Mary Culhane and the Dead Man
Title (Best Version for Telling)
The Blood Drawing Ghost
San Souci, Robert D., Even More Short & Shivery: Thirty Spine-Tingling Tales, New York: Delacorte Press, 1997, p. 38-43.
British Isles - Ireland
~ 10 minutes
The evil and creepy nature of the corpse
The plucky strength of Mary
Primary: Mary Culhane
John (Mary's intended)
The Dead Man from the Graveyard
Secondary: Kate (another girlfriend of John's)
Peggy (another girlfriend of John's)
· John creating the "test" for his sweethearts to determine which one he will marry
· Mary in the graveyard encountering the Dead Man
· Mary carrying the Dead Man from house to house and finally ending up at John's house
· Mary and the Dead Man at John's house: taking his blood, eating the oatmeal and hiding the oatmeal that Mary was supposed to eat
· Mary and the Dead Man on their journey back to the graveyard
· Mary returning to John's house to rescue him from death, return his blackthorn walking stick, and remind him that now he must marry her
John has three sweethearts, but he can only marry one. He hides his blackthorn walking stick in the church graveyard and promises to marry whichever girl will fetch it for him. Of course, everyone knows that this graveyard is haunted.
Mary agrees to go to the graveyard and get the walking stick so that she can marry John. She goes to the cemetery at night. As she approaches the place where she will find the walking stick, a dead man in an open grave calls out to her for help. Falling under his spell, Mary helps him out of the grave and the corpse climbs up on her back. He orders her to carry him down the road back towards the town.
The dead man orders Mary to stop at the first house they reach at the edge of town, but they do not go in because the corpse can smell holy water in the house. Mary is ordered to carry him to the next house. Again, the corpse smells holy water, and Mary is ordered to continue down the road. When they come to the third house, the corpse orders Mary to go inside. Mary knows there is no holy water in this house because this house belongs to her very own John who is not a church-going fellow.
Upon entering the house, Mary is ordered upstairs to John's bedroom. The corpse uses his long sharp fingernail to prick John's wrist and orders Mary to catch his blood in a cup. Then he orders Mary to mix the blood with oatmeal and divide it into two portions. The dead man eats his bowl full and tells Mary to eat hers. She pretends to eat it, but actually hides it in her neckerchief so that her bowl looks empty. On the way out of the house, she hides the bloody oatmeal in the cupboard.
As Mary carries the corpse back to his grave, she learns from him that John will die by morning. The only thing that can save him is to put three bits of the bloodied oatmeal into his mouth. The dead man believes that all the oatmeal has been consumed, but Mary knows better. As Mary carries the dead man back to the graveyard, he urges her to hurry, as he must be back in his grave before dawn. They hear a cock crow once and Mary slows her pace. Angrily the corpse orders her go walk faster. The cock crows a second time. Mary slows once more. Finally the dead man orders her to cut across a field to get them to the graveyard faster.
While crossing the field, the corpse points to three piles of stones. He tells Mary that all the gold he ever saved is buried beneath those stones. Then he wickedly tells her that she will never have this gold, because by eating the bloodied oatmeal she indentured herself to the corpse. For the rest of her life, she will sleep in the grave with him by day, and take him on his errands by night.
Just as Mary and the dead man reach the open grave, the cock crows the third time, the sun rises, and Mary is released from the deadly grasp of the corpse. He falls into the grave alone. Mary picks up the blackthorn walking stick, runs to John's house and revives him with the blood and oatmeal that she hid in the cupboard. They agree to be married, but first they dig up the dead man's gold. They use it to build a fine new house in which they always have holy water. And they never eat oatmeal again.
Since this is an Irish folktale, I hope to be able to add some appropriate phrases and inflection in the dialog that will help the audience feel the "Irishness" of the tale. Some phrases that I hope to include are:
"Faith, and I will not!"
"Though it means losing you, I'll not go!"
"Sure, and I'll bring it!"
Audience - Appropriateness and Developmental Characteristics
YA ~ 13-18
Scary stories are recommended throughout the literature for the Young Adult audience. Specifically, Ellin Greene suggests that scary themes work well for this age group because of the adolescent's psychological and emotional development. The feelings of powerlessness and vulnerability experienced by this age group are also felt by the victims in scary stories, allowing the listeners to relate to the characters and to learn to conquer their own fears. The ebb and flow from terror-filled moments to sudden relief in scary stories are perfect for adolescents with all of their hormonal changes and constant mood swings. Gisela Konopka says that teens need the chance to be emotional. Listening to a story that offers them these emotional ups and downs is a chance for them to legitimize these often confusing feelings that they experience each day.
I think that certain elements of this story are particularly suited to the YA audience. The fact that John is choosing between three girls is instantly intriguing to both sexes. The strength of the female character is another aspect of this story that I like, and that I think will appeal to the female listeners. The corpse and the eating of blood should be very interesting to the male listeners, and probably to most of the females too. That part of the story is gross, but in my opinion, it is not absolutely sickening. The story is scary and suspenseful, but not so terrifying that I would worry about telling it to any YA audience. The occasional elements of humor in the story provide a break from the scarier parts.
Source recommending this story/collection as good for storytelling?
Greene, Ellin. Storytelling Art and Technique. New Providence, New Jersey: R.R. Bowker, 1996.
Bibliographic information on other versions/variants
Bang, Molly. The Goblins Giggle and other stories. New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1973. p. 29-40.
Larkin, Chuck. Mary Culhaine. Chuck Larkin's *NEXT* Halloween Tales, June 7, 1997 http://www.tiac.net/users/papajoe/toolbox/guests/chuck/chuck55.htm.
Brief comparison of versions/variants in terms of language, rhythm, "tellability," "flavor," content, etc.
Each version of the story varied somewhat in terms of the actual events, characters and flavor. I chose the version by Robert San Souci for several reasons. First, it is less detailed in many areas, and thus shorter and a better length for me to tell on this occasion. Next, it is the only version that has a "love" interest in the story line, which I believe would be appealing to young adults. Last of all, this version has little bits of humor woven into the story that I think will help to break up the tension of the scarier moments.
I have actually mixed and matched the versions just a little bit to get the exact story that I want. The Bang and Larkin versions are almost identical, differing mainly in that the Larkin version has more religious overtones (each house with holy water also has a Bible, and the end of the story makes a claim that Bibles and holy water are still displayed prominently in houses and hotels in the town where Mary lived), and the Bang version ends with Mary wedding one of the young men she has revived with the bloodied oatmeal. The main plot I follow is from the San Souci version, which has Mary entering the house of John rather than a house with three young men sleeping upstairs. Mary does end up marrying John in this version. In the San Souci version the corpse is lying in a tomb, whereas the other versions have an open grave. I like the imagery of the open grave better, and so I am using that in my telling.
I also preferred some of the language of the San Souci version to the other two versions. The utterances of the corpse are shorter, more terse and demanding in this version than in the other two. This version also included some very "Irish" phrases that I plan to use as I tell the story. (See above in Rhymes, etc.)