Everyone knows about Jack. For he is
the most popular boy in children's literature. From Jack Be Nimble to Jack and
Jill. From Little Jack Horner to Jack Sprat. There's Jack the Giant Killer and
Jack and the Beanstalk and in modern popular music, the variations continue from
Happy Jack to Jumpin' Jack Flash. Jack, it seems, is ubiquitous to the rhymes
and legends of youth. He is, ageless, clever, and popping up like a Jack-in-the-Box
any direction you turn.
Giants it seems, were quite the problem in the old days. As early as the renaissance,
even Shakespeare was appaently aware of the threat these giants posed. For Edgar,
in King Lear exclaimes
As a commoner who becomes a hero, Jack was warmly assimilated into American legends. Tales from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina tell of a small lad named Jack, who kills giants, speaks in a southern dialect, and eats American mash instead of English hasty pudding. This Jack says things like, "Shucks! My bean tree's done growed plumb out-a-sight!"
The Oxford companion to children's litertaure points out that "Jack Tales incorporate modern fairy tale elements of social rise through magical enrichment," and therein lies the appeal... The little guy, the under dog, who through wit and ingenuity can bravely face any adversity that comes his way-can get rich in the process-and live happily ever after.
So that's the tale
Chase, Richard. The Jack Tales: Folk Tales from the Southern Appalachians. Houghton Mifflin, 1971.
Pritchard and Carpenter. The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature. 1999
Zipes, Jack. ed. The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales. 2000.
Copyright © 2002, Kevin Shortsleeve
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