Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the many facets of Fool Killer lore. FOR PART ONE, INCLUDING THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT, CLICK HERE
PART FIFTEEN: Last time around I examined Joel Chandler Harris’ 1902 story Flingin’ Jim And His Fool-Killer, set in Georgia in October of 1872, plus Ridgway Hill’s Facts For The Fool-Killer, set in and around Buffalo, NY in 1909.
Now we back up a year for the great O Henry’s story The Fool-Killer, published as part of The Voice of the City in 1908. In his younger years O Henry (William Sidney Porter) had personally known Charles Napoleon Bonaparte Evans, the editor of the Milton Chronicle.
Evans was the man behind the earliest written examples of Fool Killer stories and published them as if they were letters from the “real” Fool Killer himself, who claimed Jesse Holmes was his actual name. O Henry started his short story The Fool-Killer by recapping the fame of the folk-figure, claiming he was known “from Roanoke to the Rio Grande.”
In apparent deference to his old friend Charles Evans, Porter kept Jesse Holmes as the Fool Killer’s “real” name, but introduced some of his own innovations to Fool Killer lore.
Since O Henry’s tales always rely on his characteristic twist endings I will not reveal any spoilers but will focus instead on his personal adjustments to the lore.
*** O Henry’s Fool Killer (I prefer no hyphen) had a beard.
*** His Fool Killer used a white oak walking stick as his only weapon. No Bowie Knives or guns were mentioned.
*** The figure had red eyes in his interpretation.
*** The figure wore shoes fastened with leather thongs. His gray suit was the same, albeit a bit dusty in O Henry’s version.
*** O Henry’s biggest innovation: The Fool Killer could be “conjured/ summoned” to prey on someone if you called that person “a fool” to their face four times in a row. (Sort of a variation on looking into a mirror and saying Bloody Mary repeatedly.) This conjuration accounted for the Fool Killer’s sudden appearance in 1908 New York City, after the narrator of the story repeatedly called his friend a fool, then – after realizing the forces he’d unleashed – tried to save him from being slain by Jesse Holmes.
FOR PART SIXTEEN CLICK HERE
I WILL EXAMINE MORE FOOL KILLER LORE SOON. KEEP CHECKING BACK FOR UPDATES.
FOR MY LOOK AT JOE MAGARAC, THE STEEL MILL VERSION OF JOHN HENRY AND PAUL BUNYAN, CLICK HERE
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