Gauch, Patricia Lee. On To Widecombe Fair. New York, G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 1978.
Ethnic Origin: English.
Running Time: 10-12 minutes.
Power Center(s): The power center I chose was the Tom Pearse’s discovery of the death of the old mare. My telling of the story builds to this point and there is just a very short resolution of the story after it. Also, it the place in the story where all of the major characters come together again: they met at the beginning, separated, and reassembled at the power center.
Setting: Spreyton in town, the road to Widecombe, Widecombe Fair.
Tom Pearse lends Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney, Peter Davey, Dan’l Widden, Harry Hawke, old Uncle Tom Cobbley and All his gray mare to go to Widecombe Fair when Uncle Tom’s donkey won’t pull. The men take turns riding through the towns on the way to the Fair and, upon arrival, thoroughly enjoy the activities, goodies, and beer served by pretty girls. When the Fair is over, they set back out for Spreyton but all ride the mare at once (except for All the dog.) Tom Pearse, meanwhile, has set out for Widecombe after his mare: they meet in the middle. But Tom’s mare has died of exhaustion, and Tom cries. Bill Brewer and the rest act as if the whole transaction was no big deal and the people of Spreyton take their words for it. But the people of Widecombe know that for their carelessness they spend eternity as ghosts, riding a ghost mare between Widecombe and Spreyton.
Rhymes/ Special Phrases/ "Flavor":
This story was originally a song so I use the song as part of my introduction and conclusion: "Tom Pearse, Tom Pearse, lend me your gray mare…" That includes the names of the men: Bill Brewer, etc.
From the picture book itself, I borrowed the names of the towns between Widecombe and Spreyton: Whiddon Down, Chagford, Beetor Cross, and Heatree. Not only are they not in the song, but they contribute greatly to the flavor of "old England" (or England today, for that matter.) Likewise, it was apparent that it was Gauch’s idea to have "All" (…old Uncle Tom Cobbley and All) be a character—a dog—and I liked that and used it too. The girls at the Fair—Nellie and Betsy—were also Gauch’s creations, as is Farmer Fursdon (sometimes I mention him in telling, sometimes not.) The phrases "talking, not walking men," "walking man, not a talking man," "a beauty for certain," and "sturdy as well" are hers also.
My own flavors are the descriptions of the mare—so swaybacked you could have used her for an ice-cream scoop--, the portrayal of the Fair in progress (striped tents, tables of goodies, beer river, and playing/dancing field) and coming down, the sound of the old mare as she set back out for Spreyton, and All’s sympathizing with her when she dies.
This story is intended for a young adult audience, probably on the younger side of young adult. The flavors I emphasized for their particular benefit include the fun and slightly racy activities of the fair and the ghosts of the mare and seven foolish men. However, I wanted more quality of story than can be easily found in some of the contemporary "scare stories" so often read by young adults (i.e. R.L. Stine). I think this story has meat on its bones as a story as well as being attractive to the audience.
I can gather from Charlotte Huck, this story fits well with 12-13 year olds. It appeals to an understanding of human feeling (Tom crying at the death of his mare) but is not simpering, and the appeal is made only after the young adult audience’s attention is already caught by the fun description of the Fair. It also invites the young adults to laugh at the seven foolish adults--something young adults (especially at 12 and 13) will enjoy and be willing to admit to. After all, as Erik Erickson mentions, they are on the boundary between childhood and adulthood themselves and the acceptance of their peers is essential: to laugh together at silly people comes easily at that time, and is harmless. To refer to Piaget, this story involves multiple perspectives (even two from animals—the mare and the dog) and that also is something the young adult follows easily.
Bibliographic information on other versions/variants (at least two):
As far as I know, there are no versions or variants for this story. Unless you count the song…
Brief comparison of all versions/variants in terms of language, rhythm, "tellability," flavor," content, etc. Stress the differences in style rather than those of content.
Part of the reason I chose this story, besides the facts that I love it and grew up with it, is that I believe it is a unique story. I have never seen it anywhere else. This gives me the freedom to relax into my own images, though conversely I realize that it also means I have nowhere else to look if I draw a blank. I also think that the images in the one telling I have read are strong enough to stand on their own: talking men, not walking men, All as a dog—they are all great! But I am keeping my eye out for any versions or variants that might turn up.
by Claire Basney