There’s this tale-type that always intrigued Andy Jones. It goes like this: a woman dresses up as a man in order to set things right after being falsely accused of being unfaithful to her husband.
It’s the way this tale-type plays with ideas about gender roles that appealed to him. “It’s always interesting how successful the woman is when she’s dressed as a man. It’s just amazing. Here the woman actually beyond any doubt proves that it’s just a gender thing. It’s rare I think,” said Andy Jones.
That’s what inspired Jack & Mary in the Land of Thieves. As always, though, Andy tells it a bit crooked: he creates a different ending for Mary than is usual in folk tales of this type.
Andy read a number of versions of the story and says he found something odd: no matter how successful the women were in their work while they lived as men, once they revealed their gender again they reverted back to the original stay-at-home relationship they’d had with their husbands before.
“Even though in one version she was almost King of the country, she seems strangely to return to her other relationship with her husband. And maybe that’s the ‘woman stay in your place’ message,” Andy said.
The end to Jack & Mary in the Land of Thieves offers Mary and Jack another future: “And Mary carried on as a captain and she sails the seven seas to this very day. Sometimes Jack goes along as her first mate, but mostly he stays home tending to the youngsters and the famous giant peas.”
Andy says he wanted to fix up what he always thought was wrong in the stories. “The sultan doesn’t say ‘look carry on with your job and your husband can hang out with you, because obviously you’ve got a much better job than your husband does.’ I felt like that’s a grave problem in the earlier stories. Just from a modern perspective,” he said.