The Turtle God

turtle animation

Thousands of years ago, when humans weren't yet imagined, turtles lived peaceful and prosperous lives in and around the world's lakes and oceans. They spent their days in the usual turtle ways: swimming, eating, lounging on the beach, sharing gossip and making new turtles. For a time their lives were easy. Food was abundant, but predators were not.

Alas while the turtles were minding their own business, some of the earth's other creatures were evolving. Small harmless lizards spawned larger and larger offspring. They evolved into a variety of shapes and sizes, many of which had hearty appetites and large pointy teeth—sharp teeth seemingly designed to rip through fresh turtle flesh.

Beaches once renowned for soft sand and snack-laden tide pools became popular fast food restaurants for dinosaurs. Being slow afoot, turtles were the top-selling item on the menu. Tired of watching their loved ones being devoured, and fearful of their own imminent mortality, the turtle elders gathered together to plan their defense strategy.

Some species chose to spend more time in the deep ocean—far from the dinosaurs reach. Others hid in caves and other locations difficult to find. Yet all of the turtles knew that they still had to spend some time in the open—if for no other reason than to lay their eggs. To protect themselves, they posted sentinels outside popular beaches to shout warnings when a dinosaur approached. This worked well for the turtles on the beach, but not so well for the sentinels. Unable to retreat in time, their warning calls became dinner bells—rare was the turtle who lived to stand duty more than once.

The turtles were easy prey for a variety of reasons. They moved slowly on land, they weren't used to predators and they were easy to chew. The elders recognized this, but they didn't know how to overcome the obstacles. They tried prayer, but heard no answers. They dug deep moats, which the dinosaurs crossed with ease. They rubbed themselves with pungent herbs and oils—in order to repel the predators—but found the dinosaurs actually preferred turtles in marinade.

As the shamans tried to work their magic, the engineers their defense systems, and the scientists their potions, a young turtle, named Terry, stared sadly into a tide pool. A microcosm of the world, the small pool was rife with activity. Larger animals ate the small one and hard shelled creatures ate the soft ones. "That's the problem," he thought, "out here, in this world, we're the ones who are small and soft. If we had shells, like the crabs and scallops, we wouldn't be so easy to eat. That's it! We should grow shells; we just need to learn how."

With a solution in mind, Terry waddled excitedly to the cave of the elders. "Shells!" he yelled, "We have to grow shells to armor ourselves. Instead of hiding in caves we can hide in our very own shells."

"Did you just decide to grow your tail? Is your nose the result of a whim? How do you propose to grow a shell?" asked the village chief.

"With magic and science."

"Our magic is strong." Said a shaman. "But to create such a spell we would need to know what the shell should be made from and the shape it should take."

"I could study the other shelled creatures and come up with the ingredients to make a sturdy shell," one of the scientists replied.

"And we can come up with a design that will be both strong and light," responded an engineer.

Excitement in the cave grew as the turtles started developing their plans. The chemists and materials scientists analyzed various ingredients, the engineers focused on shape and structure, and the shamans began writing a spell that would invoke the appropriate growth. Within six months they were ready for beta-testing.

The shamans began with a visit to the tide pools. There they cast spells upon jellyfish and watched as the gelatinous creatures grew armor and sank under the weight. The spell seemed to work, but they had to test it on a turtle to know for sure.

Testing would be dangerous. If the spell didn't work correctly the turtle could be disfigured or even killed. They had lost so many to the dinosaurs, they didn't want to chance losing another in the experiment. The village chief called for volunteers. Many discussed the idea—bragging of their potential heroism—but in the end, all but one had an excuse for not volunteering. That one was young Terry from the tide pool.

"It was my idea." He said. "The rest of you worked hard to put the project together, so let me be the one to test it." His mother cried and begged him not to, but she too realized it would be better to die in service than as supper.

Hugging his mother goodbye, Terry followed the shamans into the cave, where they lit incense and began their incantations. Many hours went by as the villagers waited to see what would happen. Finally lit merely by moonlight, Terry emerged from the cave and the others shouted out in astonishment.

"They've turned him into a rock," one yelled. "No, I think he's a giant coconut," said another. "Whatever he is, he's moving," said his relieved mother.

"It's bloody brilliant," shouted Terry. "It's lightweight and I can move almost as easily as before. If something comes near I can just tuck in my legs and head and I'm invincible!"

"Did he say he's invisible?" I still see him, murmured a skeptic in the crowd.

"Really it's great. The shamans tapped on my shell and tried to get me out, but they couldn't. It's totally safe in here," responded Terry. "And know what else is cool? If you pull in your head and start singing, it echoes."

Once everyone had inspected the shell and determined it safe, the shamans proceeded to cast the spell on all of the turtles. The next day when the dinosaurs came to dine on the beach they were surprised to find that the turtles had disappeared and what looked to be a bunch of rocks stood in their place.

After that the turtles lived peacefully for thousands of years. Terry's name was passed down the generations, first as hero, then as God. By the time more clever predators—such as humans—arrived, the story was long forgotten, but the turtles continued to pray to the benevolent god, Terrence. Coupled with the magic of the shamans, the prayers transformed Terry from a memory into a powerful deity. The turtles say he spends his days swimming across the sky to watch over them—damning their predators, while casting favors towards those who protect them.

Like many myths this one may not be true, but next time you see turtle soup on a menu, it may be wise to order something else.