The "Jack Tales" are a specific genre of storytelling, a series of often outlandish, sometimes moralistic bits of folklore that are said to have originated in the Appalachian Mountains that run through Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. They are called "Jack Tales" because of the common thread that runs through each of them: "Jack", the hero and protagonist, who always seems to win in the end.

Often times, in the Tales, Jack finds himself in a sticky predicament, usually due to his own folly, or mischief, and has to use his keen wit to get out of the situation. More often that not, Jack runs into various troublesome characters -- mythical ones, such as giants, psuedo-religious ones, like the devil, or elemental ones, like the North West Wind, all of whom are personified, and who take great delight in trying to take advantage of ole Jack -- until the sly one manages to beat each of them at their own games.

You most likely have heard one or two Jack Tales yourself. "Jack and the Beanstalk", while perhaps not native to this region (it likely originated in Germany, home early on to a sizable portion of Appalachian immigrants), is a common tale adopted and often respun as southern folklore. Others, perhaps might not be so familiar, such as "Sop Doll!" or "Old Fire Dragaman".

No two storytellers will ever tell any Jack Tale quite the same -- and that's part of the beauty in them. These fragments of oral tradition have been handed down, generation after generation, and thus they always take on a little of the local flavour, and perhaps a little of the storyteller's personality. One thing's for sure, though: the fabled Jack always comes out on top.

Years ago, storyteller Richard Chase collected a wide variety of the Jack Tales, editing and publishing them in a book of the same name, that they might be disseminated outside the Appalachian region. This book can still be bought today, and while reading them outright can't compare with the experience of hearing an imaginative storyteller recite one of them firsthand, the Jack Tales always sound good when they're read outdoors, around an open campfire.

For what it's worth, there is also a similar collection, Grandfather Tales, more stories that come from the same region, but don't necessarily feature Jack.