When your mind BOGGLES! at something, what’s really going on?

Imagine that you’re on a horse, trotting quietly along a country lane when, suddenly, the horse rears as if it had seen something—but what?

It once happened to me—in a stable—and suddenly I was on the ground and the horse was standing some distance away, perfectly quiet.  Clearly, he (a dark bay, named “Seaworthy”),

(not the actual horse, but just to give you a general idea)

 had thought that he’d  seen a bogle, that is, a kind of ghost or spirit. 

And, since that meant DANGER!  to him, he took appropriate action, being definitely a “flight” (vs a “fight”) animal, for all that he weighed about half-a-ton (450kg).

And this is, supposedly, what happens when you come up against something previously unseen and therefore unexpected:   your brain’s reaction, just like Seaworthy’s, is to…boggle, that is, to react as if you’d seen a bogle.

Welcome, as always, dear readers.

If you’re a regular reader—and I hope that you are—you will remember that I’ve been talking about inspirations for posts.  Last week’s was a picture of Gandalf, smoking, and that of the week before was a popular song from 1909, “I’ve got Rings on My Fingers”. 

This week’s began with another popular song, but from the year before.  The song is called “The Yama Yama Man” and appeared in a New York show with the odd title of Three Twins.

Here’s the first verse and the chorus:

“Ev’ry little tot at night,
Is afraid of the dark you know.
Some big Yama man they see,
When off to bed they go.


Yama, Yama, the Yama man,

Terrible eyes and a face of tan.

If you don’t watch out he’ll get you without a doubt,

If he can.

Maybe he’s hiding behind the chair,

Ready to spring out at you unaware.

Run to your mama,

For here comes the Yama Yama man.”

It quickly became a big hit–in 1908 terms, that meant that people:

1. who lived near New York went to see it performed, sometimes more than once

2. they and others bought the sheet music

3. and/or the record

The original singer was Bessie McCoy (1888-1931)

who appeared in a black Pierrot costume with oversized gloves, which must have made her hands look more like claws,

and sang and danced the song in a wild, acrobatic fashion against a background of people in triangular outfits.

(There doesn’t appear to be a surviving recording of McCoy singing it, but Ada Jones, 1873-1922,

had a hit with the song in 1909 and here’s a LINK:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1YVCIkIc6E      If you’d like a more modern version, here’s Joan Morris  (1974): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSOjADO1MoI     The song is at 16:04   And, because this is actually a rag—that is, a very early form of jazz—I’ll include a piano version which really brings out the raggyness of the song:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTN3TJDz_AY    As for those triangular costumes, I’ve yet to find an production image, but, in 1909, Grace Duffie Boylan published Yama Yama Land, which was inspired by the song.  Here’s the cover and a color plate, suggesting something of the 3-cornered nature of those Yama Yamians—)

Who is this creature?   Where does he come from?  We’re not told, but we know one thing:  he’s out there, like “Pennywise”, the “It”  in the Stephen King novel,

and he’s out to get you—at least if you’re a nervous child.  Beyond that fact, the menace in this song is that, like being boggled, it’s what you don’t see which frightens you—“maybe he’s hiding behind the chair”– and here I’ve been thinking about something which Grishnakh says to Ugluk:

“ ‘Nazgul, Nazgul,’ said Grishnakh, shivering and licking his lips, as if the word had a foul taste that he savoured painfully.  ‘You speak of what is deep beyond the reach of your muddy dreams, Ugluk,’ he said.”  (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 3, “The Uruk-hai”)

If we consider the Nazgul for a moment, what is it that Grishnakh is afraid of? 

The only person in the story who actually sees them as themselves is Frodo, and only when wearing the Ring:

“Immediately, though everything else remained as before, dim and dark, the shapes became terribly clear.  He was able to see beneath their black wrappings.  There were five tall figures:  two standing on the lip of the dell, three advancing.  In their white faces burned keen and merciless eyes; under their mantles were long grey robes; upon their grey hairs were helms of silver; in their haggard hands were swords of steel.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 11, “A Knife in the Dark”)

They are, in fact, otherwise oddly disembodied:  even when fully clothed (and, being disembodied, how do they do this?), they are invisible, as in the case of their chief:

“…a shape, black-mantled, huge and threatening.  A crown of steel he bore, but between rim and robe naught was there to see, save only a deadly gleam of eyes…” (The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter 6, “The Battle of the Pelennor Fields”)

Even in what I’d guess is death—or at least dissolution—they remain unseen:

“The crown rolled away with a clang.  Eowyn fell forward upon her fallen foe.  But lo! the mantle and hauberk were empty.  Shapeless they lay now on the ground, torn and tumbled…”

Which reminds me, of course, of—

So, I’d suggest, it’s not what he sees, so much as what he doesn’t, which makes Grishnakh anxious.  And Gorbag expresses a similar feeling:

“Grr!  Those Nazgul give me the creeps.  And they skin the body off you as soon as look at you, and leave you all cold in the dark on the other side.”  (The Two Towers, Book Four, Chapter 10, “The Choices of Master Samwise”)

Having seen the Nazgul in the flesh (so to speak), Frodo asks Gandalf a very interesting question:

“…But why could we all see their horses?”

To which Gandalf replies:

“Because they are real horses; just as the black robes are real robes that they wear to give shape to their nothingness when they have dealings with the living.”

To which Frodo has a further question—and Gandalf an answer.

“ ‘Then why do these black horses endure such riders?  All other animals are terrified when they draw near, even the elf-horse of Glorfindel.  The dogs howl  and the geese scream at them.’

‘Because these horses are born and bred to the service of the Dark Lord in Mordor.’ “ (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 1, “Many Meetings”)

Not being bred to such service, could Seaworthy have spotted a Nazgul and boggled?

(Alan Lee does it again)

Thanks, as ever, for reading.

Stay well,

Keep to the western side of the Loudwater,

And know that, as always, there’s




Dictionaries of the Scottish Language has an extra form of “bogle” which I really like:  “tattie-bogle”—“ragged ghost”—that is, “scare crow”.