Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Do You Know the Origin of Jack and Jill? Do You Like My Modern Version?

As a children’s author, I have always been fascinated with the real meaning of nursery rhymes. Few among us did not grow up listening to these rhymes. However, if you read these same rhymes carefully as an adult, you may find yourself wondering why they didn’t scare us to death. Take Jack and Jill for example. This simple rhyme may be based on some frightening actual events.

There are a number of theories about the origin of Jack and Jill, and the rhyme is thought to date back to at least the eighteenth century. Most historians seem to agree however, that the characters most likely represent King Louis XVI (Jack) who was beheaded (lost his crown). He was followed by his Queen Marie Antoinette (Jill) who was also beheaded (came tumbling after). It’s hard to believe that the words to this story were made into a rhyme for children.

Another interesting theory dates back even further. According to this one, in the early 17th century, King Charles I of England decreed that the liquid measurement of a “jack” (four ounces), and a gill (“jill,” eight ounces), should be reduced. However, he kept the tax on these amounts the same, making more money for him as the ruler. This was part of what led to the English Civil War (1647-1649), when Charles “fell down” (removed from the throne) and “broke his crown” (was beheaded).

Which story do you think is true? Take your pick. Or, is it none? Perhaps a nursery rhyme is nothing more than just a nursery rhyme. If that’s the case, what in the world is Jack and Jill really about?

No matter. I’ve come up with my own modern, slightly feminist, “girls rule” version:

Jack and Jill went up the hill,
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill, being a physician with advanced training in emergency
medicine,was able to administer on-the-spot care.

Bobbie Hinman

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