Jack of the Lantern

Where did the Jack O'Lantern come from? As a sculptor of pumpkins, this story resonated with me especially well. I've included a version toned down a little for especially young children.

The story of Jack of the Lantern comes from the early days of Christianity in Ireland, but may have its origins in a much earlier time. It is a cautionary story that warns us to be careful what we wish for, because it might come true...

Jack of the Lantern - Kid Friendly

Long ago in a land across the sea there lived a man named Jack. Jack was not a good man. He wasn't good to his family and he didn't have any friends because he was mean.

One day, this mean and selfish man fell ill and felt his death approach. That was when the devil appeared to him.

"It is time Jack. You must come with me," the devil said to him in a deep and resonating voice.

"Time for what?" Jack replied. He knew full well why the devil was there, but Jack would not make it easy for him.

"The hour of your death is upon you. You must come with me to a life of eternal torment for such is the reward for the life you have led."

Now Jack was a sly one and he had a plan. He cried and he wailed and begged the devil for his life.

"I cannot go now for it is Hallowe'en and a long and cold winter stretches before my family and they are without food to eat and a hearth fire to keep them warm. I must stay to tend to them."

The devil would not fall for so simple a trick. But let it not be said that the devil is without compassion. While he would not let Jack stay, he did allow him the time to purchase food for his family. Gratefully Jack took the deal and found his health returned to him for his trip to the store.

When Jack and the devil arrived at the store, Jack checked his purse and exclaimed, "Why I've not the money I require for this. I must return at once to my home to get the money."

But the devil had been expecting this and changed into the money Jack needed to buy the food. Jack took then money and placed it into his purse where he also carried a silver cross which trapped the devil there.

"Let me out!" he screamed, but it was to no avail. In the end Jack struck a new deal that the devil would leave him alone for a year. Reluctantly, the devil agreed.

Jack immediately began to live a better life. He was kind to everyone and even started going to church, which he knew the devil would hate. But as time passed he slowly fell back into his old ways.

Hallowe'en arrived again and Jack was walking home and was passing next to an apple tree when he saw the devil standing by the side of the road. He tried to turn around and leave but suddenly found he could not move.

"Oh no Jack!" said the devil as he approached. "You shall not escape me again. Your year has passed and good to my word, here I am again. You must come with me."

Jack nodded and said, "You are right. I should not have tried to fool you like that and know my suffering shall be greater because of it. You are my better! If you will release me I would like to climb this apple tree that we might share its fruit."

"You are tricky and I admire that," the devil smiled, "but I'll not allow you to climb the tree. I do not know what you have planned, but I'll not trust you again. I will climb the tree to pick the apples and drop them down to you to slice."

The devil climbed the tree, picked the fruit and dropped them down to Jack who caught them. He pulled out his knife as though to slice the fruit, but instead crarved the sign of the cross into the trunk of the tree, trapping the devil in its branches.

Once more the devil screamed and shouted and threatened Jack, but Jack only waited for him to calm down. Eventually the devil asked what Jack wanted and Jack told him he wanted the devil to leave him alone for all time. The devil quickly agreed and Jack released him.

"One day Jack, you will regret this decision. There are worse things than coming with me." And he disappeared.

Jack heard nothing more from the devil and he continued to be the meanest, most horrible person you could ever imagine. Then one day he choked on a piece of turnip he was eating and died.

It was Hallowe'en night when his fate finally caught up to him! He tried to pass into Heaven but was turned away for he did not in the least regret the life he had lead. If Heaven would not take him then Hell was surely the place for him after all.

So he descended but found the brass gates would not part to admit him. He howled and swore and did all he could to gain entrance. Finally, the devil himself peered over the wall.

"Why Jack!" the devil said, smiling ear to ear, "Why do you come to my gates and ask to come in?"

"I am dead and Heaven will not take me. I have no place else to go!"

"A pity! I would like to help, really I would, but I promised that I would leave you alone for all time. And Jack, surely you of all people know that I am good as my word. I cannot take you in. You are doomed to wander the world of the living, never to be seen but for on the night you died, All Hallow's Eve!"

Jack was devastated. He pondered the devil's words before saying, "But for the dead, the world of the living is dark and cold. How will I see? How will I stay warm?"

For a moment, the devil felt pity. He reached down and plucked a glowing ember from the fires of Hell itself and tossed it to Jack who caught it.

"There!" the devil said, "Let that light your way. Let that warm your hands when they are cold. And let it always remind you of the choices you have made. Now leave!"

And Jack did.

Jack took the ember and put it in the turnip he had been eating when he died so the winds of the mortal world would not extinguish it. The front of the turnip took on the form of an evil face through which the light shone. Jack, poor lost soul that he was, wandered the world ever drawn to witness acts of kindness that he had never shared, invisible to all but for Hallowe'en night.

So when you are out on Hallowe'en night and seen a dim Jack O'Lantern flickering in the distance, ask yourself, is this a pumpkin, or is it the original Jack O'Lantern, still wandering the night?

Jack of the Lantern - No So Kid Friendly

Long ago in a land we know as Ireland there lived a man named Jack. Jack spent all of his free time in the local pub, staggering home after the doors closed. His family never saw him and his only friends were those he drank with.

One Hallowe'en night, after a particularly successful time of drinking, Jack left to walk home, and I use the word "walk" loosely. Just outside the pub, he fell down and could not rise again. Suddenly he realized that he was dying. That was when the devil appeared to him.

"It is time Jack. You must come with me," the devil said to him in a deep and resonating voice.

"Time for what?" Jack replied. He knew full well why the devil was there, but Jack would not make it easy for him.

"The hour of your death is upon you. You must come with me to a life of eternal torment for such is the reward for the life you have led."

Now Jack was a sly one and he had a plan.

"Please let me have one more drink with my mates before I go. Surely that can do no harm."

"Nay Jack. Your time is now," the devil replied.

"But would it not contribute to their downfall as well. If such a short delay pushed but one more person closer to being your, would it not be worth the wait."

The devil pondered this. While he sensed a trick, it was true that there might be some benifit to the exercise. Finally he consented.

"But Jack," he added, "I have but one condition. To ensure everyone is influenced by you, you must buy each and every one of them a drink."

Jack saw the eagerness dancing in the devil's eyes and knew he had won, but instead of smile, he frowned. He held up his purse and exclaimed, "But I've not the money for that!"

But the devil would not so readily give up the prospect of so many fish and replied, "Why this is no problem Jack. I shall make myself into a coin sufficient for this purpose," and just as suddenly the devil became a single gold coin upon the ground.

Jack quickly snatched up the coin and deposited it in his purse where he also carried a silver cross which trapped the devil there.

"Let me out!" the devil screamed, but it was to no avail. In the end Jack struck a new deal that the devil would leave him alone for a year. Reluctantly, the devil agreed.

Jack immediately began to live a better life. He was kind to everyone and even started going to church, which he knew the devil would hate. But as time passed he slowly fell back into his old ways.

Hallowe'en arrived again and Jack was walking home and was passing next to an apple tree when he saw the devil standing by the side of the road. He tried to turn around and leave but suddenly found he could not move.

"Oh no Jack!" said the devil as he approached. "You shall not escape me again. Your year has passed and good to my word, here I am again. You must come with me."

Jack nodded and said, "You are right. I should not have tried to fool you like that and know my suffering shall be greater because of it. You are my better! If you will release me I would like to climb this apple tree that we might share its fruit."

"You are tricky and I admire that," the devil smiled, "but I'll not allow you to climb the tree. I do not know what you have planned, but I'll not trust you again. I will climb the tree to pick the apples and drop them down to you to slice."

The devil climbed the tree, picked the fruit and dropped them down to Jack who caught them. He pulled out his knife as though to slice the fruit, but instead crarved the sign of the cross into the trunk of the tree, trapping the devil in its branches.

Once more the devil screamed and shouted and threatened Jack, but Jack only waited for him to calm down. Eventually the devil asked what Jack wanted and Jack told him he wanted the devil to leave him alone for all time. The devil quickly agreed and Jack released him.

"One day Jack, you will regret this decision. There are worse things than coming with me." And he disappeared.

Jack heard nothing more from the devil and, freed from the threat of Hell, he lived an even worse life than before. He stopped working, abandoned his family and devoted his life to drink. He thought he could not die until one Hallowe'en night he choked on a piece of turnip he was eating.

He tried to pass into Heaven but was turned away for he did not in the least regret the life he had lead. If Heaven would not take him then Hell was surely the place for him after all.

So he descended but found the brass gates would not part to admit him. He howled and swore and did all he could to gain entrance. Finally, the devil himself peered over the wall.

"Why Jack!" the devil said, smiling ear to ear, "Why do you come to my gates and ask to come in?"

"I am dead and Heaven will not take me. I have no place else to go!"

"A pity! I would like to help, really I would, but I promised that I would leave you alone for all time. And Jack, surely you of all people know that I am good as my word. I cannot take you in. You are doomed to wander the world of the living, never to be seen but for on the night you died, All Hallow's Eve!"

Jack was devastated. He pondered the devil's words before saying, "But for the dead, the world of the living is dark and cold. How will I see? How will I stay warm?"

For a moment, the devil felt pity. He reached down and plucked a glowing ember from the fires of Hell itself and tossed it to Jack who caught it.

"There!" the devil said, "Let that light your way. Let that warm your hands when they are cold. And let it always remind you of the choices you have made. Now leave!"

And Jack did.

Jack took the ember and put it in the turnip he had been eating when he died so the winds of the mortal world would not extinguish it. The front of the turnip took on the form of an evil face through which the light shone. Jack, poor lost soul that he was, wandered the world ever drawn to witness acts of kindness that he had never shared, invisible to all but for Hallowe'en night.

And so he has done for many years. And with each year passed he has grown more and more angry and seeks revenge on mortals simply because they live. So when you are out on Hallowe'en night and seen a dim Jack O'Lantern flickering in the distance, ask yourself, is this a pumpkin, or is it Jack O'Lantern, seeking to avenge himself on you!