Neither of these quite cut it as a shaggy dog, au chevalier...

A Shaggy Dog Story

Originally published in Crème de la Crème, January 2007

Benard Saint

What’s a shaggy dog, Daddy? little Bernard piped up, aged 7. “It was a dark & stormy night”, began his father, “and a weary knight trudged alone, cold and…” “How could the Knight be dark, stormy AND weary?” the boy interrupted. “Very good”, said his father, “you’re getting it, son . . .”

I remember a long time ago my father telling me a Shaggy Dog story that he called the original.

All I remembered was the punch line and that the story was very long and that the punch line was a let-down. I also remember being told that these were the essential qualities a story had to have before it could claim the accolade “Shaggy Dog”.

After years of scouring the world for the story, I returned to the horse’s mouth, and here it is.


There was a huge, lonely forest, a long time ago; and it was a dark and stormy night.

It was a great dank forest, with many dangerous strange things in it. Full of rustlings and creepings and horrid noises, and slitherings and squeals.

Three knights paused at the point where the Lost Forest Road entered the lowering woods.

“Bloody hell”, said the first, Sir Lancelot, “I don’t fancy this at all. Quest or no quest, I reckon we go back to the pub and wait for someone to invent the railway. We should be able to get a few pints in”.

“I’m with you Lance”, said the second, Sir Invincible. “This looks like a right dump. It’s probably got spiders and everything. Mine’s a Guinness”.

“Hold on, Lance. Hold on Vince”, said the third, Sir Bors. “King Arthur didn’t say ‘Piss it up all day if the nasty forest looks wet’”. He said ‘Get the lead out; overcome the obstacles, cross the Great Dank Forest, vanquish the spiders, and bring me back the legendary Princess Mamillae Ardentae’. So we have to go on. Besides, they haven’t invented Guinness yet”.

Sir Lancelot and Sir Invincible were a bit unhappy with this speech, but had to admit the justice of what Sir Bors said.

So, dusk glooming the way before them, hearts in mouths, tin hats on firmly, chain-mail underpants clenched between fearful buttocks, the trembling knights started into the darkness. What a night! Thunder, lightning, and torrents of rain. Real Melbourne weather. Not an hour had passed before the three knights were bitterly regretting Sir Bors’ speech at the forest mouth - including the young knight himself. When Suddenly!

A huge dark shape leaped out into the clearing where they rested. A shattering ROAR, an enormous SHRIEK, a disgusting GURGLE and a thrashing in the undergrowth marked the passage of what? Whatever the monster was, it had taken Sir Bors’ horse, Buttercup.

Well these Knights of the Round Table are nothing if not parfit gentil knights, so seeing the predicament their friend was in, Sir Lancelot and Sir Invincible kindly offered to carry Sir Bors’ pack for him. Which they did, and off the sad party set again, pressing along on the desolate, oppressive path.

It wasn’t long before the two mounted knights drew ahead of the horseless Sir Bors, and scurry as he might to keep up, and wait as they might for him, it wasn’t working out. Sir Bors tired too easily, and the other two knights got cold as they waited for Sir Bors.

Eventually Sir Bors told his companions to hold no more, but to push on and find shelter for the night, and wait for him there. Sterling chap.

So off Sir Lancelot and Sir Invincible went.

After more adventures, mostly of the damp and unpleasant sort, Lancelot and Invincible spied a weak, wavering yellow light to the side of the path.

“Careful”, said Sir Invincible. “It could be those cunning spiders we have heard so much of.”

“Nonsense”, said Sir Lancelot. “You’re just paranoid about spiders. It’s probably a band of 300 cut-throats waiting to rob us and leave us to the wild beasts”.

“Oh, in that case”, said Sir Invincible, “Lets get them. Tally-ho!”

And the two knights charged off in the direction of the light.

Only to find as they got nearer that it was a rude cottage. Carved into the lintel were the immortal words: “Bugger Off”. “Very rude”, observed Sir Lancelot. “Let’s kick the door in.”

Meanwhile, back down the track, miles away, a despondent Sir Bors trudged his terrified way from tree-trunk to tree-trunk, because he could sense something following him. He had no wish to follow his horse down the gullet of whatever that thing was that had snatched dear old Buttercup. Sensible fellow, Sir Bors.

Anyway, trudge, quiver, trudge, quiver. This was Sir Bors’ miserable lot, when, from just behind his left ear, something, very quietly, very gently, said “Can I help you?”

Sir Bors leapt sideways about 8 feet, tripped over his sword, got his fingers stuck in his armoured kneecaps and sat in the mud in the middle of the path in some disarray. Bleating.

Out of the forest padded the most enormous dog Sir Bors had ever seen.

Six foot at the shoulder, every doggy colour imaginable - brindle, patches, tan, pied, fox russet and wolf grey, and jackal green. A great lolloping silly face; half St Bernard, half fox terrier and another half Great Dane for good measure. Ugly. The teeth were enormous, misshapen, covered in God-knows-what and drooling. The coat was bedraggled, long, tatty, great chunks missing, mange on some of the missing bits, and an armful of twigs and straw liberally snagged all over the great heaving mass.

In a word, shaggy. Are you with me?

The dog spoke again. “Can I help you?”

Sir Bors found his voice. “Yes. Just don’t eat me. Wasn’t the horse enough? Poor Buttercup”. (He was after all a kind knight).

The dog said, “Fear not, Sir Bors. Yes I know your name, I am in a way a magic dog, and know many things. I chased the monster that made away with your horse. I helped Buttercup escape the monster and with no more than a scratched rump your horse managed to gallop clear through the forest and is waiting for you on the far side, where you will arrive at noon tomorrow. I know also how to get you there, and will take you. But first you must get to shelter to eat and sleep. Besides, I don’t eat people”.

Charmed by this speech, especially the last bit, Sir Bors readily assented to go along with the dog, the shaggy dog, as it led the way up the path. The weather got worse and worse however, and the evening’s trials began to show how they had taken their toll on the poor knight’s stamina.

The kindly dog noticed this and told the knight, “Climb on my back, I am strong, and I will take you to shelter”. The knight climbed up, and using the last of his strength to do so, he promptly fell unconscious on the shaggy dog’s back.

Remember the other two knights? Using the “Secret Policeman’s Knock” to beg shelter for the night?

As Sir Lancelot raised his mailed foot to smash the door from its hinges, the door creaked wide to reveal a mean little hovel. A scrawny little man stood scratching in the doorway, mopping and mowing, “Please come into my ‘umble little abode, kind Sirs, honour my filthy tavern with your presence while I draw you a couple of quarts of Old Fartz Bitter Ale. Ooh Ar”.

“Well”, said Sir Invincible, “If we can’t get Guinness because it is an anachronism, I’ll settle for whatever our repellent host can supply. I am as dry as a dead dingo’s d…”. “Careful”, said the other knight, “this is a family story. Besides, how can you be dry? I’m as wet as a wet wombat’s w…” “Enough”, retorted Vince, “Remember the little baskets can read these days. Do you want a drink or not?”

“I’m on” said Sir Lancelot, “but shouldn’t we wait for Sir Bors? He’ll be cold, wet and weary too…”

“…And an hour behind us. Nah – it’s his fault - we could have waited at the Dank Forest Entrance Pub, but Sir Bors had to quote the Rules of the Quest, get us up to our whatsits in stinking bog, chilled to the bone, and drinking who-knows-what in this mean stinking hovel. Sod him. Cheers”.

The two knights got slowly plastered, and forgot about Sir Bors, and did not notice the time creeping towards eleven o’clock, when by The King’s Law, all pubs in the land must close.

Just after eleven a great pounding on the door roused the scrawny little landlord from his stupor (he had been matching quarts with the burly knights). “Piss off”, he shrieked through a crack in the door. “We’re shut! Go home you losers”.

The dog’s gentle voice pleaded to no avail - the landlord would not be moved by its entreaties, the story of fortitude and dangers so manfully faced and won; the parlous state of the poor knight on the shaggy dog’s back.

“The pair of you probably got pissed down at the Black Dragon Arms and you’re just looking for a nightcap”, hissed the crapulent landlord through the door. “Get out of it”.

The dog eventually lost patience and butted the door clean off its hinges, revealing the truth for all to see. Sir Lancelot and Sir Invincible awoke and recognised the somnolent figure of their erstwhile companion and commanded the landlord to make an exception and let the knight in.

“Well”, said the landlord, “I suppose I could, just this once. The cops will never know, and I wouldn’t want it said that I turned a knight out on a dog like this”.


A Shaggy Dog Story as published in PDF form