English Fairy Tales (Joseph Jacobs)

Week 12: England - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

The Laidly Worm of Spindleston Heugh

Reading time: 3 minutes. Word count: 500 words.

Given the setting of this story in the far north of England, it is not surprising that it would contain Celtic elements, and perhaps even be based on a Celtic story. This is, in fact, what Jacobs notes about the story: "The ballad of 'Kempe Owein' is a more general version which 'The Laidly Worm' has localised near Bamborough. We learn from this that the original hero was Kempe or Champion Owain, the Welsh hero who flourished in the sixth century. Childe Wynd therefore = Childe Owain." Owain is one of the heroes of the Welsh epic, Mabinogion, and is closely associated with the Arthurian cycle of legends in their original Celtic form.

As the ship came near, the Worm unfolded its coils, and, dipping into the sea, caught hold of the ship of Childe Wynd, and banged it off the shore. Three times Childe Wynd urged his men on to row bravely and strong, but each time the Laidly Worm kept it off the shore. Then Childe Wynd ordered the ship to be put about, and the witch-queen thought he had given up the attempt. But instead of that, he only rounded the next point and landed safe and sound in Buddle Creek, and then, with sword drawn and bow bent, rushed up, followed by his men, to fight the terrible Worm that had kept him from landing.

But the moment Childe Wynd had landed, the witch-queen's power over the Laidly Worm had gone, and she went back to her bower all alone, not an imp, nor a man-at-arms to help her, for she knew her hour was come. So when Childe Wynd came rushing up to the Laidly Worm it made no attempt to stop him or hurt him, but just as he was going to raise his sword to slay it, the voice of his own sister Margaret came from its jaws, saying:

'O, quit your sword, unbend your bow,
And give me kisses three;
For though I am a poisonous worm,
No harm I'll do to thee.'

Childe Wynd stayed his hand, but he did not know what to think if some witchery were not in it. Then said the Laidly Worm again:

'O, quit your sword, unbend your bow,
And give me kisses three;
If I'm not won ere set of sun,
Won never shall I be.'

Then Childe Wynd went up to the Laidly Worm and kissed it once; but no change came over it. Then Childe Wynd kissed it once more; but yet no change came over it. For a third time he kissed the loathsome thing, and with a hiss and a roar the Laidly Worm reared back and before Childe Wynd stood his sister Margaret. He wrapped his cloak about her, and then went up to the castle with her.

When he reached the keep, he went off to the witch-queen's bower, and when he saw her, he touched her with a twig of a rowan-tree. No sooner had he touched her than she shrivelled up and shrivelled up, till she became a huge ugly toad, with bold staring eyes and a horrible hiss. She croaked and she hissed, and then hopped away down the castle steps, and Childe Wynd took his father's place as king, and they all lived happy afterwards.

But to this day a loathsome toad is seen at times haunting the neighbourhood of Bamborough Keep, and the wicked witch-queen is that Laidly Toad.

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • what did the worm do as Childe Wynd's ship approached the shore?
  • how did Childe Wynd free Margaret from the spell?
  • what finally happened to the wicked queen?

Source: English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs (1890). Weblink.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM