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"Jack and the Sop Doll" and Other Tales with Cats and Witches


Sop Doll Tales

Other Tales with Cats and Witches Related Appalachian Tales Related Tales from Other Regions

quilt square Chase, Richard. "Sop Doll!" The Jack Tales. Boston: Houghton, 1943, pp. 76-82. With two drawings by Berkeley Williams, Jr. Jack gets a reward by helping a miller discover that his wife is a witch, haunting the mill in the form of a cat at night; they destroy the witch's gang with fire. Chase notes that this witch tale is very popular in British-American traditions. His notes include comments on the title words and pronunciation.

"Sop, Doll, Sop." In Isobel Gordon Carter. "Mountain White Folk-Lore: Tales from the Southern Blue Ridge." Journal of American Folklore 38 (1925): pp. 340-74 (this tale on pp. 354-55). A landmark article containing Jack tales told by Jane Hicks Gentry (1863-1925), recorded by Carter in 1923. Available online through library services such as JSTOR. Carter comments on the decline of storytelling among mountain families who used to know them better, although they had not been recorded as ballads had been. Jack is a poor orphan with nothing to do so he takes a job as a miller, although his predecessors at this mill have all died. When black cats try to put poison in his sop bowl, he cuts off the paw of one, which turns out to be the hand of his employer's wife. She confesses that she wanted her husband to keep the mill himself so she turned her friends into cats and some of them turned themselves into cats and they killed each new miller. The miller has all the witches burned but his own wife, who is hanged because the other husbands are mad about their wives being burned.

"Jack and the Sop Doll." Folklore of the United States. Jack Tales I. Told by Mrs. Maud Long of Hot Springs, NC. Ed. Duncan Emrich. LP. Washington: Library of Congress, Division of Music, 1947.

"Grinding at the Mill." In "Ray Hicks." American Folktales: From the Collections of the Library of Congress. Ed. Carl Lindahl. Vol. 1. Armonk NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2004, pp. 149-55. Also includes "Jack and the Robbers," "The Unicorn and the Wild Boar," "The Witch Woman on the Stone Mountain on the Tennessee Side," "Mule Eggs." With photographs of Ray Hicks and background on him.

Ward, Marshall. "Sop Doll." In McCarthy, William Bernard, ed. Cinderella in America: A Book of Folk and Fairy Tales. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007. pp. 336-41, with notes on the source and tale type. From a recording of Ward telling the tale to Ambrose Manning at East Tennessee State University, c. 1970. In chapter 13 of this book on The Hicks-Harmon Beech Mountain Tradition, one of two chapters focusing on tales from the Southern mountains. In chapter 12 is the related Ozark tale "Old Kitty Rollins" (see below). The book demonstrates that American folktales, from Revolutionary times to the present, should not be viewed as watered-down versions of tales from older cultures. "These tales are drawn from published collections, journals, and archives, and from fieldwork by McCarthy and his colleagues." See tales listed at Folktale Collections Indexed in AppLit.

"Jack and the Witches (Sop-Doll)." Retold by Jack Hart. Meadhall. Hart cites Richard Chase as the collector of this tale and tells it from memory on his web site about "the heroic view of the world" (myths, archetypes, fantasy) because "The oddity of this story is that the god, Odin appears in an American folktale. It is doubly odd since Odin, himself is, in other contexts, not above a little business with witchy women." He says that the figure of the Wanderer and burning down the hall of one's enemy are typical motifs in Norse traditions. The strange old man for whom Jack grinds a little bit of grain for free gives Jack the gift of a knife. When a black cat appears and Jack can't keep it from reaching into his food, he cuts the paw off and it turns into the hand of the farmer's wife. The farmer realizes that a coven of witches has been killing anyone who stayed in the mill, so he and Jack burn the house down, and Jack runs the mill for several years with no further problems.

"Sop Doll." Told by Mary Hamilton. Haunting Tales. Audio cassette. Kentucky, 1996.

"Sop Doll." Told by Jackie Torrence. Country Characters. LP and audio cassette. Chicago, Il: Earwig Music Co., 1983 and 1986. From an evening of storytelling live in Lexington, MA to benefit Arts Created Together. Recorded at Cary Hall, Lexington, MA. Also includes Old Dry Frye, Wicked John and the Devil, "The Maco Station Light," and "The Fiddler's Dram."

"Sop Doll." Told by Milbre Burch. Sop Doll and Other Tales of Mystery and Mayhem. CD. 2002. Recommended for ages 13 and up. "'Sop Doll,' the title story in this new collection, was published in April, 2001, by Realms of Fantasy magazine. The story was reprinted in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Fifteenth Annual Collection edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling" (notes from CD Baby web site).

Related tales and superstitions from Anglo and African American traditions, as well as Long's and Chase's "Sop Doll" tales, are discussed by Bill Ellis in "Why is a Lucky Rabbit's Foot Lucky? Body Parts as Fetishes." Journal of Folklore Research, vol. 39 (Jan-April 2002): p. 51 (36). Available online through library services such as Academic Index ASAP. Ellis argues that superstitions involving severed paws or hands relate to social power struggles. "Possessing a fetish that embodies the essence of a dangerous Other--whether trickster, badman, or witch--and using it for one's own purposes effectively neutralizes the threat represented by that Other."

quilt square Other Tales with Cats and Witches

See Cat 'n Mouse page.

"Jack and the Witches." In Chase, Richard, ed. American Folk Tales and Songs. 1956. Rpt. New York: Dover, 1971. pp. 64-70. Jack follows his employer's wife and daughter as they fly to a witch's Sabbath. He breaks it up by yelling "Lord have mercy" and later helps rid the neighborhood of all the witches he had seen, who are burned in his employer's house, curing the man's infirmities.

"Witching the Babies." In Roberts, Leonard (collector). Old Greasybeard: Tales From the Cumberland GapIllus. Leonard Epstein. Detroit: Folklore Associates, 1969. Rpt. Pikeville, KY: Pikeville College Press, 1980. pp. 136-37. This is a horrifying tale revealing that a mother-in-law who disapproves of her son's wife kills each of their babies at age one. With the third child, a doctor offers to keep watch over the sick baby on the birthday night. As he reads the Bible, he sees a big cat approaching and cuts off its paw. He suspects the mother-in-law is sick and finds her bleeding to death with her hand cut off. Roberts' notes give references for other tales about murderous witches.

"The Witch Doctor." In Roberts, Leonard (collector). Old Greasybeard: Tales From the Cumberland GapIllus. Leonard Epstein. Detroit: Folklore Associates, 1969. Rpt. Pikeville, KY: Pikeville College Press, 1980. pp. 137-38. After a man's son is sick for a year, he sends for the witch doctor, who knows about three witches down the road and says they will come borrowing and come in the form of cats. The father chases them away and the doctor beats them with a walking stick, curing the boy. The doctor visits the women down the road, who have terrible injuries and never bother that family again. Roberts' notes give references for other tales about witches causing sickness.

"The Man Who Wanted to Be a Witch." In Roberts, Leonard (collector). Old Greasybeard: Tales From the Cumberland GapIllus. Leonard Epstein. Detroit: Folklore Associates, 1969. Rpt. Pikeville, KY: Pikeville College Press, 1980. pp. 133-35. A young man finds that his girl's family are witches and joins up with them. They put on red caps and grease their bellies with tallow to fly up the chimney. He gets stuck in the rain once and gets caught breaking into a store, after banging his head when the witches flee. The witches help him escape from the noose when he is to be hanged. He then "give up all hopes of ever becoming a witch." Roberts includes references to other tales with motifs of the witch's salve as a source of magic power for flying and mistakes made by people traveling with witches.

"Nine Cat Tails." In Roberts, Leonard (collector). Old Greasybeard: Tales From the Cumberland GapIllus. Leonard Epstein. Detroit: Folklore Associates, 1969. Rpt. Pikeville, KY: Pikeville College Press, 1980. pp. 138-40. A widow with three children moves around their valley because of harsh weather conditions. The moon appears before her and tells her how to get a place that is not too hot or cold, not dark, with not too much wind, and not too much or too little overgrowth. The woman uses moondust the moon gives her to catch nine cats who need their tails back. They attack a witch who had stolen them and the widow recovers their tails from the seam of the witch's petticoat, as the moon had instructed. They leave the witch for dead and break the spell she had put on the elements. The widow finds her children "playing in the flowers. The darkness had disappeared and the spell over the valley was broken. The widder woman lived there with her chillern ever after." Roberts could trace this tale to no known tale type or motif, but his Knox County informant in 1957 had heard it from her grandmother, who was born about 1835.

quilt square Related Appalachian Tales

Jack's contests with a witch in Hardy Hardhead and Cat 'n Mouse

Overnight stays in a haunted house in Soldier Jack, The Hainted House, Jack and the Hainted House, and Cat 'n Mouse

Gallymanders - and - Jack and the Witch's Tale. Jack rescues his brothers and outsmarts a witch with the help of magical animals and objects in R. Rex Stephenson's story theatre script "Jack and the Witch's Tale" (similar to "Gallymanders"). He obtains help by first doing favors for the witch's cow, pig, and mill so they help hide him from the witch, while his brothers would not take time to help the things that asked them for favors. (See also The Jack Tales in Stephenson bibliography.)

"The Candy Doll." In Roberts, Leonard. I Bought Me a Dog: A Dozen Authentic Folktales from the Southern Mountain. Berea, KY: The Council of the Southern Mountains, 1954. n. pag. Told by 12-year-old Margie Day, Leslie County, KY. Roberts calls this unusual tale "short and perhaps imperfect...the only version that I have collected, or even known of in America. It is also about the best and most concise example of a peculiar power of witches known as Murder by Sympathetic Magic (Motif D2061.2.2). A little girl mistreated by her widowed father gets tired of doing all the work so she visits a witch after doing her chores although her father forbade it. The witch gives her a candy doll and tells her to eat it but she wants to play with it because she has no toys. When her father finds out she has been to the witch, he won't let her eat so she asks the doll for a bite. When she bites off an arm and then the head, her father's axe turns against him, severing his arm and head. The witch moves in and "the little girl lived with her forever." See other Roberts tales listed at Folktale Collections Indexed in AppLit.

"Jack and the Witch," an award-winning tale by a fourth grader, in Students Write Jack Tales

quilt square Related Tales from other Regions:

"Betsey Long-Tooth." In Cothran, Jean, ed. The Whang Doodle: Folk Tales from the Carolinas. Illus. Nance Studio. Columbia, SC: Sandlapper Press, 1972. pp. 54-59. From Wilson County, NC. A northern English man follows witches into the London night, imitating their rituals and spells, but one takes his magic nightcap and since he's stranded, he is nearly hanged for stealing cider pudding from a warehouse, where they had all been drinking. Their incantation is "Gossip and gossip and up the chimney I go." Betsey Long-Tooth, the one who had given him shelter for the night, rescues him from jail, giving him back a magic knitted nightcap so they can escape. After they return to her warm house, they marry and live happily. For more on this book, see Cothran in Appalachian Folktales in General Collection.

Harris, Joel Chandler. "How a Witch Was Caught." Daddy Jake the Runaway: And Short Stories Told After Dark. New York: Century, 1889. Electronic copy in University of Florida Digital Collections. George A. Smathers Libraries. This is similar to the Appalachian tale, with an aggressive black cat that appears when a large "preacher man" stays in a haunted mill and eats spare ribs. A group of cats joins the first cat and they disappear up the chimney after the man cuts off the toe of one. The miller, astonished that the preacher survived the night, finds that his wife is a witch and the toe has turned into her finger with a ring on it. The preacher has read the witches can only be killed by burning and when the woman is tied up she turns into a cat so it doesn't seem so bad when they burn her.

"Old Kitty Rollins." A brief, enigmatic Ozarks tale from Missouri about a traveler encountering bewitched cats who tell him to take a message about Old Kitty Rollins' death to another cat. In McCarthy, William Bernard, ed. Cinderella in America: A Book of Folk and Fairy Tales. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007. p. 323, with notes on the source and tale type. See "Sop Doll" told by Marshall Ward above.

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