In Newfoundland and Labrador folklore, there’s a hero: Jack. He’s unassuming, witty, observant, naive, generous, brave and can master any challenge, given some time, often using magical objects.
Jack is, essentially, the typical Newfoundland character.
There’s a plethora of Jack tales still alive in this province, in which he encounters princesses, kings, giants and all kinds of treachery.
In Andy Jones’ latest book, “Jack and Mary in the Land of Thieves,” it’s a tricky old sea captain named Mauvaise Cuddihey, just home from a long voyage to India, who throws a wrench in Jack’s humour.
And it’s Mary, this time, who’s the hero.
The story was inspired, Jones said, by the medieval tale of Frederick of Jennen — which was probably the basis for Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline” — and the Jack tale, “Jack and the Slave Islands,” particularly the version told by John Roberts of Sally’s Cove, with a little bit of Mary-Lynn Bernard’s (Jones’ wife) cherry cake song thrown in. Jones rewrote the tale with a theme suitable for children.
“Jack and Mary are a couple who fall in love,” Jones explained the story. “They move to the Land of Thieves, and their money keeps getting stolen, because, you know, they’re surrounded by thieves. They have a vault built into the mountain behind their house to keep all their money, and the problem is deciding how to hide the key.
“They decide that Mary will bake it into food every day, and send it down to Jack on his boat, tied up at the wharf. They have a bird, Baxter, and she secretly tells him where the key is, and he goes down and sings it to Jack in a song.”
When Cuddihey comes into the picture, he bets Jack his freedom he can get Mary to tell him where the key is. He overhears Mary telling the secret to Baxter, and intercepts the bird before he can make it to Jack. Cuddihey takes Jack in shackles to Slave Islands, and Mary, broke and homeless, must find a way to get him back.
“Jack and Mary in the Land of Thieves” is the third Jack tale Jones has published with Running the Goat, with illustrations by Darka Erdelji. Two years ago he released “Jack and the Manger” — a hilarious account, written in the way of traditional Newfoundland spoken stories, of Jack travelling the road and meeting Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem, to be counted during the first “Come Home Year.”
“He was talkin’ away to Mary — she was leadin’ a little donkey, I think, and she said, she said to en, she was with child, she was gonna have a baby. And Jack said, ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I figured you was,’ he said, ‘but I didn’t like to say anything,’ he said, ‘cause sometimes you says that and the missus is just a little on the chubby side and then you are in trouble,’” the book reads.
“The Queen of Paradise’s Garden,” which Jones published in 2009, follows Jack on his way to the land of the Queen of Paradise, where he looks for a magic fruit to make his parents’ young again.
Jones is an actor, writer and comedian, known as a member of CODCO, for his roles in movies like “Rare Birds” and “The Adventure of Faustus Bidgood” (which he also co-wrote and directed), and his one-man comedy shows like “King O’ Fun,” “To The Wall” and “An Evening with Uncle Val.” He has two Gemini awards and two Emmy nominations, among other accolades.
Jones has long had an interest in Jack tales, he said, as well as writing and performing for children: he has toured his children’s plays “Jack Meets the Cat,” “Jack-Five-Oh” and a puppet show of “The Queen of Paradise’s Garden” (with puppets by Erdelji), and regularly conducts storytelling sessions and workshops for kids.
“They’re just such a great audience,” he said. “They have such a willing suspension of disbelief, and so many questions.”
They’re also quite willing to give honest feedback, he’s discovered.
“I was doing some workshops at Beachy Cove school and I told them I was going to the Toronto Storytelling Festival, and I wanted to tell them some new stories and they could let me know what they thought,” Jones said. “One little guy told me afterwards, ‘If you’re going to Toronto, I think you should speak slower.’ It was good advice.”
Jones said he may turn “Jack and the Manger” and “Jack and Mary in the Land of Thieves” into puppet shows — “Darka wants to,” he explained — but in the meantime, he’s doing a Christmas reading of all three books (with puppets for “The Queen of Paradise’s Garden”) at Rocket Room in St. John’s Dec. 2, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Admission is pay-what-you-can, at the door.
He’ll also be reading “Jack and the Manger” at the fourth annual The Once Christmas show at Gower Street United Church Dec. 7 and 8. Tickets are $35 and are available for cash only at Fred’s Records, Nourish bakery and O’Brien’s Music.
Jones’ books are available at Devon House, The Rooms, Johnny Ruth, The Travel Bug, Home on Water and special events and readings, as well as online at www.runningthegoat.com.
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