Old Wives' Tales
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Legend: A dog charged with guarding a baby is discovered bloody-faced while the infant is strangely missing. The shocked dog owner reacts by killing the canine, only to afterwards find the unharmed babe lying next to a wolf his faithful companion had dispatched.
Origins: This current tale about a widowed trapper is but a manifestation of a much older legend-type. In the Welsh fable "Bedd Gelert" (arguably the best-known of this genre), the faithful hunting hound Gelert greets Prince Llewellyn with a bloody mouth and strangely shifty behavior. The nursery of Prince Llewellyn's son lies in disarray with the crib overturned and the child nowhere to be seen. Llewellyn acts on his fears and slays his previously faithful companion. The child is afterwards found unharmed, and the hidden intruder Gelert had battled — a huge wolf — is found lying dead where Gelert had felled him.
Also of note is the tale of Saint Guinefort, a greyhound left in charge of a lord and lady's infant who defended the child from a deadly snake only to have the disarray of the room and the blood on itself misinterpreted in the usual fashion, with the usual result. The discovery of the dispatched snake revealed the true nature of the incident, but as always, way too late to do the noble pooch any good. In addition to the expected remorse felt by the child's parents, the death of Guinefort affected the peasants of the diocese of Lyons (France) — they elevated the martyred canine to sainthood, designating it an especial protector of infants. Sickly babes were brought to the dog's grave in hopes of affecting cures for the afflicted youngsters.
The tale of Saint Guinefort is recounted in the Stephen de Bourbon's De Supersticione.
Possibly the oldest version of the legend comes from India's Panchatantra, a compilation of animal fables and magic tales assembled sometime during the 3rd to
Through the centuries, the story has popped up in one culture after another, proving once again how universal folktales truly are. The following version comes from the realm of Jewish lore:
[Rappoport, 1937]It is the wife's remarks that express the moral of this fable: Those who act in haste are left to mourn the permanent consequences of rash acts.
In a town on a remote island lived a God-fearing man whose wife was barren. One day, however, she became
The day soon came for the mother to purify herself, and she
So the father stayed in the house and watched over the infant in the cradle, but a messenger having come to summon him to the king, he locked the door and betook himself to the palace. During his absence a snake crept from a hole and would have bitten the child, had not the dog who was watching the house jumped up and throttled the serpent, bespattering his body with the blood of his victim.
Soon the father returned from the palace and on opening the door, he beheld the faithful dog, who was running to meet his master, besmeared with blood.
"The dog has killed my child," thought the frightened father, and without reflecting he raised his stick and killed the animal that had saved his son.
Great was his joy when he entered the chamber and found the infant alive and the dead serpent on the floor, but his joy was mingled with remorse for his rash act in killing the faithful dog. "Had I not been so hasty," he said, "I would not have committed such an act."
When the wife returned home, she was surprised to behold the bodies of the dead dog and the serpent, and when her husband informed her of all that had occurred during her absence, she wisely remarked, "This will be a lesson to you not to act hastily, for those who act in this way only repent of their deeds when it is too late, and remorse forever remains in their hearts."
Barbara "hasty pudding heads" Mikkelson
Sightings: In Disney's 1955 Lady and the Tramp, Tramp's efforts to save the Darlings' baby from rats are at first misunderstood by the child's parents as an attack on the child. Unlike the dogs of lore, however, Tramp survives.
A non-canine form of the basic legend pops up in the 1995 film Babe. Babe is left blood-spattered after running off marauding dogs that have harmed some of the sheep, leading the farmer to conclude his wonder-pig is a killer. Babe only barely escapes execution, thanks to a last-minute change of heart.
Last updated: 2 April 2010
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