Jack the Giant Chaser is actually my first introduction to the Appalachian Jack Tales. Granted the Jack stories began in Europe, like “Jack and the Beanstalk,” but, “like so many of the cultural preservations in the Appalachian Mountains, they were packed into the minds of the earliest emigrants and carried across the sea and up into the highlands of the New World. Here they have steadfastly remained.” (“Wonder Tales in Appalachia” by Grace Toney Edwards) Maybe not as uniquely American as the Tall Tales, the Jack stories have been shaped the mountains, by the people who have told the stories from generation to generation.

This picture book is an abbreviated version of one of the Jack Tales, pitting Jack against only one giant instead of a family. The story opens with Jack returning to his hometown, bragging about his adventures. Thinking Jack is a great fighter, the mayor asks him to get rid of the giant that’s been bothering them for weeks.

Jack wasn’t so sure he was cut out to deal with giants. but since everybody thought he was a hero, he figured he’d have to try and act like one.

So, Jack heads up the mountain to the giant’s house. He brags how strong he is and how big his family is and convinces the giant that he should be afraid of scrawny little Jack. Jack pretends his family is coming up the hill and the giant begs Jack to hide him. Jack tells the giant to get into a barrel, and then Jack makes a ruckus like his family was there to confront the giant. In the end the giant thinks Jack saves his life. At Jack’s advice the giant leaves the area, bolts “across the creek, over the ridge, and past the state line,” and they never see him again.

It’s a fun little story with a good moral: cleverness wins over pure size and strength. And it’s definitely funny. It would be a joy to share with a child. The full page pictures are bright, colorful and cheerful. It’s one I wish I had shared with my daughter when she was younger. It’s cute and I like the idea of passing on American fairy tales, since so many of those we are familiar with are English or German in origin.

I will say, though, that from what I read, this is missing some of the elements in a traditional Jack tale, probably because it was condensed for children.  According to the Center for Children’s Books at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:

[Paige Gutierrez] defines the two features that distinguish Jack tales as structure and characterization. The tales begin with Jack in humble circumstances, he leaves to better his lot and returns to settle down with vastly improved circumstances. This “lack->lack liquidated” structure can be compared to “a magic sandwich, in which the miraculous events of the hero’s travels are framed by mundane beginnings and endings, the simplicities of home.”

Jack is motivated by poverty. In the journey/quest function, he leaves to better his circumstances or eliminate his “lack.” His success is based on his actions, not always chance, and what is called “luck” might also be described as “success.” Jack is a “self-made” man using trickery and quick thinking as his main tools while magic is more likely to be used against him in the American tales. Jack himself must resort to his wits, various helpers offering magical aid and sheer luck to overcome his dilemmas. His quest then is to “liquidate” or eliminate his lack of necessities. Jack is always successful.

So this has elements of the traditional stories, but it really just makes me want to search out more Jack Tales. As Toney says, “Here is fantasy, rich, full, and living abundantly in the Appalachian Mountains.” Do you know any Jack tales?

Purchase Jack the Giant Chaser on Amazon.com.

Category: Picture Book – Fairy Tale

Published March 1, 1993 by Holiday House
32 pages

Book source: Library

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.