Growing up, I was always afraid of the forest at night time. I was always convinced aliens lurked in the woods behind my parents’ house. If aliens were to invade, they’d certainly begin with rural Wisconsin.
Then my friend’s dad used to tell us stories about a mythical beast. It was seven-foot-tall man walking around the woods with a pigs head, ready to kill us if we wandered off alone. I saw visions of the man for months after that tale.
So, it’s not hard to see why the hodag story took off in the 1890’s. With endless Wisconsin wilderness, your imagination can get the best of you.
In the past few years, the hodag has become “fashionable” again. It appeared as one of the new North American beasts in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. And it’s the main monster in this episode of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated.
This iteration of Scooby-Doo is a bit different. For one, there’s a long-running story arc along with the monster-of-the week. I found that slightly confusing (I’ve never seen a single episode bar this one). But I do understand one thing: cheese.
One day in the gang’s hometown of Crystal Cove, the “Most Haunted Place on Earth”, a travelling curio wagon arrives. Shaggy and Scooby hop inside and explore the exhibits. That’s where they meet the fearsome hodag of Wisconsin. But not convinced by the cheap-looking suit, they leave.
Later, Daphne’s sister Daisy finds the hodag in her room. Daphne gets a call, and the mystery-solving gang go to Daisy’s to investigate. She tells them that the beast stole the jewellery from her room, including an expensive ruby.
Velma begins her sketch based on the description from Daisy, and Shaggy and Scooby immediately recognise the thief as the hodag from the travelling curiosities show.
Upon returning to The Traveling Cabinet of Curiosities, the owner, Gene Shepherd shows the gang around. When they spot a locked box, he explains that he only opens it once a year. When he leaves, they all agree that he’s suspicious. Even I’m suspicious.
That night, Daphne’s family have a cheese party. I’m not actually sure what’s the party is actually for, but I’m from Wisconsin, so I fully accept the existence of cheese parties. During the party, surprise surprise, the hodag attacks again. Only this time, instead of just jewels, the hodag also steals Nova, the dog that Scooby is in love with.
The gang suspect Shepherd of the thefts, and return to his wagon where they find the loot. Even though he’s arrested, Velma isn’t convinced they’d really caught their thief. She reads up on the ability to train certain animals with the ringing of a bell. Before each theft the sound of a bell could be heard, and Nova wears a bell on her collar.
Velma and Fred agree to set a trap for the real thief. They bait the hodag with a key, which it uses to open the chest. They then lure the hodag up a tower using more bells. Eventually the hodag is trapped. When the gang take off its mask, it’s revealed that it’s a monkey named Roberto.
Because of course!
Roberto’s trainer, Mr Fussbuster, is the owner of the town’s cheese shop. He arrives holding onto Nova, and confesses that he trained Roberto to rob for him, but the monkey soon went out of control and began to steal bells. Fussbuster ultimately wanted Roberto to steal what was in Shepherd’s chest: a wheel of 500-year-old cheese.
Scooby then hurls the cheese (the package stolen from the chest) at Fussbuster’s head, allowing him to save Nova. With the real thief caught, the gang try to give Shepherd his cheese back, but he no longer wants it because it’s cracked. He mutters that the cheese told him to go to the town before leaving in his wagon.
Scooby-Doo always ticks the right boxes for me, and this weird, cheese-obsessed episode was perfect. For one, I love a celebration of strange, relatively-obscure folklore. Throw in masked monkey thefts and you’ve got me completely sold.
So sold, in fact, I think I’ll watch the first series. Scooby, you lovable buffoon, you’ve done it again.
Also, if you’re interested in reading more about the hodag, you can read up on him on the city of Rhinelander’s website. If you have any equally fun or interesting local folk legends, please share!