AppLit Home Jack Tales in AppLit's Annotated Index of Appalachian Folktales Tina L. Hanlon

"The Tale Without an End" and "The Endless Tale"


Note: George Bodmer observes that in world folktales, "one type of unfinished story repeats endlessly (ATU 2300, Endless Tale)." Bodmer's example is the Japanese tale listed below, at the end of this bibliography. ("Unfinished Tale." The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Folktales and Fairy Tales. Ed. Donald Haase. Vol. 3. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2008. 1002.)

"The Tale Without an End" and "The Endless Tale." Collected by James Taylor Adams, Big Laurel, Virginia. James Taylor Adams Collection. JTA- 123 and 58. Full text in this web site. After many other men fail, Jack wins the king's daughter by telling a tale so tediously repetitious that the king declares him the winner of the challenge to tell the king an endless tale. The tale is about a rat emptying a granary, or a storehouse of rice, one grain at a time.

"The Endless Tale," "The Longest Tale," "The Tale Without an End." In Charles L. Perdue, Jr., ed. Outwitting the Devil: Jack Tales from Wise County Virginia. Santa Fe, NM: Ancient City, 1987. Perdue reprints the tales from the James Taylor Adams Collection of Virginia folklore, archived in the Blue Ridge Institute. Perdue identifies the tale as type 301, "Corn Carried away Grain at a Time." In "The Longest Tale," collected by Adams from John Edwards of St. Paul, VA, a locust takes one grain at a time. The hero is not identified as Jack but "a boy from the backwoods country."

"The Longest Tale" from the James Taylor Adams Collection is reprinted in Frank A. de Caro, ed. An Anthology of American Folktales and Legends. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2009. The book's introduction includes a valuable overview of the history of Appalachian folktale collections and tale tellers.

Haley, Gail E. "The Longest Story." In Mountain Jack Tales. New York: Dutton, 1992, pp. 34-36. Haley's brief tale is similar to the ones listed above, except that every man who can't tell the king a tale lasting two hours has to join the army, which grows very big before Jack comes along to tell his "longest story." In it a mouse removes one kernel of corn at a time until the king gets sleepy and gives Jack his daughter and half of all he owns. In this collection, eight Jack tales and "Muncimeg and the Giant" are introduced by a storyteller named Poppyseed, based on Haley's own grandmother. The other tales are "Jack and the Northwest Wind," "The Lion and the Unicorn," "Jack of Hearts and King Marock," "Jack and Catherine," Jack and Uncle Thimblewit," "Jack and the Flying Ship," "Jack and Old Raggedy Bones." Includes a Glossary and Bibliography, as well as discussions "About the Stories" and "About the Art" (black and white wood engravings). (Cassette recording: Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind, 1996.)

Kindt, Carol Lee and Linda Rockwell High. "Jack and the Tale Without End." In Once Upon a Mountain Tale: Eight Jack and Grandfather Tales. Lakeland, TN: Memphis Musicraft Publications, 1995. Tales accompanied by songs, musical and dramatic improvisation options, and drawings with which children can make puppets and backdrops. Jack risks having his head chopped off by accepting the challenge of the king who loves stories. In Jack's tale a mouse removes one grain of wheat at a time. At the end the story says, "And as far as we know, the mouseónever did finish carrying out the wheat." The accompanying song, "The Mouse Gnawed In" with lyrics by Linda High," has a melody "adapted from Wish That Gal Was Mine." The other tales are "Jack and the Robbers," "Jack and Ol' Mossyfoot," "Jack and the Big Ol' Rock," "The Three Sillies," "Jack and the Northwest Wind," "The Green Gourd," "Soap! Soap! Soap!"

Graham, Jack. Pennsylvania Jack. "The Longest Story" is identified as a Jack Tale brought to America. No date. This storyteller's web site gives his version of several Appalachian tales, with no specific details on sources. "Jack Gets a Herd of Cattle" is identified as an Appalachian tale. "The Snakebit Hoe Handle" is identified as a classic American tall tale. Other "Old Time Stories" include "Davy Crockett's Grin," "Old One Eye," "The Trained Trout," and "Two Old Women Make a Bet."

Compare with:

Baldwin, James. "The Endless Tale." From Fifty Famous Stories Retold.  The tale is set in the Far East, where the king listens to the tale about locusts carrying away corn for two years before giving his daughter to the "strange story-teller." Then the king who loved stories "did not care to listen to any more stories." Reprinted in Gateway to the Classics web site, with audio reading. Also in Parker, Victoria, compiler. The Fish and the Hare and Other Silly Stories. Gareth Stevens Publishing, 2016.

Doherty, Berlie. The Famous Adventures of Jack. Hodder Children's Books, 2000. English book published in U.S. by HarperCollins/Greenwillow, 2001. 148 pp. Fiction for children. Jack tales are woven together in a metafictional frame story in which Jill has encountered Old Feller Storyteller, who gave her a bag full of objects associated with different tales, and old Mother Greenwood, who takes her in her cottage and starts telling tales of the different Jacks in her family, some foolish and lazy and some brave. Her magical cat can tell tales and turn itself into a horse. Eventually Jill gets caught up in living through the stories. She hears or participates in "The King of the Herrings," "Daft Jack" (same as Lazy Jack), "The Magic Castle and the Apples of Immortality," "Jack and the Golden Snuffbox," and the most fearful, climactic "Jack the Giant Killer." She is also told the "neverending story" in which Jack saves his head and wins a princess by telling a story so tedious that the king wants it stopped and declares Jack the winner of his "longest story" contest. A giant beanstalk starts growing outside the cottage early in the story when Jill produces beans from the bag and Mother Greenwood throws them out the window in disgust. By the end Jill hears that Mother Greenwood's son Jack, grandson of the bravest man in the world, Jack the Giant Killer, has gone up the beanstalk. She puts on the Giant Killer's powerful belt and goes up the beanstalk to see if there is one giant left.

"An Endless Story." In Yolen, Jane, ed. Favorite Folktales from Around the World. New York: Pantheon, 1986, p. 45. Reprinted from Seki Keigo's Folktales of Japan, trans. Robert J. Adams (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1963). There is no storytelling frame or contest in this version. An endless series of rats jump overboard and drown themselves one by one when two groups realize there is nothing to eat in the cities they left or the ones where they hoped to find food (Nagasaki and Satsuma). Yolen identifies the endless tale as type 2300.

"The Endless Tale." In Pete Castle. Nottinghamshire Folk Tales. The History Press, 2011. Chap. 11. Ants take grains of corn from a hole in a huge barn in this tale told by a traveler to win the hand of a princess and avoid being beheaded.

"The Story That Never Ends." From Czecholovak Fairy Tales. Ed. Fillmore Parker. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1919. Reprinted at SurLaLune Fairy Tale Pages. A tiny story "to be told very seriously," in which children are kept waiting for the rest of the story until a shepherd gets all his many sheep over a narrow footbridge one by one. If listeners get impatient, they are told that in the morning the sheep are still crossing and it is time to turn around and go back over the footbridge again.

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