Strong Women in Appalachian Folktale Dramatizations by R. Rex Stephenson:
Ashpet, Mutsmag, and The Three Old Women's Bet

By Tina L. Hanlon
Ferrum College, 2001-2018

Overview: This article, originally written in Sept. 2001, discusses three Appalachian folktales about strong women that were dramatized by the Jack Tale Players of Ferrum College between 1998 and 2012. Writer/director R. Rex Stephenson combined elements from a number of oral and written sources to develop these adaptations of traditional tales. A few references have been added to performances and publications of these scripts since 2001. Included below are pictures, references, and links to related AppLit and Jack Tale Players web pages with more background, tale texts, and study guides on these and other Appalachian folktales. Links are also provided to online versions of related tales and other material not from this web site.

Grandmother Tales new cover 2013PERFORMANCE AND PUBLICATION NOTES: After being performed by the Jack Tale Players from 1998 and 2000, Stephenson's "Ashpet" and "Mutsmag" were first produced together within the play called Grandmother Tales in Dec. 2003 at Radford University's Pridemore Playhouse. Grandmother Tales was published by New Plays for Children in 2004. It was reprinted by Dramatic Publishing in 2012 with a new cover. "Mutsmag" was also published in Crosscurrents of Children's Literature: An Anthology of Texts and Criticism (Ed. J. D. Stahl, Tina L. Hanlon, and Elizabeth Lennox Keyser. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2006, pp. 401-09). The script of "Mutsmag" appears in Part 3, Oral and Written Literary Traditions, with a reprint of "Munsmeg," the oral tale collected by Richard Chase from the James Taylor Adams Collection. Grandmother Tales has been performed by theatres and schools in several different states since then. The Three Old Women’s Bet was published by I. E. Clark in 2002.

Another tale with a strong and smart heroine, "Catskins," was dramatized by Stephenson and the Jack Tale Players in 2007. In "Two Lost Babes," first adapted in 2006, a sister and brother who escape from some witches are the main characters (as in "Hansel and Gretel"). Both were performed with music by Emily Rose Tucker. Without music, those tales are incorporated into the play Stories My Kinfolk Told To Me, which won the Floyd Community Theatre Guild playwriting competition in 2017. Earlier in 2017, Todd Necessary’s drama class did a reading of the play at Marion High School, and it was produced by students at Forest Park High School in Woodbridge, Virginia, under the direction of BRDT alumna Lori Spitzer-Wilk. In 2016, Stephenson's class at the Ferrum College Summer Enrichment Camp developed an adaptation of "Like Meat Loves Salt," another tale focusing on a wise and resilient woman.

The Jack Tale Players of Ferrum College began entertaining audiences with traditional tales about that lucky young fellow Jack in 1975, but Jack’s popularity was challenged by a new group of heroines by the end of the century. R. Rex Stephenson, the performing group’s founder and director, adapted Ashpet, Mutsmag, and The Three Old Women’s Bet between 1998 and 2001. In these three dramas, hilarious scenes of sibling rivalry and competition between the sexes are especially appealing to both young and old audiences, while the resourceful, persistent main characters show that women and girls can be even more clever and self-reliant at times than Jack and other male heroes. Learning about the sources of these tales, tracing their links with similar stories from different places, and comparing them with other adaptations provide fascinating insights into the history and cultural significance of folktales as they are passed down through the oral tradition and adapted in various modern forms.

Versions of all three tales are found in Richard Chase’s Grandfather Tales (1948), but Stephenson likes to look beyond Chase’s well-known published collections, digging into oral sources and older folktale records when he is collecting ideas for his dramatizations [1]. He and his assistants found typed copies of “Ashpet” and “Mutsmag” in the James Taylor Adams Collection of oral folktales. Thousands of pages of unpublished tales and other types of folklore, much of it collected by Adams and other folklorists for the WPA in the 1930s and 1940s, are now stored at the University of Virginia's College at Wise and the Blue Ridge Institute’s archives in Ferrum [2]. As in his earlier adaptations, Stephenson retains the blend of Old World folktale motifs and regional American details and dialect found in so many Appalachian folktales that have been retold by generations of mountain storytellers.

Stephenson decided to dramatize Ashpet in 1998. Ever since, even the youngest audiences at Jack Tale performances recognize by the end of the story that Ashpet is the Appalachian counterpart of Cinderella (also known as Ashputtle in the Grimm Brothers’ nineteenth-century German collections and Ashpitel in Scotland). Although Stephenson doesn’t include the more violent images in older German and Appalachian versions of the tale, such as the stepsisters’ slicing off parts of their feet to try on the heroine’s slipper, or harsh punishments for the stepmother and sisters at the end, the stepmother’s sharp tongue and the fierce arguments between the two mean stepsisters throughout the play cause audiences to roar with laughter while also recognizing how vain and selfish these characters are. The girls are heartless in their treatment of Ashpet, and also in their confrontations with an old woman who could lend them some coals to light their fire. One of the most meaningful touches in Stephenson’s adaptation is the girls’ repeated taunts when they call the neighbor woman “old, ugly, dirty, poor and different.” Jody Brown (a Ferrum English professor and actor with the Jack Tale Players for many years) achieves a remarkable combination of dignity and mystery when she plays the old woman who insists, “If you want some fire, you have to brush my hair.”

Of course, good-hearted Ashpet is the only one willing to comb the old woman’s hair in exchange for fire, and offers to help her clean house. Like Jack and other heroes in many folktales, Ashpet receives magical assistance in return for acts of kindness. Nina Mikkelsen believes that Ashpet and the old woman should be recognized as examples of strong and clever female tricksters (43-44). When Ashpet is left behind to clean up while the others go off to a church meetin’ to see the prince, the old woman (like the fairy godmother in some Cinderella stories) uses magic rhymes to finish the housework and conjure up clothing for Ashpet and a horse (played by two actors who “neigh” and stomp around for a few seconds). Since the Jack Tale Players typically use few props or special costumes besides an occasional apron, shawl, or rough wig, the long red skirt and gold slippers that Ashpet puts on over her blue jeans and bare feet turn her into a beautiful heroine almost as striking as more sophisticated Cinderellas in dazzling ball gowns and glass slippers.

Moreover, Ashpet’s request for a red dress and her deliberate act of kicking off one shoe when she later slips away from the prince show that she takes some initiative in bringing about her own happy ending. As Jane Yolen argued in her 1977 article “America’s ‘Cinderella,’” the seemingly passive heroine of “Cinderella” is more active in traditional variants than she is in popular watered-down versions by modern American storytellers such as Walt Disney. And Kay Stone observed when comparing European and American folktales in 1975, "We see . . . what we have lost by taking our heroines from Grimm and Disney rather than from the tales of our own heritage" (49). Like other contemporary adaptations of “Ashpet” (such as Tom Davenport’s 1990 live-action film set in World War II), Stephenson’s script shows that compassion and self-confidence are as important as beauty and obedience in the Appalachian Cinderella. The lovestruck prince keeps the audience laughing at the end as he fends off the stepsisters who fight over him and runs around holding the gold slipper up to the feet of audience members, while the narrator tells of his finding big feet and small feet, sweet-smelling feet and not so sweet ones. But he is determined to find the girl he loves, while Ashpet, with moral support from the motherly old woman, waits patiently apart from the comic commotion until she is found by the fireplace and agrees to marry him in her remarkable red dress.

Prince & Ashpet in performance at Ferrum College
Tony Pica and Laurie Spitzer
Photo by Ken McCreedy
May 17, 2000
While Ashpet lives happily ever after with her prince like so many girls in well-known folktales, Stephenson developed a more innovative ending for his adaptation of another tale about a popular Appalachian heroine, Mutsmag. He also blended in motifs from other folktale types more than he usually does, and developed Mutsmag’s character so that she gradually becomes more assertive, without moving beyond the framework of a traditional folktale with flat characters who represent distinct traits and values. The primary source of this adaptation written in 2000 is a version from the James Taylor Adams Collection called “Munsmeg,” collected by Richard Chase (reprinted online at "Mutsmag" is closely related to English and Scottish folktales about Molly Whuppie, whose story appeared in Joseph Jacobs’ influential late-nineteenth-century collection, English Fairy Tales. “Molly Whuppie” has been reprinted in many contemporary feminist collections of folktales, but I have argued for some time that clever, independent Mutsmag is even more deserving of fame than her British predecessors [3].

Like Ashpet and other folk heroines, Mutsmag is an orphan who endures bullying and neglect from two selfish, less intelligent sisters. Chase depicts Mutsmag outsmarting the sisters as well as a giant and his wife, while Stephenson also shows her development of self-assertion when she outwits a gang of robbers and makes her sisters beg for her help after the robbers tie them to a tree. After the Jack Tale Players’ spring tour in 2000, drawings and comments sent in by Franklin County school children show that they were most fascinated by this scene of sibling rivalry in which Mutsmag talks back to the mean sisters while they are helpless. These drawings also reveal how effective the Jack Tale Players’ story theatre method of dramatization is in appealing to the children’s imagination. Where the actors use their bodies to create the tree, the robbers’ little house, and a cooking pot, many of the children drew images of trees, cabins, and pots. These drawings were used to illustrate the storybook adaptation Stephenson wrote for AppLit in 2002, an online picture book at

As in Ashpet, Stephenson retains the focus on good triumphing over evil without including explicit violence that would be inappropriate for live performances, which are often in small theatres full of school and family audiences, but also without watering down the stories too much as many other twentieth-century folktale adaptations have done. New scenes and dialogue raise subtle and humorous questions about the sociopolitical implications of a tale retold in rural America that retains some of the trappings of European monarchical societies. For example, questions of violence and politics are blended when the goofy "democratic one-eyed gang" votes on whether to kill Mutsmag, and then whether they will kill or just rob her mean sisters. Their death threat is reminiscent of a scene in Chase's" Jack and the Doctor's Girl" when some robbers tell Jack, "We got to kill ye. That's our rules here. We don't want nobody messin' in our business" (The Jack Tales 117). Mutsmag saves herself and her undeserving sisters by convincing the thieves to rob the girls. [4]

The cannibalistic two-headed giant brings the greatest threat of violence into this tale. Stephenson offsets the terror and suspense of the night-time scene in the giant’s home with humor; as Mutsmag realizes that danger is near and figures out how to save herself and her sisters again, she wakes up the other girls in deliberately annoying ways (counting sheep out loud with sheep sound effects, singing “Froggy Went A Courtin’”). These are among the most hilarious scenes in this drama, with the giant’s three vain but ugly daughters (often played by Stephenson and other men in wild wigs), who are easily duped into handing over the necklaces intended to keep them safe. In other versions of “Mutsmag” and “Molly Whuppie,” the giant then kills his own three daughters by mistake in their dark loft. Tom Davenport’s 1992 film Mutzmag, in which the heroine is also the narrator, does a skillful job of incorporating grisly and gothic details into this story of the brave girl who obviously will survive these horrors to tell the tale [5]. Sound effects indicate that the giant wrings his own daughters’ necks in the film, but in Stephenson’s dramatization, it is a good compromise for live theatre to show the giant dragging his daughters offstage. It is still suspenseful and the giant is no less a villain because it’s left to our imaginations to wonder what he does to them. [6] Also, the giant’s mean old woman does not have her head cut off, as she does in Davenport’s film, but Mutsmag gets rid of her by tricking her into running offstage to try to drink the ocean dry.

Stephenson’s treatment of the giant and his wife also created some intriguing but unintentional links with variants of older folktales. When he wrote the scene in which Mutsmag convinces the giant's wife to go drink up the Atlantic Ocean, he realized it is similar to the contest with a witch in Chase’s and his own versions of Hardy Hard Head. Later, however, I was amazed to find a very old Gaelic variant of "Molly Whuppie" (“Maol a Chliobain”), in which the heroine Maol does almost the same thing to the giant (rather than just escaping across the river or tricking him into drowning himself, as in other versions). “The giant stuck himself down, and he drank till he burst” (Carter 27). [7]. Stephenson created a giant from his usual primary resource—the actors’ bodies, using two actors speaking in unison, one on the shoulders of the other. (Davenport’s live action film uses a large man for the giant, who is not frightening enough for some of my students while others say he is scarier because he’s so real.) Illustrated stories in which Jack encounters giants with multiple heads usually show the heads side by side, but I have seen a drawing by John Leech, from an 1843 edition of Jack the Giant Killer, that depicts a giant with one head on top of another [8]. When Mutsmag tricks Stephenson’s giant into sniffing a magic powder that is really pepper, he sneezes and breaks apart. This fatal fall to the ground reminds me of another famous giant falling to his death, in “Jack and the Beanstalk” (known in Appalachia as Jack and the Bean Tree or “Jack and the Wonder Beans”).

The new ending Stephenson created after Mutsmag defeats the giant is a wonderful compromise between variants of this tale that marry the heroine off to a prince (as in Gail Haley’s “Muncimeg and the Giant,” and most British versions of “Molly Whuppie”), and those that show Mutsmag going off alone to seek her fortune, or settling down with her reward of gold for destroying the giant (as in Chase’s and Davenport’s versions). In Angela Carter's reprint of the Scottish “Maol a Chliobain,” Maol does not marry at the end (232). In Stephenson’s adaptation, the king offers Mutsmag a choice and she decides to seek adventures with her gold reward before settling down, although the lovestruck prince hopes she will come back to him [9].

“Mutsmag,” like some lesser-known variations on the Cinderella story and other tales about girls fending for themselves, puts a strong emphasis on positive mother-daughter bonds; when Mutsmag’s mother dies in the beginning, she leaves Mutsmag an old knife, possibly realizing that resourceful Mutsmag would use her humble knife repeatedly to her own advantage, as more flamboyant male heroes use gleaming swords to fight their enemies. Mutsmag also relies less on magic than Molly Whuppie and other famous giant killers. She gets some assistance from magical helpers in the early parts of Chase’s “Mutsmag,” but in Stephenson’s adaptation it is always Mutsmag’s watchfulness and ingenious actions that enable her to triumph, saving her sisters’ skins without letting them put her down, and finally ridding the country of the giant and his wife.

After portraying this most fearless giant-killing heroine, Stephenson turned to a different kind of tale that also focuses on the rivalries and close bonds of women characters who outsmart gullible men. In spring 2001, the Jack Tale Players began performing The Three Old Women’s Bet. It is not a wonder tale with magic working for or against the characters, but a purely comical folktale about women trying to outdo each other in making fools of their husbands. The Appalachian tale called “The Two Old Women’s Bet” in Chase’s Grandfather Tales has been reprinted in several anthologies as an example of an American folktale about “sillies” or fools or noodleheads. Variations on this tale of female tricksters and foolish men (tale type 1406 in Aarne and Thompson’s folktale indexes) are found in many places, from Iceland to Russia. It is related to medieval fabliaux and jests—traditional types of stories about tricks played on the opposite sex that were adapted by authors such as Boccaccio, Chaucer, and Shakespeare (in Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor, for example) [10]. Angela Carter notes "that if a marriage is the ultimate destination of so many fairy tales, marriage itself and its conditions are universally treated as a joke" (237).

           The Three Old Women enjoy a friendly argument about their bet at a performance in a Georgia elementary school, May 2002.

Other Photos at this Link

Obviously, this plot appeals to older audiences at campus and community performances, but the Jack Tale Players perform most often for school children. While Stephenson and I were researching the origins of this tale, he found a copy of “The Merry Wives’ Wager” from one of Andrew Lang's late-nineteenth-century English fairy tale collections, The Pink Fairy Book. Lang notes that he adapted a Danish version of tale type 1406, in which a third wife tricks her husband into barking like a dog. Realizing that the man pretending to be a dog would be a big hit with younger children, Stephenson included three couples rather than two in his adaptation set in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The third wife convinces her paranoid silversmith husband that their dog has disappeared, so he must put on a dog collar and floppy ears to protect his silver from an approaching band of robbers, the Growling Grizzly Gunther Gang. It is even more amusing when the fearful husband can’t get the name of the gang right, calling them the Growin’ Green Gardenin’ Gang and the Genuine Gamy Generic Gang.

One of the other wives plays a trick that is very familiar because Hans Christian Andersen portrayed a couple of male schemers committing the same fraud in "The Emperor's New Clothes" (based on another traditional tale type, number 1620, called The King’s New Clothes). The wife whose husband is vain about his clothing convinces him that she is making him a new brown suit "from the finest virgin wool in existence." Since she says that a man who has lied to his wife can’t see the fabric, her husband is duped into donning an invisible suit and going out in public in his underwear. Like Ashpet’s red skirt, the long red suit of underwear that this man puts on over his ordinary blue jeans and checked shirt is especially striking in a story theatre dramatization with minimal costumes, except that it has the opposite effect of making him look utterly foolish rather than beautiful and confident.

The story ends at the wake of the man whose wife has actually convinced her hypochondriac spouse, through her powers of persuasion, that he has fallen sick and died. Since the Jack Tale Players are limited in their ability to travel with props as big as a coffin, or carry a heavy box filled with a male actor around the stage, Stephenson omitted the image of this man rising up from his coffin at the end, but he has some bewildering experiences moving around while his body supposedly rests on a chair, wondering when spirit and body will be united in this unfamiliar process of dying. The climax of the story is the same as in the old folktales: all frauds are exposed when the man who thinks he is dead rises up and everyone is laughing at his friend who came to the wake wearing no clothes. An Icelandic version of this tale is called "Now I Should Laugh, If I Were Not Dead" (reprinted in Carter, 102-3).

In the Appalachian tales I’ve read about two women, the wives keep arguing at the end about who won the bet, but the narrator in Stephenson’s dramatization interrupts the action, asking the audience to decide which wife made the biggest fool out of her husband. Usually the husband in the long red underwear gets the most applause and his wife wins. In any case, the winner gets her house cleaned by the husbands. Since this folktale typically begins with women who are close friends even though they are competitive and argumentative, Stephenson’s ending in which the women go out together and enjoy themselves leaves us with a positive final image of female companionship and victory.

The narrator declares at the very end that “if there is a moral to our story, it would be, there ain’t a woman alive that can’t make a man look foolish.” Although this tale may be one of the silliest ever dramatized by the Jack Tale Players, one that seems intended for pure fun, it does explore issues worth discussing with children and students—not only questions about how jokes and satires use exaggeration and overgeneralization, but also ideas about the character types portrayed. Each woman is especially clever at exploiting her husband’s particular fears or vanities to make him act so incredibly foolish. After the Jack Tale Players visited schools in Woodstock, Georgia, in May 2001, the secretary of the Bascomb Elementary PTA wrote, “The entire audience was intrigued by your clever ability to combine story/song/staging/dialect and an interesting view of Appalachian heritage.” She reported that children were eager to check out folktale books in the library (and the Jack Tale Players were invited for a return visit in May 2002).

When I asked in 2001 why he turned to folktales with female heroes after more than twenty years of dramatizing Jack Tales, Stephenson (who has three daughters) replied,

“A father of girls is always interested in strong female characters. You hope all your kids would turn out like Mutsmag, would stand up to people and make right decisions based on what they want out of life rather than what is expected of them.”

He also noted that he has felt “the time is right” for drawing attention to these good stories that were just not as widely known as Jack Tales. When his first serious historical play about two brave women, Too Free for Me, won a 1995 prize for unpublished plays, awarded by the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, Judy Matetzschk introduced a performance in Minneapolis by expressing her happiness about a new trend in America, since playwrights had finally realized they could produce plays about strong women for young audiences. Stephenson was aware of some irony in these comments, since his play had been written at least sixteen years before the contest (and found a publisher in 1998 after winning this contest). Beginning in 1998, the Jack Tale Players, like many other storytellers, adapters, and editors of folktales in recent years, helped these old folktales about strong women achieve equal fame alongside tales about Jack and other heroes. Stephenson incorporated “Ashpet” and “Mutsmag” into a script called Grandmother Tales, which was produced by the Radford University Department of Theatre in December 2003 (and published by New Plays for Children in 2004).

Many resources for teachers and students who want to learn more about Appalachian folktales can be found in this web site (see links below), including study guides for tales dramatized by Stephenson, more pictures, and annotated bibliographies that compare related tales available in print, audio recordings, drama, and film. One web page contains guidelines written by Cathy Brookshire, a dramatist at James Madison University, correlating Virginia Standards of Learning for K-5 with student activities related to Stephenson’s adaptations of "Mutsmag" and "Ashpet." This study guide provides a good model for integrating study of regional folklore into each area of a required English curriculum. Information on the Jack Tale Players can also be obtained from their web site ( and Facebook page The Jack Tales.

The Jack Tale Players Web Site

Study Guides for Jack Tale Players

Activities to Accompany Study of Dramatizations by the Jack Tale Players

Standards of Learning Covered by Study of "Mutsmag" and "Ashpet" Dramatizations

"Mutsmag" - Stephenson Story Illustrated by Franklin County School Children, with links to additional performance photos

Mutsmag, Appalachian Folk Heroine, and her European Ancestors,” 2015-16 article by Tina L. Hanlon.

Pictures of Jack Tale Players Performance of "Mutsmag" and "Ashpet," 5/17/00

Pictures of Performances of "The Three Old Women's Bet," 2001-2002

The Script as Story Theatre, by R. Rex Stephenson

Bibliography of Dramas and Tales by R. Rex Stephenson (additional photos from "Mutsmag" at top of page)


1.  Background information and quotations not attributed to other sources are from personal conversations with playwright Rex Stephenson and from observing performances of these tales.

2.  The University of Virginia's College at Wise was called Clinch Valley College in 1975, when Adams' widow Dicey Adams gave Stephenson and his colleagues permission to use the neglected folklore transcripts stored in boxes there. For more background on these sources and the Jack Tale Players’ dramatic methods, see Whited and Hanlon, "Ferrum Performers Keep Jack Tales Alive” in this web site. For more general background on Appalachian folktales, see also AppLit's essay "Wonder Tales in Appalachia" by Grace Toney Edwards.

3.  For more discussion of Appalachian folktale heroines and their counterparts in related tales, see Hanlon, “Strong Women in Appalachian Folktales” (which was written before Stephenson’s dramatic adaptations of “Mutsmag” or "The Three Old Women's Bet"). Much of the material from that article is incorporated into AppLit's bibliography pages, Appalachian Folktales in Children's Literature and Collections. Kay Stone, defending lesser known folk heroines such as Muncimeg from Leonard Roberts’ Kentucky folktale collections, notes, “Like heroes, they are judged by their actions. . . . Unfortunately, heroines of this sort are not numerous in oral tales, and do not exist at all in any of the Grimm tales or the [pre-1975] Disney films" (46). Nina Mikkelsen sees interesting parallels in male and female tricksters in Appalachian and African American tales, not only Ashpet and her "witch-woman" helper, but also strong young women in Chase’s "Rush Cape," "Catskins" and "Old Fire Dragaman." See also Anne Shelby's The Adventures of Molly Whuppie and Other Appalachian Folktales (described in the AppLit bibliography Appalachian Folktale Collections K-Z). Published in 2007 (long after this essay was original written), Shelby's book, using the name Molly Whuppie in tales based largely on Roberts' "Muncimeg," "Merrywise," and Jack tales, is the first collection of Appalachian tales to focus primarily on a "clever, brave, and strong" female hero (book jacket).

4.  See photo of one-eyed robber (played by Rex Stephenson in 2000) tying the mean sisters to a tree, at top right of Stephenson Bibliography page. (The tree is played by an actor with her arms up in the air.) The picture on the left shows Stephenson as the king with the prince on his right, talking to Mutsmag and her sisters.

5. See Sappho Charney’s essay on Davenport’s handling of violent images in Mutzmag. A still photo of Davenport's giant and his wife fighting is at See also AppLit's bibliography on Davenport's fairy tale films.

6. In Shelby's title story "The Adventures of Molly Whuppie," after Molly switches the giants' girls' white nightcaps with the "red as blood" caps given to herself and her sisters, the giant woman hits her own girls on the head with a plank and locks them in the cellar, meaning to take the visitors in order to "bake 'em into bread"; her girls "squealed and squalled" but "she was used to that" (5-6). Shelby's notes explain that she prefers to leave out witches and she most of the harsher violence in the old tales.

7. “Maol a Chliobain” is reprinted in Angela Carter’s The Old Wives' Fairy Tale Book. There is another interesting but unintentional similarity between this old tale and Stephenson's scene in which Mutsmag's sisters are tied to a tree by robbers. When the sisters are trying to get rid of Maol, they tie her to a rock, then to a peat stack, and then to a tree, but each time she follows behind them with the rock, peat stack, or tree on top of her. Each time the tale says, "her mother's blessing came and freed her" (24). This is an unusually explicit indication that the spirit of the dead mother continues to help the folk heroine overcome obstacles. See AppLit page Summaries of Tales Related to "Mutsmag" for details on Carter's Scottish sources.

8. In Stephenson's "Jack Fear-No-Man," Jack defeats three giants (published in The Jack Tales). For more on Appalachian giant-killers and their counterparts in other traditions, see AppLit's annotated index pages on Jack and the Giants and Mutsmag. You can see Leech's 1843 illustration of a two-headed giant in Jack The Giant Killer online in the Open Library at As well as the frontispiece at this link (an illustration copied in The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature's entry on "Jack the Giant Killer"), the giant with two vertical heads is shown on p. 22, followed by a giant with three heads in a triangular shape, and a later giant with two heads side by side.

9. Kay Stone has a more positive take than some critics on the conclusion of tales with female heroes, even when there is marriage at the end. She observes of characters such as Molly Whuppie and Muncimeg, “Though most do marry, their weddings are no more central to the tale than is the concluding marriage of most heroes. Some husbands are even won as passive prizes, in the same way that princesses are won by heroes in many tales. Most important, active heroines are not victims of hostile forces beyond their control but are, instead, challengers who confront the world rather than waiting for success to fall at their pretty feet” (46).

10. For explanation of the fabliaux and their often obscene content, with links to online examples and other resources, see The Fabliaux, at Harvard University's The Geoffrey Chaucer Page.

Works Cited

Aarne, Antti Amatus. The Types of the Folk-tale: A Classification and Bibliography. Transl. and enl. by Stith Thompson. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1973.

Andersen, Hans Christian. "The Emperor's New Clothes." 1837. Transl. D. L. Ashliman. 1999. Folklore and Mythology Electronic Texts. Ed. D. L. Ashliman. Univ. of Pittsburgh.

Ashpet: An Appalachian Cinderella. Dir. Tom Davenport. Videocassette. Davenport Films, 1990.

Carter, Angela. The Old Wives’ Fairy Tale Book. New York: Pantheon, 1990.

Charney, Sappho. “‘No Chalkmark on the Mantel’: Power and Violence in Mutzmag.” The Antic Art: Enhancing Children’s Literature Experiences through Film and Video. Ed. Lucy Rollin. Fort Atkinson, WI: Highsmith, 1993. 39-46.

Chase, Richard. Grandfather Tales. Boston: Houghton, 1948.

Chase, Richard. The Jack Tales. Boston: Houghton, 1943.

"The Fabliaux." Geoffrey Chaucer. Harvard University, 2002.

Haley, Gail E. “Muncimeg and the Giant.” Mountain Jack Tales. New York: Dutton, 1992. 89-98.

Hanlon, Tina L. "Strong Women in Appalachian Folktales." The Lion & the Unicorn 24 (April 2000): 225-46.

“Jack the Giant Killer.” The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature. Ed. Humphrey Carpenter and Mari Prichard. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1984. 276-77.

Jacobs, Joseph. English Fairy Tales. 1898. Rpt. New York: Dover, 1967. A reprint of "Molly Whuppie" is also online at

Lang, Andrew, ed. The Pink Fairy Book. 1897. Rpt. New York: Dover, 1967. A reprint of "The Merry Wives" is also online at

Leech, John, illus. Jack the Giant Killer, by the author of "The Comic Latin Grammar." With illustrations by Leech. London: Wm. S. Orr, 1843. Open Library Internet Archive.

Mikkelsen, Nina. "Strange Pilgrimages: Cinderella Was a Trickster—and Other Unorthodoxies of American and African-American Heroic Folk Figures." A Necessary Fantasy? The Heroic Figure in Children's Popular Culture. Ed. Dudley Jones and Tony Watkins. Children's Literature and Culture Series. Vol. 18. New York: Garland, 2000. 24-50.

Mutzmag: An Appalachian Folktale. Dir. Tom Davenport. Videocassette. Davenport Films, 1992.

Shelby, Anne. The Adventures of Molly Whuppie and Other Appalachian Folktales. Illus. Paula McArdle. Chapel Hill: Univ. of NC Press, 2007.

Stephenson, R. Rex. Ashpet. Unpublished script for The Jack Tale Players. Ferrum, VA, 1998.

---. Grandmother Tales: Mutsmag and Ashpet, Traditional Tales from the Blue Ridge Mountains. Charlottesville, VA: New Plays for Children, 2004. Reprint Woodstock, IL: Dramatic Publishing, 2012.

---. The Jack Tales.  Schulenburg, TX:  I. E. Clark, 1991. Reprint Woodstock, IL: Dramatic Publishing.

---. Mutsmag. Unpublished script for The Jack Tale Players. Ferrum, VA, 2000. Reprinted in Crosscurrents of Children's Literature: An Anthology of Texts and Criticism. Ed. J. D. Stahl, Tina L. Hanlon, and Elizabeth Lennox Keyser. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2006. 401-09.

---. "Mutsmag." Illus. Franklin County, VA school children and R. Wymann Spencer. 2002. AppLit. Ed. Tina L. Hanlon Ferrum College. Background discussion in Introduction by Tina L. Hanlon.

---. The Three Old Women’s Bet. Schulenburg, TX: I. E. Clark, 2002.

---. Too Free for Me. Orem, UT:  Encore Performance Publishing, 1998. Reprint Venice, FL: Eldridge Plays and Musicals.

Stone, Kay. "Things Walt Disney Never Told Us." The Journal of American Folklore 88 (Jan.-Mar. 1975): 42-50. Full text available online through library services such as JSTOR.

Whited, Lana A. and Tina L. Hanlon. "Ferrum Performers Keep Jack Tales Alive." ALCA-Lines: Journal of the Assembly on the Literature and Culture of Appalachia V (1997): 20-23. Rpt.

Yolen, Jane. “America’s ‘Cinderella.’” Children’s Literature in Education 8 (1977): 21-29.

Complete List of AppLit Pages on Folklore

This page created 7/23/02   |   Top of Page   |   Site index   |    Links checked 10/1/03   |   Last update 8/31/13