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SOS: Searching Out Stories/Info - Jack Tales
Advice, Comments and References from Storytellers,
Teachers and Librarians

Image source: The Jack Tales by Ray Hicks



Advice, Comments and References from Storytellers, Teachers and Librarians
(excerpts from Storytell posts plus original research)

Image source: The Jack Tales by Richard Chase

Book titles and online links are in blue and underlined. Click on them for more information.
Story titles are in quotation marks.
To retell these stories, get permission from the copyright holder if the material is not in the public domain.
Storytell posts are added chronologically as they are received by Story Lovers World.

1) Charles L. Perdue (ed), Outwitting the Devil: Jack Tales from Wise County Virginia. (1987)

2) Leonard Roberts, South from Hell-fer-Sartin: Kentucky Mountain Folk Tales and Old Greasybeard: Tales from the Cumberland Gap.

Customer review:
I believe this book was written by an anthropologist, who went into the Ozarks and interviewed the local folks, collecting their folk legands, stories, and jokes. He recorded each story word-for-word as they were told to him by people of all ages - young kids to senior citizens - trying to preserve the dialect in his word spellings. It's a good study of folklore, and makes for fun reading. I got a lot of laughs from it.

By the way, the book gets its name from the area south of a creek called "Hell-for-Certain," pronounced in the local dialect as "Hell-fer-Sartin." I'd recommend it for cultural study, and especially for stress management. (A good laugh is excellent stress relief!)

3) One of the best examples of folklorists writing about storytelling performance, Jack in Two Worlds: Contemporary North American Tales and Their Tellers (Publications of the American Folklore Society), ed. by William B. McCarthy. (1994)

Book Description
The "Jack" known to all of us from "Jack and the Beanstalk" is the hero of a cycle of tales brought to this country from the British Isles. Jack in Two Worlds is a unique collection that brings together eight of these stories as transcribed from actual performances by tellers and eight interpretive essays by leading folktale scholars.

The "two worlds" in the book's title refer to the Jack tales' popularity first among traditional Appalachian taletellers and now among storytelling revivalists. The tellers included in this volume represent both worlds. Unlike previous collections of Jack tales, in which the stories were heavily revised and rewritten, the tales in this volume have been transcribed verbatim and are presented in a format that preserves much of the oral quality of the taletellers' craft. The result is a body of richly nuanced tales that can be read with pleasure both by scholars who are studying the Jack tale tradition and by general readers who love a good story.

The taletellers are Stewart Cameron, Donald Davis, Ray Hicks, Bonelyn Lugg Kyofski, Maud Long, Frank Proffitt, Jr., Leonard Roberts, and Marshall Ward.

The essayists are Bill Ellis, Carl Lindahl, William Bernard McCarthy, W. F. H. Nicolaisen, Cheryl Oxford, Joseph Daniel Sobol, Kay Stone, Ruth Stotter, and Kenneth A. Thigpen.

4) There's a J"ack and the King's Daughter" story in Vance Randolph's Pissing in the Snow and Other Ozark Folktales (1976) — not one you'd tell kids, though they might tell it to each other. It's a somewhat raunchy version of the story "Dimwit" and Papa Joe calls it "Ashiputtle" and Hans Andersen called it "Hans Clodhopper." Asbjornsen/Dasent called it "Boots and the Princess Who Had to Have the Last Word." Maybe you could put them all together, clean it up, and make it a Jack story again.

Stephen M. Kerwick review:
When I first read this book more than 25 years ago, I had no idea that this type of material (dirty jokes, to be precise) constituted folklore or any other basis for serious study. I merely thought that it was a guilty entertainment. You might imagine my delight to find that in addition to some very funny, albeit very crude and crass, stories, there was a thoughtful, intellectual critical introduction and a series of short annotations after each nasty excerpt, including thematic code numbers under the Stith Thompson indexing system. I simply can't recommend this book too highly for anyone with earthy tastes, but an aspiration toward the higher and more thoughtful aspects of the vulgar. Also, it's very reasonably priced, compared to the other works in the genre. When you've finished it, you will want to explore similar materials by Roger Abrahams, Darrell Cumber Dance and Gershon Legman.

5) There is this site with several extracts from Pissing in the Snow and Other Ozark Folktales, including the title tale. This is a good site.

6) "Jack and his Lump of Silver." Collected by R. Rex Stephenson from Raymond Sloan. Originally published in Blue Ridge Traditions And in ALCA-Lines: Journal of the Assembly on the Literature and Culture of Appalachia, Vol. VI (Fall 1999): 6-7.

7) I think you may be referring to The Jack Tales (2003), which are stories from Appalachia featuring a main character called Jack. There are many Jack Tale stories and lots of them have been compiled by author and folklorist Richard Chase.

Humor, freshness, colorful American background, and the use of one character as a central figure in the cycle mark these eighteen folktales, told here in the dialect of the mountain country of North Carolina.

Here are some online websites with Jack Tales:

8) I just found out that one of the stories in Joseph Jacobs' late 19th century English Fairy Tales (Everyman's Library Children's Classics) (1993 - Ages 9-12) is in fact an American Jack Tale, from an early (I think maybe first) volume of the American Folk Lore Society Journal. It's a version of "Jack and the Animals," complete with the rooster's "Chuck'em up to MEEEEEE, Chuck'em up to MEEEEEE!" just like Chase on his Folk Legacy record. (Which I highly recommend, by the way, if you haven't yet heard it. People got sick of other people doing Chase, but the Old Man could be very good, though he was a mixed blessing at all times, apparently.)

Book Description
A collection of 87 classic English fairy tales, with black-and-white illustrations throughout by John Batten.

9) Anyone know the story of Jack who always brings things home in the wrong way (like butter under his cap instead of cooled in the stream, bread cooled in the stream instead of wrapped in a napkin, etc


Donald Davis tells a version of this Jack tale as "Jack's First Job." It's on his tape by that name, published by August House. I think a written version is in his collection Jack Always Seeks His Fortune: Authentic Appalachian Jack Tales (American Storytelling from August House) (1992 - Ages 9-12)

Card catalog description
A collection of thirteen Jack tales from the southern Appalachian Mountains, including "The Time Jack Told a Big Tale," "The Time Jack Cured the Doctor" and "The Time Jack Stole the Cows."

10) Welcome to the website of the tales of storyteller Jack Graham! Here you will find bedtime tales, poems, tales of nature, "mostly true" tales, and tales of growing up in Pittsburgh, PA in the 1950s. All of Jack's Tales are suitable for children, but are intended for folks of all ages with the child still inside. Please take a look around. Pennsylvania Jack is available to perform at historic sites and festivals and in his performances includes many Jack Tales as collected by Richad Chase and others.

11) Info about Jack and the Haunted (Hainted) House.

12) There's an interesting print version I came across in a collection of British folklore some years ago. It's called The Ghosts and the Game of Football and was included by Patrick Kennedy in his Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celts (1866). I found it in Folktales of the British Isles (Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library) (1988), edited by Kevin Crossley-Holland. It's the old Jack tale with sort of a quirky twist.

Book Description for Legendary Fictions.
This Elibron Classics edition is a facsimile reprint of a 1891 edition by Macmillan and Co., London.

Customer review of Folktales of the British Isles.
This book does a splendid job of both providing the myths in an interesting fashion as well as summing up a suficient amount of information on every story. The book as well provides stories from a diverse variety of the Isles from Wales to The Isle Of Man. The stories in this book pertain from a variety of subjects, anything from How football was created to various tales of God and the topography of Britain. These stories are ones that anyone could enjoy and as well should be read over and over again.


Kevin Crossley-Holland is now a patron of The Society for Storytelling, which, although it's British-based, has members over Europe and the USA (including the wonderful storyteller Dan Keding)  Every first week in February we have a National Storytelling Week where people take part from as diverse areas as schools, museums, shops, healing centres.
More info about the Society at:
Pippa Reid, U.K.

13) If I'm telling a story like this (Jack and the Haunted House), I think that the paralanguage might be more important than the actual words I use. Picking up from the audience of how "strong" to pitch it - admittedly the words will also reflect the decisions which seem right at the time. But the intensity which comes through the voice, the pacing of the telling - that might make more difference. And that will not be reflected in a written text. I remember when I began telling Mary Culhaine (thanks to you again, up there, Chuck!). I told it over several months, and it seemed to be getting stronger and stronger. At last one evening my stage partner confessed that, although she'd heard the story several times without any problem, she thought she was going to have to leave the stage that night to vomit as I came to the part where the porridge was thickened with the boys' blood. The words had probably changed very little - but it was indeed particularly "nail-biting" that night.

14) For awhile I couldn't get the laugh when the body parts started their fast descent. So, I watched and listened carefully until I saw what they did. They started out soft and low, "I'm falling" (pause) then slightly higher "I falling" (pause) slightly higher "I'm....("Well fall then!" said Jacke) and I say that very loud. It gets the jump every time. I did notice by the third time they were expecting it so I cut off "I.. (and then said, "Well, fall then") and got the jump on the third one.

15) For anyone interested in finding out more about Jack Tales, I strongly recommend Jack in Two Worlds: Contemporary North American Tales and Their Tellers (Publications of the American Folklore Society), ed. by William B. McCarthy. It is a collection of alternating scholarly folklorist essays about Jack Tales and transcriptions of oral performances of Jack tales by contemporary tellers, including Ray Hicks. It is an outstanding example of contemporary folklorists' performance-centered approach to folklore. There is an introductory essay by Carl Lindahl: Jack: The Name, the Tales, the American Tradition.

Joseph Sobol, who contributes essays on Ray Hicks and Donald Davis to this book, also has an essay, Jack of a Thousand Faces: The Jack Tales as an Appalachian Hero Cycle in North Carolina Folklore Journal, 39:2, Summer 1992, 77-108, that discusses universalistic aspects of Jack as Everyman and etymological roots of the name Jack. This essay is probably the most specific I have seen in addressing the question you raise.

I have a lengthy (45 pages) unpublished paper on Jack tales that I wrote back in 1996 for a graduate class. I am willing to send it as an attached file in Word to anyone who would like to see it. It is primarily a bibliographic essay on the Jack Tale literature and a study of trends in folkloristics (approaches to the study of folklore). I have offered it to the list in the past, so some of you may have already seen it.
Vicky D.
Response: Just for the record, though Vicky can probably give more detail, although the Jack tales came from England we don't call them Jack tales here - they are just folktales. Folktales that mention a name always use Jack, so they aren't a special class. For instance there are plenty of other tales with an everyman character of a resourceful type who is just described as (often) an anonymous tailor. In the USA the tales evolved into an American context and eventually were given for some reason a category and name. Maybe even some non-English tales got absorbed into the genre?
Tim S.

16) For a long time I thought that Jack tales centered around a boy named Jack, but a little while ago, I read onlist that Jack is an old colloquial term for boy. Who wrote that onlist, and do you have a place where I can read more about this colloquial term?
Robert McC.


a) It might have been me. Jack is the word with the very most meanings in the English language, so I've read - is it about 30 distinct meanings? It's a name of course, but a name for things as well as people. It has often been used almost to mean 'thingummyjig' or similar. Just look in the OED. So Jack as a person's name has that same sense of anything and everything, and lots of Jack phrases refer to any person of a particular type - eg Jack Tar is any sailor. But Jack isn't specific to boys, just males. Most languages have a similar universal name - as Richard says, Hans is the German one, and many Grimms' tales are about Hans.

The obvious place to look it up is in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Seventeenth Edition (Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable). (2006)
I did, but I balk at listing the eighty separate entries for Jack and its phrases. Suffice to say there are many relevant and fascinating entries, including a mention of how Shakespeare used a phrase similar to 'every man-jack' to mean every person. Every man-jack of a storyteller has a copy of the utterly essential Brewers of course, so I'll let you browse. But if anyone is so slack as to not have a well-thumbed copy you can find it in any bookshop worth its salt, and online too. I have a link on my website to an online text of it. Just go to my Storytelling Links page, and use the Edit | Find on this Page command in your browser to find the word Brewer's - that should find the link quickly amongst the 800 others there.

Actually I've just checked and I've managed to omit it - it's on a page I haven't released yet instead. So here's the link
but this edition has far fewer than 80 Jack entries. Brewer's has gone through scores of editions and mine is quite old. Very early ones and very modern ones probably aren't so useful.
Tim S.

b) Jack is used to mean a man, not necessarily a boy, in many phrases: Every man jack,
Jack-tar, Steeplejack Cousin Jack = a Cornishman (old) A Swansea Jack = a man from Swansea. But it is also a generic name for one of "the common people", and Jack in the stories does come from a working class home not a palace, and is a young man with his future ahead of him.
Philip A.

Book Description

This is one of the world's best-loved reference books. First published in 1870, this treasury of 'words that have a story to tell' has established itself as one of the great reference classics—the first port of call for tens of thousands of terms, phrases and proper names, and a fund of fascinating, unusual and out-of-the-way information.

At the heart of the dictionary lie entries on the meaning and origin of a vast range of words and expressions, from everyday English phrases to Latin tags. Alongside these are articles on people and events in mythology and religion, and on folk customs, superstitions and beliefs. Major events and people in history are also treated, as are movements in art and literature, famous literary characters, and key aspects of popular culture, philosophy, geography, science and magic. To complete this rich mix of information, Brewer and his subsequent editors have added an extraordinary and enticing miscellany of general knowledge—lists of patron saints, terms in heraldry, regimental nicknames, public house names, the principal English horse-races and famous last words.

For the Seventeenth Edition of Brewer's the entire existing text has been revised and updated and more than 1500 new articles added. These include:
• words and phrases (best thing since sliced bread, bling, where the bodies are buried);
• characters and places from fantasy literature and film (Gollum, Hogwarts, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Voldemort);
• political, celebrity and sporting nicknames (Butcher of Baghdad; Dubya);
• miscellaneous arcana (Chorasmian Waste, dilligrout, dwile flonking).

This first new Brewer's of the 21st century maintains and respects the book's 135-year-old tradition, while offering a wealth of fascinating new material to reflect the 'phrase and fable' of a changing world.

17) A few weeks ago someone asked about the tale where Jack works for a master on the arrangement that the one who first regrets the bargain has a strip of skin cut from his back.
Here is the Joseph Jacobs version:
Richard M. Germany 5/30/05

18) I just came across this story and thought you might find it useful, if not this year than next year. Obviously another version of the Tia Miseria tale, it would be fun to tell at Halloween/Harvest performances.

Click here: uExpress.com: Tell Me A Story by Amy Friedman and Jillian
Gilliland -- (10/16/2005) adapted by Amy Friedman and illustrated by Jillian Gilliland
Karen C. 10/22/05

19) Query: I'm looking for the bare bones to a the Jack tale where he repeats everything he hears, which gets him into considerable trouble. I can't find it online.
Wendy G. 10/21/09


a) Birdseye, Tom. Soap! Soap! Don't Forget the Soap!: An Appalachian Folktale. 1993. A forgetful boy gets himself into trouble when he repeats what each person he meets on the road says to him.
Judy N. 10/21/09

b) There is a Turkish version of this in MR MacDonald's Twenty Tellable Tales: Audience Participation Folktales for the Beginning Storyteller called "Hic! Hic! Hic!"
Carol C. 10/21/09

c) There are a number of tales where Jack does what every one says until he finally gets a princess to laugh. The only tale I know that uses the repeating what everyone says is "Soap, Soap, Soap" in Richard Chase's book, Grandfather Tales.
Harvey H. 10/21/09

d) There's also a newer version - Elizabeth Dulemba's Soap, Soap, Soap (Jabon Jabon Jabon) (English and Spanish).

And Eldrbarry (Barry McWilliams) has an online version:
Diane H. 10/21/09

e) You can read the tale online here through Google Books if you can't find a hard copy.
Karen C. 10/21/09

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Created 2005; last update 10/21/09

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