Jack O'Lantern
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Basic Information

According to myth (generally British myth - versions appear in English, Scottish and Irish folklore, and thus to the US as well) Jack O'Lantern was a trickster (or possibly a miser) who managed to con or coerce The Devil into agreeing never to take his soul into Hell. Jack went on to live a long and wicked life and, at the end of it, was very much not a fit and proper person for Heaven but, the Devil being true to the letter of his word (as he occasionally is) wasn't getting into Hell either. Doomed to wander in the cold and dark of the netherworld, he managed to beg one of the burning coals from hell to light and warm himself with which, being too hot to hold, he put into a turnip lantern. Ever since, Jack O(f the) Lantern has roamed the world, especially on Halloween, making a nuisance of himself and looking for a place to rest. Rumour has it that he is looking for someone whose identity he can steal to trick his way into either Heaven or Hell, or some other way to bribe the Devil into letting him in. Oddly, no accounts seem to suggest that Jack might be seeking to atone for his sins and get into Heaven.

Replicas of Jack's lantern are carved by many anglo-celtic families on or around Halloween. The idea of the grotesque turnip lantern as a ward against evil spirits is far older than the legend, but his name seems firmly attached to them regardless. Once in the New World, the turnip lantern was upgraded into the now familiar pumpkin lantern and various other fruits and gourds have been used at various times depending on circumstance.

This is pretty much the same story as that of Will O'the Wisp, except with a differently named protagonist. Either they're both accounts of the same person, or this sort of thing happens more than you'd expect.



Game and Story Use

  • The consequences of running into Jack could be … interesting.
  • May or may not be the same character as any of the other Jacks of folklore and mythology. See also Jack (Hero).
  • A jack-o-lantern could be an interesting magic item. Its vegetable nature means it's fragile and short-lived, so you could in theory give it a more powerful than average effect and have to worry about it unsettling your campaign balance. Perhaps it can only be created by a ritual at a particular time of year, and then burns out it's magic within a few weeks.
    • For gamers in the US, the notion that it could be a turnip instead of a pumpkin will probably be surprising. This could lead to humor (jokes about size, etc), or it might make the item seem that much more alien and magical.
    • Some kind of ward magic would be a distinct possibility - warding off evil spirits would be an entirely thematic use and lamps and grotesque faces are common apotropaic elements.
    • Possession of a lantern is also a possibility, with the lamp serving as a transient fetish. This would seem an appropriate way to spawn an animate scarecrow.
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