AppLit Home Jack Tales / Animal Tales Tina L. Hanlon
"Jack and the Varmints" or "The Lion and the Unicorn"

Johnson, Paul Brett. Fearless Jack. New York: Margaret K. McElderry, 2001. N. pag. This picture book begins, “Back some time ago when folks still had to worry about giants and wild unicorns and such, there was an old woman and her son, Jack.” Fearless Jack coverAfter he kills ten yellow jackets at a whack, Jack is recruited for killing some animals that are terrorizing a town. The mayor gets him to go after a boar, a bear, and a unicorn. He intends to take off instead of facing wild “varmints,” as they are called in oral versions, until a combination of luck and quick thinking enables him to overcome each beast as he encounters it. Jack in Johnson's illustrations is a young boy, a Tom Sawyer type, with a dog at his side whose expressions react to each incident. The end sets up Jack's next encounter with a giant (in Jack Outwits the Giants, Johnson's next book). (Reader's theater script formerly available at Johnson's web site, but Johnson died in 2011.) 

Chase, Richard. "Jack and the Varmints." The Jack Tales. Boston: Houghton, 1943. pp. 58-66. With three drawings by Berkeley Williams, Jr. of Jack confronting a "big wild hog," a unicorn, and a lion. Chase (like Roberts, below) cites type 1640, The Brave Tailor, although this version has no giants. Jack kills seven butterflies with a paddle he has thoughtlessly whittled. After his belt saying "Strong man Jack killed seven at a whack" attracts the King, he earns thousands of dollars by defeating these fierce animals through trickery. He goes home with "a whole pile of money down in his old ragged overhall pocket" (although he is a young man in a suit in the illustrations). The tale ends, "And the last time I went down there Jack was still rich, and I don't think he's worked any yet." Carl Lindahl (see below) notes that Chase's version has more details about Jack being a lazy braggart than other versions from the Hicks-Harmon family. This tale is reprinted in Lechner, Judith V. Allyn & Bacon Anthology of Traditional Literature. New York: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon, 2004. pp. 135-37. It also appeared in Clarkson, Atelia, and Gilbert B. Cross, ed. World Folktales: A Scribner Resource Collection. New York: Scribner, 1980 ("a collection of more than sixty folktales from various parts of the world with an analysis of each tale and suggestions for folklore study"). This book also contains "Lazy Jack" but I

Chase, Richard, ed. "Jack and Old Strongman." American Folk Tales and Songs. 1956. Rpt. New York: Dover, 1971. pp. 86-90. A "great stout feller" called Strongman Peters, wearing a belt saying "Killed Seven," takes up with Jack because Jack has "Killed Fourteen" on his forehead after killing flies. Chase says the informant he calls Tom Hunt called Strongman a giant, and around Beech Mountain, NC, a giant could mean a male witch as well as great size. Chase felt a stout man would be more plausible at the end of the tale. Jack tricks Strongman into thinking he does several feats of strength such as punching a hole through a tree. The King's girl likes both of them and the King, who can see that Jack is sharper, as well as younger and smaller, sets a contest for them to catch a lion. The girl suspects Jack's success, so the King says she can sleep between the two men and in the night he will see which one she is facing. Jack gets mint for himself and ramps and wild onions, which he convinces Strongman they should eat since the girl ate onions. In the night she can't stand to face Strongman although she tries, so her father finds her facing Jack and Jack gets to marry her, and they get along "fairly well."

"Jack and the Varmints." In Hicks, Orville, and Julia Taylor Ebel. Jack Tales and Mountain Yarns, As Told By Orville Hicks. Illus. Sherry Jenkins Jensen. Boone, NC: Parkway Publishers, 2009. Afterword by Thomas McGowan. pp. 48-63. Pencil drawings show Jack with the wild animals and the king as a bearded man in a rocking chair. At the end Hicks comments, "This is one of my favorite tales." This book contains discussion of Jack and the Hicks storytellers by Orville Hicks, Ebel, and McGowan.

“Jack and the Varmints.” Told by Orville Hicks. In Mule Egg Seller and Appalachian Storyteller. Compact Disc. Boone, NC: Orville Hicks, 1998. 15:15 minutes.

"Jack and the Varmints." Told by Orville Hicks. In Petro, Pamela. Sitting Up with the Dead: A Storied Journey Through the American South. New York: Arcade, 2001. Petro, a Massachusetts author, describes her four trips through the South and visits with storytellers, recording conversations and tales from each one. Other Appalachian storytellers discussed include Ray Hicks and David Holt.

"Jack the Varmint Killer: A Tale from the Appalachian Mountains." Retold by Josepha Sherman. In Trickster Tales: Forty Folk Stories from Around the World. Ed. Josepha Sherman. Illus. David Boston. Little Rock: August House, 1996. In the North American section.

“Big Man Jack, Killed Seven at a Whack.” Told by Ray Hicks. Ray Hicks Telling Four Traditional Jack Tales.  LP. Sharon, Conn:  Folk-Legacy Records, 1964.

“Big Man Jack, Killed Seven at a Whack.”  Told by Ray Hicks. In Jack Tales. 1 Audio cassette. Sharon, Conn:  Folk-Legacy Records, 1963.

"The Unicorn and the Wild Boar." Recorded from Ray Hicks, 1951. 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. 138-44.  Also includes "Jack and the Robbers," "The Witch Woman on the Stone Mountain on the Tennessee Side," "Grinding at the Mill" (a Jack tale also called "Sop Doll"), "Mule Eggs." With photographs of Ray Hicks.

“Big Man Jack, Killed Seven at a Whack.” In Smith, Jimmy Neil, ed.  Why the Possum's Tail is Bare and Other Classic Southern Stories. New York: Avon, 1993. Collected from Ray Hicks of Banner Elk, NC.

Harmon, Samuel. "Stiff Dick." In Lindahl, Carl. "A Tale of Verbal Economy: 'Stiff Dick.'" Journal of Folklore Research Jan.-August 2001: pp. 1+. Critical essay with text of the tale "Stiff Dick," told by Harmon near Maryville, Tennessee, April 27, 1939. "The tale was recorded by Herbert Halpert for the Archive of American Folk Song and is currently housed in the Archive of Folk Culture, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress (recordings AFS 2924B, 2925A)." Lindahl observes that "these tales represent the earliest sound recordings of America's most celebrated Märchen-telling family: the Hicks-Harmon family, whose members include Jane Gentry, Maud Long, and Ray Hicks. . . . the same extended family that provided Richard Chase with many of the stories that appear in Chase's The Jack Tales (1943). Lindahl compares Harmon's "efficient" performance with Chase's longer published tale, "Jack and the Varmints," which was based on four versions collected from the Hicks-Harmon family. Full text accessed 1/14/04 through library database Expanded Academic Index ASAP. 

"Old Stiff Dick." 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. 355-57). 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. Jack starts this tale as a boy who kills seven blue butterflies, and has "Stiff Dick killed seven at a lick" put on his belt. The King then pays him to defeat a "municorn," a wild boar, and a bear. After Jack falls on the bear's back, the soldiers kill it and he gets more money by claiming he was breaking it in as a "riddy horse" before they killed it. Available online through library services such as JSTOR. Reprinted in de Caro, Frank A., ed. An Anthology of American Folktales and Legends. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2009. Also reprinted in McCarthy, William Bernard, ed. Cinderella in America: A Book of Folk and Fairy Tales. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007. pp. 330-33, with notes on the source and tale types. See other tales published by Carter and McCarthy listed at Folktale Collections Indexed in AppLit. It was also reprinted by Cothran, below.

"Seven Blue Butterflies." In Jean Cothran, ed. The Whang Doodle: Folk Tales from the Carolinas. Illus. Nance Studio. Columbia, SC: Sandlapper Press, 1972. pp. 79-84. Includes a full-page line drawing of Jack, calling himself Stiff Dick, with the "municorn" that has its horn stuck in a tree, and one of him riding on the bear's back. The tale is from Carter's 1925 article, above. For more on this book, see Cothran in Appalachian Folktales in General Collection.

Haley, Gail E. "The Lion and the Unicorn." Mountain Jack Tales. New York: Dutton, 1992. Includes a full-page woodcut illustration of Jack riding the lion. Jack kills seven bluebottle flies with a wooden paddle he makes. A traveler adds "Killed Seven at a Whack" to his belt with studs after Jack shares his lunch. King Botchfit commissions him to conquer a boar, unicorn and lion. Jack hopes all his money and store-bought goods will appease his Maw when he is three days late returning home. See Appalachian Folktale Collections A-J for more details on Haley's book of Jack tales and Muncimeg.

“Jack and the Varmints.” In Folklore of the United States. Jack Tales II.  Told by Mrs. Maud Long of Hot Springs, NC. Ed. Duncan Emrich. LP. Washington: Library of Congress, Division of Music, 1947. Also listed in WorldCat as Jack Tales, Told by Mrs. Maud Gentry Long of Hot Springs, North Carolina. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Division of Music, Recording Laboratory, 1956.

“Jack and the Wild Animals.” Told by Billy Edd Wheeler. In Some Mountain Tales about Jack. Told and Sung by Billy Edd Wheeler. Vol. III. Spoken Arts Cassette Library for Young Listeners, 1980.

“Jack and the Varmints.” In Torrence, Jackie. Jackie Torrence—The Story Lady. Sound cassette. Weston, CT: Weston Woods, 1982. 47 min. Also includes "Tilly," "Brer Possum's Dilemma," "Kate the Bell Witch of Tennessee." This and three other Torrence tapes were packaged in Jackie Torrence Tells Stories for Children. Weston, CT: Weston Woods, 1989.

"Jack and the Varmints." In Kidd, Ronald (comp.). On Top of Old Smoky: A Collection of Songs and Stories from Appalachia. Illus. Linda Anderson. Nashville, TN: Ideals Children's Books, 1992. A three-page retelling accompanied by one painting called Thunderstorm in the Jungle—beautiful although not an Appalachian scene.

"Jack and the Varmints." In Rugoff, Milton, ed. A Harvest of World Folktales. New York: Viking, 1949. Other American tales include "Jack's Hunting Trips," "Old Gally Mander," "The Tar Baby," "Dicey -- and Orpus,"  "The Man and his Boots," "Big John the Conqueror," "Why Women Always Take Advantage of Men," "Davy Crockett: Sunrise in his Pocket," "Paul Bunyan's Big Griddle," "Paul's Cornstalk," "John Henry and the Machine in West Virginia."

"Jack and the Varmints." In Crabb, Gladys. Jack and the Mule Eggs and Other Jack Tales. CD. Musark, 2003. Told by a storyteller from Virginia and Georgia. Also includes "Jack and the Mule Eggs," "Jack and the Bean Tree," "Jack & The King's Girl."

"Jack the Varmint Killer." In Sherman, Josepha. Trickster Tales: Forty Folk Stories from Around the World. Illus. David Boston. Little Rock: August House, 1996. Sherman's background notes on variants and motifs recognizes Richard Chase's version of this tale and Leonard Roberts' South From Hell-fer-Sartin', as well as variants of the story around the world.

"Jack and the Varmints." Video clips from July 2009 at this link from Facebook page of Jack Tales Storytelling Theater of the Smoky Mountains. Stout Man Jack defeats a boar, unicorn, and lion. "Jack Tales Storytelling Theater of the Smoky Mountains originated at Clear Creek Campground in 1987." Facebook pages include photos and videos from a variety of tales. "Jack Tales Storytelling Theater is performed at Jack's Playhouse, located in the Adventure Bound Camping Resort (also known as Crazy Horse Campground), Highway 321, between Cosby and Gatlinburg, Tennessee" (accessed 5/1/10).

"Jack and the Dragon." The Oregon Shadow Theatre. 2015. Adaptation for shadow puppets. Photo at this link. (In 2008 this site had a version called "Jack and the Varmints" at the same link.)

Airich, Rinz. Fearless Jack. Kuala Lumpur: Dilto Book Centre, 2004. 16 pp. My English Stories series. "In this Appalachian folktale, Jack wins fame and fortune after killing ten jellow [sic] jackets with one whack."

Related Appalachian Tales:

"The Tailor and the Giants." In Roberts, Leonard. South From Hell-fer-Sartin': Kentucky Mountain Folk Tales. U of KY Press, 1955. Rpt. Berea, KY: The Council of the Southern Mountains, 1964, pp. 137-40. A little tailor who brags after killing seven flies "at one stroke" engages in a contest with a dumb giant, using tricks to suggest he can squeeze water out of rocks, throw a rock out of sight, and pick up trees. In order to win the hand of a princess, the tailor rigs up a blade to behead the giant and his 3 friends.

Jack and the Giants lists other tales that begin like these and involve conflicts with giants, including the Italian "John and the Giants" told in WV. Lynn Salsi's versions begin like "Jack and the Varmints."

Compare these Appalachian tales with:

"The Brave Little Tailor," in which a tailor embroiders "Seven at a blow" on his girdle after killing seven flies. He tricks giants by squeezing cheese, pretending he can carry trees, and getting giants to fight each other. He earns the reward of a king's daughter and a kingdom after capturing a unicorn by getting its horn caught in a tree and trapping a boar in a chapel. His bragging stops a plot to prevent him from marrying the princess. The full text from Andrew Lang's The Blue Fairy Book is online at The Baldwin Project.

The Valiant Little Tailor is an old Grimm Brothers' version reprinted online by Carnegie Mellon University. The 1812 edition translated by Edgar Taylor is online at The Valiant Little Tailor. For another Grimm version and information on variants and adaptations, see The Brave Little Tailor in the beautiful Sur La Lune Fairy Tale Pages by Heidi Anne Heiner.

"Foma Berennikov." In Russian Fairy Tales. Transl. Norbert Guterman from the collections of Aleksandr Afanas'ev. New York: Pantheon, 1945. Rpt. Random House, 1973. pp. 284-87. The one-eyed son of an old woman, a poor peasant farmer, kills 500 flies and 12 gadflies. Telling his mother he killed heroes, he goes off to seek adventure. With two followers who join him, they help the Prussian king defeat the Chinese king. Foma sends out his strong followers and when he goes to battle himself, the Chinese champion foolishly imitates his actions, closing his eyes when he sees that Foma is one-eyed. Foma cuts off his head and defeats the other Chinese with the help of a mighty horse that he really can't control. As a reward he chooses the beautiful Prussian princess. "Thus not only mighty men have luck! He who shouts loudest about himself fares best."

"Ivan the Simpleton." In Russian Fairy Tales. Transl. Norbert Guterman from the collections of Aleksandr Afanas'ev. New York: Pantheon, 1945. Rpt. Random House, 1973. pp. 132-45. A lazy third son kills 40 gadflies and swarms of smaller bugs. Bragging that he has killed knights and warriors, he leaves home while his family laughs and gives him silly things. Two strong heroes join him, help him demand the king's daughter, and defeat the king's army. The king sends a mighty champion who laughs at little Ivan, giving Ivan a chance to cut off his head. The intimidated king summons these champions and lets Ivan marry the princess. "They celebrated their wedding, and are still alive to this very day and chewing bread."

Last update: 3/1/15
Links checked 1/14/04
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