Jack is angry when he hears that his mother is ill and that Death is in town to claim her, so he traps Death in a nutshell, with unexpected consequences.
The bones of the story:
A young man (Jack) has an ill mother. She tells him that her time is near and that soon she will die. Angry, he runs from the house and is walking along the beach, contemplating life, the universe and everything, when he meets Death. He comes up with a cunning plan to prevent Death from taking his month, and stuffs Death into a nutshell that he then throws out to sea. On returning home, his mother is much better, but when she asks for something to eat, Jack finds that he can’t “kill” anything and nothing will die. That means that he can’t slice carrots, or crack open eggs, or slaughter a cockerel for lunch. In the village, everything is in tumult because there is no meat at the butcher, no vegetables in the market. People become hungry, and the sick become sicker, but no one dies. Eventually Jack tells his mother what he did with Death, and she encourages him to find the nut and release Death. Jack does so reluctantly. Death explains that without him, there can be no life. It turns out that Jack has done Death a kindness whilst he was trapped in the shell (fixed his scythe) and in thanks, Death gives Jack’s mother leave to live out her life instead of dying from sickenss. She lives to a ripe old age before being taken by Death. Jack doesn’t see Death take his mother, but he accepts it, knowing that there is no life without death.
Example:Hear the story
- Duncan Williamson, Fireside tales of the traveller children