The Characters of Sheb Woolly

Who Kidnapped Sheb Woolly? is based on actual creatures, people, and events. More or less.

Jack’s dad, J. Fred Herlocker, found a woolly caterpillar outside just as a freeze was predicted, so he brought him in and gave him a warm refuge. He named the woolly caterpillar “Sheb Woolly,” after the entertainer Sheb Wooley (no resemblance). Fortunately, Dad had a caterpillar expert in the family (grandson Jackson, whose class had just studied caterpillars) so he knew to add leaves to eat and a stick on which to cocoon (see photo at right).

But Sheb Woolly refused to cocoon. Finally Dad decided it was better to let him go. But why would Sheb not want to become a moth? It’s a mystery — we’ll never know. But Who Kidnapped Sheb Woolly? is one possibility.

Sheb Woolly — Woolly caterpillars, it turns out, do not turn into butterflies. They turn into moths. This complicated the original story line a bit, since that involved Sheb turning into a beautiful butterfly like Caitlyn. However, some of the moths that come from woolly caterpillars are fairly woolly themselves, so in a way that made for a better ending. It also made the point (perhaps a bit subtly) that Caitlyn loved Sheb for who he was, not what he looked like, so being a less-than-beautiful butterfly/moth was not a problem.

Jayfred — Jack’s dad does not normally pick up stray creatures and take them home.  For some reason he just felt sorry for Sheb.

For people who are wondering why the character in the story has a name with a different spelling, it’s because Caitlyn would have heard his name being spoken but would not have known how to spell it, so she pronounced it phonetically. 

The Fairy Ninja Squad — The Fairy Ninja Squad (FNS) had a bigger part in the story at one point (part of writing a story is throwing out parts that might be interesting, but do not actually advance the story plot). Originally the leader of the FNS was Fiona’s kid brother, who was a little goofy (in Fiona’s eyes, anyway) and had a history of doing strange and un-fairy-like things. Such as acting like a miniature ninja. Rescuing Sheb was a chance to prove that the FNS really knew their stuff and could accomplish heroic deeds.

The illustration of the FNS with Sheb on their shoulders as meant to be reminiscent of the rescue of rugs from Windsor Castle when it burned in 1992. The military guardsmen rolled up these huge rugs and hoisted them on their shoulders; because the rugs were so long and took so many people to carry, only military folks who had been trained to march in step would have been able to move them all out so quickly.

Gladys — Gladys was originally named Flora, figuring that fairies had similar names. Problem: when Valerie sent back the first sketches, Flora looked exactly like Fiona — Valerie had not noticed the name difference. A check with the friendly family proofreader revealed that the proofreader had not caught the difference, either — she also thought there was only one fairy. Ah. Okay, similar names were not a good idea. (Things you learn as writers.) We needed something completely different.

Well, the fairies up to this point (both of them) were white. Maybe a little color would help? We suggested this to Valerie, and she came up with a whole new Afro-Asian look that definitely could not be confused with Fiona. New hairstyle and outfit, too.

Good. Now what about a name? Hmmm. Deb’s boss is African-American, we could use her name. Naw, too much like sucking up. (And the name didn’t quite fit. Sorry, Dr. M.) Ah, but Gladys, her mother (who died in 2004, after seeing her daughter get to be president of a major Pennsylvania university) was known as someone who encouraged people to excel and who believed in education. Who better to teach Sheb how to fly and get over his whole heights problem? Perfect, Gladys it is.

Sheb WooleyShelby F. "Sheb" Wooley (April 10, 1921 – September 16, 2003) was a character actor and singer, best known for his 1958 novelty song "Purple People Eater". He played Ben Miller, brother of Frank Miller in the film High Noon, and also had a co-starring role as scout Pete Nolan in the television program Rawhide. Wooley is credited as the voice actor for the Wilhelm scream, having appeared on a memo as a voice extra for Distant Drums and later confirmed by his widow. This particular scream recording has been used by sound effects teams in over 149 films. (It must be true — I read it on Wikipedia!)

© Debra Tanguy Herlocker 2017