Tales, Then and Now: More Folktales as Literary Fictions for Young Adults

By Anna E. Altmann; Gail De Vos | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
JACK AND
HIS STORIES

When thinking about folktales in conjunction with the name Jack, almost all of us immediately conjure up the image of a young boy, often lazy but always respectful of his mother, who climbs a beanstalk and has numerous encounters with the giant. If it is not that Jack who comes to mind, then it might be the one who defeats giants in this realm instead, or perhaps the one that is the hero of the Jack tales in the United States, who outwits the devil along with giants and other "worthy" opponents.

Needless to say, there are plenty of "Jacks" in the body of folklore, both in the new world and the old. The name Jack has a long history of being used as a nickname for the given name John, and as early as the thirteenth century was used to denote a member of the "common folk." Since the beginning of the fifteenth century in English mystery plays, Jack has been illustrated as "Everyman-assurvivor" (Clute and Grant, 510). Herbert Halbert acknowledged "Jack" as a type of trickster-hero, not the admirable prince of fairy tales but a quick-witted, not always too scrupulous, clever lad (186). By the eighteenth century Jack had become the John Doe of oral tradition in England, as demonstrated by the numerous nursery rhymes that use Jack as the male character, including "Jack and Jill," "Jack Sprat," and "Jack Horner." Jack was also a favored name for numerous heroes in the Scottish traveler's tales. "Jack's popularity grew throughout England and Ireland at the same time that Britain was colonizing the world. Immigrants from Britain and Ireland brought Jack to the imperial colonies, including the Caribbean where Jack is the most popular human character among Black Bahamian tellers" (Lindahl, xvi).

In this chapter we examine the two most prevalent of the Jack stories: "Jack and the Beanstalk" and "Jack the Giant Killer." Although we often differentiate between these two tales, these two stories are both identified as the same tale type, AT 328: The Boy Steals the Giant's Treasure. The tales both originate in Great Britain and are extremely popular in North America. Jack is the generic name for a folk hero who is clever and often gains his ends immorally and often

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