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Puff, the Magic Dragon

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"Puff, the Magic Dragon"
Single by Peter, Paul and Mary
from the album Moving
B-side"Pretty Mary"
ReleasedJanuary 1963
GenrePop, folk
LabelWarner Bros.
Songwriter(s)Leonard Lipton
Peter Yarrow
Producer(s)Albert Grossman
Peter, Paul and Mary singles chronology
"If I Had a Hammer"
"Puff, the Magic Dragon"
"500 Miles"

"Puff, the Magic Dragon" (or just "Puff") is a song written by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary from a poem by Leonard Lipton. It was made popular by Yarrow's group in a 1962 recording released in January 1963.

Lipton wrote a poem about a dragon in 1959,[1] and when Yarrow found it, he wrote the lyrics to "Puff" based on the poem. After the song was released, Yarrow searched for Lipton to give him credit for the song.[2]


The lyrics for "Puff, the Magic Dragon" are based on a 1959 poem by Leonard Lipton, then a 19-year-old Cornell University student.[1] Lipton was inspired by an Ogden Nash poem titled "Custard the Dragon", about a "realio, trulio little pet dragon".[3][4][5]

The lyrics tell a story of the ageless dragon Puff and his playmate, Jackie Paper, a little boy who grows up and loses interest in the imaginary adventures of childhood and leaves Puff to be with himself. The story of the song takes place "by the sea" in the fictional land of "Honah Lee".

Lipton was friends with Yarrow's housemate when they were all students at Cornell. He used Yarrow's typewriter to get the poem out of his head. He then forgot about it until years later, when a friend called and told him Yarrow was looking for him, to give him credit for the lyrics. On making contact, Yarrow gave Lipton half the songwriting credit, and he still gets royalties from the song.

Yarrow now sings the line "A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys" as "A dragon lives forever, but not so girls and boys", to be fair to boys and girls.[6] The original poem also had a stanza that was not incorporated into the song. In it, Puff found another child and played with him after returning. Neither Yarrow nor Lipton remembers the verse in any detail, and the paper that was left in Yarrow's typewriter in 1958 has since been lost.[4]

Speculation about drug references[edit]

After the song's initial success, speculation arose—as early as a 1964 article in Newsweek—that the song contained veiled references to smoking marijuana.[7] The word "paper" in the name of Puff's human friend Jackie Paper was said to be a reference to rolling papers, the words "by the sea" were interpreted as "by the C" (as in cannabis), the word "mist" stood for "smoke", the land of "Honahlee" stood for hashish, and "dragon" was interpreted as "draggin'" (i.e., inhaling smoke). Similarly, the name "Puff" was alleged to be a reference to taking a "puff" on a joint. The supposition was claimed to be common knowledge in a letter by a member of the public to The New York Times in 1984.[8][9]

The authors of the song have repeatedly rejected this interpretation and have strongly and consistently denied that they intended any references to drug use.[10] Both Lipton and Yarrow have stated, "'Puff, the Magic Dragon' is not about drugs."[11] Yarrow has frequently explained that the song is about the hardships of growing older and has no relationship to drug-taking.[12][13] He has also said that the song has "never had any meaning other than the obvious one" and is about the "loss of innocence in children."[14] He has dismissed the suggestion of it being associated with drugs as "sloppy research".[15]

In 1973, Peter Yarrow's bandmate, Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary, also upheld the song's innocence in a novel way. He recorded a version of the song at the Sydney Opera House in March 1973 where he set up a fictitious trial scene.[16] The prosecutor of the trial claimed the song was about marijuana, but Puff and Jackie protested. The judge finally left the case to the "jury" (the Opera House audience) and said if they would sing along, the song would be acquitted. The audience joined in with Stookey and at the end of their sing-along, the judge declared the "case dismissed."[17]

Notable recordings and chart performance[edit]

In 1961, Peter Yarrow joined Paul Stookey and Mary Travers to form Peter, Paul and Mary. The group incorporated the song into their live performances before recording it in 1962. The trio's 1962 recording of "Puff the Magic Dragon" entered the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 charts on March 30, 1963, and peaked at number two, kept out of the top spot by "I Will Follow Him" by Little Peggy March.[18] It topped Billboard's Adult Contemporary charts.[19] It also reached number ten on Billboard's R&B chart.[20] In Canada, the song reached number four in April 1963.[21]


A 1978 animated television special, Puff the Magic Dragon, adapted the song. It was followed by two sequels, Puff the Magic Dragon in the Land of the Living Lies and Puff and the Incredible Mr. Nobody. In all three films, Burgess Meredith voiced Puff. In December 2016, it was announced that Fox Animation would produce a live-action/animation film based on the song with Mike Mitchell as director.[28][needs update]

The song was adapted for a children's pantomime, which played at Sydney's Seymour Centre in 1983.[29]

In September 1979, a picture-book version of the short used pictures based on the animated feature. It was published by Avon Books and dedicated to Peter, Paul, and Mary. The book featured words and sheet music to several songs that were featured in the short at the back of the book. This included "The Boat Song" and "Weave Me the Sunshine". The book also used the original song throughout the book as the short had.

In 2007, jazz pianist Jason Rebello recorded and released an album entitled Jazz Rainbow featuring the song "Puff, the Magic Dragon" arranged for a jazz trio.

A 2007 book adaptation of the song's lyrics by Yarrow, Lipton, and illustrator Eric Puybaret gives the story a happier ending with a young girl (presumed by reviewers to be Jackie Paper's daughter)[30] seeking out Puff to become her new companion. The lyrics remain unchanged from the Peter, Paul, and Mary version; the young girl is only seen in the pictures by illustrator Puybaret. On the last page of the book, she is introduced to Puff by an older Jackie Paper.

The tune was used by Versatec, a computer printer company, in the promotional LP Push the Magic Button for the song of the same name.[31]

American fabulist Robert Coover wrote about the later lives of Puff and Jackie Paper in "Sir John Paper Returns to Honah-Lee," the first story in his collection A Child Again (McSweeney's Books, 2005).

Spanish neofolk band Trobar de Morte released a radically re-arranged new age version of the song on their compilation album 20 Years of Music & Sorcery (2020).


In the mid 1970s, an American Jewish band named Ruach created a parody version of the song entitled "Puff the Kosher Dragon". In the course of the song, Kosher Puff eats kosher food, has a bar mitzvah, fights anti-Semites, and finally marries and brings up his children as loyal members of the faith.[32] The Ruach song has been noted[33] as one of the first examples of a modern Jewish band using a popular secular tune.

Both tune and elements of the lyrics were adapted in the controversial parody "Barack the Magic Negro," written and recorded by Paul Shanklin for Rush Limbaugh's radio program, after the term was first applied to then presidential candidate Barack Obama by movie and culture critic David Ehrenstein, in a Los Angeles Times op ed column of March 19, 2007. Yarrow condemned the act as "shocking and saddening in the extreme," stating that "taking a children's song and twisting it in such vulgar, mean-spirited way, is a slur to our entire country and our common agreement to move beyond racism… Puff, himself, if asked, would certainly agree."[34]

Vietnam War gunship[edit]

During the Vietnam War, the AC-47 Spooky gunship was nicknamed the "Dragon" or "Dragon ship" by the Americans because of its armament and firepower—the nickname soon caught on, and American troops began to call the AC-47 "Puff the Magic Dragon."[35] Robert Mason's Chickenhawk states, in reference to the Peter, Paul, and Mary song playing on a turntable: "'Puff the Magic Dragon' was making me uncomfortable. It was the saccharine song that had inspired the naming of the murderous Gatling-gun-armed C-47s. I couldn't listen."[36]

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Lipton, Lenny. "Lenny Lipton". Lennylipton. Retrieved December 7, 2011.
  2. ^ "Puff The Magic Dragon by Peter, Paul and Mary". SongFacts. Retrieved May 31, 2017.
  3. ^ Nash, Ogden. "The Tale of Custard the Dragon". Harvard. Retrieved December 7, 2011.
  4. ^ a b "Puff The Magic Dragon by Peter, Paul and Mary". Songfacts. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  5. ^ Shannon, Bob; Javna, John (1986). Behind the Hits. Warner Books. ISBN 978-0446389372.
  6. ^ "Puff the Magic Dragon – Marijuana References in the Song Lyrics". Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  7. ^ "Puff the Magic Dragon and Marijuana". Snopes. Retrieved 2011-12-07.
  8. ^ "Magic Dragon's Not-So-Innocuous Puff". The NY Times. 1984-10-11. Retrieved 2011-12-07.
  9. ^ "Peter Yarrow - Biography". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2019-02-26.
  10. ^ Just A Minute With: Peter Yarrow, Reuters
  11. ^ "How 'Puff The Magic Dragon' Came To Be". Great Big Story. Retrieved 20 April 2017.
  12. ^ "Puff the Magic Dragon and Marijuana". 2016-09-14. Retrieved 2016-09-27.
  13. ^ Konstantin, Phil, Kusi TV (interview), American Indian
  14. ^ "Puff the magic dragon", YouTube (live)
  15. ^ "Puff: Still Not a Drug Song". Chronogram.
  16. ^ Released in 1977 on the album "Real to Reel" and distributed by Sparrow Records
  17. ^ Noel Paul Stookey (1977). Reel to Reel (audio recording). Neworld Media.
  18. ^ "Top 100 Songs | Billboard Hot 100 Chart". Billboard.
  19. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits (8th ed.). New York: Billboard Books. p. 488. ISBN 0-8230-7499-4.
  20. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 458.
  21. ^ [1]
  22. ^ "flavour of new zealand - search lever". Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  23. ^ Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955–1990 - ISBN 0-89820-089-X
  24. ^ "Cash Box Top 100 5/11/63". Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  25. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1963/Top 100 Songs of 1963". Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  26. ^ "Top Adult Contemporary Songs of 1963 • Music VF, US & UK hits charts". Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  27. ^ "Cash Box YE Singles (Pop) 1963". Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  28. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. "Peter, Paul & Mary Tune 'Puff The Magic Dragon' In Fox Deal With 'Troll's Helmer Mike Mitchell". Deadline. Retrieved December 9, 2016.
  29. ^ "What's On For the School Hols [sic]", The Sydney Morning Herald
  30. ^ Goddard, Peter (2007-08-18). "New take on Puff the Magic Dragon". The Star. Retrieved 2011-12-07.
  31. ^ "Push the Magic Button", Archives (songlist), Computer History Museum[permanent dead link]
  32. ^ "Puff the Kosher Dragon". YouTube.
  33. ^ Bryan Edelman, Marsha (2003). Discovering Jewish music. Jewish Publication Society.
  34. ^ Yarrow, Peter, "My Response to the Mean-Spirited "Barack the Magic Negro"", The Huffington Post
  35. ^ Pike, John (17 October 2016). "AC-47". Retrieved 9 September 2019.
  36. ^ Mason, Robert (2005). Chickenhawk. Penguin Books. ISBN 9781101175156. OCLC 656959792.[page needed]
  37. ^ Chow, Denise (December 8, 2010). "Millionaire private space capsule splashes: successful maiden voyage". Retrieved May 15, 2014.
  39. ^ "Cooperesque Piff brings magic act to the Westcountry". Western Morning News. 10 November 2012. Archived from the original on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 23 September 2015.
  40. ^ Mullinger, James (6 November 2012). "Comedian Of The Week: Piff The Magic Dragon". GQ. Archived from the original on 26 May 2019. Retrieved 12 July 2019.
  41. ^ Larson, Gary (c). The Far SideThe Yale Daily News (New Haven, Connecticut). January 13, 1993, Universal Press Syndicate: 5.

External links[edit]

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