Wolves, Katts and Bone Dogs: Ideas From Folk-lore by Susan Price

The Wolf's Footprint, Susan Price
Years ago, when I wrote The Wolf's Footprint, I took the children being abandoned in a forest from the beginning of Hansel and Gretel and added a pinch of Russian folklore: the idea that if you drink water from an animal's footprint, then you turn into that animal.

It's always been popular in schools -- indeed Kate Stilitz turned it into a musical. You can read about that here.

It continues to be my best-seller as an Indie book -- in the UK, the US, in Canada, Australia and Europe. If I knew what it was about the book that appeals so much, I'd put it into everything I write.

Its popularity decided me to spend 2018 in re-publishing some of my books for the same age-group of eight to ten.
Like The Wolf's Footprint, they're a mixture of original story-telling and folklore.

The three I managed to get done -- with the help of my illustrator, Andrew -- are:-

Odin's Monster, Susan Price
Odin's Monster is set further back in the past than the others: in the Viking Age. I based it loosely on the old Icelandic legend of 'Thorgeir's Bull.'

A witch with a grudge creates a monster and sends it against his enemy -- who happens to be the book's hero, Thord Cat.

The tension racks up as the monster drives away Thord's friends and family until only the old beggar woman, Bergthora, is left to keep him company as he waits for the monster 'to come horned' and kill him.

The book has illustrations by Andrew Price. The picture on the cover is one of them.

Master Thomas Kat, Susan Price

Master Thomas Katt is set in the Elizabethan Age but it's loosely based on an old Danish folk-story I came on when I was reading every book of obscure folk-lore I could find.

In the folk-tale, an old, childless couple become so besotted with their bull-calf that they take him to be educated by the local clergyman, so that he'll be better fitted to manage the farm when he inherits it.

The clergyman defrauds the old couple of all their money by pretending to educate their calf  -- but really, he kills the calf. And he gets away with it.

The lesson of the folk-tale seems to be: Fools deserve to be cheated. I didn't like this. I'd read that Elizabeth I said, "My laws shall ever protect the fools from the knaves." Perhaps it was this that gave me the idea of setting the book in Elizabeth's reign and making the Queen a character in it.

I changed things. In my version, it's a kitten the old couple take to be educated -- and the Vicar doesn't get away with his villainy. He tells the old couple that their kitten has run away to sea and, years later, sends them on a wild goose chase (as he thinks) to the Miching Mouse Tavern to meet 'Master Thomas Katt, just put in from the shores of Muscovy.' Master Katt, says the Vicar, is their kitten grown into a man.

When the poor old couple find the Miching Mouse, there really is a sea-captain named Thomas Katt and he takes up their cause and discovers that the Vicar has become the Queen's chaplain. Master Katt puts the case before the Queen, who is furious and wants to execute her chaplain forthwith. But Thomas Katt comes up with a better plan...

This book is illustrated too. Here's Master Tom Katt, just put in from Muscovy, listening to the tale of two strangers who think he is their kitten grown up.

It's the tale of a tom-kitten that grew to be a Tom Katt.
The Bone Dog, Susan Price

The Bone Dog has a contemporary setting but ideas from legend and folk-lore have still worked their way in.

Sarah longs for a pet but her parents won't let her have one because they are too expensive and messy. During the summer holidays Sarah goes, as usual, to stay with her grandmother and uncle Bryan who are, matter of factly, witches.

Her uncle promises to make her a pet that will never need to see the vet and won't need feeding. He does so by making her 'a bone dog' from an old fox fur collar belonging to his mother and a bone left over from a meal. He stitches the bone into the fur and brings the thing to life with suitable midnight ceremony.

Sarah teaches her pet tricks and treats it as a sophisticated toy -- until she discovers that she can see and hear what 'Reynardine' sees and hears. When she falls out with the girls next door, she uses her 'pet' to take revenge.

But the idea of a creature created from a bone and controlled by a witch comes from Icelandic legend. Icelandic witches were said to be able to create a 'milk carrier' from a human rib-bone. It would bowl off, end over end, to suckle milk from neighbours' cows and return to the witch with a cheery cry of, "My belly's full, Mummy!" It then vomited milk into a churn the witch had set ready. All very unsavoury. My bone dog is quite sinister but at least he doesn't run around up-chucking stolen milk all over the place.

Three books and all of them started with an idea drawn from folk-lore. I don't know where I'd be without my shelves of myths, legends and folk-lore.

Wishing you all a belated New Year - may it be prosperous. I hope your first-footer brought you plenty of cake, coal and whisky to see you through until this time 2020. (I think we may need it.)

Susan Price won the Carnegie medal for The Ghost Drum
The Guardian Award for The Sterkarm Handshake.

Her website, with reviews, writing tips, short stories and book extracts


Umberto Tosi said…
Your stories are a gift of fabulous imagination, well crafted into intriguing, resonant tales. I would say that's the magicl ingredient in all of them, not only the Wolf's Footprint. Best of luck with the re-issues!
Sandra Horn said…
But it's the way you stitch 'em together and weave your magic round them that creates the breathtaking new stories
Susan Price said…
Gosh, thank you both!
Penny Dolan said…
I do like that Queen Elizabeth I "protecting fools from knaves" quote, and the way you weave these ideas into new stories is inspiring, Thank you.

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