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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fearsome tales in our Readers 5

Escape from the wolves
This is the tale that comes from Hans Andersen country or somewhere just as alien to the experience of the Sons and Daughters of fair Central Queensland. A cooper, who I'm sure I don't have to tell you makes wooden barrels and vats (or did, when they made them out of wood, eons ago) and his young son were taking a wooden vat by horse-drawn sleigh to a client across some vast expanse of ice. (OK, they do still make lots of barrels out of wood, but who makes wooden vats now – those large, open cylindrical containers for liquid?)
   They set off on the sleigh, and they first hear and then see a pack of wolves chasing them, slowly but surely overtaking them even though the horse knows it's in its interest as well to clap on the pace.
   They aren't going to get to their destination before that happens. The cooper stops, releases the horse so it can escape (and maybe draw the wolves off themselves by the pack going for the pony). He overturns the heavy vat on the ice and they get under it.
   It wasn't a bad plan in a wolf emergency, but it failed to persuade el lobos to go for the horse. They settle for the humans they know are under the vat, surround it, and stick a paw or two under the edge to try to get at their dinner inside it.
   His iPhone is out of range (hang on.... I might now be embellishing this tale a tinsy bit – no iPhone!), but the boy remembers that in his bag he's got a shiny new tomahawk, so every time a wolf's paw comes far enough under the vat to be a threat, he chops it off. Thus the wolf, expecting to have its full quota of paws for the whole session, emits chilling and terrible howls of pain that I remember vividly. Wolves after human flesh they may have been, but I felt their pain.
   Yes, I know, I would have been less sympathetic if it were Dad and me under our large milk vat, and would have been as enthusiastic with the little axe as he was. I had a tommyhawk too, you know, but in Calliope, wolves were few and far between.
   This goes on for some time with the enraged, hungry and frustrated wolves continuing to attack. More of them lose at least one paw, though I really doubt, if they'd lost a paw that was on the end of their leg a moment earlier, that they'd be keen to come back for another try. That wasn't made clear in the tale, so I won't swear some of them didn't do the Black Knight trick and fight on till they'd lost them all.
   The horse finds its way to the destination and a search party rapidly returns to disperse the wolves, and the story ends very happily with the boy having some thirty or so paws to take to the sheriff's office and get a handsome reward.
   Somewhere in the deep frozen northern forests there must have been a pack of three legged wolves for quite a while, unless the able-bodied ones turned on the handicapped and ate them until supplies ran out. That also was left to the imagination of the reader, and I being the reader, was admirably up to that task. I say they got torn apart and eaten.
   Poor old wolves. They got very bad press in those old tales and still do. No wonder people were terrified of them, and many still are. With an M16 from her helicopter, Sarah Palin would have sorted them out in a jiffy.
   Just three more items from the Readers to complete my broad sweep of examples, none of them prose. In fact, the next one's just a picture.

Next: Mazeppa's Ride [438 words]
Fearsome tales in our Readers 1: Introduction [1000 words] 
Fearsome tales in our Readers 2: The Daisy and the Lark [256 words] 
Fearsome tales in our Readers 3: The Little Match Girl [206 words] 
Fearsome tales in our Readers 4: The Crocodile and the Bull [280 words] 
Fearsome tales in our Readers 5: Escape from the wolves [444 words] 
Fearsome tales in our Readers 6: Mazeppa's Ride [438 words] 
Fearsome tales in our Readers 7: A Tale of Two Cities [336 words] 
Fearsome tales in our Readers 8: Gelert [343 words]


  1. I am really worried now about what I may have done to some children. I read some 8 year olds "I Am David " by Anne Holm in about 1984. It is a beautiful book but, having read about your experiences, it worries me it might have been too sad for some of them! None appeared traumatized at the time but I guess you did not appear to be either? Anne P.

  2. Do I seem traumatised? :) No, I think you're pretty safe. Much depends on the atmosphere in which it was read. You can't predict what will affect some children, and deny the overwhelming majority the chance to appreciate a fine story.

    The cotton wool protection always comes off at some stage. Children need exposure to the fact that life's not always rosy. Most are emotionally pretty tough. Reducing to the Lowest Common Denominator makes no sense.


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