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What's "Puff, The Magic Dragon" Really About?

The folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary's classic rendition of "Puff, the Magic Dragon" cracked the Billboard charts 53 years ago today (Mar. 16). Shortly thereafter, the song sparked rumors of hidden drug references to marijuana in the lyrics. Those rumors persist to this day.

Here's an overview of the song's alleged marijuana references. The dragon "Puff" refers to smoking (i.e. to "drag on") a joint. His young friend "Jackie Paper" and the his sealing wax refer to rolling papers. The "autumn mist" in the chorus is either plumes of cannabis smoke or the state of being high. The land of "Hanah Lee" is code for the Hawaiian village of Hanalei, which was supposedly known for growing superb marijuana.

Many of these claims first appeared in a 1964 Newsweek article that discussed alleged drug references hidden in pop songs.

What the Writers of Puff the Magic Dragon Had to Say

But the writers adamantly refute this interpretation. Leonard Lipton - who wrote the poem that the song was based on while attending college in the late 50s - said the marijuana interpretation is not only implausible but distasteful:

"['Puff' is about] loss of innocence, and having to face an adult world," he said according to Snopes, which considers the marijuana theory false. "It's surely not about drugs. I can tell you that at Cornell in 1959, no one smoked grass. I find the fact that people interpret it as a drug song annoying. It would be insidious to propagandize about drugs in a song for little kids."

In 2008, co-writer and performer Peter Yarrow told Reuters, "I was 20 years old at Cornell in 1959 when it was written and I was so square at that time, as was everyone else. Drugs had not emerged then. I know Puff was a good dragon and would never have had drugs around him. Now you've heard that from the mouth of the dragon's daddy."

So there you have it. "Puff" is just an ordinary, imaginary dragon. Unlike these ones.

Here's Peter, Paul and Mary performing their hit in San Diego back in 1964.

h/t Snopes, Reuters


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