Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How I Met the King of the Leprechauns by Walt Disney

04.20.11 - Being half Irish myself, I learned about the Leprechauns of Ireland while I was still a small boy on our farm at Marceline, Missouri. I began to believe in Leprechauns, then, because some of my relatives had pretty convincing stories to tell about the magic powers of these Little People, and the tricks they could play when angry.

So, I promised myself that one day, after I had grown up, I would go to the land of the Leprechaun myself, and meet one in person. The opportunity finally came last year when we decided to use real Little People instead of cartoon imitations in a movie we were planning.

Most Irish in the old country respect Leprechauns. They leave food out for them at night, to keep them happy, and are careful not to disturb old forts and other ruins these wee folk guard as their very own. They are particularly careful not to throw water across any of the tiny paths Leprechauns leave in the grass, because Little People hate water, and there is no telling what sort of mischief they will be up to if they get their feet wet.

Anyway, once we decided on using real Leprechauns in the picture, I set out for Ireland to hire some. We needed about 150, all told, for the picture we had in mind.

How to find a Leprechaun? That was a big question. I found it wasn't easy. It takes a man mighty knowledgeable in the ways of Leprechauns to find one to talk to. I went to a library in Dublin. It was filled with books on the habits of Leprechauns. Each book recorded an encounter someone had with the Little People. There was even a little green suit which had been sent in to the library by a lady from County Cork. She had thrown out her wash water without looking where it was going and later found the fairy clothes hanging on a furze bush to dry. It was lucky nothing worse had come from such a careless encounter.

The librarian was an elderly scholar who soon took me in tow. He measured the clothing with a ruler.

"There you are," he said. "The man who wore them was just two feet tall. You could easily carry him in your valise-case."

"I don't suppose anyone ever sent you in a photograph?" I asked. " No, but we have the next best thing."

He took down a huge book, blew off the dust and opened it. It was full of wood engravings made by an artist who, it was said, had lived with the Leprechauns for years. From the pictures and the old scholar, I learned how the Little People came to Ireland 5,000 years ago.

"Well," began the scholar, "the Little People once were in heaven, living among the angels much as they live among the Irish now. Millions of them flocked together, and Brian Connors was King of them all, as he is today. Their lives were happy and peaceable until Satan started a war against the Angel Gabriel.

"Now, on the morning of the great battle, King Brian was lined up on the side of the White Angels, while across a valley were the Black forces of Satan. And when it came to hurling hills and thunderbolts, the Black Angels were beat from the first.

"The size of the Little People was their undoing. They found they were too small to lift a rock, let alone throw one. So Brian took them all to the edge of heaven to await the outcome, and that is where the victorious Gabriel found them.

"Any man," said Gabriel angrily, " that won't stand for the right may not deserve hell, but he is not fit for heaven, either." With that, he ordered the Little People into space, granting them one last wish. It was that they could live among any kind of people they liked.

"For two years they fell before reaching the world. And when they had circled it round and round they saw at last a beautiful island glimmering and sparkling in the middle of the sea.

"Stop there," shouted King Brian, "for of all the places we've seen, this is the nearest to heaven!"

"And that's why you find Leprechauns in no other place but Ireland." The old scholar stopped, through with his story. "I would like to capture that king," I told him.

So the scholar sent me to County Kerry, to find Darby O'Gill. Darby, he explained, knows more about Little People than anyone else in Ireland.

Darby lived in Rathcullen, a beautiful little town nesting comfortably in velvet green hills almost next door to Knocknasheega, the mountain where King Brian maintains his permanent palace.

I found Darby sitting in his gatehouse, telling the neighbours of his latest meeting with King Brian.

"When was that?" I interrupted.

"Last summer in the ruins atop Knocknasheega," the old man replied with a wink.

"Could you take me there? "

"Well, I suppose I could. But if it's Leprechaun gold you want, he may cheat you out of it as he did me."

"It is not gold that I want," I replied. "It is the king himself."

We set out on foot for the ruins, which were about a mile away. They were of an ancient abbey, broken arches and ghostly pillars where monks lived long, long ago.

"The king and his people are singing and dancing far below us in a great throne room of gold and black onyx," Darby said, pointing to the ground at our feet. "We may have to wait a bit before one of them shows up."

We sat down on a large stone, making ourselves as comfortable as we could under the circumstances.

"Now," Darby spoke up again, "if once you see one, don't look away. He may try a trick or two, throwing dust in your face or pointing away to distract your attention. But keep your eye squarely on him. That way you can bend him to your will."

So we waited and waited until the moon had nearly set. Then suddenly, a tiny tapping made us look around. There, seated on a ledge, was a Leprechaun, pounding away at a little shoe held against his leather apron. He was all dressed in green, with a little red hat with a feather stuck in it.

Cocking one eye as Derby had shown me, I presented myself.

"Good lad!" shouted Darby. "You've got him!"

The little man screamed at me in Gaelic and kept pointing this way and that to distract me. But I held on and finally, with Darby interpreting for me, I got him to notify the king we desired an audience then and there.

To my surprise King Brian spoke English. He is an educated man, you know, who makes it a point to keep up with the times. But his voice was all there was to him. There was nothing at all to be seen.

"Mr. Disney has come all the way from America to see ye, sir," explained Darby, talking to thin air. "Why don't you let him?"

"I've come all the way from the middle of the mountain to have a look at him," replied Brian's voice. "What's this I hear that he doesn't want our gold — is it some new trick maybe?"

Well, the king was happy to hear of my Irish ancestry, and that I'd come all the way from America, and that I didn't want any of his gold. So he condescended to let me talk to his crown and suddenly there it was before me, hanging in space and moving around in starts and stops as if for all the world it had a mind of its own.

"I'm going to do a moving picture about Ireland — the real thing," I told the crown.

"What is that to me?"

"I want you to be in the picture."

"Is it mad you are??"

With that the king appeared. I must have shown my excitement for King Brian shouted, " What ails you? Did you never see an immortal mortal before? "

"I've seen an engraving of you, but it didn't do you justice. I expected an older man," I said in a friendly way.

"Faith, I've only been on this earth 5,000 years!" shouted the king.

"You don't look a day over 4,000," I told him, smiling.

I'd scored a point. The king was so flattered at the compliment, he promptly agreed to come to Hollywood and show his handsome face to all the world.

"Well," he said, "if it's a Leprechaun picture you want, then it's Leprechauns you'll be needin' for the parts of Leprechauns."

Two months later he arrived at the studio with 150 of his subjects, all ready to make the first Leprechaun picture in the history of Leprechauns, which in honour of those who made it possible, we call DARBY O'GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE.

From the Darby O'Gill and the Little People press materials.

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