Wednesday, December 22, 2010


I've always been fond of Jack stories, and my favorite is JACK HUNTS CHRISTMAS by Anne Shelby, one seasonally recalled at our house about as often as O. Henry's THE GIFT OF THE MAGI.

JACK HUNTS CHRISTMAS was published in Anne Shelby’s The Adventures of Molly Whuppie and Other Appalachian Folktales but it is also collected in the sterling anthology, A Kentucky Christmas.

In recent years, more and more Jack stories have found their way into print (see, among others, Richard Chase's THE JACK TALES, Donald Davis's THE SOUTHERN JACK TALES, E. Haley Gail's MOUNTAIN JACK TALES, Charles L. Perdue's Outwitting the Devil: Jack Tales from Wise County Virginia, Christine Pavesic's RAY HICKS AND THE JACK TALE: A STUDY OF APPALACHIAN HISTORY, CULTURE, AND PHILOSOPHY, Carl Lindahl's Perspectives on the Jack Tales and Other North American Marchen.
Jack in Two Worlds: Contemporary North American Tales and Their Tellers (Publications of the American Folklore Society)In an earlier incarnation of this blog over at the Cormac McCarthy Society Forum, we discussed these and the work by Cormac McCarthy's brother, noted folklorist William Bernard McCarthy, Jack in Two Worlds: Contemporary North American Tales and Their Tellers (Publications of the American Folklore Society).

Part of the attraction in a Jack story is the way it is told, and I always hear them in the reed notes of an Appalachian accent, a feminine voice expressing frank and naturalistic truths in parable but not without sympathy. Think of the way Ree Dolly spoke to her young brother and sister in the recent movie, Winter's Bone. The part was played by Kentuckian Jennifer Lawrence and perhaps the soft way those hard instructions were told came naturally to her.

There is often violence in a Jack story such as in JACK AND THE BEANSTALK, and of course the telling of them originated in Europe. Which reminds me of the way that Susan, the governess in Terry Pratchett’s Christmas parable, Hogfather, tells a story to the children:

After tea she read them a story. They liked her stories. The story in the book was pretty awful, but the Susan version was well received. She translated as she read.

“…and then Jack chopped down the beanstalk, adding murder and ecological vandalism to the theft, enticement and trespass charges already mentioned, but he got away with it and lived happily ever after without so much as a guilty twinge about what he had done. Which proves that you can be excused just about anything if you’re a hero, because no one asks inconvenient questions. And now,” she closed the book with a snap, “it’s time for bed.”

JACK AND THE BEANSTALK is indeed the most famous Jack story, but JACK HUNTS CHRISTMAS is our favorite, a parable with a Christmas message.

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