Like other Jack Tales, this one shows how remnants of old hero tales and legends brought to America by European settlers were transformed into folktales filled with details from the language and everyday life of regional Appalachian culture. Jack is a young man from an ordinary family concerned with clearing the land, keeping food on the table, and helping others when trouble comes—even if trouble takes the form of a wicked dragon. His struggles in the realm of the dragaman or fire dragon resemble those in many tales when the folk hero, with some help which is often supplied by female characters, escapes from giants, devils, or dragons.

Jack and the Fire Dragon cover by HaleyHaley, Gail E. Jack and the Fire Dragon. New York: Crown, 1988. N. pag. Jack's opponent, "the wickedest and biggest giant," appears first as a mountain man stealing food. In Haley's colorful linocut illustrations, his green cat-like eyes and green coat with a scale pattern foreshadow his transformation underground into a "slinky, scaly fire-breathing dragon." One sideways illustration, covering 2/3 of a double-page spread, shows Jack being let down in a bucket by his jealous brothers, with imps around the cave walls. There are also tall heroic images of Jack facing and fighting the dragon. With some magic help, brave Jack rescues three sisters from the dragon, forgives his brothers for abandoning the quest, and wins the heart of the youngest sister, Jenny (whose name links her with King Arthur's Guinevere). Description in Fairrosa Cyber Library of Children's Literature.

Haley, Gail E. Jack and the Fire Dragon retold as a longer story than Haley's picture book, has been published in different places by the Newspapers in Education program as a serial story, with links to biography, activities and background on folk and fairy tales. It was part of the "Dragons, Dreams and Daring Deeds" state summer reading program in Michigan in 2005. See Ohio Newspapers in Education for links to these materials as pdf files (accessed July 2010). An Internet search may take you to other copies available through different newspapers. The biography says Haley heard the story from Ray Hicks (see below).

"Old Fire Dragaman" retold by Richard Chase

The Jack Tales. Boston: Houghton, 1943, pp. 106-13. The full-page drawing by Berkeley Williams, Jr. depicts the "dragaman" as a giant mountain man with a very long beard, puffing huge clouds of smoke from his pipe. Chase gives detailed notes on regional variants; cites tale type 301 in other countries, The Three Stolen Princesses; and speculates on links with the Old English epic Beowulf, in which the hero fights a dragon underground. Description in Fairrosa Cyber Library of Children's Literature.

"Old Fire Dragaman." In Saltman, Judith, ed. The Riverside Anthology of Children's Literature. 6th ed. Boston: Houghton, 1985. 

"Old Fire Dragaman"  In Haviland, Virginia, ed. North American Legends. New York: Collins, 1979. 

Salsi, Lynn. Jack and the Dragon. Illus. James Young. Brown Summit, NC: Forza Renea Editions, 2009. This picture book retelling of the Beech Mountain tale, with humorous color illustrations, describes the foods Jack prepares for his brothers, who don't believe him when he tells about the dragon that steals their lunch. The long red dragon has "flashing yellow eyes and crooked yellow teeth." When Jack follows the dragon down a well, he finds a blonde girl on top of a shining heap of gold and jewels and "jars of jam and honey." She gives him magic salve, a silver sword, and a wishing ring, which help him defeat the dragon and escape after his brothers take the girl and treasure. He subdues his brothers with his sword so they back down, claiming they were going to return for him and agreeing to do their own chores. A few years later Jack builds a house on a ridge and marries the girl. Salsi reads this story and "Jack and the Giants" on a CD, The Appalachian Jack Tales Audiobook. Terra Alta, WV: Headline Kids, 2013.

"Jack and the Giant Fire Draga'man." In Salsi, Lynn, ed. Appalachian Jack Tales: Told by Hicks, Ward and Harmon Families. Illus. James Young. Brown Summit, NC: Forza Renea Editions, 2008. pp. 135-44. Salsi discusses the dragaman as dragon or giant to "represent hard times." The illustration in this book shows a giant man. She describes various members of the Hicks family telling about hearing this tale when they were young and even claiming they had seen the dragaman's hole in the ground (p. 135). Salsi notes that this tale has Irish structure and is similar to "Queen of Tubber Tintye," in which an Irish lad "passes through a series of chambers of sleeping monsters to find room after room of sleeping young women--each one more beautiful than the others," and then a room full of gold. Salsi also points out that mountain children worked with their parents at young ages and it would be unusual for young men to marry girls they did not know, as Jack and his brothers do in this tale when they marry Marie, Mary and Martha (p. 136). This book has eleven Jack tales with black and white illustrations, background on the storytellers (with whom Salsi worked closely) and additional notes on "mountain meanings," folkways, historical background, and author's notes.

Hicks, Ray. “Jack and Old Fire Dragon.” In McCarthy, William Bernard, ed. Cinderella in America: A Book of Folk and Fairy Tales. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007. pp. 346-52, with notes on the teller and tale types. From a 1985 recording in the Thomas G. Burton Collection at East Tennessee State University. In chapter 13 of this book on The Hicks-Harmon Beech Mountain Tradition, one of two chapters focusing on tales from the Southern mountains. McCarthy notes that the plot with an underground journey and three princesses is common in both English-speaking American and Hispanic traditions. 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. See tales listed at Folktale Collections Indexed in AppLit.

“Jack and Old Fire Dragon.” Told by Ray Hicks. In Ray Hicks Telling Four Traditional Jack Tales. LP. Sharon, Conn: Folk-Legacy Records, 1964.

"Jack and the Old Fire Dragon." Told by Ray Hicks. In Jack Tales. 1 Audio cassette. Sharon, Conn:  Folk-Legacy Records, 1963. Also includes "Jack and the Three Steers,""Big Man Jack, Killed Seven at a Whack," and "Whickety-Whack, into my Sack."

Hicks, Ray and Luke Borrow. Jack and the Fire Dragon. Vidocassette (20 minutes). Appalachian Storyteller Ray Hicks Series. Part 3. Derry, NH: Chip Taylor Communications, 1997. Produced by Luke Barrow, Fandangle Films. Based on Richard Chase's The Jack Tales.

"Old Fire Dragaman" and other tales. Told by Stanley Hicks, 1985, on field tapes in Cheryl Oxford Collection, Manuscripts Department, Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. See Inventory of Cheryl Oxford Collection, 1981-1988.

Parker, Jeff. "Old Fire Dragaman: From an Appalachian Jack Tale." Illus. Tom Fowler. Jim Henson's the Storyteller. Vol. 1. Los Angeles: Archaia, 2011. pp. 33-40. Graphic novel format. Detailed review of this book by Harley J. Sims at Mythopoeic Society web site: "Perhaps the most enchanting visuals of the collection are the work of Tom Fowler, who renders Parker’s 'Old Fire Dragaman' (an Appalachian Jack tale) subtly in pencils, with fitting predominance of black, red, and gold." Brad Hawley, Ph.D., writes in Fantasy Literature web site, "It has some of my favorite images, aided by the artist’s willingness to break out of the regular use of panels. For example, a page might have one or two panels layered on top of larger images that make up most of the page. The result is extremely interesting layouts and compositional designs, perhaps the most creative in the book." In the frame story in this book, the storyteller tells the tale to Dog, who asks whether Jack is "going up the beanstalk" or going to "outwit the bull" or "maybe challenge the devil?" (p. 33). Dog makes a joke about the origin of "jackpot" when Jack gathers a pot full of gold (p. 37). The Dragaman is depicted as a bulky giant man with a huge pipe full of fire, whose black smoke leads Jack to the hole under a tree's roots that leads down to his lair full of things he stole, gold and three young ladies. Underground the giant turns into a black dragon. Dog and the storyteller discuss Dog's preference for "a bit of character development" since Jack often doesn't change in his stories, but storytellers tell them differently and in this one his exact method and motivation for defeating the dragon with the enchanted sword the women give him are not explained. The feast stolen by the Dragaman from Jack and his brothers is balanced by a lavish feast at the end where they celebrate with the three young women.

"Old Fire Dragaman." Listed with program "Jack's Mama" by Sharon Kirk Clifton, Indiana storyteller, 2001.

"Jack and the Dragaman." In Doherty, Gillian. Usborne Stories of Dragons. London: Usborne, 2006. Unfortunately, this book contains no acknowledgements or notes on the sources of stories. For example, "Jack and the Dragaman" appears to be a retelling in standard English of the Appalachian Jack tale. It says that Will, Tom and Jack live in a log cabin miles from anywhere. They rescue one girl from the dragaman and the girl doesn't help much in the escape. Jack cuts the dragon's head off after trying twice with a hatchet and getting hurt with a fireball.

Teaching Four "Jack" Books includes activities on Jack and the Fire Dragon.

See also:

"Old Bluebeard." In Isabel 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. 341-43). A landmark article containing Jack tales told by Jane Hicks Gentry (1863-1925), recorded by Carter in 1923. 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. This tale is very similar to the dragaman tales except that the villain is a man with a blue beard and long teeth. Available online through library services such as JSTOR. This tale reprinted in Jean Cothran, ed. With a Wig, With a Wag, and Other American Folk Tales. Illus. Clifford N. Grady. New York: David McKay, 1954, pp. 26-33 (also contains a Jack tale from New York state, "Rusty Jack"). For illustration of Old Bluebeard by Clifford N. Grady, see Jack and Old Greasybeard.

Stephenson, R. Rex. "Jack and Ol' Greasy Beard." The Jack Tales. Schulenburg, TX: I. E. Clark, 1991. Reprint Woodstock, IL: Dramatic Publishing. Story theatre dramatization, as performed by The Ferrum Jack Tale Players. Ol' Greasy Beard steals food from Jack and his brothers. In a chase scene, the brothers rescue Sally, who has been kept captive in Mr. Greasy Beard's cave. Sally calls Jack "brave and clever"; later they marry and have seven clever sons.

"The Man and the Devil's Daughter." 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. 99-105. The man rescues one of three girls, who turns out to be the devil's daughter, and she helps him with impossible tasks. For more on this tale, see "Jack and King Marock" page.

Musick, Ruth Ann. Green Hills of Magic: West Virginia Folktales from Europe. 1970. Rpt. Parsons, WV: McClain Printing, 1989. Section 5, "Dragons, Giants, and Other Monsters," contains several tales with dragons.

"How Dragon Run Got Its Name." In Virginia Folk Legends. Ed. Thomas E. Barden. Charlottesville: U of VA Press, 1991, pp. 216-17. A legend passed down for 200 years, collected in Gloucester County, VA in 1938. A man falls sick and dies after seeing, while fishing in a stream, a dragon or devil driving a chariot—"the most horrible and gruesome looking creature imaginable."

Compare with:

The Gnome or "The Elves." Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Household Tales. Trans. Margaret Hunt (London: George Bell, 1884), 2:24-28. This reprint in Fairy Tales, Memorial University of Newfoundland English Department web site. In tale 91 a small "earth mannikin" harasses three huntsmen until Hans stands up to him and the mannikin takes Hans down a well to rescue three princesses held by dragons with different numbers of heads. Hans' brothers try to kill him after he rescues the princesses but they are hanged after Hans escapes (by using a magic flute which brings elves to help him) and the king hears of their deceptions.

"The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs." Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Household Tales. Trans. Margaret Hunt (London: George Bell, 1884, 1892). Reprinted online at SurLaLuneFairyTales.com, In this tale the King tries to get rid of the lucky boy who is prophesied to marry his daughter, so the King sends him to fetch three hairs from the devil, which the hero accomplishes with help from the devil's grandmother.

"Mr. Death and Molly Applegate" is a fascinating tale in which the heroine ends up marrying Mr. Death. She travels with him and sings lullabies to children in the Western U.S. Mr. Death's Granny asks Death three questions while he is asleep in the middle of the tale. It was told by Ron Jones of North Carolina at the NC Storyfest, Greensboro, NC, May 22, 2010.

"The King of Erin and the Queen of the Lonesome Island (An Irish Tale)." From Curtin, Jeremiah. Myths and Folk-lore of Ireland. Boston: Little, Brown, 1890 (also London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1890). In SurLaLuneFairyTales.com and elsewhere, this tale is grouped with "Sleeping Beauty" stories. It is the "Queen of Tubber Tintye" tale that Lynn Salsi (above) links with the Appalachian Jack tale.

See also Dragons in Children's Literature: Annotated Bibliographies by Tina L. Hanlon.


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