"Become aware what is in you. Announce it, pronounce it, produce it and give birth to it." - Meister Eckhart

11 April 2015

Day 10 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge

J is for Jack

I love Jack tales and I encourage my storytellers to have at least one Jack (or Jill) tale in their repertoire.

If you don't readily recognise who I mean, think "Jack and the Beanstalk", "The House that Jack Built", "Silly Jack" (one of my favourites), and "Jack and the Villains". Jack is the "hero" of numerous folktales and nursery rhymes ("Jack and Jill", "Jack be Nimble, Jack be Quick" etc). I qualify "hero" because Jack is certainly not a hero in the traditional sense of clever, strong, and handsome. In fact, he usually the opposite -- foolish, weak, and plain-looking. But, it's usually those qualities and his silliness that wins the day.

Research suggests that the character of Jack originated in England--in Cornwall perhaps--and emigrated with early settlers to the Americas where the character quickly wove himself into the fabric of Appalachian folklore. However, Jack was certainly a staple of much European storytelling ("Hans" in the Grimm's tales) and characters like him appear in the stories of many cultures. In fact, when I was storytelling in the Middle East a few years ago, I had occasion to tell "Silly Jack" to a large audience of Arab women and their children. Although I worked with a translator, the audience responded to my comic gestures immediately. The children, in particular, who did not understand English, were so in tune with the story, laughing at all the appropriate places and anticipating Jack's silly antics. Later, one of the mothers informed me that the children were thrilled that I was telling one of their stories. I was surprised, explaining that I had learned the tale in Scotland from the Traveller storyteller Stanley Robertson. But she explained to me that it was also a well-known Middle Eastern tale. Jack certainly gets around!

Jack tales are particularly well-known and loved in America and if you don't know them, check out the work of Appalachian storyteller Ray Hicks, the late storyteller Chuck Larkin,  and the very much alive Ed Stivender. And to begin your own research into the Jack Tales, begin with Richard Chase's classic Jack Tales (1943) who traces the Appalachian sources back through Council Harmon, the 19th-century "Father of Jack Tales," and beyond. And until you get your hands on the book, try this link http://ccb.lis.illinois.edu/Projects/storytelling/jsthomps/tales.htm#bibliography and begin your own journey into the Jack Tales.

And when you get back, share one with me.

 “But that was always the way with Jacks, wasn’t it? They were clever and fools all at once.”

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