I probably won't be winning any plaudits for a well-described story identification question given that I am trying to find the story that I dreamed about last night. Nonetheless, I am sure it is a real memory that I was dreaming about: of an episode from a story that was read out in the late 1960s or early 1970s as part of the long running BBC storytelling series for children, Jackanory. That would mean it originally came from a book for children published before then, presumably by an Australian author.

The scene I remember, that came back to me in the dream, is from near the end of the story. A bad guy - probably the main villain of the story - has chased someone (it could have been a child and their dog or it could have been just a dog) into into some sort of public garden in Australia. (I pictured the place as looking like the Palm House in Kew Gardens, where I had recently been taken, which would have made it a large indoor greenhouse - but that could just have been the way I imagined it. The key point was that it was a place where one wouldn't be surprised to find statuary among the foliage.)

The bad guy is about to triumph in some way, but at the last moment the dog speaks to him. And because he has heard an animal speak, the law of magic is that he turns to stone, presumably so that he can never tell anyone. He becomes just another statue in that garden and will remain so forever.

It served him right but it scared the living daylights out of me.

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    Hm... can I ask, was it really because he's not supposed to tell anyone, or rather that it was his own fault, i.e. he'd said "dogs can't speak, and may I turn to stone if they ever do" or something.
    – Mr Lister
    Oct 28, 2016 at 16:04
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    @MrLister, given that it was so long ago, I'm not confident of any details - so, yes, it could have been like you say, which would certainly make sense in storytelling terms as a traditional punishment for a rash oath. But I think I remember some mention of a law of magic that worked to keep talking animals secret. The two ideas aren't necessarily incompatible, of course. Oct 28, 2016 at 16:30
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    I have a similar memory. The man, by habit said "excuse me" to the dog, who replied "why should anyone excuse you". It was in a garden at the end of the story. I think he was a politician well that's what I remember
    – Jim
    Aug 25, 2017 at 20:38
  • @Jim, thank you so much for your comment. It's great to know that someone else remembers this story too! (Although I am fairly confident of my memory I could not escape a tiny, nagging doubt that I might have imagined the whole thing.)That bit of dialogue you mention with "excuse me" does feel familiar to me. If you remember anything else, please do comment again. Aug 25, 2017 at 22:42

1 Answer 1


After trawling the Mausoleum club website for all Jackonory stories I found "An Older Kind of Magic" by Patricia Wrightson (from November 1973).

There is an online summary I've found:

The Bitarrs, Pot-Kooroks, Nyols and Net-Nets of Australian Aboriginal folklore are transplanted here to downtown Sydney where they take part in a veritable epidemic of magic spells aimed at frustrating Sir Mortimer Wyvern's plan to pave over a section of the Botanical Gardens in the name of Commerce. There's something about Rupert and Selina's very civilized games -- rummaging around the Gardens and the Ministry where their father's a caretaker -- that almost makes us forget that the setting is Sydney rather than London. And, while Sir Mortimer is a captive of the Nyols (and later turned into stone when he hears a dog speak)

I have a strange feeling of satisfaction.

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    A link to some source would make this answer perfect
    – Machavity
    Dec 11, 2017 at 22:26
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    Now I know why people have got so excited when I have been able to find a book for them! Thank you so much for finding this. I won't claim that I've thought of little else than this book for 44 years, but it's true to say that it has had a place in my private mental universe for all that time. And I was chuffed to see that my thought that the setting was specifically like the botanical gardens in Kew turned out to be true! I've ordered the book (er, not the extremely expensive collectors' edition hardback, just the paperback) and can't wait to rediscover it. Dec 12, 2017 at 19:58

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