• Jem Roberts

You Don't Know Jack...

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

This blog marks a FULL YEAR of providing you with weekly blogs for Folklore Thursday! And as Unbound has not yet provided us with a release date for this book we're all anticipating so warmly, we must prepare ourselves for at least another few dozen, even though most blogs are centred on one tale, and we have 77 in total. When time allows, we'll start trying to migrate all this hard work to a special Blog section on www.talesofbritain.com, as we presume once the book is in shops, this little corner of the Unbound website will be deleted.

Now, to turn to this week's Folklore Thursday theme... Heroes, you say? (We don't hold truck with 'heroines' – as if the gender of a character requires a different word.) Why, we have them by the bucketload. It's not that many weeks since we confided our determination to celebrate the greatest female protagonists in British folklore, with our 'Tales of Britain Princesses' update...

... In which we also discussed our happiness to present some of the less detailed heroic figures in British storytelling as brave women rather than men, to try and get closer to equality. But we also had to admit that our story still boasts some of the greatest inescapably male heroes in world literature – King Arthur, Merlin, Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Macbeth, Leir...

... And then, of course, there's Jack. Now, while we consider a figure like Dick, who was a real historical figure, should be presented as male/white for historical accuracy, and even a vastly questionable legendary figure like Arthur is somewhat dependent on his maleness and status as Romano-British, from a historical perspective... we realise that a hero like Jack could be any gender, colour, etc. Okay, so he's clearly supposed to smell like an 'Englishman', but who says giant's noses aren't racist or misogynist?

Anyway, we have placed Jack's first ever titan-slaying mission – up the infamous beanstalk – in the east of the British island, this place some call 'England', and post-Arthur, when the villainous Saxons have firmly set up home in south-east Britain, and those born here, like Jack, never even question their 'Britishness'. So on our historical timeline, Jack was busy killing giants around the 6th-7th centuries AD, based somewhere in the South Downs, near the Long Man of Wilmington...

'Jack & The Beanstalk' turned out to be by far the longest tale in our entire collection, over twice the average story length – because when you re-examine the world-famous yarn, there's so much to fit in! Just the cow-selling, bean-grabbing narrative covers as much ground as most entire folktales do, before our hero has even climbed the magic vegetable plant.

But then there is, of course, the sequel, centred on St. Michael's Mount at the tip of Kernow, where the seasoned ogre-murderer Jack takes on his supposed greatest challenge, against the giant Cormoran. Now, we're well aware of the potential controversy of making this the same Jack, not least as Cornwall proudly boasts of the latter pest-control expert as their own, a Cornishman, not an Englishman, for which we can only apologise, but this way does make more sense of Jack as a figure of British mythology – a young boy who triumphs against a giant in the sky, and then is compelled to repeat his feats throughout a long career, until there are almost no giants left (except perhaps that poor lovely hippy giant up in Lewis).

The Long Man of Wilmington in Sussex provides the chalk outline to mark the spot of Jack's first kill, and so our version of his sequel takes in a number of famous British giant battles as Jack makes his way down to St. Michael's Mount, from the cheeky fellow at Cerne Abbas in Dorset, to Plymouth Ho (the site of Corineus' triumph against Gogmagog, or if you prefer, Gog AND Magog), until the final showdown. Perfect for our collection, St. Michael's Mount even boasts the grave of Cormoran, you can visit as part of a truly magical stay down in the South West...

In a way, this sequel tale – telling the story of a grizelled older Jack, rather than the boy who stars in some versions – makes Jack's legend all about the very nature of BEING a hero, and particularly about brains coming before brawn – Jack is a trickster, a wily foe for his gigantic enemies, but not a swaggering assassin priding himself on giant genocide. Like everything else in Tales of Britain, we present more the kind of hero we need in the 21st century, not a toxic macho goon.

To support us in our cause to celebrate British folklore for the 21st century, please do pre-order a copy now, or get a friend to do so if you already have. Then you will officially be OUR hero!

Get updates via email

Join 299 other awesome people who subscribe to new posts on this blog.

Join in the conversation

Sign in to comment
Getting ready for print
Publication date: October 2018
162% funded
323 backers