'The Neverending Stories' | Ep. 170

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(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

Think about your all-time favorite story.

Now think about how you would feel if you weren't allowed to tell this story – or hear this story – ever again!

In today's episode, we'll meet a character who believes that stories belong only to her – until those stories help her change her tune!

Our story is called “The Neverending Stories.” Versions of this tale come from many places, including Korea in East Asia, Cambodia in Southeast Asia, and Kazakhstan in Central Asia.

Voices in this episode include Ryan Dalusung, Dawn Ursula, Anjali Bhimani, and Adriyan Rae.

Anjali Bhimani is well-known in the gaming world from her fan-favorite roles in Overwatch and Apex Legends, and recently starred on the Netflix comedy series, Special. She’ll appear in the highly anticipated series Ms. Marvel, coming to Disney+ on June 8th.

You grown-ups may recognize Adriyan Rae from NBC’s Chicago Fire and the SYFY series Vagrant Queen. She also stars in the Paramount+ revival of the football dramedy The Game.

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Nora Saks and Circle Round’s supervising producer Amory Sivertson. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

Coloring Page

(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes, click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Things To Think About After Listening

Now that season 5 of Circle Round has come to a close, we want to hear from you. What has been your favorite Circle Round story so far? Send us a voice memo of you talking about your favorite episode, and we’ll feature it on the podcast!

Grown-ups, grab a smartphone, open the Voice Memo app, hit record, and when you’re done, email the sound file to us! Our address is

A dombra. (Courtesy of Mizu basyo)
A dombra. (Courtesy of Mizu basyo)

Musical Spotlight: The Dombra 

The history of this plucked stringed instrument from Kazakhstan and its neighboring countries goes back to the Middle Ages. Similar to a lute, the dombra has a pear-shaped body and a long neck, and its two strings are strummed with the fingers. The dombra has traditionally been used to accompany narrated stories, poems, and legends.


NARRATOR: There once was a girl named Hana. Hana lived in a grand house with her mother, her father, and her aunt: a wise, warm woman named Sokha.

Hana’s mother and father were merchants who were constantly away on business. So Sokha was like another parent to Hana. She cooked Hana delicious meals, she taught her important lessons, and – best of all – she told the most amazing stories ever!

HANA: Aunt Sokha! Tell me a story!

SOKHA: Tell me a story…? (Fishing for the word “please,” as grown-ups often do.)

HANA: Tell me a story… please?

SOKHA:  Well… since you asked so politely, I will! Now sit back and get cozy.  There once was a farmer named Stella. She and her husband, Ovi, lived in a house down a long, long lane in the village…

NARRATOR: Hana loved hearing Sokha’s stories. They lit up her imagination, and made the world feel so much bigger and brighter. In fact, she loved them so much that she asked Sokha to make her a promise.

HANA: Aunt Sokha! These stories you tell me each night… promise me you’ll never tell them to anyone else!

SOKHA: But Hana! Stories are such wonderful creations of the imagination! Shouldn’t they be shared with others? Passed on? One person tells a story to another person… who tells that story to another person… who tells that story to another… it’s like a gift that keeps on giving! Forever!

HANA: Well I don’t want to share! I want your stories to be mine, all mine! I never want them to leave this room! Promise me you’ll never tell them to anyone else. Please…?

NARRATOR: Sokha knew how stubborn her niece could be. Once Hana got an idea into her head, she wouldn't back down easily.

SOKHA: Alright, Hana. I promise. I will never tell these stories to anyone else.

NARRATOR: Well, the years went by. And Sokha told Hana one story…

SOKHA: Once upon a time… in a deep green valley… there was a village…

NARRATOR: …after another…

SOKHA: In another time… long, long ago… there came a summer when the rain ceased to fall…

NARRATOR: …after another.

SOKHA: Way, way back — when the world was young — a Kangaroo lived with her little daughter, Joey…

NARRATOR: Eventually, Hana was no longer a young girl, and it came time for her to go off to college. The university was in another city, many miles away, so Hana would have to travel there by carriage.

The day before her big trip, Hana was attending a going-away party with friends. Back at the house, Sokha was bustling from room to room, making sure all of her niece’s belongings were ready to go.

SOKHA: Okay… all of her clothing is in this trunk here… That chest contains her shoes… This case contains her sheets and towels… But wait! Where are her books? Hmmm. I must have left that box up in her room…

NARRATOR: When Sokha walked up the stairs, she found the door to Hana’s bedroom was closed. But as she reached for the handle…


SOKHA: What are those voices I hear behind the door? Hana and her friends are all at that party! Who could be inside?

NARRATOR: Sokha pressed her ear against the door. The murmuring and chattering seemed to be getting louder and louder, until…

STORY SPIRIT 1: Listen up, everybody! Listen!!!

[SOT: Chatter and murmur stops]

STORY SPIRIT 1: Thank you! (beat) Now! Hana could come back from her party an minute, so we’d better make this snappy! We need to come up… with a plan!

STORY SPIRIT 2: Yes! A plan for revenge!

STORY SPIRIT 3: For keeping all of us story spirits locked up in this room for so long!

STORY SPIRIT 4: Instead of being shared!

STORY SPIRIT 5: Like we’re supposed to be!

STORY SPIRITS: (Titter in agreement.)

NARRATOR: Sokha was dumbfounded. “Story spirits”?! What were “story spirits”?
But then… it dawned on her.

SOKHA: (Gasp) The “story spirits” must be the spirits of all the stories I’ve told Hana through the years! The ones she insisted I never tell to anyone else! So they’ve never left this room!

NARRATOR: The voices sounded rather angry, and Sokha was afraid. But she tried to remain calm – and quiet – as the story spirits carried on.

STORY SPIRIT 1: Look, folks. Hana is leaving for college tomorrow. She’s going out into the world! It’s high time we found a way to finally get back at her for holding us prisoner!!! Any ideas…?

STORY SPIRIT 2: Oh! I know! I’m a story that has a magic well in it! One drink from my well, and you lose all your memories! You forget everything you’ve ever known!

STORY SPIRIT 1: Hmmm… that sounds promising!

STORY SPIRIT 2: Yes! I’ll send my well to the side of the road. When Hana rides by and sees my cool, clear water, she won’t be able to help herself! She’ll have to take a drink!

STORY SPIRIT 1: That’s a fine idea! It is late summer, and it’s hot outside! (beat) But maybe we should have a backup plan – in case Hana isn’t feeling thirsty.

STORY SPIRIT 3: Well… I’m a story that has an enchanted apple tree! One bite of my apples, and you’ll fall into a deep, deep sleep!

STORY SPIRIT 1: Ooooo, I like the sound of that!

STORY SPIRIT 3: Yeah, it’s pretty nifty! I’ll send my apple tree over to the side of the road. When Hana rides by in her carriage, she’s sure to be hungry from her long journey. The minute she sees those shiny, red apples, she won’t be able to resist!

STORY SPIRIT 1: I love everything I’m hearing. (beat) But… in case she escapes both the well and the tree, I’m a story that has a dragon in it!


STORY SPIRIT 1: Yes! A giant green dragon with big wide wings and orange flames shooting out of its nose!


STORY SPIRIT 3: That’s amazing!

STORY SPIRIT 1: Right? Once Hana gets to college and goes to bed, my dragon will come swooping down to her window, breathing those orange flames, and it’ll scare the pants off of her!

STORY SPIRIT 2: Oh, that’s good!

STORY SPIRIT 3: Soooo good!

STORY SPIRIT 4: Then we’ll really get even with her!



NARRATOR: On the other side of the door, Sokha felt a chill go down her spine.

SOKHA: I can’t believe what I’m hearing! Stories are supposed to be wonderful creations of the imagination! The gift that keeps on giving! Yet because these stories have been imprisoned in this room for so long, they’ve become angry. Spiteful. Willing to stop at nothing to get revenge on their captor!

NARRATOR: Sokha turned and hurried down the stairs.

SOKHA: What do I do?!? If I tell Hana what I just heard, she’ll never believe me. No one will!

NARRATOR: Sokha sat down at the kitchen table, her head in her hands. She had never wanted her stories to be locked up. And now she definitely didn't want them to cause any harm to Hana, who had always been like a daughter to her.

SOKHA: Oh dear, oh dear. There must be a way to save Hana! And finally convince her that stories must be shared!  I have to come up with something. And when I do… boy, oh boy… will I have a story to tell!

[theme music in]

NARRATOR: What will Sokha do?

What would you do if you were in her shoes?

We’ll find out what happens… after a quick break.

[theme music out]


[theme music in]

NARRATOR: I’m Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to Circle Round. Today our story is called “The Neverending Stories.”

[theme music out]

NARRATOR: Before the break, the spirits of the many, many stories Hana had ever been told wanted to get revenge for being locked up in her room, and never shared with others.

Hana’s Aunt Sokha overheard the story spirits’ plot. The next morning, as the horse-drawn carriage was being loaded up for Hana’s trip to college, Sokha approached the coachman as he sat high in his driver’s seat.

SOKHA: Good morning, sir! I know that, as the coachman, it’s your job to drive the carriage. But I wonder if you would let me do the driving?

NARRATOR: The coachman gave Sokha a sideways glance.

SOKHA: I know it’s an odd thing to ask. But I’ve been with Hana all her life. And here she is all grown up! Going off to college! I’d love just a few more days with my darling niece before she starts school. (Tearing up/genuinely heartfelt, but also trying really hard to convince the Coachman.) It will be so hard to say goodbye!

NARRATOR: As Sokha wiped a tear from her eye, the Coachman sighed… and got down from his seat. Sokha climbed up and took his place.

SOKHA: Thank you, sir! This means the world to me! Hana? Come on out, dear! It’s time to go!

NARRATOR: Hana came running from the house.

HANA: Aunt Sokha! You’ll be driving me to college?

SOKHA: That’s right, my dear! It’ll give us more time together! (beat) (to herself) And it just might teach you a lesson as well!

NARRATOR: Hana stepped into the carriage and shut the door. Sokha signaled the horses to go…

SOKHA: [SOT: reins, horses, etc.] (Urges horses to go ahead: Yah!)

NARRATOR: …and they took off down the road.

The late-summer air was warm and sticky. Inside the carriage, Hana was sweating buckets. So you can imagine her delight when all of a sudden, by the side of the road, she spotted…

HANA: …a well!

NARRATOR: Indeed! Standing next to a green hedge was an old stone well, with a bucket, pulley, and rope. The well was full of shimmering, clear water.

HANA: Oh, Aunt Sokha! The water inside that well looks so cool! And refreshing! I’m so thirsty I could drink a river! Let's stop the carriage and get a drink!

NARRATOR: One glance at the well and Sokha’s heart filled with dread. This must be the well the story spirit talked about! The one whose water erases your memory!

SOKHA: You can’t drink from that well, Hana! With all this heat, the water’s probably warm as a bath! Here.

NARRATOR: Sokha reached into her satchel and tossed Hana a canteen.

SOKHA: I’ve brought plenty of fresh, cool water from home. Drink to your heart’s content!

NARRATOR: Then Sokha signaled the horses to move faster, and the carriage rolled on.

Hana sipped the water but after a while, she found she was getting hungry. So you can imagine her excitement when all at once, by the side of the road, she spied…

HANA: …an apple tree!

NARRATOR: That’s right! Growing from the ground was a leafy apple tree, its branches full of shiny red apples.

HANA: Oh, Aunt Sokha! The apples on that tree look so delicious! And juicy! My stomach is growling louder than a tiger protecting its cubs! Please stop the carriage and let me pick some apples!

NARRATOR: One glimpse at the tree and Sokha’s blood went cold. This must be the tree the other story spirit talked about! The one whose apples put you into a deep, deep sleep!

SOKHA: You can’t eat those apples, Hana! I’m sure they belong to a farmer and it’s wrong to steal! Here.

NARRATOR: Sokha reached into her satchel and tossed her niece a bag of apples.
SOKHA: I’ve brought plenty of apples from our trees at home. Eat all you want.

NARRATOR: Then Sokha urged the horses to move faster, and the carriage moved on.
Now that they had gotten past the story spirits’ first two traps, the rest of the ride was uneventful, and the carriage reached Hana’s new college by sunset. Sokha and Hana ate dinner, did some unpacking. Then it was time for bed.

HANA: Aunt Sokha! Tell me a story!

SOKHA: Tell me a story…? (Fishing for the word “please,” as grown-ups often do.)

HANA: (Grudgingly.) Tell me a story… please?

NARRATOR: But before Sokha could say so much as “Once upon a time,” she and Hana heard a loud roar…

DRAGON: (Roars.)

NARRATOR: …and next thing they knew, a giant green dragon with big wide wings and orange flames shooting out of his nose was swooping down from the sky! Straight toward their wide-open window!

HANA: Ahhh! A dragon! Aunt Sokha! What’s going on!??? Where did that dragon come from??!!?

NARRATOR: Sokha grabbed Hana’s trembling hands.

SOKHA: Don’t you worry, my dear. It’s going to be okay. Tell me a story!

HANA: Tell you a what…?!?

SOKHA: Tell me a story! But not just any story! Tell me a story… about a dragon!

HANA: A story about a dragon…?!

SOKHA: Just trust me! Tell me a story about a dragon! Perhaps one of the stories I told you…?

NARRATOR: Sokha gave Hana’s hands a squeeze.

SOKHA: …Please?

NARRATOR: Hana’s eyes were wide. Her body was quivering. But, she took a deep breath….

HANA: (Deep breath in and out.)

NARRATOR: … then began to tell a story.

HANA: (Nervous, not confident, frightened but also she’s never told a story before!) (from our episode “Stella and the Dragon”) There once was a farmer named Stella. She and her husband, Ovi, lived in a house down a long, long lane in the village.

SOKHA: Good. Keep going…

HANA: The house was small but comfortable; Stella and her husband shared it with their friendly striped cat and their old faithful dog.

SOKHA: And…? What about the hills above Stella’s village? Who lived there?

HANA: (Gaining more confidence.) In the hills above Stella’s village lived a giant, green dragon!

SOKHA: Right! And he was…?

HANA: (Gaining more confidence.) He was a very wealthy dragon, who had piles and piles of gold in his lair atop the hill! When he was hungry, the dragon would swoop down and pluck a cow or a sheep from the villagers’ fields. Many of Stella’s neighbors feared that someday the dragon would be hungry enough to swoop down and carry off a human!

[SOT: fade down as Narrator resumes] 

But Stella and Ovi tried not to think about the giant, green dragon. They were busy growing their crops and tending to their animals on the farm. Thanks to their hard work, they had plenty to eat... a dry, warm house... They were happy. But one thing was missing: children.

NARRATOR: Slowly but surely, Hana told her story.

And as she did, do you know what happened?

The giant green dragon ceased his swooping, and froze! Right there in mid-air! He cocked his scaly head, as if listening to Hana tell her tale.

And then… he turned around… and flew away! His giant green body becoming smaller and smaller as he soared off into the distance!

By the time Hana was finished with her story… he had disappeared completely.

HANA: The dragon! He’s gone! I can’t believe it!

SOKHA: Well I can.

NARRATOR: Hana shrugged her shoulders.

HANA: What do you mean, Aunt Sokha?

SOKHA: Sit back and get cozy. I’m going to tell you a story – a really good story. My best one yet! There once was a girl named Hana…

NARRATOR: So Sokha told Hana all about the story spirits… and their anger… and their plot to get back at Hana for keeping them locked in her room for all those years.

HANA: (Figuring it out after story ends.) So… the well, and the tree, and the dragon… they were all sent by the story spirits? To get revenge on me?

SOKHA: They were, my dear. But by telling just one of their stories – the story of Stella and the dragon – you’ve begun to set them free!

NARRATOR: Sokha gazed into Hana’s eyes. She could see they were welling up with tears.

SOKHA: (Gently, with love and encouragement.) Hana. My dear. It isn’t too late to set all the stories free! To take these wonderful creations of the imagination and share them with others! Pass them on! Let them be the gift that keeps on giving! Forever!

HANA: But it’s been so long! And there are so many stories I’ve locked away!

SOKHA: Well, you’ve got your whole life to tell stories. And to make up new ones!

NARRATOR: And wouldn't you know it, that’s exactly what Hana did.

She told stories about worlds with darkness and no light… worlds with light and no darkness… Stories about clever coyotes, cunning queens, and how the skunk got its stripes – and smell!

She told these stories to her friends, her teachers… and – when she got older and had a family – to her children. Who told the stories to their friends, teachers, and children… who told them to their friends, teachers, and children… and so on and so on.

As for the story spirits… they were never angry or spiteful again. Because Hana finally realized that the best way to show her love for stories… was to share them. Pass them on. So they can be the gift that keeps on giving, forever.

Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



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