Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Jack of the Month: Jack of the Lantern

Once upon a time in Ireland, there lived a man named Jack—because he’s always named Jack now isn’t he?  And this Jack was known as “Stingy Jack” or “Drunk Jack” or any other lowly and degrading nickname because he was a very bad guy!  He was deceitful, malicious, conniving and always left the toilet seat up.  He was flat-out evil!

So evil, in fact, that the Devil was jealous.  How could a human be so silver-tongued and despicable?  The Devil set out one night to discover if Jack was really as bad as his reputation, and before too long Jack came stumbling drunkenly into the Devil’s path.  Jack thought for sure the Devil had come to collect his soul and he had just one request before being dragged to the fiery pits of Hell:  a last drink of ale (as if he really needed another one).

The Devil thought this seemed perfectly reasonable, so the two went down to a local pub and boozed the night away, playing drinking games and taking jello shots off of saucy Irish wenches.  When their night of debauchery was done, Jack asked the Devil to kindly pay his tab.  That also seemed perfectly reasonable to the Devil, so he said, “Why the heck not?”  Jack made a suggestion though:  “Why don’t you just turn yourself into a coin.  You can do that can’t you?”

Well, everyone knows the Devil can metamorphose into a coin.  Common knowledge.  And for matters of devilish pride, the Devil proved his powers and transformed into a coin.  Jack then snatched up the Devil—in coin form—and stuffed him into his pocket.  His pocket also happened to house a small crucifix, and when the Devil came into contact with it he lost all ability to transform back!

Holding the Devil hostage in his pocket, Jack negotiated his own terms for his inevitable damnation, giving himself ten more years on earth.  I would have asked for more than a decade, but that’s just me.  The Devil agreed so Jack let him go.

Ten years later, the Devil came to collect Jack’s soul.  Jack was all packed up and ready to go to Hell, but he just wanted a quick snack on their way to the airport.  The Devil—nicer than you might think—agreed to climb up a tree to get Jack an apple.  While the Devil was apple-picking in the high branches, Jack surrounded the base of the tree with many crucifixes.  They must have been in his suitcase or something…

The Devil was once again trapped by the ingenious Jack, and this time Jack made him agree to never take his soul to Hell.  The Devil agreed.

Pretty cool huh?  The only problem is that Jack’s way of life didn’t merit him an eternity in Heaven.  So when he died many years later of alcoholism, God wouldn’t let him in through the Pearly Gates.  And since the Devil had promised not to drag him to Hell, Jack couldn’t go there either!  So where does a soul go when it’s not allowed in Heaven or Hell?

It wanders.  As a way of warning others not to follow in his doomed footsteps, Jack roams the world with a small burning ember inside a turnip, forever trapped between good and evil.  For years the Irish have told Jack of the Lantern’s story and carved turnips or potatoes to ward away the evil spirits.  Today we carve them out of pumpkins and call them Jack-o-lanterns.

Moral of the story?  Don’t make deals with the Devil, unless you really really love pumpkins.

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