Story Cue Card


Title: Jack and the Bull


Bibliographic Information:

The Jack Tales. Ed. Richard Chase. Cambridge, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1960.


Ethnic Origin: Southern Appalachian adaptations of English/German fairy tales


Running Time: 6 min (?)


Power Centers:

1-      Bull saves Jack from starvation: loyalty and friendship, “foiling the bad guy”

2-      Bull and Jack outwit/kill mean woman and escape: sense of adventure

3-      Three fights with bulls, ending in Jack’s bull’s death: excitement of battles, continued loyalty and protection of Jack by his bull, even after death

4-      Outwitting old witch: rewards


Characters: Man, wife, 3 daughters, Jack, black bull, 3 other bulls, witch, farmer, giant woman



Wife tries to starve Jack. Bull provides food.

Wife tries to kill bull. Jack and bull escape.

(I chose to stop here, but story continues)

Three fights with bulls.

Three encounters with witch.

Working for farmer, saving hogs from giant woman.




A boy named Jack works for/lives with a man, woman and their 3 daughters. The wife hates Jack and decides to starve him to death, but a magical black bull intervenes. By unscrewing the bull’s horns, Jack finds bread to eat and milk to drink. As Jack grows fat instead of thin, the wife becomes suspicious and sends each of her daughters in turn to spy on Jack. The first 2, with one and two eyes respectively are put to sleep by Jack’s fiddling, but the third (with three eyes) stays awake and tells her mother Jack’s secret. The mother insists that she needs to eat a bull’s liver as a ploy to kill the bull, but the bull outwits her. Instead of hitting the bull in the head, Jack strikes the wife instead and then escapes. Jack and the bull travel uneventfully until one day as the bull drinks from a spring, blue bubbles float up through the water. The bull warns Jack that this is a bad sign, and later that evening they encounter a big blue bull, which Jack’s bull fights and conquers. The next day, red bubbles and red bull. The third day, white bubbles and white bull, which kills the weakened black bull. Jack’s bull had counseled Jack to remove a strip of hide with his horns if he were unable to kill the white bull, so Jack continues to be protected and fed. After traveling on, Jack works for an old witch, herding her sheep. Three times she attacks him, and the bull’s hide and horns save him. (“Tie, strop, tie; Beat, horns, beat!”) The witch gives him a suit of clothes, a sack of money, and a horse with saddle and bridle, in return for relief from the beatings.  Jack travels on, spends his money and finds another job. He feeds and watches over a farmer’s hogs that have been disappearing, one-by-one.  A giant woman tries to carry off a couple of hogs while Jack is in a tree shaking down apples for the hogs. He again uses the bull’s hide, the hogs attack the giant woman, and the farmer comes and cuts off her head. Jack is richly rewarded and goes home.


Rhymes, Special Phrases, Flavor:


“ Tie, strop, tie,

Beat, horns, beat !”


Use of mountain dialect and idioms

Jack’s use of fiddle to put girls to sleep


Audience : K-3


Why is this story appropriate for audience?


At this age, children are usually familiar with the fairy-tale characters of the mean stepmother and stepsisters, who are the aunt and three variously-eyed daughters. They should be old enough to be developing their own ideas about justice and punishment. The death of the mean old woman should seem like a fair punishment for her poor treatment of Jack. Jack’s independence in running away to seek his fortune, and in defeating the mean old aunt should also appeal to this age group. The element of fantasy of the talking bull and his magical horns appeals to the young imagination. According to Piaget, repetition is important for children of this age group. In “Jack and the Bull” there are many events that happen three times: three spying daughters, three bullfights, old witch beaten three times. This story also reflects Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Jack is deprived of food, and the bull provides for him. The bull protects and cares for Jack, even after he is killed by the third bull. Another reason I selected this tale for this audience is that when I asked my mother, who teaches K-3, what stories her kids enjoyed, she immediately said “Jack Tales.”


Other variants:


“One-Eye, Two-Eyes, and Three-Eyes.” Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales. Garden City, NY: Nelson

Doubleday, Inc.


“One-Eye, Two-Eyes, and Three-Eyes.” Tit for Tat and Other Latvian Folk Tales. Retold by Mae

Durham, from the translation of Skaidrite Rubene-Koo. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World Inc., 1967.


“Billy Beg and the Bull.” Giants and Witches and a Dragon or Two. Selected by Phyllis R. Fenner.

New York: A. Knopf, 1946.




Grimm’s version and the Latvian variant are what could be considered “the original” story. “Jack and the Bull” is clearly a departure from the original, but it follows closely to the pattern of events in at least the beginning. In the Grimm tale, the daughter with two-eyes is ostracized and made to do all the work. She only has crumbs to eat and so her goat provides food when she says a certain rhyme. In the Latvian tale, a stepdaughter must spin large quantities of flax, and a cow does the work for her. In all of the variants, the helpful animal is killed, but continues to protect its charge. “One-Eye” is a wonderful fairy-tale that ends happily ever after with a girl marrying a prince. I personally dislike this sort of ending, and prefer Jack’s adventures to the girls’ predictable matrimonial bliss. Also, the full telling of “One-Eye” is rather long for a young audience and can’t be cut short. I like the episodic nature of the Jack tale; it can be ended quickly leaving the audience wanting to hear more, or it could be spun out for any number of adventures. As a native North Carolinian, the Appalachian Jack tales hold a lot of cultural appeal and also familiarity. “Billy Beg and the Bull” is closer to “Jack and the Bull” in style and similar in content. The language of the story however seems awkward to me as it is written in the book. The dialect sounds contrived, especially when applied to a story that begins with a King and a Queen. Like the Jack tale, “Billy Beg” can be broken down into episodes. After his bull is killed (same as Jack’s), Billy takes a job protecting a man’s herd from 3 giants. Although this episode is exciting and fun, it is too long and drawn out to hold a young audience’s attention. Of course the episode could be shortened, but it would lose the fun of its exaggeration and description of the fight. The ending is an interesting variation of the Cinderella tale- Billy fights a dragon to win the princess, but then runs away leaving his shoe. A search ensues for the man who can wear the boot, and Billy gets to marry the princess. Somehow I don’t find his running away very believable. Jack is an honest, dependable, ordinary boy who happens to have a lot of adventures. I find the story to be amazing and yet down-to-earth, with a lot of potential for laughter.