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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Beyond the Book: Jack-o-Lanterns

Greetings! It is I, Prince Alan, hero of Madame Cantrell's fascinating novel The Enchanted. Recently, Princess Morgane and I visited with Madame Cantrell who made us welcome and served some delicious refreshments to us. As we were leaving her home, we saw a strange object sitting on her neighbor's porch. It looked like a pumpkin, but it was like no pumpkin I have ever seen before. It had an evil face carved into its side, and it glowed from within as if a fire burned inside it. I drew my sword to destroy the dreadful thing, but Madame Cantrell begged me not to. She explained that it was a jack-o-lantern and that it was only a regular pumpkin which had been carved into a fantastical shape. The fire that Princess Morgane and I saw was nothing more than a candle. Madame Cantrell explained the origin of this custom.

Long ago a people called Celts lived in present day Ireland. These people tell the story of Stingy Jack who invited the devil to have a drink with him. When they finished, Stingy Jack lived up to his name and begged the devil to turn himself into a coin to pay for their drinks. The devil did so, and Jack decided to keep the money. He put it in his pocket next to a silver cross which prevented the devil from changing back. Stingy Jack eventually promised to free the devil provided the devil would leave him alone for one year and not claim his soul if he should die.

The next year Stingy Jack persuaded the devil to climb a tree to pick a piece of fruit, but when the devil went up the tree, Jack carved a cross on the tree so the devil couldn't come down. Jack said he would remove the cross if the devil would leave him alone for ten years. The devil finally agreed.

Jack soon died and found that God had no use for such a one and wouldn't allow him into Heaven. The devil kept his promise and wouldn't allow Jack into Hell. The devil sent Jack out into the dark with only one coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a turnip and wandered through the world. People called him Jack of the Lantern which morphed into jack-o-lantern.

People began to carve scary faces into turnips or potatoes and put them onto their window sills to frighten Jack and other evil spirits away. Eventually, this tale spread to Madame Cantrell's homeland, but there they use pumpkins for their jack-o-lanterns, not turnips.

Princess Morgane does not like these jack-o-lanterns, but my father the king is going to make some and see if he can frighten any of his nobles. (Sigh)  

Picture credit: By huk_flickr (originally posted to Flickr as pumpkin pie) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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