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OK, let’s start the episode.
Welcome to Easy Stories in English, the podcast that will take your English from OK to Good, and from Good to Great.
I am Ariel Goodbody, your host for this show. Today’s story is for advanced learners. The name of the story is To Be a Hero. This is chapter one of two. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Hero. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Hero. This contains the full story, as well as my conversation before it.
Today’s story is another original story. So last week we had Three Dragons, which was a story I wrote myself, and I wrote this story myself as well. Although, to be honest, at the time of recording this, I haven’t actually finished the story. I’ve done the first chapter and a bit of the second one because, um, writing my own stories always takes longer, but it’s a really rewarding process.
Whenever I hear the word “hero”, the first thing that comes to mind is the Bonnie Tyler song Holding Out For a Hero. [singing] I need a hero! I’m holding out for a hero till the morning light! And he’s gotta be strong and he’s gotta be cool and he’s gotta be faster than light! Out where the mountains meet the heavens above, out where the lightning splits the sea… And so on. I cannot sing like Bonnie Tyler. Anyway, that’s the first thing I think of.
And the second thing I think of is the version of that song from the film Shrek 2. You probably know Shrek 2. It was a very, very, very popular, uh, cartoon film. And it’s kind of like a parody of fairy tales. Anyway, in the film there’s a bit where the fairy godmother sings this song and there’s this amazing sequence.
So it’s like, the fairy godmother is singing this, like, powerful ballad version of Holding Out For a Hero, and then Fiona is dancing with the man she thinks is the human version of Shrek, but actually it’s Prince Charming, which is, like, the son of the fairy godmother, and then the real Shrek is coming to attack the castle, and he’s riding on the giant gingerbread man and like, all of the fighting is like synchronised to the music, and it’s like a dramatic death, like… There’s just so much going on! I really do think this scene is the pinnacle, the peak of cinema, it is probably the best scene that has ever happened in any film ever. Maybe that sounds really hyperbolic, maybe that sounds really exaggerated, and certainly, um, it’s not a very serious film or a serious scene, but like, ugh, it’s just so satisfying to watch. It’s just brilliant. It’s pure art.
Anyway, like that film, this story I wrote is also a parody of fairy tales. This is kind of something that I think is, is difficult because, you know, everyone knows fairy tales so everyone thinks they can write a parody, but to make a good fairy tale parody is quite hard. I don’t know if I have. It’s, it’s a fine line to walk, you know? You could very easily just become annoying and cliché but hopefully this story is good and you enjoy it! It’s much more comedic than the last week’s story, anyway. It seems like I’m only capable of writing horrible tragedies or silly comedies and not much in between!
OK, I’ll just explain some words that are in today’s story.
A wizard is a man who does magic. Some famous wizards are Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, Dumbledore from Harry Potter and Merlin from English legends. Wizards usually wear long purple clothes with stars on them, they have big white beards and pointy hats, and they are very old.
Wicked means evil, very very bad. So witches are wicked, in fairy tales stepmothers are usually wicked, and so on. You might know The Wicked Witch of the West, a green witch from The Wizard of Oz. There is also a famous musical called Wicked based on this character.
A knight is a person from the Middle Ages who worked for a lord or a king. Knights wear heavy armour, clothes that protect them, they ride horses, and they fight for their lord or king. Knights fight using swords and shields. Sometimes, there are big competitions called jousts where knights ride horses and fight with long weapons called lances. In fairy tales, a knight often comes and rescues princesses.
Fearsome means very, very scary. You might have a fearsome beast, a fearsome monster or a fearsome wizard.
A dragon is a mythical creature that is found in most cultures around the world. Dragons are big monsters with horns and claws that can breathe fire and eat people. Dragons like to collect treasure and hide it in their lair, and knights come to try and slay the dragon, although most of them just get eaten. Dragons have scales, like snakes, and they can fly.
When you frown, you push your eyebrows together. When you are confused or angry, you frown. You shouldn’t frown too much, though, because then you’ll get wrinkles, lines on your forehead.
A broom is a brush with a long handle. You use a broom to sweep the floor, to push all the dust on the floor together, so that you can then clean it up. Brooms can be used on hard floors, like wood or tile, but not on carpets. Witches can fly on broomsticks.
A mercenary is a soldier who is paid to work. In the Middle Ages, mercenaries travelled around and worked for whoever paid them. Mercenaries don’t care about if the fight is ‘right’, they just care about making money. Nowadays, we don’t really have mercenaries.
Pat means to touch something quickly and gently with the flat part of your hand. If you want to show you like your dog, you’ll pat him on the head. You might also pat a small child on the head. If someone did a really good job on something, or they’re sad and you want to make them feel better, you can pat them on the back. If you want to tell someone they did something really well, you can say, ‘Give yourself a pat on the back.’
If you feel like death warmed over, you feel really, really sick. The idea is that you feel like you’re dead, but not only are you dead, you’ve been warmed up! You feel like death warmed over.
A pegasus, and the plural is ‘pegasi’, is a mythical creature from Ancient Greece. Pegasi are basically just horses with wings that can fly. Actually, there was only originally one Pegasus, but now in stories we often have many pegasi. In the Disney film Hercules, Hercules is given Pegasus and they become friends.
An urge is a strong desire, a want, for something that you feel very suddenly. For example, you might get an urge to go to a certain restaurant, and you can’t stop thinking about it all day. You don’t know where the urge came from, but now you can’t get rid of it. Well, I get lots of food-related urges, but maybe you don’t!
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OK, so listen and enjoy!
To Be a Hero
Once there was a boy called Norm who lived with his stepmother. Like all stepmothers, she was wicked, and she spent all day shouting at Norm.
‘It’s freezing in here! Where’s the firewood? Oh, if only Sabrina were here!’
Sabrina was her own daughter, who had died the day Norm was born, the same day that Norm’s father abandoned them in the dirty little hut where they lived. So Norm grew up under the thumb of his cruel stepmother, never allowed to play with other children, go too far away from the house or even to have time to himself.
Despite all the misery that surrounded him, Norm was a happy boy. He cheerfully prayed for his stepmother’s death every night, and he was sure that it would eventually come. But it seemed his prayers were insufficient, as she continued to complain and shout at him with just as much energy, until he grew up into a young man.
Unlike his stepmother, Norm changed a great deal. He grew tall and strong, and tired of shivering inside their hut, unable to sleep from hunger, he started planting fruit trees and vegetables, and gradually made friends with some farm animals so he could steal them away to the house. He even rebuilt the little hut, making it strong and waterproof.
One day, Norm looked at his stepmother in her dirty clothes and said, ‘Mother, I’m leaving home.’
‘What?!’ she spat. ‘Where will you go? Who will look after me?’
‘You have animals, fruit trees and a good roof over your head. I think you can look after yourself well enough. As for me, I am going out to become a hero.’
‘A hero?’ She laughed wickedly in his face. ‘Oh, my sweet child, you know so little of the world!’
‘Then it is time I went out and learned. Goodbye, Mother.’
And with that, Norm headed out into the world. While he had grown up sheltered and lonely, his stepmother had at least done one good thing for him, and told him stories every night. So rarely did he leave home that Norm was convinced that the world was just like in the stories, full of noble knights and fearsome dragons, talking snakes and kind wizards, and he intended to find all of it.
After wandering for several days, Norm came to a small castle. Following the stories he knew so well, he went to introduce himself to the King.
‘Well, you are a strong young man, aren’t you?’ said the King. ‘Perhaps you would like to join my army.’
‘No, I want to become a hero.’
‘But, my boy! Soldiers are heroes.’
Norm frowned. That wasn’t in the stories.
‘Don’t you have some important task to give me? A dragon to kill, maybe?’
‘Hmm,’ said the King, stroking his bushy beard. ‘No dragons, but I do have a task…’
Norm’s ears went up. ‘Yes?’
‘You see that tower over there?’
The King pointed out of the window to a tower on the far side of the castle. It looked cold and unwelcoming, the stones worn by time. It had to contain some kind of mysterious treasure, or perhaps a fearsome monster. Norm’s heart started to beat fast.
‘I want you to clean it and fix the stones.’
‘Oh,’ said Norm, disappointed. ‘That’s all?’
‘Well, it is haunted, you see. Nobody else in the castle is brave enough to do it.’ Saying this, the King stared at some of his men, who pretended not to be seen.
‘Ghosts?’ Norm said with excitement. ‘Fantastic! And what will my reward be?’
‘Oh, I don’t know… I have some magical pear that my brother gave me. He said it would allow the eater to talk to animals. A waste of time, in my opinion. I severely doubt cows have anything useful to say.’
‘And will I be allowed three objects to take with me to the haunted tower?’
The King frowned. ‘What on Earth gave you that idea? The only three things I’ll be giving you are a cloth, a bucket of water and a broom. Now hurry up and go.’
So Norm went to the tower and got to work. He was used to gardening and cleaning the yard, so he tidied up the tower in no time, and as he repaired the stone, he started to worry that the ghosts might not appear at all.
But just as the sun was setting, he heard a voice behind him.
‘Well, well, well, if it isn’t my next victim!’
Norm turned around to see a silvery figure standing in front of him, shining in the evening sun. He was a wide man in every way—his stomach stretched out over his belt, his beard spread out like a picnic blanket and his smile looked like it could hold a plate. He was dressed like a knight, a sword at his hips.
‘You’re the ghost of the tower!’ Norm said in excitement. ‘I bet you want to eat me!’
‘My word!’ said the ghost, visibly disgusted. ‘I want no such thing. No, you’re going to be the victim of my conversation, dear boy. Do you know how lonely it gets in here?’
‘What, you don’t even want to scare me?’
‘Of course not. Then you’d just run away.’
‘If you’re so bored, why don’t you leave?’
The ghost said, ‘Hmph!’ and crossed his arms. ‘Nobody seems to know how being a ghost works! I can only leave a place if I am wanted by someone. Otherwise, I must haunt the last place I was wanted. Of course, I wasn’t aware of that myself during my adventuring days, but since then—’
‘Adventuring? Were you a hero?’
The ghost’s face lit up like a candle. ‘Why yes, I was! It’s a pleasure to meet someone who still believes in such things. Tell me, boy, do you dream of saving beautiful princesses and killing powerful dragons?’
‘Yes, yes!’ said Norm, dropping his broom in excitement.
‘Well then, prepare to be disappointed. That sort of heroism hasn’t been around since long before my time, let alone yours.’
Norm felt his heart break in two. ‘Then… what kind of heroic things did you do?’
‘Oh, you know, I rescued an escaped farm animal here, fought in a battle there. I trained young knights and found evil criminals.’
‘You’re just a mercenary.’
‘Hey!’ said the ghost, turning a deep shade of red. ‘I am NOT one of those stupid little mercenaries, thank you very MUCH! It wouldn’t hurt to pay some respect to your elders, boy!’
Norm lowered his head. ‘I’m sorry. It’s just… it’s the first time I’ve met another hero.’
‘That’s alright,’ said the ghost, floating over and patting him on the back. But Norm couldn’t feel the pats, and the ghost’s hand just flew through him. ‘Tell you what, if you take me out of here, I’ll give you advice on how to be the best hero you can be. Or at least on how to get people to buy you drinks in bars.’
‘Wonderful!’ said Norm. ‘Now, I just have to finish this work. What’s your name, by the way?’
‘Can I call you El?’
‘Absolutely not!’ said Elric, but he couldn’t quite stop himself from smiling.
The ghost sat in the corner and impatiently waited while Norm fixed up the wall, chatting the whole time. Then Norm told the ghost to wait there while he went to get his reward.
‘My my, you made quick work of that,’ said the King. ‘You could be a royal cleaner, you know.’
‘No thanks,’ said Norm. ‘I have an adventure to go on.’
‘Yes, yes, well I’m sure this will help you. Sorry, it got a bit damaged.’
The King handed him the pear wrapped in a handkerchief. Clearly, its magical qualities hadn’t done much to preserve it, as it was black and soft and leaking juices.
‘How long have you had this?’
‘I don’t know,’ said the King. ‘I just threw it onto the pile of magical objects. There are so many these days.’
Norm waited until he and Elric were safely out of the castle and in the forest before he unwrapped the pear.
‘I wouldn’t eat that if I were you,’ said the ghost, eyeing the rotten pear suspiciously.
‘Heroes have no fear!’
‘There are many more reasons besides fear to not eat rotten food. But don’t let me stop you. It would be rather amusing if we were both ghosts.’
Norm ignored him. Just think of what he could do if he could talk to animals! It was too great an opportunity to ignore.
So he held his nose, took a deep breath and forced the pear into his mouth.
‘My word, I didn’t think you were actually going to do it!’
Norm wanted to throw up, but forced himself to swallow the pear whole, and then, just to make sure the magic worked, licked the remaining juices off the handkerchief.
‘Ugh!’ he cried. His eyes watered, his nose ran, and he coughed helplessly.
But eventually, he recovered, and he jumped up and said, ‘Let’s go find an animal friend to talk to!’
Much to his surprise, however, every time they approached a bird or a fox, the animal just ran away.
‘Wait! Come back!’ cried the boy.
‘You need to be more careful,’ said Elric disapprovingly. ‘Don’t just run at them. Listen.’
So Norm crawled into the bushes and waited until some birds landed overhead, and then listened in on their conversation. His heart sped up. He had always wondered what animals were talking about. What magical secrets might they hold?
‘Horrible weather today, Sharon,’ said one of the birds.
‘Just horrible,’ said the other. ‘Say, Bob, ate any good worms recently?’
‘No, Sharon! The worms just aren’t juicy at the moment. I blame the horrible weather.’
‘Oh, it is horrible weather, isn’t it, Bob? Absolutely disgusting.’
‘I know, I know. I heard from Harry that the worms aren’t so good at the moment.’
‘Oh, that’ll be the weather.’
‘Hey, Sharon, do you wanna sing for a bit?’
‘I can’t, Bob. The weather’s too bad.’
Norm stared up in shock. This was what birds talked about?!
‘Hey!’ he said, standing up. ‘Have you heard about any princesses that need rescuing around here?’
Bob and Sharon exploded into the air, flying around and screaming wildly.
‘A human is talking to us! A human is talking to us!’
‘It must be the bad weather, Bob!’
‘Let’s fly away!’
So the birds flew away, and once again Norm was alone with Elric.
‘Well?’ asked the ghost. ‘Any juicy gossip?’
‘Never mind,’ mumbled Norm, defeated. ‘Let’s find somewhere to sleep for the night.’
‘Sleep? You know I don’t sleep, my boy. I’m a ghost!’
That night was the worst in Norm’s life. Not only was Elric unable to keep his mouth shut, waking Norm up with his endless chatting, but Norm had to go to the toilet many times, the rotten pear having taken effect. And on top of that, just like the birds had said, it rained heavily throughout the night.
In the morning, Norm felt like death warmed over, but he insisted they march until the next big city.
‘You look just miserable, my boy,’ said Elric, sounding almost sorry for him. ‘I would carry you if I could.’
When they arrived in the city, Norm went straight to the King, and asked him if there were any heroic things he could do.
‘Hmm? Well, my pegasus has run away, you see.’
‘A flying horse!’ Norm said, gasping.
‘Yes, that is what a pegasus is. Thank you. He was a fearsome warrior, but he disappeared a few weeks ago. Whoever can find him will get an endless supply of riches. Well, not endless—’
But by that point Norm had already been filled with a heroic urge so deep that he ceased to understand the King’s words.
‘I’ll find you that pegasus!’ he said, before running off into the forest.
‘What are you doing?!’ said Elric. ‘You should’ve asked where he might be!’
‘Doesn’t matter! I’ll search every inch of the kingdom!’
Elric sighed in annoyance. ‘Sit down, boy, and wait a minute!’
Norm reluctantly sat down on a rock and watched Elric. The ghost flew into the air, higher and higher, until his transparent body disappeared into the blue sky. After several minutes, he returned with a big smile on his face.
‘Found it! Follow me. But be quiet! I don’t want you to scare it away.’
So Norm and Elric ran through the forest, but then Norm got tired, and Elric told him off for being so loud, so they walked instead.
Would they catch the pegasus? Would the King give Norm a reward suitable for a hero? Ah, well to find that out, you’ll have to wait for the next chapter…
END OF CHAPTER 1
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