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About Aaron Shepard’s

The Boy Who Wanted the Willies


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Copyright © 2001, 2005 Aaron Shepard. All rights reserved.


Here is background info for my story.—Aaron

The story of the fearless lad in the haunted castle is known throughout Europe—from Spain to Russia, from Scandinavia to Italy—and in North America as well. In the Aarne-Thompson index, it is tale type 326, “The Youth Who Wanted to Learn What Fear Is,” named after a particularly well-developed version in the collection of the Brothers Grimm.

For this retelling, I have drawn most of my basic plot structure from Grimm, but have incorporated motifs from the Italian and other versions as well. Still other motifs were suggested by audiences during my time as a professional storyteller, when I performed this tale as a participatory improvisation. The ending was supplied in part by a student of Pinedale Elementary School in Pinedale, California.

Though I have skirted perilously close to anachronism, I hope to have sustained only minor injuries. Count Dracula and Wolfman have a modern cast, but they are based on European folk archetypes of the vampire and the werewolf.

In the same vein, “the willies” as a description of fear may be an English-language expression—and not too old a one at that—but it is derived from German legend. According to Heinrich Heine, the “Wilis” are “maidens who have died before their wedding day, because of faithless lovers.” They rise from their tombs at night to seek vengeance, and if any man is unlucky enough to encounter them, he is forced to dance till he drops dead from exhaustion. This legend formed the basis of the popular 19th-century ballet “Giselle.”