Fairy Tale Friday: Jack and His Golden Snuff Box
Adapted from Joseph Jacob’s English Fairy Tales.
Once upon a time there was a boy named Jack who was sent out into the world by his parents with a large cursed cake and a golden snuff box, the former from his mother who was both sad and angry to see him leave and the latter from his father who told him never to open the golden snuff box unless he be on the verge of death.
Jack wandered very far and ate his way through the entire cursed cake before arriving one day at a tavern. Having run out of cursed cake, Jack was quite hungry and was pleased to make the acquaintance of the pretty barmaid. The pretty barmaid fed him heartily and, over ale and pie, they fell madly in love.
Unfortunately for Jack, the pretty barmaid was no free agent and, as most girls in such stories do, had a disagreeable father. The disagreeable father did not appreciate penniless Jack making eyes at his pretty daughter and told Jack that, if he wanted her hand, he should make a lake and the largest warship in the world appear outside the tavern by morning. If he failed in this, he would lose not only the girl, but his life.
Jack decided this was a close to death as he was like to get and whipped out his father’s golden snuff box. The moment he tipped open the lid, three little red men popped out and asked him what they could do to help. He told them he needed a lake and a big warship. “Easy peesy,” said the three little red men and it was done.
The pretty barmaid’s father was terribly impressed and said, for two more tasks (“I want this forest totally cleared and I want a golden castle!”), Jack could indeed wed the girl. Obligingly, the three little red men did all that was asked of them and Jack took all the credit, impressing both barmaid and her father.
So Jack and the barmaid were married and the barmaid’s father, now a wealthy squire with a lake, the biggest warship in the world, no forest, and a golden castle, decided to hold a hunt. While he and Jack were away, a wicked valet stole Jack’s golden snuff box and discovered the three little red men.
“What can we do you for?” asked the three little red men.
“I want this castle all for my own, far away from here!” said the wicked valet.
“Easy peesy,” said the three little red men, and they whisked away the golden castle and the wicked valet.
Jack and the barmaid’s father returned to find it gone. Wrathful, the father ordered Jack to fetch his castle back again for he would never see the pretty barmaid (aka: his wife) again. Jack, downcast but very much desirous to set things right, set out immediately.
As any sensible person would do when it search of a magical castle, Jack turned to the animal kingdom for help. First, he tried the King of the Mice. The King of the Mice would only help if he could have use of the castle once it was found. Jack said fine and the King of the Mice sent out all the mice to find the castle. They all came back empty-handed, so Jack went on to the King of the Frogs, accompanied by one particularly stalwart mouse hell-bent on helping find the castle.
The King of the Frogs requested the same as the King of the Mice and, when it was agreed that he would have use of the castle once it was found, he sent out all the frogs to find it. But they also came back empty-handed and Jack, the mouse, and an equally-stalwart frog were forced to move onto the King of the Eagles.
The King of the Eagles wanted to use the castle, too. “Yes, fine, good!” said Jack, somewhat impatiently, as his clever plan to use the animals wasn’t really panning out. So the King of the Eagles sent out all the eagles to find the castle.
To everyone’s surprise, one particularly stalwart eagle returned quickly with word of a golden castle nearby. Jack, the mouse, the frog, and the eagle all hastened to the castle right away. It was indeed the right golden castle and there was much rejoicing.
“But how will we recover the golden snuff box?” Jack bemoaned. “Without it, we’re sunk!”
“I’m on it,” said the stalwart mouse and scurried, unseen, into the castle, returning with the re-stolen golden snuff box some time later, guards hot on his heels.
“Let’s get out of here!” cried the frog and Jack, neither of whom fancied being caught. The eagle shouted for them to get on his back and the three non-fowl quickly hopped aboard and within minutes they were airborne, hastening back to the King of the Eagles’ domain.
“That was a close one,” said the frog, who was not quite so stalwart as he seemed. “Now where’s that bloody snuff box?”
“Here,” said the mouse, and made to pass it to Jack. But the eagle interrupted and said he should have the box since he was the one who found the castle and the carried them all to safety. Jack disagreed, saying it was his box in the first place. And the mouse wanted it to be his since he had brought it out of the castle safely. And the frog threw his hat in the ring, too, just because he felt he had braved just as much as the rest.
As they quarreled over it, snatching it back and forth, they lost control of it and the golden snuff box went hurtling down into the sea below them.
“Blast!” said Jack. “Now we’re really sunk.”
“This is no time for puns!” said the eagle grimly, although Jack hadn’t meant to be funny, or punny, at all and was truly chagrined.
“Not to worry,” said the frog suddenly. “I’m on it.” And, so saying, the frog leaped from the eagle’s back and swan-dived quite elegantly into the sea after the box. Three days later, he resurfaced, gripping the box and there was much rejoicing.
Box now firmly in Jack’s pocket where it could not conceivably be stolen, dropped, argued over, or otherwise lost, the four arrived back at the King of the Eagle’s home. Jack immediately opened the box and the three, slightly damp, little red men came out and asked what they could for him.
“Well, bring back the castle, of course!”
Wearily, the three little red men said they’d get right to it and hastened away. Shortly thereafter, the castle arrived at the King of the Eagles. Pointing out that they had never agreed that the castle would be at any of the Kings’ disposal forever, Jack had the castle stay one day and one night with each animal King before hurrying home to the barmaid and her irascible father.
The father, first ascertaining that Jack had somehow managed to bring back the correct golden castle, finally relented, clapped Jack on the back, and allowed him to see his wife. The pretty barmaid immediately ran out to greet Jack and presented him with his firstborn son who had been born whilst Jack was away adventuring.
Jack, exhausted by his adventures and journeying, was perhaps a little less than enthusiastic about dealing with a newborn, a reaction which may have shown more than he intended, which in turn may have offended his wife more than he knew, which may have resulted in a number of years shrewishness from the wife, which may have led to a less than “happily ever after” ending, but that, surely, is another story for another time.
The moral of this one? Never accept baked goods from your embittered mother. Also be careful where you leave your enchanted, golden possessions. And don’t trust wicked valets.