

“I don’t care!” cried the clay man. “At least I wouldn’t be in your hand!”

“Really?" asked the king’s son sadly. "You would really rather die than be with me?”

“Yes!” screeched the clay man. “Now put me down!” And as the king’s son set the clay man carefully on the floor again, the clay man cried, "Watch it! You nearly dropped me. You want to destroy me!"

Sadly the king's son shook his head. How could the clay man think such awful things about him?

"I love you, Happy," the king's son whispered.

"Don't call me that!"

Oh, how angry the little clay man was!


The clay man ran from the king's son again. This time, he ran along the wall till he found a door. He began to beat his clay hands against it, flattening them a bit.

"Oh, don't hurt yourself!" said the king's son, hurrying to the clay man.

"Open this door!" the little man demanded.

"That goes outside to the garden," said the king's son.

"Good. I'll be away from you."

"There are dangerous things in the garden. There are animals that could hurt a little man like you. I don't want you to get hurt."

"I don't care what you want," said the clay man. "Don't you understand? I hate you."

"You do? But why?"

"Because... because you're big. And you're scary. And you could hurt me."

"But I won't," the king's son said gently.

"And you can make me do things I don't want to do."

"But I'm not," the king's son said gently.

"Let me out," said the clay man.

The king's son sighed. "If this is what you really want..."

"I want out!" cried the clay man.

With tears in his eyes, the king's son opened the door and gave the clay man his choice to leave.


Eagerly the clay man rushed from the room and plunged into the garden. How green everything was! How happy he was, to be away, to be free!

He ran and jumped and danced with glee. Freedom!

Soon he was tired. He lay down in the grass to rest. He looked up through the trees and bushes above him at the blue sky beyond. How tall all those plants were! Far taller than he was. Why, even most of the grass was taller than he was!

He smiled. That made him feel safe. His maker could not see him here, under the plants, under the grass, down here in the shady places.

Safe. The clay man smiled. He closed his eyes.

He didn't hear the soft rustling coming towards him. He didn't see the bright green body, green as the grass, sliding along the ground, coming his way. He didn't notice a thing...

...till there came a hiss. The clay eyes jumped open... see a face bending over him, nearer and nearer. A face with slitted eyes and wide-opened jaws and long, sharp, pointy teeth!

The clay man shrieked!

The snake struck at him!

But just at the same moment - just at the same moment that the snake struck - there came a hand between the snake and the clay man. The hand snatched up the clay man. Wide-eyed, the clay man saw the snake hanging off the king's son's hand for a second. And then the king's son shook the snake off into the grass. Quickly he turned and carried the clay man back into the house.

Into his room he brought the clay man. He crossed to the shelves the clay man had once climbed. Then, gently and carefully, the king's son set the little clay man up on the shelf. "Don't fall down from up there, all right?" said the king's son.

And then the clay man watched as the king's son went to the other door, the door leading into the rest of the house. His face pale, the king's son pulled open the door.

"Father!" the king's son called out.

And then he fell down.

The king’s son fell down on the floor in the doorway. And he didn't get back up.


People. So many people came running! Some of them picked up the king's son and laid him gently in his bed. Some brought wet cloths to bathe the king's son's face. A very important-looking man came and did something to the king’s son’s hand. He said things that the clay man did not understand, about “poison” and “venom.”

And also an older man and an even older woman came rushing in. They held the king's son's hands and kissed his pale pale face. And they wept. How they wept!

Finally everyone left, leaving the king’s son lying there alone in his bed. He did not move. He did not speak. He did not eat. No one noticed the little clay man, sitting high up on the shelf.

Three days went by. Three long days. And the king's son laid in the bed the whole time, not moving, not speaking, not eating. The clay man sat on the shelf the whole time, right where he had been placed, watching, wondering.



On the morning of the fourth day, as the beams of sunlight stole in through the windows, the clay man saw something happening. The king's son shifted - just a little. He sighed. He opened his eyes.

The clay man jumped right to his feet. He hurried to the edge of the shelf and began to climb down. Quickly, quickly, the clay man ran across the floor. He ran to the bed and grabbed hold of the edge of the sheet. Up, up, he climbed. And then quickly, quickly, across the bed to stand, puffing, by the king's son's hand.

The king's son saw him. "Happy!" he cried. But his voice was little more than a whisper.

"What happened?" the clay man asked.

"Happened...?" The king's son lay back down among the pillows, as if he was still very very tired. "The snake was about to bite you,” he said. “I couldn't let it bite you."

Gently, the clay man touched the awful, ugly holes on the king's son's hand. "But the snake bit you instead."

"I know."

“But,” said the clay man. “But the snake hurt you.”

“I know,” said the king’s son. “But that way it didn't get to hurt you.”

“You let the snake hurt you, to protect me?” said the clay man.

“It was worth it,” said the king’s son. Gently, fondly, he lifted his hand to touch the little orange clay face. “As long as you’re safe,” he said.

The clay man looked up into the face of his maker. “You let it bite you? For me?”

“Of course,” said the king’s son.

“But I hated you. I ran away from you.”

“I know.”

“I said I’d rather be dead than be with you.”

“Yes. I know.”

“And you still came and rescued me? And let the snake bite you, so it wouldn’t bite me?”

“Yes,” said the king’s son.

“Even though it made you so awful awful sick?”

The king’s son smiled. “Yes.”

“But why?” said the clay man.

Once again the king’s son reached out his hand - his hand with those horrid ugly holes in the back - and touched the clay man’s face.

“Because," he said, "I love you.”

The clay man blinked a lot. Clay tears began to slip down his orange clay cheeks. “You love me?” he whispered.

“Yes. I’ve always loved you. That‘s why I made you. So I could love you.”

Slowly, the clay man nodded. His clay hand touched again the holes on his maker’s hand. And then he came near and snuggled his head against his maker's side. Wanting to be even closer than that, he climbed up and put his little clay arms around his maker’s neck, as far as his arms could reach. “I’m sorry,” the clay man said. “I didn’t believe you. I believe you now. I'm so sorry.”

The king’s son smiled. “I love you, Happy,” he said.

“And I…” The clay man shivered all over himself and smiled back. “I love you, too. My maker.”

The king’s son laughed with joy. Now the clay man really could love. And he really could be happy now.

“What would you like to do now, Happy?” the king's son asked.

“I’d like to…” The clay man thought for a bit. Then he smiled. “I’d like to do whatever you want to. What shall we do now, Maker?”

“Let’s build your house again,” said the king’s son.

"That will be fun," said the clay man.

So the king's son set the clay man down gently on the floor. And while the king's son watched, the clay man gathered the scattered blocks together again. He gathered the scattered toy animals as well. And then, with the king’s son telling him which block to place where, the clay man happily built his house again.

And after the house was done, they played with the animals as well. And after they had played with the animals, the king's son took up the clay man and set him up on the pillow by his own head.

"I love you, Happy," he said.

"I love you too, my Maker," said the clay man.

And the clay man was happy. Truly happy.

And so was the king’s son.

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