Friday, April 9, 2010

Tails, You're It

The Tailypo: A Ghost Story
Told by Joanna C. Galdone
Sandpiper, 1984

Using a misappropriated or a stolen item to build the suspense in a story is a common one in scary books for youth. A character either purposely or unwittingly comes into possession of an item, article, or appendage and the rightful owner of said item, article, or appendage slowly but certainly seeks revenge. Sometimes this revenge is with not so savory results. This storytelling framework is the one employed in a classic children’s scary picture book called The Tailypo: A Ghost Story. Whether or not this is an actual ghost story or just a scary story (for I feel the creature seeking its tail is not necessarily a ghost) can be debated, but nonetheless, this is a smooth and suspenseful tale for young schoolchildren.

The story opens with a lone woodsy cabin. We meet our main character, an elderly man, who lives a hermit-like existence deep in the forest with his three hounds. He lives simply and self-sufficiently. He seems to be a worn out shadow of a once rugged woodsman, the type that is honest, not inclined to superstition, and hearty to the core. After he hears a strange creature in the woods and scratching outside, and eventually in his own cabin, the woodsman strikes out to abolish the creature but instead only cuts off the creature's tail; his tailypo. From this point onward the tale crescendos with the creature calling out in a spooky verse for his tailypo until we fall upon a silent, yet telling scene in the final pages.

The Tailypo is a classic example of a spooky American folktale. The setting, the characters, the tone, and the illustrations are evocative of Appalachia or the Tetons. The rhythm of the tale makes it a great read aloud and storytelling piece. I would venture to guess, since versions of this story have been told for decades, that the first author of this tail didn't see Zombieland. The rules created by Columbus for zombie invasions definitely apply here. Had our woodsman executed rule #4, the doubletap, on our frightening critter instead of just chopping off his tale we would end up with a cheerful woodsman donning a tailypo skin cap and lounging with his hounds instead of an empty cabin and a possibly still at large demonic being roaming the forested mountain range. Well, in any event, it is a delightful little spooky story.

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