Monday, August 13, 2012

Rawhide, Bloody Bones and Tommy Rawhead

In the new Saint Patrick's Day story I wrote (currently in the hands of the publisher), Cormack's Luck, a grim little specter from my childhood made a rather unwelcome appearance. 
Bloody Bones.

Katie, the heroine of our sweet Irish tale, is an American fantasy writer with an education in folklore and mythology (I always wanted to turn a folklorist into a romantic lead!), and she runs afoul of an Irish doctor who is anti-fantasy, anti-folktales, and anti-fairytales, and he's none too pleased that Katie has been telling many a tall tales to his impressionable, motherless four year old son.

And he's particularly freaked out by creepers like Bloody Bones.

I was intrigued to find that Bloody Bones (first known to me in Nova Scotia, Canada), who you might also know by the names Tommy Rawhead or Rawhide, was originally an Irish folk bugbear or boogeyman. And quite possibly the most terrible one of them all.

Bloody Bones, according to the versions from my youth, hides in closets or cellars, waiting to eat small children who lie or curse; crouching on a pile of the crushed bones of his victims, and bleeding profusely from his skinless scalp.

Artist Amanda Wood opened up the recesses of her own childhood trauma to contribute this horrific rendering of the beast in question. Shudder.

Can I just pause to say, "Gross"?

Here's how Wikipedia describes him, quoting Ruth Tongue:
Bloody-Bones is usually said to live near ponds, but according to Ruth Tongue in Somerset Folklore, "lived in a dark cupboard, usually under the stairs. If you were heroic enough to peep through a crack you would get a glimpse of the dreadful, crouching creature, with blood running down his face, seated waiting on a pile of raw bones that had belonged to children who told lies or said bad words.”
Scott Andrew Hutchins says:
... Bloody Bones "is rumored to have a crouching form like a rock. He is covered all over with matted hair, has pale flat eyes, and lives in dark cupboards..."
According to other versions, Bloody Bones might be found lurking in the woodshed, or even amongst the pipes under the sink (which must be a variation used by parents who lived in apartments but still wanted to traumatize their kids).

In Yorkshire, they used to sing:
Rawhead and Bloody Bones
Steals naughty children from their homes,
Takes them to his dirty den,
And they are never seen again.
Pleasant, no?

From Ireland and England, Bloody Bones made it to North America, especially to the Appalachians, where he spread onwards, particularly in the Irish diaspora, the American south and in African-American folklore. From there, he's gone on to feature in books, movies, and many a nightmare.

In a version from the Ozarks, Raw Head was created like some sort of corpse golem, by an old woman who was grieving over the murder of her pet hog. From the pieces of her skinned animal, she created Bloody Bones, so he could seek revenge on the hunter who slaughtered him:

Betty continued the chant until a bolt of silver lightning left the plate and streaked out threw the window, heading in the direction of Hog-Scald Hollow. 

When the silver light struck Raw Head's severed head, which was piled on the hunter's wagon with the other hog heads, it tumbled to the ground and rolled until it was touching the bloody bones that had once inhabited its body. As the hunter's wagon rumbled away toward the ridge where he lived, the enchanted Raw Head called out: "Bloody bones, get up and dance!"

Immediately, the bloody bones reassembled themselves into the skeleton of a razorback hog walking upright, as Raw Head had often done when he was alone with Old Betty. The head hopped on top of his skeleton and Raw Head went searching through the woods for weapons to use against the hunter. He borrowed the sharp teeth of a dying panther, the claws of a long-dead bear, and the tail from a rotting raccoon and put them over his skinned head and bloody bones.

Off hand, the only thing I recall finding as creepy is Tailypo, another cryptozoid horror from my childhood. And possibly clowns. And html.

So, while I have plenty of "nicer" Irish redcaps and good folk in my story, Bloody Bones had to make an appearance to round out all the merrow and selkies. He doesn't even have the benefit of being handsome like the still-deadly Gancanagh or super-cool like the pooka.

Bloody Bones is just plain, unremittingly awful.

And, no word of a lie, I had to turn on every light in the room just to write his name into the book! Even now, writing this blog post, I'm not feeling very well at all.

The things I do for my art!

In sum: Be careful what you tell your kids. And watch yourself if you have to go to the cupboard under the stairs.

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