Jack Skellington’s Origins May Have Finally Been Revealed

For The Nightmare Before Christmas, Tim Burton aimed to give Halloween its very own Santa Claus figure and the result was Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown. It’s fair to say Burton’s ambitions worked and now Jack is one of the most well-recognized Halloween-related characters around the world. But with Nightmare not having been franchised out like a lot of Disney IPs, there’s still a lot we don’t know about Jack. Like, for instance, what are his origins?

This mind-blowing fan theory shared by Redditor u/Thin_Guarantee_5653 pitches a surprisingly convincing backstory for Jack which suggests that he could be the inspiration for the Jack-O-Lantern tradition itself. As shared on the r/FanTheories subreddit, the idea is that Jack is inspired by Stingy Jack, an old legend from Irish folklore concerning a clever but cursed man who managed to trick the Devil. Here’s how the full thing goes:

“According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. 

Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.

Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then, simply “Jack O’Lantern. ””

The OP then added some further context for the theory, elaborating that variations of Stingy Jack have sprung up in other cultures and he’s long been associated with Halloween:

“Stingy Jack, also known as Jack the Smith*,* Drunk Jack*,* Flaky Jack*, and* Jack o’ Lantern*, is a mythical character sometimes associated with* All Hallows Eve while also acting as the mascot of the holiday.”

Commenters were enthusiastic about the concept of linking Jack to this old legend. As one pointed out, it would make sense of Jack became King of Halloween in the first place.

Remember, he even disguises himself as a Jack-O-Lantern at the beginning of the movie.

Was Burton directly referencing this story in the film?

It’s possible that Burton genuinely was drawing on this mythical figure when creating Jack as he’s been influenced by fairy tales and legends in his other films – Edward Scissorhands draws from Beauty and the Beast and Corpse Bride was inspired by a Jewish folk tale. Even if it’s just a coincidence, though, then it’s interesting to discover where the connection between Halloween and the name Jack comes from.

Disney is set to release a sequel novel to The Nightmare Before Christmas next fall. Cracker Barrell also just announced a manga adaptation.