About‎ > ‎Books‎ > ‎

The Life and Times of Ray Hicks

posted Aug 24, 2012, 6:41 PM by Lynn Salsi   [ updated Nov 14, 2013, 4:32 PM by David Burkhart ]
Purchase Life and Times of Ray Hicks: Keeper of the Jack Tales

Keeper of the Jack Tales

Two reviewers have declared this book the Appalachian Angela's Ashes. When measured by angst, struggle and "being up again it," I can see that the story has a full degree of amazement. Many readers will feel empathy for the family that struggled against nature and will feel joy for their survival.

Friends say, "The University of Tennessee Press has done a stellar job on the design and editing."

What a story it is! Ray Hicks, known as the last living traditional Jack tale teller in North America, lived his life within the stories passed down through generations of ancestors who settled in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the latter decades of the 1700s. No one knows whether the Hicks, Harmons, or Wards originated the stories, because the tales are older than the United States. They came to the far western area of the North Carolina mountains before the state of North Carolina adapted the full land mass that is the state (today). In fact, when the family or families started passing around the tales, they were living in Indian country, that part of the frontier set aside for those who were first on the land.  Never the less, the Smithsonian attributes the old families who lived on Old Beech Mountain with bringing the Jack tales forth in an unbroken line of succession to the present day. That doesn't mean that they were the only settlers to talk about the same Jack that climbed the bean stalk. By the 1930s evidence of the stories about Jack and his brothers Will and Tom also spring from Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, and West Virginia. The family patriarch, Council Harmon, is known to have told the tales all his life (beginning early 1800's) and recalled hearing them from family members during his childhood. He lived a long life and had 20 children.

Ray was a popular storyteller at the National Storytelling Festival for nearly three decades. He was the first to entertain school children for Jimmy Neil Smith, founder of the national storytelling movement. He drew a crowd year after year, for his speech as much as for his ancient stories. He loved the audiences and they loved him. Therefore, this book is a biography that reads like a memoir. It is told in Ray's voice, in the way I recall from the hundreds of hours I spent on his front porch, his livingroom, and his kitchen.

Born in 1922, Ray lived his entire life in the Appalachian Mountains and knew mountain ways. He was a walking encyclopedia of lore, nature, and tradition. He passed his knowledge along to his children, his family, and everyone who took the time to make the trip to 4,200 feet to sit on his porch or in his front room and listen to the master storyteller.

It is easy to say that Ray lived within the family stories. He eventually became the Jack in the Jack tales. His Jack took on the same history or living the old way by the sun, the same that Ray did. Jack walked the same narrow paths and farmed with his family, the same way Ray did. The book is a tribute to the man who helped preserve the art of storytelling for generations that have followed. And at the same time, it is the story of Ray and of Jack and how they came to be the same.

Publisher: University of Tennessee Press
ISBN-13: 978-1-57233-621-6 (9781572336216)
ISBN: 1-57233-621-8 (1572336218)

Purchase this Book from Amazon