I got away to a place in the wood I’d never seen before



A significant detail in Jacobs’ telling of Tom Tit Tot, especially since this story has a cognate in Rumplestiltskin that has rather that precedence over the English version, and according to a much earlier commentator, has much in common with a range of stories world wide in which magic secrets overheard allow someone to escape some nemesis. The English story, of course, needs the demonic Tom not to be readily available, but his not expecting to be overlooked is itself worth mentioning. The creature is in ‘an old chalk pit’ – a hollow away from sight, like the dwelling of Stig in Clive King’s book – but an oddly accurate topographical detail. Does this suggest a particular place to the original tellers and audiences? Or a particular kind of place?

If we assume Edward Clodd is correct that this is a Suffolk tale, we could ask where are “The Woods,” or “Woods with Chalk Pits?”  This one, perhaps? But does a mythic landscape need this? At times it does: stories that explain why a geographical feature is how it is depend on the audience knowing the site and wanting an explanation of the feature. Sometimes the post eventum nature of this might seem obvious, as in the Robin Hood connections in Sherwood or the strong suggestions of such at Tintagel. At times certain features are needed for the story: a church, a path (a crossroads for Bzou – see earlier posts), but in general woods becomes The Wood so that The Witch can live in them; they are universalized by being used as the stage set for mythology.

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