A long, long time ago there lived in a remote Dartmoor clitter a huge and wily old fox. He knew every nook and cranny of the moors but more to the point he knew where the plumpest rabbits lived and on which farms the juiciest of hens were cooped.
One bright moonlit night he was slinking down a small leafy valley in search of his supper when he suddenly came across a small piskie village. Outside their tiny houses the little folk were having a party when the big fox leapt amongst them and gobbled several of the little folk before the rest could scuttle into their homes. Licking his lips, old ‘Charlie’ went in search of some pudding and pounced on top of the first piskie house he came to. He snarled and snorted down the chimney and much to his annoyance he could heard the little piskie shouting up the chimney, “ha, ha, he, he, the door’s barred and you can’t reach me.” The old moor fox was beside himself at the piskie’s impudence and he ripped off the thatch roof and gobbled the little fellow up.
He then came to another small house, this one however was made of granite blocks and had a wooden roof, he sniffed and snuffled at the door and once again heard the piskie chirping, “ha, ha, he, he, the door’s barred and you can’t reach me.” “Huh, can’t I,” growled the fox and once again he dug his sharp claws into the roof and tore away the wood. With drooling lips he stuck his head in the hole and gobbled up the poor piskie.
Still feeling his belly rumbling the wily old creature moved to the next house, this one was made entirely of iron and as before he stuck his nose against the door and sniffed and snuffled, inside he could hear the piskie chortling, “ha, ha, he, he, the door’s barred and you can’t touch me.” This time however no matter how hard he scratched and clawed he couldn’t dislodge the heavy iron roof. In the end, with bleeding claws, old Charlie went off in search of an easier meal in the shape of some moor rabbits in the next valley.
The following night, undeterred, the fox returned to the little piskie house. Once again, no matter how hard he clawed and raked the roof he couldn’t get to the piskie. “Ha, ha, he, he, the door’s still barred and you can’t reach me,” came ringing up the chimney. Being a wily fox, old Charlie decided to try another tactic, “I dawn’t want to eat ee,” he said, “I jus come to tell ee of a filed of turnips, over next valley, as I knaw ee loves crisp new turnips.” The piskie thought about this temptation but told the fox that he knew his game and as soon as he came out the fox would eat him. The fox vehemently denied this and said he was only trying to make amends for eating the other piskies. Again the little fellow pondered on this and said he still wasn’t coming out but if the fox would tell him where the field was he would meet him there at 4 o’clock the next morning.
The next day the little piskie went to the field at 1 o’clock and picked as many turnips as he could carry and scurried back to his home. The fox arrived at the appointed time and sat there, and sat there but his intended meal never arrived. He was at home gorging himself on crispy turnips and dragon flies, chucking and chirping to himself.
The fox was not going to let it stay there, for days he plotted and schemed to come up with a wily plan to catch the piskie. Eventually he remembered that the next day was Widdecombe Fair and so he scampered off to the piskies house. Again, he lay down outside the door and asked the piskie if he would like to come to Widdecombe Fair with him. The piskie agreed and promised to meet the fox at the old granite cross at 4 o’clock. The next day the piskie got up very early and tripped off to the fair. He had a glorious day and after seeing all there was to see he bought a clock, a crock and a frying pan and skipped off home. As he neared the old granite cross he spotted the old fox pacing up and down and realised that somehow he had to get past him. The answer soon came to him and he packed his clock and frying pan in the crock, jumped in and pulled on the lid. Once everything was secure he rolled down the hill in the crock, the old fox saw the crock tumbling down the hill but gave it no further thought, afterall you can’t eat a crock. The piskie had judged his descent well as the crock rolled to a stop outside his front door. By the time the piskie reached his house he was totally exhausted, afterall it had been a busy day and so he wearily clambered into bed where within a few moments he was contentedly snoring.
The fox once again realised he had been tricked by the piskie and so decided to go to his house to try another trick. When he got to the front door he could see that it was ajar. The piskie had been that tired he forgot to bar door before he went to bed. The old fox silently crept away and returned to his earth to collect a strong wooden box with which he returned to the piskie’s house. He crept up to the door, stuck his paw through the gap and snatched the sleeping piskie from his bed and quickly popped him in the box. The poor little fellow bellowed, and cursed, begged and pleaded, wept and wailed but there was no way the fox was going to open the box. Eventually the piskie calmed down and quietly promised to tell the fox a fabulous secret if he would let him go. The fox asked what it was but the piskie refused to say but promised once he knew the secret, old Charlie would never go hungry again. Curiosity is a powerful thing and in the end the old fox carefully lifted the lid but suddenly the piskie burst out and scampered into some rocks. The fox then heard some strange chanting and before he knew it he was locked inside the wooden box. The piskie had cast a powerful spell which meant the old fox stayed in the box until he eventually died of hunger.
This story sounds very much like the ‘Three Little Pigs’ story but was in fact first recorded in a publication of 1853. It was not until 1933 that Walt Disney immortalised the story.
1853. English forests and forest trees, historical, legendary and descriptive, London: Ingram, Cook & Co.