Sunday, July 31, 2011
Folktales Book Review: The Jack Tales by Richard Chase
Date: 1943 (1971)
Acquired: purchased used
These Jack Tales, a staple of Appalachian folklore, were first recorded by Richard Chase in the early 1940s. The tales were collected from descendants of Council Harmon, who had continued to tell the stories into the 1880s and 1890s. Coming from the mountains of North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, these eighteen Jack Tales are told in the regional dialect and can be either a serious study for folklore students or a fun read for both children and adults.
The dialect in which the tales are written takes readers some time to get used to, but they will soon settle into the way the stories are told. The dialect only adds to the feel of the tales that are actually meant to be told orally, not read silently. The stories themselves, rife with exaggerations, impossible occurrences, and ridiculous plots, are enchanting and often humorous. For example, Jack once kills seven butterflies with one swing of his bat and ends up getting roped into fighting for the king because he brags about killing "seven with a whack!" Some of the stories may be familiar to readers; the well-known "Jack and the Bean Tree" is included, and other tales have surfaced in folklore courses, in childhood bedtime reading, and with contemporary storytellers. The appendix to this edition, written by Herbert Halpert, provides an excellent historical background for folklore studies and points out, as is evident from reading the tales, their connections to European stories and some of the similar motifs that appear between the tall tales of the New and Old Worlds.