THE GRIFFIN AND THE MINOR CANAAN
By Frank R. Stockton (1834-1902)
Over the great door of an old, old church which stood in a quiet town
of a far-away land there was carved in stone the figure of a large
griffin. The old-time sculptor had done his work with great care, but
the image he had made was not a pleasant one to look at. It had a
large head, with enormous open mouth and savage teeth; from its back
arose great wings, armed with sharp hooks and prongs; it had stout
legs in front, with projecting claws; but there were no legs
behind,—the body running out into a long and powerful tail, finished
off at the end with a barbed point. This tail was coiled up under him,
the end sticking up just back of his wings.
The sculptor, or the people who had ordered this stone figure, had
evidently been very much pleased with it, for little copies of it,
also in stone, had been placed here and there along the sides of the
church, not very far from the ground, so that people could easily look
at them, and ponder on their curious forms. There were a great many
other sculptures on the outside of this church,—saints, martyrs,
grotesque heads of men, beasts, and birds, as well as those of other
creatures which cannot be named, because nobody knows exactly what
they were; but none were so curious and interesting as the great
griffin over the door, and the little griffins on the sides of the
A long, long distance from the town, in the midst of dreadful wilds
scarcely known to man, there dwelt the Griffin whose image had been
put up over the churchgoer. In some way or other, the old-time
sculptor had seen him, and afterward, to the best of his memory, had
copied his figure in stone. The Griffin had never known this, until,
hundreds of years afterward, he heard from a bird, from a wild animal,
or in some manner which it is not now easy to find out, that there was
a likeness of him on the old church in the distant town. Now this
Griffin had no idea how he looked. He had never seen a mirror, and the
streams where he lived were so turbulent and violent that a quiet
piece of water, which would reflect the image of anything looking into
it, could not be found. Being, as far as could be ascertained, the
very last of his race, he had never seen another griffin. Therefore it
was, that, when he heard of this stone image of himself, he became
very anxious to know what he looked like, and at last he determined to
go to the old church, and see for himself what manner of being he was.
So he started off from the dreadful wilds, and flew on and on until he
came to the countries inhabited by men, where his appearance in the
air created great consternation; but he alighted nowhere, keeping up a
steady flight until he reached the suburbs of the town which had his
image on its church. Here, late in the afternoon, he alighted in a
green meadow by the side of a brook, and stretched himself on the
grass to rest. His great wings were tired, for he had not made such a
long flight in a century, or more.
The news of his coming spread quickly over the town, and the people,
frightened nearly out of their wits by the arrival of so extraordinary
a visitor, fled into their houses, and shut themselves up. The Griffin
called loudly for some one to come to him, but the more he called, the
more afraid the people were to show themselves. At length he saw two
laborers hurrying to their homes through the fields, and in a terrible
voice he commanded them to stop. Not daring to disobey, the men stood,
"What is the matter with you all?" cried the Griffin. "Is there not a
man in your town who is brave enough to speak to me?"
"I think," said one of the laborers, his voice shaking so that his
words could hardly be understood, "that—perhaps—the Minor
"Go, call him, then!" said the Griffin; "I want to see him."
The Minor Canon, who filled a subordinate position in the church, had
just finished the afternoon services, and was coming out of a side
door, with three aged women who had formed the week-day congregation.
He was a young man of a kind disposition, and very anxious to do good
to the people of the town. Apart from his duties in the church, where
he conducted services every week-day, he visited the sick and the
poor, counseled and assisted persons who were in trouble, and taught a
school composed entirely of the bad children in the town with whom
nobody else would have anything to do. Whenever the people wanted
something difficult done for them, they always went to the Minor
Canon. Thus it was that the laborer thought of the young priest when
he found that some one must come and speak to the Griffin.
The Minor Canon had not heard of the strange event, which was known to
the whole town except himself and the three old women, and when he was
informed of it, and was told that the Griffin had asked to see him, he
was greatly amazed, and frightened.
"Me!" he exclaimed. "He has never heard of me! What should he want
"Oh! you must go instantly!" cried the two men.
"He is very angry now because he has been kept waiting so long; and
nobody knows what may happen if you don't hurry to him."
The poor Minor Canon would rather have had his hand cut off than go
out to meet an angry griffin; but he felt that it was his duty to go,
or it would be a woeful thing if injury should come to the people of
the town because he was not brave enough to obey the summons of the
So, pale and frightened, he started off.
"Well," said the Griffin, as soon as the young man came near, "I am
glad to see that there is some one who has the courage to come to me."
The Minor Canon did not feel very courageous, but he bowed his head.
"Is this the town," said the Griffin, "where there is a church with a
likeness of myself over one of the doors?"
The Minor Canon looked at the frightful creature before him and saw
that it was, without doubt, exactly like the stone image on the
church. "Yes," he said, "you are right."
"Well, then," said the Griffin, "will you take me to it? I wish very
much to see it."
The Minor Canon instantly thought that if the Griffin entered the town
without the people knowing what he came for, some of them would
probably be frightened to death, and so he sought to gain time to
prepare their minds.
"It is growing dark, now," he said, very much afraid, as he spoke,
that his words might enrage the Griffin, "and objects on the front of
the church cannot be seen clearly. It will be better to wait until
morning, if you wish to get a good view of the stone image of
"That will suit me very well," said the Griffin. "I see you are a man
of good sense. I am tired, and I will take a nap here on this soft
grass, while I cool my tail in the little stream that runs near me.
The end of my tail gets red-hot when I am angry or excited, and it is
quite warm now. So you may go, but be sure and come early to-morrow
morning, and show me the way to the church."
The Minor Canon was glad enough to take his leave, and hurried into
the town. In front of the church he found a great many people
assembled to hear his report of his interview with the Griffin. When
they found that he had not come to spread ruin and devastation, but
simply to see his stony likeness on the church, they showed neither
relief nor gratification, but began to upbraid the Minor Canon for
consenting to conduct the creature into the town.
"What could I do?" cried the young man, "If I should not bring him he
would come himself and, perhaps, end by setting fire to the town with
his red-hot tail."
Still the people were not satisfied, and a great many plans were
proposed to prevent the Griffin from coming into the town. Some
elderly persons urged that the young men should go out and kill him;
but the young men scoffed at such a ridiculous idea. Then some one
said that it would be a good thing to destroy the stone image so that
the Griffin would have no excuse for entering the town; and this
proposal was received with such favor that many of the people ran for
hammers, chisels, and crowbars, with which to tear down and break up
the stone griffin. But the Minor Canon resisted this plan with all the
strength of his mind and body. He assured the people that this action
would enrage the Griffin beyond measure, for it would be impossible to
conceal from him that his image had been destroyed during the night.
But the people were so determined to break up the stone griffin that
the Minor Canon saw that there was nothing for him to do but to stay
there and protect it. All night he walked up and down in front of the
church-door, keeping away the men who brought ladders, by which they
might mount to the great stone griffin, and knock it to pieces with
their hammers and crowbars. After many hours the people were obliged
to give up their attempts, and went home to sleep; but the Minor Canon
remained at his post till early morning, and then he hurried away to
the field where he had left the Griffin.
The monster had just awakened, and rising to his fore-legs and shaking
himself, he said that he was ready to go into the town. The Minor
Canon, therefore, walked back, the Griffin flying slowly through the
air, at a short distance above the head of his guide. Not a person was
to be seen in the streets, and they proceeded directly to the front of
the church, where the Minor Canon pointed out the stone griffin.
The real Griffin settled down in the little square before the church
and gazed earnestly at his sculptured likeness. For a long time he
looked at it. First he put his head on one side, and then he put it on
the other; then he shut his right eye and gazed with his left, after
which he shut his left eye and gazed with his right. Then he moved a
little to one side and looked at the image, then he moved the other
way. After a while he said to the Minor Canon, who had been standing
by all this time:
"It is, it must be, an excellent likeness! That breadth between the
eyes, that expansive forehead, those massive jaws! I feel that it must
resemble me. If there is any fault to find with it, it is that the
neck seems a little stiff. But that is nothing. It is an admirable
The Griffin sat looking at his image all the morning and all the
afternoon. The Minor Canon had been afraid to go away and leave him,
and had hoped all through the day that he would soon be satisfied with
his inspection and fly away home. But by evening the poor young man
was utterly exhausted, and felt that he must eat and sleep. He frankly
admitted this fact to the Griffin, and asked him if he would not like
something to eat. He said this because he felt obliged in politeness
to do so, but as soon as he had spoken the words, he was seized with
dread lest the monster should demand half a dozen babies, or some
tempting repast of that kind.
"Oh, no," said the Griffin, "I never eat between the equinoxes. At the
vernal and at the autumnal equinox I take a good meal, and that lasts
me for half a year. I am extremely regular in my habits, and do not
think it healthful to eat at odd times. But if you need food, go and
get it, and I will return to the soft grass where I slept last night
and take another nap."
The next day the Griffin came again to the little square before the
church, and remained there until evening, steadfastly regarding the
stone griffin over the door. The Minor Canon came once or twice to
look at him, and the Griffin seemed very glad to see him; but the
young clergyman could not stay as he had done before, for he had many
duties to perform. Nobody went to the church, but the people came to
the Minor Canon's house, and anxiously asked him how long the Griffin
was going to stay.
"I do not know," he answered, "but I think he will soon be satisfied
with regarding his stone likeness, and then he will go away."
But the Griffin did not go away. Morning after morning he came to the
church, but after a time he did not stay there all day. He seemed to
have taken a great fancy to the Minor Canon, and followed him about as
he pursued his various avocations. He would wait for him at the side
door of the church, for the Minor Canon held services every day,
morning and evening, though nobody came now. "If any one should come,"
he said to himself, "I must be found at my post." When the young man
came out, the Griffin would accompany him in his visits to the sick
and the poor, and would often look into the windows of the schoolhouse
where the Minor Canon was teaching his unruly scholars. All the other
schools were closed, but the parents of the Minor Canon's scholars
forced them to go to school, because they were so bad they could not
endure them all day at home,—griffin or no griffin. But it must be
said they generally behaved very well when that great monster sat up
on his tail and looked in at the schoolroom window.
When it was perceived that the Griffin showed no signs of going away,
all the people who were able to do so left the town. The canons and
the higher officers of the church had fled away during the first day
of the Griffin's visit, leaving behind only the Minor Canon and some
of the men who opened the doors and swept the church. All the citizens
who could afford it shut up their houses and travelled to distant
parts, and only the working people and the poor were left behind.
After some days these ventured to go about and attend to their
business, for if they did not work they would starve. They were
getting a little used to seeing the Griffin, and having been told that
he did not eat between equinoxes, they did not feel so much afraid of
him as before. Day by day the Griffin became more and more attached to
the Minor Canon. He kept near him a great part of the time, and often
spent the night in front of the little house where the young clergyman
lived alone. This strange companionship was often burdensome to the
Minor Canon; but, on the other hand, he could not deny that he derived
a great deal of benefit and instruction from it. The Griffin had lived
for hundreds of years, and had seen much; and he told the Minor Canon
many wonderful things.
"It is like reading an old book," said the young clergyman to himself;
"but how many books I would have had to read before I would have found
out what the Griffin has told me about the earth, the air, the water,
about minerals, and metals, and growing things, and all the wonders of
Thus the summer went on, and drew toward its close. And now the people
of the town began to be very much troubled again.
"It will not be long," they said, "before the autumnal equinox is
here, and then that monster will want to eat. He will be dreadfully
hungry, for he has taken so much exercise since his last meal. He will
devour our children. Without doubt, he will eat them all. What is to
To this question no one could give an answer, but all agreed that the
Griffin must not be allowed to remain until the approaching equinox.
After talking over the matter a great deal, a crowd of the people went
to the Minor Canon, at a time when the Griffin was not with him.
"It is all your fault," they said, "that that monster is among us. You
brought him here, and you ought to see that he goes away. It is only
on your account that he stays here at all, for, although he visits his
image every day, he is with you the greater part of the time. If you
were not here, he would not stay. It is your duty to go away and then
he will follow you, and we shall be free from the dreadful danger
which hangs over us."
"Go away!" cried the Minor Canon, greatly grieved at being spoken to
in such a way. "Where shall I go? If I go to some other town, shall I
not take this trouble there? Have I a right to do that?"
"No," said the people, "you must not go to any other town. There is no
town far enough away. You must go to the dreadful wilds where the
Griffin lives; and then he will follow you and stay there."
They did not say whether or not they expected the Minor Canon to stay
there also, and he did not ask them any thing about it. He bowed his
head, and went into his house, to think. The more he thought, the more
clear it became to his mind that it was his duty to go away, and thus
free the town from the presence of the Griffin.
That evening he packed a leathern bag full of bread and meat, and
early the next morning he set out on his journey to the dreadful
wilds. It was a long, weary, and doleful journey, especially after he
had gone beyond the habitations of men, but the Minor Canon kept on
bravely, and never faltered. The way was longer than he had expected,
and his provisions soon grew so scanty that he was obliged to eat but
a little every day, but he kept up his courage, and pressed on, and,
after many days of toilsome travel, he reached the dreadful wilds.
When the Griffin found that the Minor Canon had left the town he
seemed sorry, but showed no disposition to go and look for him. After
a few days had passed, he became much annoyed, and asked some of the
people where the Minor Canon had gone. But, although the citizens had
been anxious that the young clergyman should go to the dreadful wilds,
thinking that the Griffin would immediately follow him, they were now
afraid to mention the Minor Canon's destination, for the monster
seemed angry already, and, if he should suspect their trick, he would
doubtless become very much enraged. So every one said he did not know,
and the Griffin wandered about disconsolate. One morning he looked
into the Minor Canon's schoolhouse, which was always empty now, and
thought that it was a shame that every thing should suffer on account
of the young man's absence.
"It does not matter so much about the church," he said, "for nobody
went there; but it is a pity about the school. I think I will teach it
myself until he returns."
It was the hour for opening the school, and the Griffin went inside
and pulled the rope which rang the schoolbell. Some of the children
who heard the bell ran in to see what was the matter, supposing it to
be a joke of one of their companions; but when they saw the Griffin
they stood astonished, and scared.
"Go tell the other scholars," said the monster, "that school is about
to open, and that if they are not all here in ten minutes, I shall
come after them." In seven minutes every scholar was in place.
Never was seen such an orderly school. Not a boy or girl moved, or
uttered a whisper. The Griffin climbed into the master's seat, his
wide wings spread on each side of him, because he could not lean back
in his chair while they stuck out behind, and his great tail coiled
around, in front of the desk, the barbed end sticking up, ready to tap
any boy or girl who might misbehave. The Griffin now addressed the
scholars, telling them that he intended to teach them while their
master was away. In speaking he endeavored to imitate, as far as
possible, the mild and gentle tones of the Minor Canon, but it must be
admitted that in this he was not very successful. He had paid a good
deal of attention to the studies of the school, and he determined not
to attempt to teach them anything new, but to review them in what they
had been studying; so he called up the various classes, and questioned
them upon their previous lessons. The children racked their brains to
remember what they had learned. They were so afraid of the Griffin's
displeasure that they recited as they had never recited before. One of
the boys far down in his class answered so well that the Griffin was
"I should think you would be at the head," said he. "I am sure you
have never been in the habit of reciting so well. Why is this?"
"Because I did not choose to take the trouble," said the boy,
trembling in his boots. He felt obliged to speak the truth, for all
the children thought that the great eyes of the Griffin could see
right through them, and that he would know when they told a falsehood.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," said the Griffin. "Go down to
the very tail of the class, and if you are not at the head in two
days, I shall know the reason why."
The next afternoon the boy was number one.
It was astonishing how much these children now learned of what they
had been studying. It was as if they had been educated over again. The
Griffin used no severity toward them, but there was a look about him
which made them unwilling to go to bed until they were sure they knew
their lessons for the next day.
The Griffin now thought that he ought to visit the sick and the poor;
and he began to go about the town for this purpose. The effect upon
the sick was miraculous. All, except those who were very ill indeed,
jumped from their beds when they heard he was coming, and declared
themselves quite well. To those who could not get up, he gave herbs
and roots, which none of them had ever before thought of as medicines,
but which the Griffin had seen used in various parts of the world; and
most of them recovered. But, for all that, they afterward said that no
matter what happened to them, they hoped that they should never again
have such a doctor coming to their bedsides, feeling their pulses and
looking at their tongues.
As for the poor, they seemed to have utterly disappeared. All those
who had depended upon charity for their daily bread were now at work
in some way or other; many of them offering to do odd jobs for their
neighbors just for the sake of their meals,—a thing which before had
been seldom heard of in the town. The Griffin could find no one who
needed his assistance.
The summer had now passed, and the autumnal equinox was rapidly
approaching. The citizens were in a state of great alarm and anxiety.
The Griffin showed no signs of going away, but seemed to have settled
himself permanently among them. In a short time, the day for his
semi-annual meal would arrive, and then what would happen? The monster
would certainly be very hungry, and would devour all their children.
Now they greatly regretted and lamented that they had sent away the
Minor Canon; he was the only one on whom they could have depended in
this trouble, for he could talk freely with the Griffin, and so find
out what could be done. But it would not do to be inactive. Some step
must be taken immediately. A meeting of the citizens was called, and
two old men were appointed to go and talk to the Griffin. They were
instructed to offer to prepare a splendid dinner for him on equinox
day,—one which would entirely satisfy his hunger. They would offer
him the fattest mutton, the most tender beef, fish, and game of
various sorts, and any thing of the kind that he might fancy. If none
of these suited, they were to mention that there was an orphan asylum
in the next town.
"Any thing would be better," said the citizens, "than to have our dear
The old men went to the Griffin, but their propositions were not
received with favor.
"From what I have seen of the people of this town," said the monster,
"I do not think I could relish any thing which was prepared by them.
They appear to be all cowards, and, therefore, mean and selfish. As
for eating one of them, old or young, I could not think of it for a
moment. In fact, there was only one creature in the whole place for
whom I could have had any appetite, and that is the Minor Canon, who
has gone away. He was brave, and good, and honest, and I think I
should have relished him."
"Ah!" said one of the old men very politely, "in that case I wish we
had not sent him to the dreadful wilds!"
"What!" cried the Griffin. "What do you mean? Explain instantly what
you are talking about!"
The old man, terribly frightened at what he had said, was obliged to
tell how the Minor Canon had been sent away by the people, in the hope
that the Griffin might be induced to follow him.
When the monster heard this, he became furiously angry. He dashed away
from the old men and, spreading his wings, flew backward and forward
over the town. He was so much excited that his tail became red-hot,
and glowed like a meteor against the evening sky. When at last he
settled down in the little field where he usually rested, and thrust
his tail into the brook, the steam arose like a cloud, and the water
of the stream ran hot through the town. The citizens were greatly
frightened, and bitterly blamed the old man for telling about the
"It is plain," they said, "that the Griffin intended at last to go and
look for him, and we should have been saved. Now who can tell what
misery you have brought upon us."
The Griffin did not remain long in the little field. As soon as his
tail was cool he flew to the town-hall and rang the bell. The citizens
knew that they were expected to come there, and although they were
afraid to go, they were still more afraid to stay away; and they
crowded into the hall. The Griffin was on the platform at one end,
flapping his wings and walking up and down, and the end of his tail
was still so warm that it slightly scorched the boards as he dragged
it after him.
When everybody who was able to come was there the Griffin stood still
and addressed the meeting.
"I have had a contemptible opinion of you," he said, "ever since I
discovered what cowards you are, but I had no idea that you were so
ungrateful, selfish, and cruel as I now find you to be. Here was your
Minor Canon, who labored day and night for your good, and thought of
nothing else but how he might benefit you and make you happy; and as
soon as you imagine yourselves threatened with a danger,—for well I
know you are dreadfully afraid of me,—you send him off, caring not
whether he returns or perishes, hoping thereby to save yourselves.
Now, I had conceived a great liking for that young man, and had
intended, in a day or two, to go and look him up. But I have changed
my mind about him. I shall go and find him, but I shall send him back
here to live among you, and I intend that he shall enjoy the reward of
his labor and his sacrifices. Go, some of you, to the officers of the
church, who so cowardly ran away when I first came here, and tell them
never to return to this town under penalty of death. And if, when your
Minor Canon comes back to you, you do not bow yourselves before him,
put him in the highest place among you, and serve and honor him all
his life, beware of my terrible vengeance! There were only two good
things in this town: the Minor Canon and the stone image of myself
over your church-door. One of these you have sent away, and the other
I shall carry away myself."
With these words he dismissed the meeting, and it was time, for the
end of his tail had become so hot that there was danger of its setting
fire to the building.
The next morning, the Griffin came to the church, and tearing the
stone image of himself from its fastenings over the great door, he
grasped it with his powerful fore-legs and flew up into the air. Then,
after hovering over the town for a moment, he gave his tail an angry
shake and took up his flight to the dreadful wilds. When he reached
this desolate region, he set the stone Griffin upon a ledge of a rock
which rose in front of the dismal cave he called his home. There the
image occupied a position somewhat similar to that it had had over the
church-door; and the Griffin, panting with the exertion of carrying
such an enormous load to so great a distance, lay down upon the
ground, and regarded it with much satisfaction. When he felt somewhat
rested he went to look for the Minor Canon. He found the young man,
weak and half-starved, lying under the shadow of a rock. After picking
him up and carrying him to his cave, the Griffin flew away to a
distant marsh, where he procured some roots and herbs which he well
knew were strengthening and beneficial to man, though he had never
tasted them himself. After eating these the Minor Canon was greatly
revived, and sat up and listened while the Griffin told him what had
happened in the town.
"Do you know," said the monster, when he had finished, "that I have
had, and still have, a great liking for you?"
"I am very glad to hear it," said the Minor Canon, with his usual
"I am not at all sure that you would be," said the Griffin, "if you
thoroughly understood the state of the case, but we will not consider
that now. If some things were different, other things would be
otherwise. I have been so enraged by discovering the manner in which
you have been treated that I have determined that you shall at last
enjoy the rewards and honors to which you are entitled. Lie down and
have a good sleep, and then I will take you back to the town."
As he heard these words, a look of trouble came over the young man's
"You need not give yourself any anxiety," said the Griffin, "about my
return to the town. I shall not remain there. Now that I have that
admirable likeness of myself in front of my cave, where I can sit at
my leisure, and gaze upon its noble features and magnificent
proportions, I have no wish to see that abode of cowardly and selfish
The Minor Canon, relieved from his fears, lay back, and dropped into a
doze; and when he was sound asleep the Griffin took him up, and
carried him back to the town. He arrived just before daybreak, and
putting the young man gently on the grass in the little field where he
himself used to rest, the monster, without having been seen by any of
the people, flew back to his home.
When the Minor Canon made his appearance in the morning among the
citizens, the enthusiasm and cordiality with which he was received
were truly wonderful. He was taken to a house which had been occupied
by one of the vanished high officers of the place, and every one was
anxious to do all that could be done for his health and comfort. The
people crowded into the church when he held services, so that the
three old women who used to be his week-day congregation could not get
to the best seats, which they had always been in the habit of taking;
and the parents of the bad children determined to reform them at home,
in order that he might be spared the trouble of keeping up his former
school. The Minor Canon was appointed to the highest office of the old
church, and before he died, he became a bishop.
During the first years after his return from the dreadful wilds, the
people of the town looked up to him as a man to whom they were bound
to do honor and reverence; but they often, also, looked up to the sky
to see if there were any signs of the Griffin coming back. However, in
the course of time, they learned to honor and reverence their former
Minor Canon without the fear of being punished if they did not do so.
But they need never have been afraid of the Griffin. The autumnal
equinox day came round, and the monster ate nothing. If he could not
have the Minor Canon, he did not care for any thing. So, lying down,
with his eyes fixed upon the great stone griffin, he gradually
declined, and died. It was a good thing for some people of the town
that they did not know this.
If you should ever visit the old town, you would still see the little
griffins on the sides of the church; but the great stone griffin that
was over the door is gone.