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10.12.2011

The Tailypo (1977)

Retold by Joanna Galdone

Illustrated by Paul Galdone

This is one of the great read-aloud spooky stories. It was first told to me by the mother of one of my neighbors who was down visiting. “Tom tells me you like stories,” she said, and it was a beautiful, sunny day – Earth Day I’m pretty sure it was – not a cloud in the sky.

“Yup, pretty much,” said I.

“When Tom was a kid I used to take him down to the Jonesborough Storytelling Festival…” she began.

“Hey, I’ve been there!” I said excitedly.

“…and his favorite was always the Tailypo .”

“The what?”

“You don’t know the Tailypo?” she asked, incredulous. “Well, there’s all different ways to tell it. There's a man in a cabin, and suddenly he’s attacked by this creature which moves so fast he can’t really see what it is. But he has an axe and he manages to cut off the creature’s tail. Then he boils it up and eats it.”

“Uh-huh.”

“And then, in the middle of the night,” she continued, drawing closer, “He hears a voice saying: I want my Tailypo. Tailypo, tailypo, I want my tailypo…” And her voice grew deeper by several octaves, throatier like a chain smoker. She was wearing these dark sunglasses, so I couldn’t see her eyes, but there was suddenly something about her that really invoked this creature. This sweet older lady, transformed before my eyes. “I want my Tailypo,” she continued. “Give me back my Tailypo!”

She kind of freaked me out.

It wasn’t until later that I found this version of the story, done by Paul Galdone and his daughter Joanna in the  seventies. It definitely does the tale justice.

There is really something about Paul Galdone, I cannot put my finger on it. I’ve felt it before. He has such a classic – dare I say, basic – way of telling a story. Very matter-of-fact. Like he’s just telling you the story the way he heard it with no elaboration. So, in a way, I almost put my guard down. But then there’s always an edge. He does not shy away from violence. I remember reading his version of Jack and the Beanstalk to Arlo once, and was slightly taken aback by the illustration of Jack triumphantly cutting the Giant’s head off (a la David and Goliath, it just now occurred to me! I love making connections like that!).

It was actually written by his daughter, Joanna Galdone. The back of the book tells us that she first heard the story from her grandfather (which is a great way to first hear a story). She set about researching its origins, and traced it to the backwoods of Tennessee.  It also says that Paul Galdone modeled the woodsman on a man who lived near him in an abandoned one-room schoolhouse. Wow. Every artist should be so lucky.

The man in the story is old, with long white hair and a thick mustache and lambchops which cover the bottom half of his face. He goes out hunting and finds himself a rabbit with the help of his hunting hounds. But then just as he’s about to fall asleep all contented-like, what should he find but that “a most curious creature crept through a crack between the logs in the wall. It had a BIG, LONG, FURRY TAIL.”

Indeed, that’s all we see, just a nice, long furry tail. Probably soft to the touch. Nothing scary so far, though it is a bit intense to see that hunter immediately roused and carting an ax. He manages to cut off that tail and, still hungry, figures, why not,I’ll just boil it into a stew and eat it.

“Tailypo, tailypo, all I want is my tailypo,” comes the voice in the middle of the night. As I read it, I could hear that throaty voice of my friend’s mother.

This occurs three times - and three times - the old man hollers after his hounds to go chase away whatever it is. But the third time, the dogs do not return. Did they run off in fright? Or…

“You know and I know, all I want is my tailypo.”

Galdone finally reveals the creature at the very end of the book, or at least the top half of the creature. We see him peering over the foot of the bed. He has two, large yellow eyes, two furry ears. A hand with claws reaching up over the bed sheets.

“I haven’t got your tailypo!” screams the old man.

“Yes you have. Yes you have.”

Now there’s nothing left of the old man’s cabin in the deep, big woods except the chimney. But folks who live in the valley say that when the moon shines and the wind blows, you can hear a voice say:

‘Tailypo, tailypo
now I’ve got
my tailypo.’

7 comments:

  1. Anonymous28.11.11

    Thank you so much for posting this entry. When I attended elementary school in Arkansas, our music teacher would read us this story every year for Halloween. I can easily say it scarred me for my entire childhood, causing many a nightmare. However, I loved it so much I don't think I ever feigned an illness to avoid the horror.

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  2. Jonathan30.11.11

    Thanks for the comment. It is indeed a creepy story. I recently read it in front of about twenty second-graders. I was amazed at how, by the middle of the story, they all began chanting along with me: "Tailypo, Tailypo..." and when I got to the end, I could they were surprised at the ending, and didn't quite know how to process it and told me it was pretty scary.

    Pretty cool that it can still have that effect. Earlier, one of the second-graders was telling me that their favoritie movie was Saw 3 and the Rob Zombie version of Halloween. I guess what I would see as the de-sensification to violence doesn't neccessarily trump a good creepy story!

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  3. Oh yes, the Tailypo! Lovely to get some background on this story, which scared the living daylights out of me as a child in the early 80s. I can still give myself shivers telling it to my nieces and even to adult friends... 'You know and I know, all I want is my Tailypo...'... Eeek!

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  4. Morgan Barnes2.2.13

    Man, my father used to read this story to me when I was a small child, and it scared me to death! I was so spooked by it!

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  5. Anonymous9.8.13

    I had not heard of this one before.....You are right about it being really creepy. I am glad that I did not hear it as a child!

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  6. Anonymous3.10.13

    I hate this book. It was also read to me in 2nd grade, and I happen to live in a cabin in the woods. I was so scared and had nightmares and would constantly scream whenever I heard a tree branch or anything scratch against the house, thinking the Tailypo was coming to rip me to shreds. My mom had to call the school and tell them to never read it to me again. I'm 29 now and googled this and it's bringing me all sorts of anxiety. I think about it all the time :P

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  7. Anonymous3.3.15

    I owned the original hard cover edition as a young boy. It was the first book that ever frightened me and has stuck in my memory into my 40s. I am starting a time capsule of my life and will be looking for an original copy to add.

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