The Billy Goats Gruff

A ‘Verse a Day’ fairy tale told in who knows how many parts…

Do you remember the Billy Goats Gruff, and that fearsome Troll lurking under the bridge they wanted to cross? And that tricky decision to Remain or to Leave to where the grass is always greener. One by one they tried, each asking the Troll to spare them with the promise that a bigger, fatter prize was following behind. How’s that for brotherly love? Perhaps, today, those three brothers might appear something like the Sopranos, some Goateed Peaky Blinders, or the magnificent Jason Isaacs as Marshal Zhukov in The Death of Stalin. The Gruff’s gruff voices in my head sound perfect when read with an accent from somewhere in deepest, darkest Yorkshire…

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1
In a valley of green, back in Fairy Tale days,
Gangs of billy goats fought over which land to graze,
There were billy goats tough, there were billy goats rough,
But no goats were as bad as the Billy Goats Gruff.

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These three billy goat brothers ate thistles and thorns,
And they butted their rivals with curly, sharp horns,
Growing fat in a field by a fast waterfall,
Where the thistles grew thickest and richest of all…

3
But one dark autumn evening, the Gruffs felt a chill,
Looking over the valley from high on their hill.
“All our kingdom’s grown muddy!” one growled with a shiver.
“The grass looks much greener beyond the Great River.”

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4
“My brothers! It’s time for us Gruffs to expand!
We must cross that Great River and grab our new land.
But there’s only one bridge, under which lives a troll,
Who will drown any strangers that won’t pay her toll.”

5
“Let me cross over first!” bleated Tiny Goat Gruff,
Who was youngest and smallest, but made of tough stuff.
He was tall as a wolf, with a beard of blood red,
And a hat with a crow’s feather perched on his head.

6
Tiny rolled out a motorbike, polished and black,
Started up the loud engine and climbed on its back.
And then, dipping his horns, gave his brothers a poke,
Before roaring away in a great cloud of smoke.

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7
Tiny stopped at the crossing and stroked his red beard.
On the bridge, in the moonlight, a figure appeared.
She was really quite small, dressed in rags and old shoes,
And her bald head was covered with goat’s-head tattoos.

8
“Your whole business,” said Tiny, “is one we’ve admired.
But Gruff Brothers Inc. think it’s time you retired.
I’m taking your bridge, cos that grass looks much greener.”
He tried to look mean… but the Troll looked much meaner.

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9
“My dear Tiny Gruff,” sighed the Troll, “Can you float?
Do you fly? Can you swim? Did you bring your own boat?
This stone bridge is my castle. This river’s my moat.
And we’re stronger by far than some hillbilly goat!”

10
“Take a look,” she went on, “at my inky-blue head,
Each tattoo shows the face of a goat that lies dead.
They all drowned in this river, one hundred all gone,
If you fight me, I’ll make you one hundred and one!”

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11
Tiny’s hair stood on end, his legs started to shake,
And he bleated: “I think there has been some mistake.
I’m not worth all this bother, I’m just skin and bone.
Please await my big brother and leave me alone!”

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“I will let you cross over my bridge,” hissed the Troll,
“If you leave me your bike and your suit as my toll!”
So, poor Tiny was stripped of his bike, suit and pride,
Before galloping off to the opposite side.

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13
“It is time I set forth,” bleated Curly Goat Gruff,
Who was older than Tiny and smelled rank and rough.
He was big as a bear, with a beard full of curls,
And his horns held a bowler hat covered in pearls.

14
Curly entered the barn, through a large, sliding door,
And from inside the building there rose a great roar,
Before Curly drove out in a black limousine,
And cruised off down the hill in the groaning machine.

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15
Parking close by the bridge, Curly stepped from his car
And called out: “Brother Tiny, point out where you are!”
But instead saw a Troll, who was bald as a coot
And was dressed in what looked like his brother’s best suit.

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“I have come,” Curly growled, “in this general direction,
To sell you some shares in Gruff Brothers Protection.
We’re taking your bridge, now then where is my brother?”
“He’s gone…” trilled the Troll. “He ran off to his mother!”

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“My dear Curly Gruff,” sighed the Troll, “Can you float?
Do you fly? Can you swim? Did you bring your own boat?
This stone bridge is my castle. This river’s my moat.
And we’re stronger by far than some hillbilly goat!”

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“Take a look,” she went on, “at my inky-blue head.
Each tattoo shows the face of a goat that lies dead.
I have drowned me one hundred and one just like you,
If you fight me, I’ll make you one hundred and two!”

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19
Curly’s knees started knocking, his face turned quite pasty,
“Hold on now!” he bleated, “No need to be hasty!
I’m sorry to see that my offer offends,
Please await my big brother, and let us be friends!”

20
“Oh, you grizzling, grovelling, grotty goat Gruff,”
Said the Troll, “Did you not think that I’d call your bluff?
Leave the keys to your car, and your pearl-covered hat,
Then cross quick, ‘cos you reek like a rotten old rat!”

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21
Meanwhile, high in the valley sat Biggy Goat Gruff,
Who was thinking: “I’ve waited up here long enough.”
He was huge as a horse, with a beard of jet black,
And a mane of grey hair down his billy goat back.

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Biggy pulled on a greatcoat of scarlet and gold,
And he growled, “I’ll make sure that troll never grows old!”
Then he pulled back the sheets from a rustbucket lorry,
Jumped in, turned the keys, and drove off in a hurry.

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23
On reaching the bridge, Biggy searched for the others,
But try as he might found no sign of his brothers.
And there, in the moonlight, a little Troll sat,
Wearing Tiny’s best jacket and Curly’s best hat.

 

Text Copyright © Jason Hook 2020 
Illustrations Copyright © Christa Hook 2020