2012 is shaping up as a leap year in more ways than one. Back in February I posted news of the return of the Victorian bogeyman Spring-heeled Jack. A mysterious leaping figure scared a family as it vaulted over the Epsom bypass in Surrey one dark night. I have been fascinated by the legend of Spring-heeled Jack since my grandparents told me scary stories about his reign of terror in Sheffield during the 1870s. But until this year there has been no serious academic study of the Victorian literature and database of newspaper accounts upon which this legend is based (you can read my own summary on my Urban Legend pages here).
Now news reaches me of two new studies to be published later this year and a short documentary on Spring-heeled Jack posted on YouTube. The six minute documentary, directed by Michael Doyle, examines the urban mythology from which Jack emerged in Queen Victoria’s London of 1837-38 and nicely sets the scene for a feature length film on this enduring mystery.
October 2012 sees the publication of Karl Bell’s new book The Legend of Spring-heeled Jack: Victorian Urban Folklore and Popular Cultures (Boydell & Brewer, details here). Bell is a lecturer in history at the University of Portsmouth and author of The Magical Imagination: Magic and Modernity in Urban England, 1780-1914 (Cambridge University Press, 2012), reviewed by Peter Rogerson of Magonia here. So we can expect a thoroughly researched academic study that ‘draws upon a rich variety of source material including folklorist accounts, street ballads, several series of “penny dreadful” stories, journals, magazines, newspapers, comics, theatrical posters, court accounts, autobiographies and published reminiscences.’
Autumn will also see the appearance of a long-awaited edited collection by author and expert Mike Dash, that contains the fruits of decades of research in newspaper archives. Containing almost half a million words, Spring-heeled Jack: sources and interpretation contains contributions from a range of authors, including two chapters of my own. My contributions cover the folklore of Jack and a detail account of his appearances in Victorian Sheffield in 1873-74, assembled from folk memory and primary sources.
I will post more news on these exciting projects in due course but for the moment I will leave you with the blurb for Mike’s book:
“….the first detailed, fully–referenced study of perhaps the strangest and most enduring of contemporary legends. Spring–heeled Jack — a leaping, fire–breathing bogeyman who terrorised Victorian Britain — emerged from a welter of wild rumour in January 1838 and has never quite gone away. This new study, edited by Mike Dash with contributions from an international line-up of scholars, is firmly based on a comprehensive survey of in excess of 200,000 words of primary source material. It includes brand–new research examining how the Spring–heeled Jack legend originated in the years 1804–1837 and how and why the nineteenth century media reported the story. The book discusses Jack’s impact on the popular culture of the Victorian era, and analyses the spread of his legend around the world, from pre-revolutionary Russia to modern Somalia via Newfoundland, New Zealand and Argentina.”