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My Least Favorite Story as a Child: The New Mother by Lucy Clifford


This book contains Clifford's story The New Mother

Can you think of a story that you read, or that you heard when you were very young, that contained an image that you still can’t forget? I can. The New Mother by Lucy Clifford. There were other images, of course. The clown from Poltergeist. The blood jumping out of the dish during The Thing. But nothing has stuck with me like what I’ll tell you about here.

I was an early reader; I ‘d guess I was probably only five or six when I first encountered this story. I have never been able to forget it.

I was also a kid who loved his mom more than anything. But first, let’s talk about the story.

Two kids are playing in the woods when they meet a weird little girl who has an instrument and a curious little box. When she plays the “peardrum,” a little man and a woman allegedly come out of the box and dance.

The kids want to see this, of course. I would too. But there’s a catch. They have to go home and be very, very naughty.

Well, they try. Their mother cries and begs them to stop, but they just want to know what would happen if they really pushed their luck. Their mother then utters the most horrifying sentence imaginable to young me:

Then…I should have to go away and leave you, and to send a new mother, with glass eyes and a wooden tail. (53) Dark Descent

I read that now and I think “What the hell was wrong with Lucy Clifford? What a bizarre picture!”

Back then I thought it was just as weird, but oh, it terrified me. Of course, the children keep misbehaving until their heartbroken mother just up and goes, stopping at the corner of the lot to wave back at the house, sadly.

The kids wait, and wait…and wait. And finally they hear this awful thumping coming up the walk. It’s the new mother! She smashes in the door with her wooden tail!

Now back to young Josh. The thought of not having my mom around anymore was bad enough, but to have her replaced by something as alien as a creature with glass eyes and a wooden tail was simply too much to think about.

So of course I read it over and over and over until it was all I could think about. Which is usually what happens to me with particularly effective horror stories.

Oh, the other image that’s coming to mind now was The Burr Woman. Check it out!

Did any of you read the New Mother? Or Coraline? Neil Gaiman’s book immediately reminded me of Clifford’s story as soon as the mother with the button eyes showed up.

Good stuff. In an awful, Halloweenie way.

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  • Jessica October 12, 2011, 4:22 pm

    I’m so glad you posted this! I read this a long time ago and didn’t remember the origin or anything but it freaked me out and stayed with me… I was thinking it was one of the original gory fairy tales. Anyway I was thinking about it recently and trying unsuccessfully to remember where it came from. It’s horrifying. Besides the reasons you gave, I found it so scary that the kids were tricked and there was no way to make it right.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 12, 2011, 6:29 pm

      I know! Can you imagine just sitting around waiting for your mom, knowing she wasn’t coming back, and hearing the thumping of a wooden tail? It still makes me shiver.

  • cinderkeys October 14, 2011, 12:39 am

    Never read that one. The book that leaps to my mind, when you ask about images you’ll never shake, is The Giving Tree. The image? The tree, reduced to nothing but a stump.

    “And the tree was happy. But not really.”


    Everybody else comes away from The Giving Tree thinking it’s supposed to be a heartwarming tale of friendship and sacrifice. It is not heartwarming. It is horrifying. And I think Shel Silverstein intended it to be horrifying.

    Probably not what you had in mind, Josh, but it’s what came to mine. 🙂