Posted October 20, 2014 by in Awesome Books

October: A Month for Spooky Tales, Part 3

For this week’s installment of “October: A Month for Spooky Tales,” I am going back to the first story I ever remember scaring the bejeezus out of me, a children’s book titled The Tailypo (pronounced “tay-lee-poe”). I was much more impressionable when I was young, but even now when I hear something go bump in the night, I’m always secretly afraid that it just may be a Tailypo.

The Tailypo started off in the oral tradition as a tale shared around campfires and in homes late at night when storytelling was quite fashionable. Some websites claim that the story’s roots can be traced all the way back to the Native Americans, while other websites state that it’s from the rural regions of the Appalachian Mountains. Whatever its origins, the basic plot of the story remains more or less the same no matter which version you read or hear.


The most popular version for children is The Tailypo: A Ghost Story, told by Joanna Galdone and illustrated by Paul Galdone. Like the other Tailypo works, the story goes that an old man living alone in a cabin deep in the big woods went out hunting one day with his three dogs. They only caught a small rabbit. Late that same night, a creature sneaks into the man’s cabin, and the hungry man manages to cut off the creature’s long tail, which the man proceeds to eat. After he falls asleep, the man begins to hear a strange voice on the wind. It is the creature, calling for the return of its lost tail. The man sics his dogs on the creature, but they return empty-handed. This event is repeated several times until finally, the dogs do not return. Then, as morning draws near, the creature slips back into the house, stands over the man, and demands the return of its Tailypo. At first, the man tries to deny having the tail, but the creature knows better, and it viciously attacks the man. Although the man and his dogs do not apparently survive their encounter with the Tailypo, folks who live around the woods where the man’s cabin once stood can still hear the cry of the Tailypo telling how it got back its tail.

Most versions of the tale follow along the same lines as the Galdone story, but as with any great folktale, people who have heard it, then retell it, alter it by adding their own flare to the telling. Someone reading the story might not find it all that unsettling, but that’s because this is a work that’s meant to be shared orally, in the dark, in the woods, with lots of owls hooting and other animals calling in the night. For that reason, I have included a video of what I consider to be one of the best tellings of this tale! You just can’t get the full effect without hearing it.

I hope you’ll enjoy this story, but unless you want your children crawling in the bed with you late at night after they’ve heard it for the first time, I wouldn’t share this one with them! It may be a children’s book, but it should come with a warning!

Mollie Smith Waters

Mollie Smith Waters teaches American literature, theater, and speech at a small community college in rural Alabama. Her hobbies include reading, writing, traveling, and walking.