Explanation: years ago, I was in our school’s annual May Day celebration Mummer’s Play. Many varaiants of these things exist, but that one from my childhood coloured my perception for this story.
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‘You see, people just don’t care about tradition any more.’
My companion is veering towards being hopelessly drunk. It hasn’t taken much to achieve this effect; a couple of pints and maybe just a little manipulation on my part. But mostly it’s an innate inability to hold his beer. He looks at me earnestly, a scrawny, unshaven figure with lank, thinning straw-colour hair that straggles down to his shoulders and watery blue eyes that are the predominant feature in his rat-like face.
He’s expecting me to say something. He only met me an hour ago but now I’m his best friend. His very best friend. I smile and pat him on the arm with an easy familiarity. He smiles vaguely at this gesture and goes to place his hand over my own. He misses.
‘There are ways of making them care,’ I tell him. For this game, I have adopted the guise of an Irishman and the brogue sounds entertaining to my ears. Mischief, in all its forms. That’s me.
‘But how?’ He’s whining. Time for some careful application of stronger liqueur. There’s an art to manipulation and it’s different for everyone. For some, it’s good old-fashioned charm – and I possess that in spades. For this man, it’s the gentle introduction of alcohol into his life. He was an easy soul to read: few friends, loner by nature, shy and retiring. Every cell in his being cried out for company.
Telling him to hold the thought of ‘how’, I pick out a double malt – not cheap – from the colourful array on display behind the bar. A smile for the barmaid and I don’t have to pay. She flutters her over-made up eyes at me and I can see the sudden puzzlement deep therein. She’d been thinking about booking a session on the sunbeds before her planned holiday with her girlfriends only moments ago. A moment in my company and instead, she’s thinking about how wonderful it would be to fill her house with babies instead.
You see? A careful art.
I wind my way back through the growing crowd to re-join my companion. He is singing softly to himself. A old folk tune and one which he obviously doesn’t know all the words to. Ironic, really, that he’s complaining that other people don’t respect tradition. I smile indulgently at him.
‘Here,’ I say, plying him gently with the amber liquid. ‘Try that. It’ll help. All those worries of yours? They’ll dissolve quickly enough. Finest malt this place has on offer.’
He stares at it dubiously, then looks up at me. ‘Really?’ I grin.
‘Trust me,’ I say. It’s something I say a lot.
It is the least of my lies.
I should introduce myself, although some might say I need no introduction. I’d usually say it. But propriety demands.
For the moment, you can call me Jack. I have many names and many guises, but Jack is the one who fits best into today’s world. The key thing to remember, my modern friends, is that mythology never dies. You can’t just banish me and my kind without expecting us to put up a fight. The seasons still turn, the stars still shine, the unexplained still happens.
Spring happens. The renewal of the land, the rebirth of nature. And with it come celebrations of things that nobody even really remembers any more. Pagan festivals trussed up in severe religious corsetry that constricts their true beauty. But yet through all this denial, me – and those like me – prevail.
For someone of my… disposition… it has been amusing down the years to watch historians and so-called experts argue about my personal aspect in the mythology of the ages. I am at one and the same time a force of nature, a force for impish mischief and occasionally, just occasionally, I am portrayed as something much darker.
Whatever I may be, one thing is certain. My drunken friend is quite right.
People just don’t care about tradition any more. But I’m going to help him with that. We’re going to craft something subtle together, my friend and I. We are going to wake up the sleeping beliefs that most people hide behind scientific papers and things they read on the internet (which therefore must be true).
When we’re done, they will care about tradition.
Every year, this village holds a medieval fayre. They call it a medieval fayre, but really it’s little more than an excuse to bring garish rides on the back of trucks to town. They hire apparently countless coffee vans, selling overpriced and fancy-named beverages for extortionate prices. People drink their coffee and eat their toffee apples or candy floss or sausage-in-a-bun and throw their litter down on the ground.
The countless folk who pass by tread the rubbish into the earth. Disregarding their habitat.
As part of the proceedings, a local Morris group is dancing in the roped off ‘square’ in the middle of the village green. They look self-conscious and they are getting it wrong. It doesn’t really matter, though. Nobody watches them and those who do glance their way sneer their superiority at the men wearing ribbons and bells, skipping to some badly-played folk music.
At some point during the day, the Mummers come into the square. This usually generates a little interest – mostly from the children. I enjoy seeing the mixture of fear and delight on their little moppet faces as St. George’s dragon runs around the perimeter of the square roaring his fury. Mostly, this one is roaring at the impotent fury of what is a very poor costume that is falling to pieces, but the children love it regardless.
It’s a variant on a familiar theme. Father Christmas, Jack Frost… the piece’s villains if you will. This is something children don’t seem to grasp. How can Father Christmas be a bad man? Listen to him. In come I, old Father Christmas… welcome or welcome not… I hope old Father Christmas will never be forgot.
Appalling grammar aside, Father Christmas is a creation of a newer world. He was never a part of mine. It was his introduction into our culture that saw the true beginning of our slow demise into obscurity. See how the children cheer at him.
‘Are you ready?’ My companion whispers to me. I turn to him and smile. Of course I am ready.
‘I was born to play this part,’ I tell him truthfully.t The words he has given me to learn are confused, tangled and yet still carry the ring of absolute truth. Father Christmas presents his champion, the mighty Jack Frost who postures rather appallingly in front of the crowd and then, right on cue, it is my line.
The moment, the very second I walk into the square, those who are half-heartedly watching sit up and pay attention. Those whose attention is elsewhere find themselves inexplicably drawn. It is not my performance that has brought them to watch, but my sheer presence.
I am a potent force.
Watch me use it.
‘In come I, Jack, the man in green…’
They are the lines that mark my entrance and I speak them with easy confidence. My tone is calm, reassuring and certainty drips from every syllable. The people around the arena know that’s the absolute truth. I am not some foolish, aging hippy with a suit made of ribbons. I am, without question, what I state I am. Jack, the man in green. They are captivated now and I continue.
‘…I stand for all that’s new. I am the keeper of the Spring… a change of season’s due.’
At the words, I glance up at the skies which before I began the spell were dark and threatening to deluge this quaint May Day setting with relentless precipitation. A postage-stamp of bright blue appears and begins to spread, insidiously pushing aside the dark rain clouds. The air clears. Beneath my feet, daisies that were closed against the dull day begin to open. Even the grass strains to reach me and grows an extra fraction in a matter of time so brief there is no measurement for it.
People watch this happening. They watch, but they do not see. That is where the magic lies. That is where the unexpected happens and why it is that people fail to truly comprehend what has happened to them.
Father Christmas and Jack Frost are staring at me now, slack-jawed and enraptured by my sheer sense of presence. They are little more than ants on the playing board of this green stage and my attention is barely drawn to them other than to speak the ritual words of the ancient play. Like so many of its kind, this one is bastardised and altered far from the original. But I read through it. It is sufficient.
I level a finger at Father Christmas and he starts in alarm at the look of thunder on my face as I speak the next lines.
‘What Father Christmas said is right… for trouble is what we bring. Old winter’s past… the flowers are out. The bluebells soon will ring.’
Trouble, ah, there it is. I cannot help but bring mischief in my wake. It is the blessing and the curse of the sprite; of the fae-blooded to enjoy interfering with order. Spring is a given. Year after year, the world rearranges itself to welcome the influx of new life that has slept for so long in its depths. But around the things that happen
naturally, the existence of men has brought with it many things that those of my kind can manipulate.
‘So step aside, you frosty folk and give us room to rhyme. For we have come to crown our queen…’
Ah, my queen. What became of you? Your unsurpassed beauty. Your voluptuous curves and sumptuous body. Your air of bounty, of life and rebirth. How I miss you. Look – there is the ‘queen’ they have chosen to crown, a child who sits rather self-consciously on the wooden throne. A pretty child to be sure: with hair the colour of the setting sun and features that when they mature will certainly earn her more than one amorous suitor. But for now, she is a child who the people have chosen as their queen.
Imagine what could be unleashed if Jack in the Green actually did crown her. That is the culmination of this Mummers play. In which Jack, the queen’s loyal servant, lays upon her head the crown of thorns which blooms and blossoms into a crown of spring flowers… represented here by a wooden circlet. If I did crown this child as the Queen of the May, then things would really get interesting.
Particularly when Her Furious Former Majesty returned to fight for her rightful throne.
The war would be beautiful. The deaths would be sweet. The sacrifice would be immense and my place at the Queen’s Spring Court would once more be assured.
Perhaps the Queen would even consider me at last as her consort, instead of her servant.
I do not know why I tell you this. My dreams are not yours to know. All you need know is this. If I, Jack the Man in Green choose to bring forth the might of Spring, your brief and violent existence would be snuffed out faster than you could put a message on your Twitter feed. Because that’s what would happen.
End of the world OMG #disaster
But this world… this ugly, broken, beautiful world in which you humans now live intrigues me too much. There is a curiosity that keeps me here. I can see where you are heading and it will be a tragic ending for your species. Ultimately, of course, it will be the end of mine too – because when a world is devoid of people, it becomes a place devoid of belief. You see? You are not just heading for your own destruction, but you’re too selfish, too ignorant to realise it. You think you have progressed.
If only you knew.
Maybe I should place that crown on the girl’s head. Wipe the slate clean. Allow the forces of Spring to come to fruition. I could do it, too. My power to manipulate and weave the threads of the future are strong. My fingers tingle with the thought of opening the gateway. Instead, I finish my line.
‘…for we have come to crown our queen, all in this sweet May time.’
The crowd, which had been holding a collective breath, without even realising it, sighed their appreciation of the pretty would-be usurper seated on the fake throne. My hand curls into a fist and the magic drains. For a moment, however fleeting, the people on this village green believed that I brought forth the magic of Spring. They will remember that feeling in years to come. When the faces of the bumbling Turkish Knight and the heroism of George, the Englishman (with sword and shield in hand) are a forgotten thing, they will all recall Jack in the Green.
And so it goes. The seasons change and only a fool believes it is because of a globe in space, spinning on an axis. No, my friends. The seasons change because of the work of the forgotten few.
We persist. We exist.