This story was adapted from the “Treasury of Vietnamese Folk Tales
Illustrator: Nguyen Truong Linh

Once upon a time, there was an ugly but courageous Toad. One year there was a terrible drought. Trees were reduced to ashes. The rivers, lagoons and lakes all dried up. Giant beasts who’d once ruled the forest now lay in despair, desperate for water. Their strength proved no match for fate.

Only the small Toad retained his courage. He hatched a plan to travel to Heaven, find the Heavenly Emperor and beg Him to make it rain. At first, he found no support but remained determined. Crossing a dried-up marsh, he met a Crab. The Crab scoffed at Toad’s plan until, hearing other animals laugh too, the contrary Crab decided to join Toad.

It wasn’t long until Crab and Toad met a Bear and a Tiger, both of whom were dying of thirst. “What do you have to lose?” said Crab.

While Tiger was hesitant, Bear agreed. “We may as well try to get to Heaven,” said Bear. “Or we’ll just die here.”

Along the way, more animals joined them. By the time they reached the Gates of Heaven, there was a small gang: Toad, Crab, Bear, Tiger, Fox and a handful of Bees. While the other animals were scared, Toad said: “Listen up. You have to do as I say.”

Outside of the Heavenly Gates stood a giant jar of water and a drum. “Crab, hide in the jar,” directed Toad. “The rest of you, hide behind the drum.”

When the others were well hidden, Toad jumped onto the drum. He leapt up and down three times, producing three loud drumbeats.

The Heavenly Emperor was taking a long nap. He woke up with a start, in a foul mood. “Go and see who made that noise!” he told the Thunder God.

The Thunder God wiped off his dusty axe, yawned, and shuffled outside. He was surprised to see a tiny Toad sitting on the drum. Since his axe was so big and heavy, it would be almost impossible to strike such a tiny target. He went back inside and told the Emperor, who called for a Heavenly Chicken to go out and peck that pesky little Toad to death.

The Heavenly Chicken raced out the Gate but was met by Fox, who leapt on it. Hearing its squawks, the furious Emperor sent out his Heavenly Hound, but the Hound’s barks soon turned to yelps. Bear had smacked it.

The Thunder God raced back to help, raising his Lightning Axe high overhead. His power was unrivaled. The Heavenly Emperor felt reassured: The Thunder God would deal with Toad and his unruly gang. He could go back to sleep.

When the Thunder God got close, Toad gave a sign to the Bees. They zoomed out and stung the unlucky God’s nose. Clutching his face, the Thunder God jumped into the large jar to escape the bees. Crab was waiting. In his panic, the Thunder God broke the jar. Tiger pounced on Him.

Faced with this mess, the Emperor of Heaven had no choice but to beg for peace. He begged Toad to return the Thunder God’s broken body so that he might be revived. Toad agreed. The Emperor of Heaven sprinkled magic water upon the Thunder God to bring him back to life.

The revived Thunder God awoke to see a swarm of buzzing Bees, a Crab with its pincers raised, a Tiger with outstretched claws, a Bear and a Fox with large teeth, and an ugly Toad. The God was so scared He ran and hid behind the Emperor’s golden throne.

The Emperor of Heaven realized victory was impossible. “Why are you here?” he asked Toad. “What do you want from me?”

Toad jumped onto the Emperor’s throne and said: “For four years we’ve had no rain! All the plants, trees and creatures are thirsty. We thought you were displeased with us mortals but you were just having a long nap! Please wake up and make rain to save the mortal world.”

The Emperor nodded. “I will tell the Wind and Rain Gods to get to work,” he said. “Are you satisfied?”

“Yes,” said Toad. “We are grateful. And if there’s a drought again we will come back to let you know.”

The Emperor of Heaven was horrified at the thought. He did not want Toad and his motley gang to come back. “No, no. There’s no need,” he said, quickly. “If it’s too dry and you need rain, just grind your teeth. I will hear you.”

To reaffirm this promise, the Emperor ordered his Black Dragon to carry Toad and his friends back to earth and spit rain down upon the world. All the plants and trees came back to life. Toad and his helpers were greeted as heroes.

Since then, whenever Toad grinds his teeth, the rains begin. An old nursery rhyme reminds us :

The Toad is God’s Uncle
Whoever beats it will be blasted by God.