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Saturday, October 27, 2018

Jacobs - The Hobyahs - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

I've a large repertoire of scary stories because I enjoy them and have had years to tell them, but today's story has always been too creepy for me to tell.  I consider Papa Joe Gaudet both a friend and mentor, so I wasn't surprised to see a video where he did a great storytelling, but it was this story.  Still definitely creepy and I'll show it after the story in print.  I'll also include its Australian connection even though Joseph Jacobs put it in his anthology, More English Fairy Tales.  I then will give a variety of responses and ways of handling it.  The story has had many people adapt it and I'll discuss that, too, but first ... The Hobyahs.

Here's Papa Joe's telling with fellow storyteller, Simon Brooks, playing on the bodhran.

Simon also did a second version of the story where there is only the audio and a picture of the two of them.  On that second video Simon says:
This is a recording for ADULTS. This is NOT something you would play to young children. Papa Joe Gaudet wanted to record a story with drums, and asked me to work with him on the old tale called The Hobyahs. Papa Joe did the lion's share with the story, with minor suggestions and edits from myself. I play a Alfonso daBlonde bodhran, and join in with my voice in places. We recorded it on a handheld Zoom voice recorder in my front room, and frightened my dog Moe in the telling. Enjoy it - if you can!

Jacobs grew up in Australia and posted the story first in the Journal of American Folklore, citing as his source a Mr. S.V. Proudfit of Perth.  The muddying of things start because Jacobs omits whether that was Perth, Scotland or Perth, Australia.  There's additional reason to think it's Australia from colonial days because Aussie storytellers point to a version found in the Victorian Readers, a series of school readers produced between 1927 and 1930 for school children in the state of Victoria and used (with revisions) until the 1950s.

Two Aussie storytelling friends who are also writers, Ellen Frances Burdett and June Barnes-Rowley, long ago began to make me wonder about how the story could appear in a school reader.  (I learned in researching this it was the Second Reader and was the curriculum for seven year olds!) Ellen sent me scans of that version of the story.  One page is a bit blurry, but I think it's still clear enough to follow.
I mentioned June Barnes-Rowley, who nowadays is a novelist in addition to her storytelling, but I remember her founding Swag of Yarns (I bought many issues of it years ago), Australia's National Storytelling Magazine.  In the spring of 1999, June published an Australian version, explaining the dog is named Dingo, but it barks while actual dingoes howl.  Here's June telling her version of The Hobyahs and it's definitely set in Australia.
If you notice, the Victorian Reader and June's version leave out the little girl and also has the dog put back together.  This interests me because of what I read in Michelle De Stefani, Ph.D.'s paper on "Taming the Hobyahs" (written for Monash University, in Victoria's major city of Melbourne).  She mentions its roots include a cautionary element in colonial tales of errant children or lost babes in the bush:
children who become, through the process of storytelling, didactic exemplars of the danger and precariousnessof growing up and living in the wilds of a ‘savage’ island outpost. Among the host ofmythical creatures the child could encounter within the hostile landscape of theAustralian bush, none could be more terrifying than a horde of Hobyahs. To appreciatethe true terror of Hobyahs – as well as their close ties to Australian childhood and to fairy-tale traditions – one must acknowledge their history in print as well as their adaptations and re-visions in the twentieth century.
There's more in her paper, which progresses all the way through to an Australian film, Celia, which could be called a modern version of the story.  Her paper's quite interesting, tracking the tale from its "ori-genesis", but it doesn't take us to the telling or revision of this story.

Here in the U.S. Marilyn Kinsella posted the way she tells the story.  She makes them sound slightly humorous looking, but she reminds us:
Now, there are two things you need to know about the Hobyahs. Thing number one: Hobyahs hate the light. Thing number two: Hobyahs can't stand dogs! You remember that.
After that she involves the audience, getting them to join in on the Hobyah's chant.  She does include the little girl, but doesn't get the dog put back together, using essentially the version Jacobs wrote.  At the end she concludes with something all versions seem to point out "That's why to this day, you never see nor hear about those Hobyahs...unless, of course, you listen to this story."

Thinking about whether or not the girl is in the story -- she's omitted from the Victorian Reader -- is important.  Omitting her lets young listeners avoid identifying with the old woman and the old man.

I began looking on the internet to find even more and found Barbara Ruth Brown Paciotti's blog, where she says she first heard the story when she was "very, very young" from her grandmother and used to beg to hear it repeatedly.  As an adult she compared her version and how it differed from what was surely Jacobs.  The dog's tail makes a "wiggle-waggle" whenever it's mentioned; the feet similarly "pitter-patter", and Turpie "bark, bark, barks."  There's no little girl and the old man puts the dog back together.  It's interesting how her gentle version has the dog merely chasing the Hobyahs away, concluding "but the Hobyahs were too afraid of little dog Turpie and they never came out of the forest again, so the little old man and the little old woman and little dog Turpie lived happily ever after."

Another version, in Public Domain, is very similar to the Victorian Reader, from Fanny E. Coe's The Book of Stories for the Storyteller the tale is re-told by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey, who certainly knew how to tell to young audiences.  It contains the note that "This story is suitable for children age 6 to 8 approx."  No girl, Turpie is put back together by the old man to rescue the old woman, and concludes "And that is why there are not any Hobyahs now."

Leila Berg has a book called Little Dog Turpie with humorous illustrations by George Him.  A blog called What's the Story, Morning Glory, with permission from the author and artist, shows those copyrighted illustrations and Berg says, "It was George's idea to make Dog Turpie into a toy-type figure, so that his different pieces didn't have to be brutally chopped off, but were just taken apart." Again it also omits the girl and concludes with "And that's why there are no Hobyahs today, not one."

Several wrote about how hearing the story as a child "seriously creeped them out", giving years of nightmares. 
  • Back in Australia, Inga Clendinnen writes in The Age newspaper her own looking again at that Victorian Reader doubting the Gemanic roots someone told her the story had and putting down the way the Old Man "remained cosily hidden while the house-pulling-down and the kidnapping were going on, repented his earlier actions and reassembled the little dog, having frugally kept the bits", and how the Old Woman and the dog return to him.  Her most important doubt, however, is "But we didn't and we don't believe it. There were too many hobyahs. How could one little dog possibly eat them all up? At best he might have bitten one or two and then made a run for it. So they must be still out there in the bush."  She goes on to say "You don't believe me? Try whispering "Hobyahs!" to anyone over 40 when you're out in the bush, when the dusk comes creeping from the gullies, between the grey gums. Then watch them run."
  • Engrams in the Cloud says "When I was very young my mother would read stories to us, some of which caused me and my younger brother to have nightmares. The story of the Hobyahs was one such story." (Lois: The dog is put back together and there's no little girl.)
  • Eliza Leigh warns, before giving the Jacobs version from The Junior Classics set,
    Seriously. This gave me the heebie jeebies for years.
    **WARNING** Visciousness to poor dog Turpie and mean-a** farmer within. Actually, it never says he’s a farmer, I’m just assuming, it just says old man. Wonder where they got a little girl. . . 
A mixture of positive and negative reactions I enjoyed came from a children's librarian, Eva M., tells in her Book Addiction blog about an aggravating neighbor dog named Teddy who reminded her enough of Turpie that she confessed:
  "That little dog Teddy barks so that I can neither sleep nor slumber, and if I live 'til morning, I'm going to cut off little dog Teddy's head."

This despite the fact that 1. I consider myself an animal fan, being the proud companion of a passel of hens and a tangle of rats and one scrofulous hamster 2. it's not Teddy but his human who deserves my ire and 3. little dog Turpie remains a shining example of selfless, courageous heroism to me.
She goes on, however to tell of how she "once saved Teddy's life sort of/maybe" (LoiS: read it!) and, when her husband asked why she saved him, she replied:
"Well, think what might get us if it weren't for Teddy, " I answer. "The Hobyahs might be out there right now, waiting to tear down our hemp stalks."

But I still can't help sympathizing with the old man, just the tiniest little bit.
After Eva's own post there are some comments including an Australian who remembers back to 1947 and how it made an impression on a 7 year old.  (Lois: bold type and underlining is mine.) and this final comment from a Czech storyteller and her own reaction to telling it.
 I watched the movie Celia long, long ago and recently I thought about a story to "make mood" before summer camp night game, so I tried to find anything about that children's story. Searching was little hard, because I haven't remember neither the name of the movie, neither the name of the story, just bits, so I searched for hobiahs, hobias, hobiars etc. before I somehow found it.
I read some versions, most of them (as you say) bowdlerized (I had to find out what that term means) and found the original one absolutely fit to the purpose.
Some children were so scared, but they all enjoed the story and made me read it once more! And they don't even know english well, the story is not translated into Czech. Nice to see thirteen years old macho, who during the day have only contemption for everything, eyes full of primal fear of creep creep creeping in the night!
I tried to find something more about how the hobyahs look like before I found out that everyone has his/her own hobyahs, that imagination makes them so creepy...
While searching for it, I found this page and it makes me really happy, your story is so heart-warming :) Yeah, everyone has some Teddy the dog, that one wants to be silent and is willing to "cut his head off", but when tough time comes, is nice that your humanity prevails.
You made my day better, thank you!
Z. Švajda, Czech Republic.
O.k., if you're considering telling it, I found June Rowley has a blog, Oral Storytelling, and she gives this:
Note to storytellers: Don’t make the mistake of portraying the hobyahs as loud and fierce during the refrain; Hobyah. Hobyah. Hobyah. Pull down the hut, eat up the little old man, and carry off the little old woman.
The hobyahs are planning an ambush and their intended victims are sleeping. Sombre and sinister (or ‘sepulchral monotone’ as S. V. Proudfit puts it) is appropriate here rather than loud and fierce.
The moment for the hobyahs to be loud and fierce is when they are trying to intimidate the woman in the bag – at this point they are in a heightened state, excited about the victory of capture and anticipating the meal ahead.
Point taken.  You will notice it followed both in her own video and that by Papa Joe.

So where does this leave me?  Hmmm.  Maybe it's worth looking at one more version.  Robert San Soucie, who is no stranger to spooky storytelling having produced many anthologies of such stories, dared to do a picture book version.  I must admit I loved his additional poetic comments that appear on clouds facing the main part of the story.  He definitely has the little girl.  What I found most interesting was my reaction to the Old Man and Old Woman, who raise the orphan girl, have five dogs.  One by one each dog, Turpie, Topie, Tippy, Tarry, and Teeny, are beaten and chased off into the woods for sounding the alarm.  The elderly couple are eaten for their failure to listen to their dogs, while the girl is carried off and cries in the bag.  It makes perfect sense the dogs, who were chased into the same woods, hear and rescue her.  (Lois: Wonder what the Australian newspaper writer would think of five dogs finishing off all the Hobyahs?)  The happy ending with the little girl and the dogs is appropriate to the picture book audience level.

O.k. I find myself, as always, thinking about my audience.  San Soucie has revealed to me how I personally am very uncomfortable with dismembering the dog.  One version made a point of saying it uses magic to put the dog together because it was available then.  Doesn't matter to me.  Unless I want to really be creepy, the idea of multiple dogs works for me and I also believe the distance in the story by eliminating a child works against the very thing storytelling does best -- identify with the main character and form a picture in your mind (movies miss that by substituting a picture).  When would I want to be "really creepy" and give the Jacobs version?  That comment from the Czech Republic says there are indeed audiences needing it, those adolescent listeners with a "Can't scare me!" attitude deserve the story to have "primal fear of creep creep creeping in the night!"

Today's posting of multiple versions and reactions and considering how it might be told has gone on long enough.  I'm omitting the usual "fine print" listing other places to find stories.  It usually is attached to my Keeping the Public in Public Domain segments.  If you want to find more, I heartily recommend my colleagues listed there.


Frankie Ray said...

Thanks for the article.

I first read The Hobyahs went I was in primary school (Maseru English Medium Preparatory School), in the Kingdom of Lesotho. I think I was around 7, (1968). Our curricula was the same as the English grammar schools. It was my favourite fairy tale. I can still remember their chant. I remember the hobyahs as red devil like creatures.

Frankie Ray said...

Thanks for the article.

I first read The Hobyahs went I was in primary school (Maseru English Medium Preparatory School), in the Kingdom of Lesotho. I think I was around 7, (1968). Our curricula was the same as the English grammar schools. It was my favourite fairy tale. I can still remember their chant. I remember the hobyahs as red devil like creatures.

Anonymous said...

My mother used to tell me this story when I was only about 5. (1965) She told me a lot of stories while she was ironing. They were passed down to her from parents and grandparents. In her version, they were called hobbyhaws and every night “creep, creep, creep came the hobbyhaws .” There was only a little old man and a little old woman who lived in the cottage, and once little dog Turpie’s head was cut off, they stole the old woman and stuffed her in a sack. Then they hung the sack from a tree and danced around it, poking her, saying, Here ye, here ye, are you ready to eaten?” The fell asleep after all the cavorting around. In the meantime, the little old man, who’d slept soundly since Turpie couldn’t bark, woke up, figured out what happened and sewed Turpie together again. While the Hobbyhaws were sleeping, they let the old woman out of the bag, put Turpie in and of course he eats them all when they open it and that’s why there are no hobbyhaws today. * My mother was from Appalachia, which may explain the difference in pronunciation.

Loviatar said...

I first heard this story on the Canadian children's show 'Polka Dot Door' in the 80's & always loved it. I'm currently a researcher for the Internet Speculative Fiction Database & investigated this story a while ago. S. V. Proudfit was an American from New York who according to the Journal of American Folklore (Vol.4) heard it from a family originally from Perth, Scotland as a child. It was subtitled 'A Scotch Nursery Tale'. Hope this helps.