Presently, Halloween is all about costumes and candy, and more locally, a month full of traffic, crowded streets and two-hour waits in restaurants. Nonetheless, we love this spooky time of year when our stomachs are filled with pumpkin flavored everything, our book genres are horror, and, though the traffic in Salem is insane, we are even more insanely proud to be near where some shots of Hocus Pocus were filmed (and less proud of the Samantha statue…ugh) and to see every porch and step covered with carved pumpkins, some better than others. But where did this odd tradition come from? Well, this month’s FANTASTIC 13TH will cover the bizarre tale of the Jack O’ Lantern and the creatures originating from carved pumpkins.
ORIGINS & WHAT IT IS
The Tale of Stingy Jack (Jack Of The Lantern, Jack O’ Lantern)
Jack, the miserable drunk, took pride in tricking everyone he knew, eventually the devil as well, in order to get another drink at the pub. Legend says he tricked the devil more than once, the first time at the pub as he promised the Devil his soul if he could pay for one last drink. The Devil turned into a coin but instead of paying the bartender, Jack instead kept the coin in his pocket, a place where he also kept a cross, trapping the Devil. He soon released him on the basis that the Devil would leave him alone for a year. Upon returning the next year, Jack tricked him again, this time into climbing an apple tree and then placed a cross on the tree, trapping the devil. This was all an attempt, other than to trick, to force the devil to agreeing when Jack died, he wouldn’t take his soul.
When Jack died, the devil kept his word and didn’t take his soul. However, God wasn’t too pleased with him either, and refused to accept him in Heaven. Though the devil refused his entrance and though doomed to wander, Jack asked the devil where he had to go, especially without a light. The devil threw Jack an ember from Hell and with the turnip Jack kept in his pocket, made a lantern with the ember. He roamed the world, his lantern to guide him for eternity, being called originally Jack of The Lantern (or Jack of the Turnip), to just plain Jack O’Lantern.
So how the heck did we get Pumpkins from the legend? Well, there were no pumpkins in that geological region, and the Celtic people used turnips in their time as custom, creating lanterns in the attempt to ward of evil entities. When the Irish immigrated to America, this tradition followed. However turnips turned to a popular vegetable in the country: pumpkins. Whether from old Celtic traditions or now, carving on Hallow’s Eve is the best way to keep the evil spirits at bay.
Jack O’ Lanterns themselves have made several books/films, Halloween-related of course! However, aside from Charlie Brown and other kid cartoons (or Halloween Town, the best movie other than Hocus Pocus!), most mediums depict jack o’ lanterns as evil, despite the tradition it came from (turnips from Ireland) being used as a form to ward off evil spirits. For instance…
Either you’re a fun-loving pumpkin creature (or literally just a pumpkin) or you’re a human organ-harvesting pumpkin, there seems to be no happy medium with Jack O’ Lanterns. As a writer, this can be a challenge to write about something so specific while it’s already been defined to being one thing or the other. And, let’s be honest, writing about a pumpkin creature already sounds comical. Though it’s not entirely impossible to write about them. Here are a few ideas:
- Revisit the story of Jack and write your account of the myth or from the perspective of the Devil/towns person, anything! As it is a legend, the story is brief and told in third person, so try it from another point of view.
- If you’re going to all ‘pumpkin’ monster, just Tim Burton the crap out of it–meaning add ‘weird’ and unusual characters so it’s not just another cheesy pumpkin slasher movie.
- Have all of the pumpkins come to life and wreak havoc–it will be suitable to read in October!