Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Stiff Dick and other Appalachian wonders

Illustration by L. Leslie Brooke in The
House in the Wood and Other Fairy
  (London, 1909)
Stop me if you've heard this one.

Once upon a time,
...this orphan boy's a going along, traveling, [and] he had him a paddle.  Walking along, [he sees] seven of these big old green flies a settin'.  And he upped his paddle and killed seven at the lick.  He traveled on, and then he went and had a buckle put on his belt and had it printed on his buckle,

Stiff Dick:
Killed Seven at a Lick.

First thing he knowed, he got to the king's house, and he went in and stayed 'til dinner.  And the king, he got done eating and he happened to notice this on his belt.  When he got done eating, he said, "You must be a terrible warrior."  Says, "Here it is on your belt: 'Stiff Dick:  Killed Seven at a Lick.'"

Says, "You're the very man I've been looking for.  I've got a job for you.  There's a unicorn and a lion and a wild boar in these woods that destroyed--no telling the people and stock that they destroyed.  I never could run acrost no man brave enough to destroy 'em--til you."
Some of the tenants might recognize this as a cognate of the Grimm Brothers' "The Brave Little Tailor," but this version was collected in 1939 from Samuel Harmon of Maryville, Tennessee.  And it's one of many traditional European folk- and fairy tales that migrated to the U. S., and specifically to Appalachia, that Carl Lindahl of the University of Houston will be focusing on with participants in the English Department's 20th annual Summer Seminar in Literary and Cultural Studies.

Even if you're not participating in the whole seminar, though, you can find out more about these narrative gems when Prof. Lindahl kicks off the seminar with a public lecture titled "The Magic of the Eternal Frontier" this Thursday evening, June 9th, at 7:30 p.m. in 130 Colson Hall.

Please join us for the lecture and stick around for a reception afterward.  Honorary belt-buckle to be awarded to the attendee who can eat seven Flying WV cookies in one lick.

If you're feeling more low-brow, check out this 1938 Mickey Mouse version.

BTW, the hero of Harmon's story never quails at the prospect of catching giants or killing unicorns.  Get it together, Mickey!

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