Yallery Brown

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Balfour Gardiner (1877—1950) composer

Joseph Jacobs (1854—1916) historian and folklorist


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This Lincolnshire tale is a sinister variation on the brownie theme. The man who told it, a farm labourer, claimed that it had happened to himself in his youth. One day, he had freed a little man with yellow hair and brown skin, trapped under a large flat stone. The creature asked what reward he would like; the man asked for help with his work, and Yallery Brown agreed, on condition he was never thanked. Things turned out badly, for though the man's work was magically done for him the others found theirs spoiled and their tools blunted, so they accused him of being a wizard. So he was sacked, and raged at the fairy: ‘I'll thank thee to leave me alone, I want none of thy help!’ It screeched with laughter because it had been ‘thanked’, and told him he would be poor now to his dying day.

M. C. Balfour (Folk-Lore 2 (1891), 264–71) gives the original version in full dialect. Jacobs (1894/1968: 163–7) turned it into a third-person story in Standard English, and called the workman Tom Tiver; it is this version which is usually reprinted.

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