Newfoundland and Labrador's Jack of all tales

First aired on Weekend AM (03/13/11)

If you head off to Newfoundland and Labrador, you just might meet a fellow named Jack. He's the focus of many stories, the hero of many exploits and the observer of many things.

There is a long history of Jack tales in Newfoundland and Labrador. Part of the tradition of oral storytelling in the province, these colourful sagas are told, not read.

"Jack's been here ever since the first settlers came over," author and storyteller Chris Brookes said in a recent interview on Newfoundland and Labrador's Weekend AM. "So he's been big for about five centuries."

Usually a young man, Jack is a spunky character who sets out to make his way in the world. Ever the underdog, he gets by on his wits rather than brute strength and always seems to master the challenges he meets along the way with the help of an everyday object that has been blessed with supernatural powers.

"He'll often say: 'You don't have to worry about me because I can be relied on.' And he can do wonders," Mary Fearon, another Newfoundland storyteller, added. "He'll kill a woman, take her apart bone by bone, lay her out, build a ladder, find what he needs to get, bring all the bones back together, lay them out perfectly, and she'll come back to life. He can do anything."

But if you listen to all the Jack tales, one thing is certain -- this isn't the same old Jack that came over with the first settlers so many years ago. Jack has evolved to reflect the times and the culture of the people who tell of him today. And according to Brookes, if you were to tell all of the Jack tales, you might wind up describing the Newfoundland national character.

"It's part of who we are and what we believe," Fearon agreed. "I told stories for a long time, and the first time I heard a Jack story as an adult, it went 'click.' [...] They're easy to tell because they're so full of my history, and my culture and everything me."

This year, the seventh annual St. John's Storytelling Festival closes out its week of tale-spinning with a celebration of all things Jack, bringing together prominent storytellers to run through all the Jack tales they know...until they run out. Find out more information here.

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