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


"Foolish Jack" or "Jack and his Lump of Silver" and "The Swapping Song"

"Jack and his Lump of Silver." Collected by R. Rex Stephenson from Raymond Sloan. ALCA-Lines: Journal of the Assembly on the Literature and Culture of Appalachia, Vol. VI (Fall 1999): 6-7. (Previously published in Blue Ridge Traditions.) Full text in AppLit. When he collected this tale from Raymond Sloan in the 1970s, it confirmed Stephenson's belief "that there had to be some Jack Tales on the Eastern slope of the Blue Ridge although no one, including Chase, had been able to find any." Sloan's tale is set in Ferrum, VA. It is interesting that the animals being swapped talk in this tale.

Sloan, Raymond. "Jack and his Lump of Silver." Sloan told this tale to Kip Lornell in Ferrum, VA, in 1979. He also discussed his folktale collecting in an interview with Lornell in Ferrum in 1976. He said he mostly looked for haunted house tales and weird, psychic happenings, rather than Jack tales, but he realized once that he had known a Jack tale and mentioned having told it to Mr. Stephenson. These recorded interviews are available in the Appalachian College Association's Digital Library of Appalachia. In the 1979 recording, Jack trades his lump of silver for a cow, which turns out not to be a good milker, then a donkey that talks, a pig, and a grindstone. Sloan comments that when he told the story to Stephenson, he put in a part about the donkey saying "bray tell me" instead of "pray tell me."

Stephenson, R. Rex. "Foolish Jack." The Jack Tales. Schulenburg, TX: I. E. Clark, 1991, pp. 31-35. Reprint Woodstock, IL: Dramatic Publishing. Story theatre dramatization, as performed by The Ferrum Jack Tale Players. After seven years of apprenticeship to a silversmith, Jack receives a lump of silver and loaf of bread, which he gives up in a series of trades for a talking donkey, cow, pig, and a silver dollar, but he throws the silver dollar at two frogs who call him "a poor trader." He has to go back to work for the silversmith for the rest of his life instead of going on to the city, but "he did learn how to become a better trader."

Stephenson, R. Rex. "Foolish Jack." Jack Tales Too! Stories from the Blue Ridge Mountains. Salt Lake City, UT: Encore Performance Publishing, 2004. Reprinted as Jack in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Venice, FL: Eldridge. Story theatre dramatization, as performed by The Ferrum Jack Tale Players. In this combination of the foolish swapping plot and the three sillies, Jack's mother sends him to get $100 from a banker for repairing the roof. Jack trades the money for a series of animals that he is told have great attributes (but they don't), including a duck that supposedly lays golden eggs; in the end he trades for a rock to throw at a frog and misses. His mother sends him to find people as foolish as he is, and to get the $100 that he lost. He gets the money by helping a man who thinks the moon is in a well, a couple trying to plow the field without using their mule, and a couple who don't know how to cut a neck hole in the man's new shirt. This script also includes "Jack's Mother's Second Marriage," "Jack and the Mean Old Man," and "Soldier Jack."

"Jack and His Lump of Silver." James Taylor Adams Collection. Full text in AppLit. This tale is also published in Outwitting the Devil: Jack Tales from Wise County, Virginia, ed. Charles L. Perdue, Jr. Sante Fe, NM: Ancient City Press, 1987, pp. 25-26. The tale was collected for the Virginia Writers' Project by James M. Hylton in 1941, from Mrs. Amy Vicars, whose mother told many tales brought over from England and Scotland. Perdue identifies the tale as type 1415, "Lucky Hans" (see below). In this version, Jack is an English worker who is given a lump of silver by his master. He trades it for a series of animals (who don't talk). Finally he gets a grindstone and drops it in a well. Then he is happy with "nothing to worry me now and nothing to carry and make me tired." 

"Foolish Jack." In Nippy and the Yankee Doodle, and Other Authentic Folk Tales from the Southern Mountains. Collected by Leonard Roberts. Berea, KY: The Council of the Southern Mountains, 1958. Jack gets gold from his rich relatives for his poor mother, but he loses it in a series of trades for different animals that cause him difficulties, and then a whetrock, which he throws at some noisy frogs who annoy him. He's proud of himself for not letting the frogs make fun of him. "And with that Jack's mother fainted. And that was natural. For she allas did faint a lot because her son was allas doing such foolish things." Roberts reprinted the tale under the heading Humorous and Tale Tales in Old Greasybeard: Tales from the Cumberland Gap. Illus. Leonard Epstein. Detroit: Folklore Associates, 1969. Rpt. Pikeville, KY:  Pikeville College Press, 1980.

Davis, Donald. "Jack's Good Luck." In Smith, Jimmy Neil, ed. Why the Possum's Tail is Bare and Other Classic Southern Stories. New York: Avon, 1993, pp. 157-62. Jack thinks he's "the luckiest man in the world" in the end because "I've been held up by a seven-year job, a basketful of money, a horse and buggy, an old cow, a wild hen, and a nail-straightening rock. But now there's not one thing in the world to hold me back. At least I'm really free to seek my fortune," and he goes off, "unburdened," because the rock he acquired after a series of trades has fallen into a well.

Davis, Donald. "The Time Jack Went to Seek His Fortune." Jack Always Seeks His Fortune: Authentic Appalachian Jack Tales. Little Rock: August House, 1992. pp. 32-39. Almost the same as "Jack's Good Luck," above. Davis calls this a "Zen Jack tale" (p. 32).

"Jack and the Big Ol' Rock" In Kindt, Carol Lee and Linda Rockwell High. Once Upon a Mountain Tale: Eight Jack and Grandfather Tales  Lakeland, TN:  Memphis Musicraft Publications, 1995. Accompanied by music and drawings with which children can make puppets and backdrops. "Jack and the Three Sillies" is divided into two tales, in the first of which Jack takes the cow to sell it because he and his wife have no money, but the cow becomes troublesome so he engages in a series of trades for a pig, a goose, and a cat, until he has a "big ol' rock" for a doorstop. His wife says it's the silliest thing she's seen but Jack says plenty of people are sillier without having such a good rock. "Travelin' Song" is about going down the road to sell the cow and subsequent verses tell of the treasure Jack will take to his wife. In "The Three Sillies," the swapping part is reduced to one sentence about Jack's wife being "really upset when Jack traded away their cow for a big ol' rock, rather than sell her for fifty dollars." The wife finds three sets of silly people as in Richard Chase's Jack and the Three Sillies. "As Silly As Jack" is a song for Jack's wife.


"The Swapping Song." In American Folk Tales and Songs. Compiled by Richard Chase. New York: Dover, 1956. pp. 174-75. From Greene County, VA, in Chase's section Songs to Sing to Your Children. The speaker's father leaves him "a horse to hitch to the plow." He swaps for a cow, a calf, a pig, a hen, a cat, a mouse, and a mole—then "the dad-burned thing went straight down its hole." The traditional refrain is "To my wing wong waddle! To my Jack Straw straddle!/And Johnny's got his fiddle and he's gone on home!"

"The Swapping Song" as recorded by May Justus is a folk song in which the speaker goes to London to get a wife and takes her home in a wheelbarrow. When he falls, he swaps the wheelbarrow for a horse, then swaps it for a series of animals until he has a mole—"And the silly thing ran into a hole!" Justus included the song in several of her children's books set in the Smoky Mountains in the first half of the twentieth century. See, for example, "Fiddle Away" in Children of the Great Smoky Mountains, Mr. Songcatcher and Company, and Fiddle Away, in Bibliography of Books by May Justus. Another kind of trade occurs in Jumping Johnny and Skedaddle, when a boy and a Circuit Rider try to swap their mule and horse, but the stubborn animals return to their original owners.

Illustration at left by Jean Tamburine from "Mr. Songcatcher Comes By," a chapter of Mr. Songcatcher and Company reprinted in Smoky Mountain Sampler by May Justus, 1962. It depicts a ballad collector's visit to the Purdys' double log cabin halfway up Near-Side-And-Far. Joe, who lives with his grandparents, gets their permission to go traveling with the friendly man who stays overnight with them. Joe's Grandpaw plays the tune on his violin and remembers only one verse of the words to the song. Joe wants to help find the rest of it himself, as well as visiting his relatives and seeing a little more of the world.

Langstaff, John M. The Swapping Boy. Illus. Beth and Joe Krush. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1960. A picture book version of the song, with brightly colored sketches featuring a young boy playing the fiddle and a girl dancing while she sweeps their cabin. This book has the traditional ending: "And now the songbook's back on the shelf,/If you want any more, you can sing it yourself!" The author's notes discuss the 500-year history and different versions of this children's song "about the foolish boy." He used a tune sung in his own family, one discovered by Cecil Sharp, the Englishman who collected ballads from children and adults in the Southern Appalachian Mountains forty years earlier. Langstaff chose the words he liked best from different parts of the country.

Ritchie, Jean. comp. Jean Ritchie's Swapping Song Book. Photos. George Pickow. New York: H. Z. Walck, 1964. 93 pp. Piano arrangements by A. K. Fossner and Edward Tripp. "Twenty-one songs from the southern Appalachians," including children's songs.

Ritchie, Jean. "Swapping Song." Childhood Songs. CD. Port Washington, NY: Greenhays Recordings, 2001. The speaker in the song goes to London to get a wife, and has to bring her home in an old wheelbarrow. The wife and wheelbarrow fall so he swaps for a horse, then a mare, a mule,  a goat, a sheep, a cow, a calf, a hen, a rat, a mouse. The often-repeated refrain contains nonsense words that sound like "Wing wong waddle to my Jack straw straddle to my Johnny fair faddle to my long ways home." The CD contains 16 songs and games, 9 from Ritchie's own childhood and 7 from the childhood of the younger generation of her family, some made up by herself and some based on older songs she has greatly altered. Instructions are given for some of the games, with encouragement for dramatization or movement through the others. See also Jenny Put the Kettle On for discussion of this CD.

See also:

Johnson, Paul Brett. Bearhide and Crow.  New York:  Holiday House, 2000. A comic twentieth-century trickster tale about a farmer getting the best of simple Sam Hankins through some swapping. (Reader's theater script formerly available at Johnson's web site, but Johnson died in 2011.) See AppLit's folktale picture book bibliography for details. Johnson's Jack Outwits the Giants is a featured youth book in the Roanoke Valley Reads progam in Fall 2013.

For the foolish series of trades, often ending in the acquisition of a rock, see "Jack and the Three Sillies." Notice that the outcome is different after Jack's seemingly foolish trade in "Jack and the Bean Tree" (or "Jack and the Bean Stalk") is scorned by his mother, when the seeds he acquires send him up the magic beanstalk to find a fortune.

Compare with:

Trading Away One's Fortune, a group of tales of type 1415, edited by D. L. Ashliman. The texts include "What the Old Man Does is Always Right" by Hans Christian Andersen (Danish), "The Story of Mr. Vinegar" (English), "Gudbrand on the Hillside" from Asbjörnsen and Moe (Norwegian), and "Hans in Luck" by the Grimm Brothers (German). Hans starts off with a bag of gold after seven years' work and ends up happy to have no burdens after a series of trades.

"Hans in Luck" is also reprinted online with old illustrations by several artists and source materials at 19th-Century German Stories.

John Sot is the name of a foolish character in Louisiana Cajun Tales. In "Foolish John and the Errands," John's mother sends him to fetch things but he loses them in foolish actions on the way home. When she sends him to milk the cow, he shoots it because tirer in Louisiana French means milk and shoot. His mother despairs of having someone so stupid around the house. From "Foolish John Tales from the French Folklore of Louisiana" in Southern Folklore Quarterly, vol. XII (1948). Reprinted in Dorson, Richard M., ed. Buying the Wind: Regional Folklore in the United States. Chicago, 1964. See "Jack and the Three Sillies" page for another John Sot tale with some similar motifs.

Fleming, Candace. Clever Jack Takes the Cake. Illus. G. B. Karas. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2010. This picture book, an original Jack tale, is both heartwarming and ingenious as it plays with motifs from older tales and nursery rhymes. In the beginning Jack and his mother are poor, as in "Jack and the Bean Tree." When invited to the princess's tenth birthday party, Jack does some trading, hunting, and working to get ingredients and make her a cake. Traveling to the palace, Jack loses the cake bit by bit in a series of mishaps involving folk motifs such as four and twenty blackbirds, a troll demanding payment for crossing a bridge, and a dark forest. At the palace Jack has nothing to offer but the story of what happened to the cake. The princess, bored with her pile of golden presents from other guests, laughs and claps at Jack's gift of an adventure story, and lets her new friend cut her birthday cake. Although this young Jack is not foolish, his trading for ingredients and loss of parts of the cake bit by bit are reminiscent of old tales about Jack's swapping. Fleming's web site provides teacher's guide, reviews, and reader's theater script.


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