If you previously thought Jack and Jill’s story hinted toward something sinister, the StoryWhore must now confirm your suspicions. The story of Jack and Jill is, indeed, one of the most horrifying in all of nursery rhyme-dom.
Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water
Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after
Up Jack got and home did trot as fast as he could caper
And went to bed and bound his head with vinegar and brown paper
Let’s start with the first line: Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.
The rhyme doesn’t specify, but tradition holds that the water source was a well. And that makes sense, from a certain perspective – they used a pail, so the water surface available was likely small. But why was it at the top of a hill? Wells are almost never on hills, both because water tends to settle in lower altitudes and because it requires a lot more engineering and manual labor to extract a substance from a hill while keeping the hill intact. One conceivable advantage to locating a well on top of a hill is the reduced threat of pestilence – if water tends to accumulate in lowlands, so do communicable diseases. What we’re looking at is a terrible disaster– nothing short of a very serious water shortage combined with the palpable fear of some unstoppable plague could have driven Jack and Jill’s people to locate a remote hillside water cache and to use it as their primary water supply. So it is clear that Jack and Jill inhabit a pestilent hellscape far removed from any significant human infrastructure. Why do they live at the bottom of the hill, if the water’s at the top? And why do Jack and Jill go together, if they’re only getting a single pail of water? Moral support, maybe, in this time of terrible tribulation? Let’s see if the next lines can gives us a clue.
Jack fell down and broke his crown
So, we can confirm that hill was a bitch to climb. It wasn’t a rolling green expanse, was it, if falling down it cracked Jack’s skull open? Picture instead the twisted spine of a dense stone outcrop – the uninhabitable, rocky kind of formation that might have trapped the receding waters of earlier rains and held them untapped for all time. These were desperate days, indeed. No wonder Jack and Jill went together – the arduous task of descending with a pail of water would seem to merit a buddy system.
And Jill came tumbling after.
Wait…so they both fell, one after the other. How did that happen? The poem says they went up the hill, so they clearly reached the well, but there’s no mention of the pail or water when Jack and then Jill come tumbling down. It seems as though something may have prevented them from completing their task – something dangerous enough to compromise the precautions of their buddy system and send one after the other of them bouncing down the treacherous landscape. What kind of menace could it be?
Up Jack got and home did trot,
As fast as he could caper;
Jack’s behavior in any normal circumstance would seem bizarre. No mention of Jill’s condition, but if a “fall” was enough to crack Jack’s skull, imagine what a “tumble” down the mountainous ascent could do. Jack doesn’t stick around long enough to find out – he jumps up, and runs home at top speed. What sense of urgency leaves him to abandon his climbing buddy without assessing her physical condition at all? What drives him ignore his own fractured skull, jump to his feet and start running? Clearly, this is a flight response. Something evil was waiting for Jack and Jill at the top of that hill – but what was at the bottom to make Jack so afraid? What, except…Jill?
And went to bed and bound his head
With vinegar and brown paper.
Well! There you have it. Jack and Jill were obviously the lone survivors of a zombie apocalypse. The hilltop well provided the only supply of water that hadn’t been contaminated by zombified corpse puss. They went together to fetch the water, after every other inhabitant of their town had apparently been turned – one of them to carry the pail, and one to carry the bow. Tragically, it seems a zombie or two must have made its way to the summit ahead of them. By Jack’s reaction, we can surmise they landed a few good bites on Jill just as Jack lost his footing and began to fall. The poor gal must have already been in her death throes by the time she started tumbling; knowing she would rise again, Jack had to run away as fast as he could once he was at the bottom. He runs not to a hospital, not to a nurse, not to a doctor (because, at this point, there are none) but to his own home, whatever that might have been, and tended his head wound himself – with vinegar and brown paper. Clearly, his primary concern was to mask the scent of his own sweet brains.
Case regretfully closed.