Jack and the Lump of Clay
Written by Stuart Baum, Illustrated
by Hal Baum
For Jack Dunphy and Hal Baum
You know the story: A poor boy named Jack is sent to the
market to sell their cow for food money. Along the way, he runs
into an old man who trades him magic beans for the cow and,
after an adventure with a giant, the story ends happily for
Jack and his family.
This is not that story. This is a story about another
boy named Jack.
years later, it came to pass that there was another boy named
Jack whose family was also very poor. Their one cow had also
recently stopped producing milk. Instead of having Jack take
the cow to market, however, this Jack's Mother told him to walk
up and down the road looking for a little old man who would
trade some magic beans for the cow.
So Jack took his cow for a walk and, after a little while,
he passed an old man standing on the side of the road. The old
man was sitting on a large, flat rock, looking as though he
were waiting for Jack to come along.
As Jack expected, the old man already knew his name. In a
scratchy, wavering voice, the old man called out, "Jaa-ack!"
"How do you know my name?" Jack asked, playing along with
"Thaa-at's not importaa-ant,”" the old man said. "What
is importaa-ant is that I am looking for a cow thaa-at has
recently stopped producing milk. I caa-an tell your cow, who
you caa-all 'Milky,' no longer produces any milk."
Jack thought to himself, 'This was easy.' Then he asked out
loud, "So… you are willing to trade me some magic beans for
Milky, my cow?"
The old man shook his head and looked sad. He continued in
his scratchy voice, as if he were recalling a story from long
ago. "I'm afrai-aid you are thinking of my brother Nate. Nate
was the one with the bea-eans. He, too, was looking for a cow
thaa-at had stopped producing milk. He was plaa-anning to go
to the market, but before he got there, alo-ong came a boy named
Jack with the perfect cow. So Nate traded his beans for the
cow. I don't know what haa-appened to the boy, but Nate and
the cow went on many fantastical journeys and ended up outwitting
an Ogre and now-ow they live on the Ogre's island. They're as
rich and as haa-appy as any old man and a cow can be."
the old man looked at Jack and, as if he were sharing a secret,
said, "To tell you the truth, Nate wasn't the brightest staa-ar
in the sky, if you know what I mean. But that cow was smaa-art
enough for the both of them. If it weren't for the cow, I am
pretty sure that old Nate would have been eaten au gratin by
that Ogre, if you understaa-and my meaning."
Jack didn't understand 'au gratin', but he certainly understood
'eaten' and 'by that ogre,' so he nodded.
Jack enjoyed the story, but he was on a quest for magic beans,
so he said, "Well, that's certainly an interesting tale and
I could tell you what happened to the boy. In fact, I think
everyone in the world but you knows what happened to
that Jack. But this Jack (and he pointed to himself)
was sent out by his Mother to trade Milky for some magic beans."
Then he concluded bluntly, "Since you have no magic beans, I
must continue on my way."
There was something about the old man that made Jack hesitate
to simply walk away. The man was holding something in
his right hand, so he asked, "You're sure you don't have any
magic beans, right?"
The old man looked very sad again and said, "Nope. All I
haa-ave is this lump of clay." He opened his bony hand to reveal
a smallish-sized ball of reddish-brown clay.
For a few seconds they stood there, Jack looking at the lump
of clay and the old man looking sadly into Jack's eyes. Jack
looked down the road to the market. It was a very long
road and he didn't see any other old men standing by the side
of it. It was a hot day and Jack was already tired and hungry.
Jack asked, "Is it magic at least?"
The old man smiled and Jack saw that most of the old man's
teeth were missing. The old man said, "But of course."
Jack considered for a moment. He said slowly, "I don't know.
My mother has her heart set on magic beans."
The old man replied very quickly, "But the other Jack's Mother
haa-ad her heart set on money and not magic beans.
So maybe she'll understand."
This was good enough for Jack, and, anyway, he really didn't
want to walk up and down the road for days hoping another old
man happened to have some magic beans. So Jack said, "It's a
Jack handed him the rope holding Milky and the old man handed
Jack the magic clay. Well, Jack certainly hoped the clay
When Jack got home, Jack's Mother didn't even look at him
before she said, "Now throw those beans out the window and get
on your climbing boots."
"Um, Mom?" Jack started. But instead of finishing his sentence,
he opened his hands to show her the lump of clay.
Jack's Mother said matter-of-factly, "That's not beans."
She looked at Jack with great disappointment, as if she could
not believe that he had returned without beans.
A little more cheerfully than he felt, Jack said, "It's magic
Jack's Mother was not pleased. "Please don't tell me you
traded our cow for a lump of clay."
"But it's magic," Jack countered a little less cheerfully
this time. "And I got it from Nate's brother." Jack explained
who Nate was, but Jack's Mother just stood there shaking her
head during the whole explanation.
Then she said firmly, "You go right back to that old man
and tell him that he either gives you the magic beans, which
I am sure he has, or he returns our cow. Then you stay on that
road until you get us some magic beans. We don't want to be
Jack's Mother pointed to the front door. Jack had no choice
and, feeling very stupid, he hung his head as he marched outside
and down the road.
Jack went to the spot where he had traded Milky to the old
man and, of course, the old man was nowhere to be found. After
looking around for what felt like hours to Jack, but was really
only a few minutes, Jack sat down on the rock and waited. He
didn't cry. Not because he wasn't sad or because crying never
did any good in stories like this, but because he was fairly
certain that someone would come along and tell him what to do
next. Maybe an elf or a princess or Rumplestiltskin or something.
But the more he looked up and down the road, and the more he
said, "Here comes something!" or "Look who comes now!" the more
it seemed as though nothing would ever come down the
Finally, he got mad. Jack stood up on top of that rock and
yelled, "Little old man! Brother of Nate! You come back here
and trade me back my cow or else I will-, I will-, I will…"
But there he stopped, since he could not think of what he might
do if the old man didn't trade him back the cow. In frustration,
Jack took the lump of clay and threw it, as hard as he could,
at the road.
Oh, of course, you can guess what happened next. But
Jack was so mad and frustrated he had forgotten the lump of
clay was supposed to be magic.
As the clay hit the path, out came a tiny, muffled-sounding
At first Jack didn't know what had made the "ouch!" sound,
but after a few seconds he remembered that the clay was supposed
to be magic and he went over and picked it up.
Jack asked, "Did you say 'ouch'?"
Instead of saying 'yes,' which is what Jack had hoped and
expected, the lump of clay asked a question. Its voice was smallish,
like a child's, and muffled. It sounded as if a child were speaking
with his hands over his mouth. "Are you
the one who threw me on the hard ground?"
Jack shuffled his feet and tried to look as sorry as he could.
He stammered, "I- I- I didn't know you were magic."
The lump of clay responded sharply, "You
certainly did know I was magic. I heard Ethan tell you
so." The lump quickly explained, though he didn't need
to, that Ethan was the name of the old man.
Jack shuffled his feet some more. "I- I- I guess I for- for-
forgot," he said.
Jack expected the clay to be mad, but it wasn't. In a nice,
though still small and muffled voice, it said, "You
really can't be blamed. Talking clay isn't something that happens
Not sure what he was supposed to say, Jack tried, "Thank
you." Then he added, "Thank you for understanding."
The two of them stood there for a few seconds, Jack holding
the clay in his hands and the clay, well, just being a lump
of clay, until Jack asked, "What happens next?"
The lump of clay said nothing. So much nothing, in fact,
that Jack started to wonder if it had really spoken earlier.
Finally, in its same odd voice, the clay answered Jack's
question, "I'm not sure." It said
nothing for another long amount of time, until it added, "To
be honest, I didn't even know I could talk until the 'ouch!'
Jack sat back down on the rock and tried to think. He thought
about all the stories like this he knew. He tried to remember
the magic items that were in them and what their owners had
done. Not one of them had a lump of talking clay.
There were those magic beans, of course. Which you planted.
There was also a story with magic melon seeds, which worked
just like the beans.
There was a magic lamp, which, for some reason, you rubbed.
For a second Jack was hopeful. He rubbed the clay, but nothing
Jack thought of more stories with magic items.
He remembered hearing a story with a magic purse, which you
opened to find coins. And no matter how many times you removed
the coins, there were always more when you opened it again.
'That would be easy,' thought Jack.
He sort of remembered a story with a magic flute, which he
decided he would try to play. But he didn't know what happened
Jack could think of two stories with magic boots, which,
he also thought would be easy. Just put them on and try to run
fast, or leap, or, better yet, fly. If none of those worked,
Jack decided he'd try to walk on water. First starting with
shallow water and then working up to deeper water. Just in case
they weren't water-walking boots.
Jack wondered, 'Why couldn't I have been given magic boots
or seeds or a flute or a purse? I would know what to do with
any of those things!'
He also recalled a story with magic apples that, instead
of eating yourself, you were supposed to feed to a dying princess.
'But even that would be easier to figure out than magic
clay,' Jack moaned, 'especially since the boy in that story
was told to feed the apples to the princess.'
Finally Jack looked down at the lump in his hand. "Magic
clay?" he asked.
"Yes?" responded the clay.
"I think I need some help. I want to ask someone else for
advice. But I also know from lots of other stories that magic
talking items become quiet just when you need them to talk most."
The clay said nothing, so Jack continued, "If I take you to
my Mother or someone else would you at least let them hear you
The magic clay said uncertainly, "If
I can. I might not be able to talk to anyone else.
Or they might not be able to hear me."
Jack thought it over to himself, 'That makes sense and seems
fair.' He stood up quickly and said aloud, "All right. Then,
here is the plan. I'll take you home to my Mother and you
try to talk to her. Until she hears you, I'll say nothing.
Then once she hears you, maybe she'll help us figure out what
to do next."
"Good idea," squeaked the clay.
And it was a good idea, don't you agree?
The walk home was fairly long, especially on such a hot day.
Just as Jack was rounding the last corner towards his house
he felt a sharp pain on his palm. "Ouch!" he exclaimed.
When Jack opened his hand, he noticed that instead of holding
a lump of clay in his hand, he was holding a bear-shaped
lump of clay in his hand.
"Hey!" Jack demanded, "why did you bite me!"
The little bear-shaped lump of clay said simply, and no longer
with that muffled sound, "You squeezed me too hard."
Jack looked closely at the clay shape and even he had to
admit that it didn't look exactly like a bear. The clay
looked somewhat like a bear and somewhat like a dog, but not
very much like either. And the bear's tail was probably more
suitable for a rabbit. But the clay looked more like a bear
than like anything else, if only barely.
Jack asked, "Did you make yourself into a bear, or
did I do that?"
Instead of answering Jack's question, the clay asked one
of his own, "Do you have a mirror in your house?"
"Yes," Jack said.
"Before you bring me to your mother, could you bring me to
"Surely," Jack said. And he did.
Once they were in front of the mirror, the clay frowned at
Jack in the same way Jack's teacher frowned at him when he missed
an easy math question.
The clay chided Jack, "Not a very good bear, I must say."
And then, also, like Jack's teacher, the clay spoke slowly when
he advised, "Pull out the tail a little, thicken the legs, shorten
the ears, and round out the snout." Jack did exactly as the
clay asked. When Jack was finished, the clay looked in the mirror
again. The clay declared loudly, "Now that's a bear!"
Jack was very pleased. The clay bear walked back and forth
on Jack's hand and up his arm a little, admiring himself in
the mirror from every angle. "A very handsome looking bear,"
the clay said proudly. "Not too mean looking, but not too meek
looking either." He nodded his clay head up and down as he continued
to admire himself. "A very handsome bear."
"Now can I show you to my Mother?" Jack asked.
The bear got a thoughtful look on its face and then said,
"Maybe you shouldn't just yet. Maybe we could first think of
something we could do with a boy and a talking bear-shaped lump
Jack sat down on the floor and thought. "We could join the
circus," he said.
The clay shook its little bear head. "I don't want to be
a tiny performing bear."
After a few more minutes, Jack offered unsurely, "We could
go on adventures."
The bear nodded its head slowly, but not as if he were agreeing
with Jack's suggestion, only as if he were considering it. He
said slowly, "If we do, we would need something to adventure
for. Such as a goose that lays golden eggs. Or a magic
kingdom." Then, after he thought for a little more, the clay
added, "And I'm not sure a small talking clay bear and a boy
would be the best team."
Jack offered excitedly, "I could make you into something
else." Then Jack thought of all the things he could make from
clay and became less excited. "How about a dog?" he asked uncertainly.
The bear shook its head.
"A rabbit?" Jack asked.
The clay bear looked at his bottom, where the rabbit tail
used to be, and grinned. "I'm not sure a rabbit or a dog would
be much better than a bear."
Jack said sadly, "I can't make much more."
Jack expected the clay to be disappointed, but he wasn't.
The clay bear climbed up Jack's arm and onto his shoulder. He
looked Jack right in the eyes and declared, "With a little practice
and my help, I'm sure you'll soon be able to make a great many
wonderful things out of clay."
At that moment, Jack's stomach gurgled. Jack asked the clay
bear, "Are you hungry?" Jack hoped he would say he was.
"Actually, I am not," the clay said. "Which is odd, because
you would think a bear would always be hungry. But if
you're hungry, why don't we go into the kitchen and get
you something to eat."
soon as Jack and the bear got into the kitchen Jack remembered
why he had been sent to sell the cow. They had no food. "I wish
we had some chicken," Jack said.
A little nervously, the clay bear said, "Don't look at me."
Jack laughed. "I am not going to make you into a chicken!
And anyway, I doubt a clay chicken would taste very good."
"That's a relief," the clay said.
That's when Jack had another good idea. "Couldn't I make
you into something that catches chickens? Or wild turkeys?
There are a lot of wild turkeys in the woods, but I can't seem
to catch them myself."
The clay smiled at Jack, again like Jack's teacher, but this
time like when Jack gets a hard question correct.
Jack continued slowly, puzzling out the situation, "You can
move like a bear, even though you're made of clay. You
seem to have sharp teeth like a bear, even though you're made
of clay. And you can talk like a … umm … person
even though you're shaped like a bear. So you can tell me what
works and doesn't work, so I'm pretty sure we could collect
as much food from the forest as we'd ever need to eat."
that's what they did for the next few days. Even though Jack's
Mother was mad about his having traded their cow for a useless
lump of clay, she was very happy that Jack had become, so suddenly,
such a great hunter. Jack and his Mother had more than they
could eat. And Jack's Mother traded the extra wild turkeys for
vegetables and milk and even some cakes, so they were very happy
and very well fed.
One other thing that I should mention is that Jack and the
lump of clay decided that the clay lump needed a name. The only
name that both of them thought seemed to fit was 'Clay.'
When they decided this, the clay lump was shaped like a snake.
He got an odd look on his face, rubbed under his mouth with
the end of his tail and said, "That name sounds familiar."
So, after that, no matter what the clay was shaped like,
be it a tiny rabbit or a tiny dog or even a tiny bowl, Jack
called him 'Clay.'
One morning, about two weeks
later, Clay, who was now shaped like a snapping turtle, wondered,
"Aren't we supposed to go see the King?"
"Why?" Jack asked. Jack was quite contentedly chewing on
some candy, a very rare treat before the lump of clay came along.
Clay explained, "From what I understand about stories like
this is that the little boys and their magic items are supposed
to go see the King. Or the Sultan. Or whoever it is who rules
the land. Then they solve some sort of problem and are rewarded
with riches and, many times, the Princess' hand in marriage."
"Yuck!" Jack said out of habit. And then, once he got over the
'marriage' part, exclaimed, "You're right! That is usually
So the next morning, Jack told his Mother that he was going
out hunting but, instead, he traded two wild turkeys for a ride
to the King's city and back.
Very soon after he traded the turkeys, he was sitting in
the back of a cart being pulled by two horses. There were many
people going to the city that day. Some with crates full of
things to sell. Some with long lists of things to buy. Some
with fancy clothes and some with plain old clothes like Jack's.
'But,' Jack thought, 'I'm the only one with a lump of magic
clay!' Not that he was sure what he would do with the lump of
clay once he got to the King. If he got to the King.
Jack started to think of how he might convince the King to
see him and his magic lump of clay. He was going to ask the
lump of clay, but decided it'd be best not to talk to the clay
during the trip and soon he was watching the scenery and the
people they passed instead of thinking.
A few miles into the trip, Jack's cart met up with another
cart full of people going to the city. This one had a large
number of animals attached to it. And then they met up with
a rich man and his two sons, all of whom had fancy horses. And
then another cart, mostly full of peacocks, parrots, and other
colorful birds for some reason. And then three carriages full
of women, driven by fancy men with long coats, top hats, and
gloves. And then nine men on horseback, who looked to Jack to
be pretty dangerous. They were all dressed in black and wearing
their hats tilted so far down in front you couldn't see their
With all this going on, you can understand why Jack had trouble
concentrating on making a plan to see the King.
closer they got to the King's city, the more travelers joined
them. When they were about an hour away, they were quite a large
group of all sorts of wagons and carriages and people and animals.
Finally, they were joined by a very fancy carriage surrounded
by a dozen or so soldiers on horses. The woman sitting next
to Jack whispered, "It's Thelda, the King's niece."
Quietly, so only Jack could hear him, Clay said, "Right on
A few miles before the King's city was a large, gloomy forest
called The Dark Woods. The Dark Woods was the home of a successful
robber named, not very imaginatively, Dirk of the Dark Woods.
could always tell it was Dirk of the Dark Woods since he had
lots of bright red hair and an eye patch covering the eye he
lost during one of his dramatic escapes from the King's champion.
(That's how he said he lost it. The way he really
lost it was this: He was running with a stick, fell, and poked
it out. Just like his Mother kept telling him would happen if
he ran with sticks.)
To help protect the party riding to the King's city, or at
least to protect Thelda, the soldiers rode to the very front
of the group and started checking the edges of the woods to
make sure there were no robbers nearby.
As soon as the soldiers had gone ahead, the nine men dressed
all in black rode right up to Thelda's carriage and cut her
horses free. Her carriage stopped where it was, blocking the
path, forcing all the carts and carriages behind it to stop
Eight of the nine riders pulled out crossbows. The ninth
rider, by far the largest, pulled off his cloak and hat. He
had an eye patch and so much red hair that it looked as though
his head had caught on fire. It was, of course, Dirk of the
Again, so only Jack could hear him, Clay said, "Also
right on schedule."
Dirk jumped on top of Thelda's carriage and yelled to the
soldiers. His voice was deep and booming. He sounded more like
a stage actor than a robber. "Get off your horses and drop your
swords or we will kill the King's niece."
The soldiers did as they were told. All at once, ten more
of Dirk's men ran out from the woods and started tying up the
Jack looked behind him to see that there were another
ten of Dirk's men blocking their path backwards. They had already
started tying some of the traveler's hands behind their backs.
Everyone was trapped.
Jack acted quickly. He turned his lump of clay into a mouse
and dropped him over the side of the cart. No sooner did the
mouse hit the ground, than one of the robbers grabbed Jack,
twisted his hands behind his back, and tied them firmly together
with a rope.
Within minutes, all the travelers were tied up and – along
with all of the carriages and carts and horses and animals –
escorted far enough into the woods that they could not be seen
from the road.
All the travelers were told to sit and, one by one, the robbers
tied their feet together so they couldn't run away.
Soon it got dark. And very soon after that Jack felt something
pulling gently at the ropes on his feet. It was, of course,
the clay mouse. In seconds, he had Jack's feet free and then
crawled around and gnawed through the ropes on Jack's hands.
Jack whispered, "Thanks, Clay. But it's not safe for me to
try to escape right now, so I'll stay here until everyone's
asleep. You go see if you can hear Dirk's plans and then, before
morning, we'll meet by the city gates."
"Make me into a bat," Clay said. Jack did. Even though it
was dark and Jack's hands were numb from being tied up so long,
he knew he had done a good job. After so much practice, Jack
was getting pretty good at making animals out of clay.
"Thanks," Clay said.
"Thank you," Jack said. Then Clay flew off.
The man tied up next to Jack gave Jack a dirty look. The
man complained loudly, "Not only are we captured by Dirk of
the Dark Woods, but I have to be tied up next to a kid who talks
"Don't worry," Jack said softly. "I won't be here long."
One of the guards yelled, "No talking, you two!"
few hours later, nearly everyone, including most of Dirk's men,
were asleep. This was Jack's chance! He started slowly crawling
away, being careful that no one saw him. But he wasn't careful
One of the robbers hollered, "Hey, you! Where do you think
Jack jumped up and started to run as fast as he could. Jack
looked back to see the robber put a bolt into his crossbow.
Jack knew the robber was an excellent shot. All of Dirk's men
were. So Jack expected, at any second, for a crossbow bolt to
go right through his body. He wondered what that would feel
like. He didn't imagine it would feel good.
But just as the robber was about to pull the trigger, Jack
heard him yell "Ack!" and the crossbow bolt whizzed by, missing
Jack by a few feet. Jack ran a few more yards, then ducked behind
a clump of trees.
Jack heard another robber ask, "What happened?"
The man who shot at Jack replied, "That little kid ran away."
"Why didn't you shoot him?"
"I tried, but a bird or a bat or something flew into
my face and messed up my aim."
The other robber laughed and said, "A fine excuse!" After
he finished laughing, he said. "Ahhh. Don't worry about him.
He was just a worthless little rat. And we're leaving in the
The two robbers left to go back to sleep and Jack made his
Jack was walking towards
the city gates when a bat landed on his shoulder. Normally this
type of thing would scare you, but Jack was used to small animals
climbing up his legs, jumping on his back, or landing on his
Jack welcomed him warmly, "Hey, Clay! Thanks for saving my
"Anytime," said Clay. Clay then said, "Before we go the guard,
let me tell you what I heard." Clay explained that Dirk was
planning on taking the travelers to his hideout and ransoming
them back to their relatives. He expected to get quite a bit
of money for Thelda, the King's niece.
"Did you learn where the hideout was?" asked Jack.
"Not exactly," said Clay. "But I heard Dirk say that it was
two days walk northwest, so that should help determine the location."
After that, the two of them proceeded to the guard at the
city gates. Jack explained, "We just escaped from Dirk of the
It was fairly clear that the guard did not believe Jack's
story. "Is that so?"
"It's true," Jack assured.
Still, the city guard was doubtful. He looked down at Jack
menacingly. "Who's 'we'?"
"Huh?" asked Jack.
"You said 'we just escaped' and I only see one of
Jack knew he wouldn't get far trying to explain that the
'we' was a poor boy and a talking clay bat, so he tried another
tactic. He looked up into the guard's eyes and asked, boldly,
"Do you want to be the one who refused to try to save the King's
That got the guard's attention! "The King's niece?" asked
the guard. "How did you know that we were expecting the King's
Jack knew this plan had worked. He pressed harder, "Do you
want to take me to the King or not?"
In minutes, Jack was brought into the King's bedroom, which
was the fanciest, largest bedroom Jack had ever seen. The bed
alone was almost as big as Jack's whole house and it was so
covered in pillows and curtains and bedspreads and tassels that
Jack wondered how anyone could actually sleep in it. With such
a large bed, Jack expected the King to be equally large.
When the King entered, Jack saw that the opposite was true.
The King was quite small, not much larger than Jack, in fact.
And he didn't look very much like a King. He had a bushy gray
beard, very little hair on his head, and a tired, worried look
on his face. (He had been up all night fretting about his missing
Adding to his non-Kingly appearance were the pajamas he was
wearing. Purple and white striped ones. And they were a little
too big, as if his Mom were expected him to grow into them.
Large or small, in a royal robe or striped pajamas, this
was the King and Jack had to help him save his niece and the
He quickly told the King everything exactly as it had happened,
except he left out any mention of a talking lump of clay, pretending
instead he had untied his own binds and overheard Dirk's plan
Jack wasn't sure the King completely believed him and wondered
what the punishment was for lying to a King. Jack became terrified
when the King called to his guards, but was relieved when the
King told the guards, "Hurry up and get a small army ready to
leave the castle in ten minutes. We're going to search for Dirk
of the Dark Wood's hideout and rescue my niece."
As the guards were getting together the army, a little old
man with a long, pointy beard came into the room. He was even
smaller than the King. He was the King's Advisor.
The King had Jack repeat the whole story to the Advisor.
Jack again left out any mention of Clay and the King's Advisor
also only sort of believed the story.
He must have believed it enough, because as soon as Jack
ended, the Advisor said seriously to the King, "We need to make
Unfortunately for Jack, they went into the hallway to make
their plan. Fortunately for Jack, he had a lump of magic clay
in his pocket.
Jack turned the clay into a ferret (which is like a friendlier-looking
weasel) and the clay ferret followed the King and his Advisor
out of the room and heard the entire plan.
Clay returned and reported what he had overheard: The King's
Advisor didn't think they could find Dirk's hideout with so
little information, so they decided to attack Dirk and his men
in the woods.
Jack said glumly, "Many people will die."
Clay agreed that it was a bad plan, "And that's certainly
not how a story like this is supposed to end."
Jack stated simply, "Which means we need a better plan."
Clay had an idea what the plan might be, but he also knew
that it was up to the little boy, the story's hero, to solve
the big riddle. So Clay waited until Jack spoke.
"OK," said Jack. "Here's what I think we should do." He spoke
very slowly, as if he were figuring some of it out as he went
on, "I'll turn you into a fast bird, like an eagle or a hawk
or something. You fly ahead and find Dirk and the other robbers.
They'll likely send some of the robbers to their hideout to
get things set up. You follow these robbers and learn where
the hideout is. Then you come back, quickly, and tell me where
it is. I'll pretend to remember that I overhead Dirk
say something about something nearby the hideout and I'll tell
the King about it. Then I'm sure he'll change his plans and
go to the hideout." After he finished, Jack wasn't so sure about
this plan. He looked at Clay, who was still a small, red-colored
ferret. Unsurely, he asked, "What do you think?"
Clay said simply, "I think it'll work." Jack was happy.
So Jack turned Clay from a ferret into a hawk and, except
for the fact he was not much bigger than your hand and was entirely
reddish-brown, you would not be able to tell him from the real
Clay flew in front of a mirror and, after examining himself,
said to Jack, "You've gotten very good at this, Jack." Then
he flew out of the window and up into the sky.
For half a day, the King, the Advisor, the King's soldiers,
and Jack walked through the woods heading towards Dirk and his
men. Jack was worried that they might get to Dirk before Clay
got back, but soon he felt the comforting 'thunk' of a small
animal landing on his shoulder.
The first thing Clay said to Jack wasn't the location of
the hideout or about any landmark near the hideout. What he
said was, "Thelda looks very familiar. When I flew over the
group of captives, I saw her. Just a glimpse. But enough to
know that I had seen her before. More than just seen
her before. Knew her very well." Uncertainly, as if it didn't
quite sound right, he added, "I think I might be her
lump of magic clay."
Jack was very sad to hear this. Clay had become Jack's best
friend and he didn't want Clay to have to go away to some snooty
King's niece's house to live and likely be turned into a talking
clay baby doll or ballerina or something else girly. But he
couldn't think of that right now. He had to focus on getting
to Dirk's hideout before Dirk did.
Urgently, Jack asked, "Did you learn about the hideout and
how to get into it?"
"Yes," said Clay. He told Jack where it was and Jack told
the Advisor and the Advisor told the King and the King decided
that it was smarter to go to the hideout than attack Dirk in
the woods. The King's new plan was to set up an ambush inside
the hideout waiting for Dirk's men to arrive.
And that's exactly what they did.
They easily captured the four robbers who had gone to the
hideout ahead of everyone else. They set up the ambush inside
Dirk's hideout. And when Dirk and his men and the prisoners
arrived, they were very surprised to see that instead of four
robbers waiting for them, there were over fifty of the King's
best soldiers. The robbers were so surprised they gave up without
Jack and Clay's plan had worked perfectly! There was no battle
in the woods and no one even got hurt. Dirk and his men were
captured and all the prisoners were freed.
All that was left to do now was to return their belongings.
Since everything that belonged to the travelers had been piled
into one cart, the King had to go through the collection piece
by piece seeing what belonged to whom. The Advisor stood in
the cart lifting up the items, one by one, and asking for the
owner to come forward and collect it.
At one point, the soldier held up a picture of a girl and
a boy. The picture was hard to see from where Jack sat, but
the frame was bright gold and sparkled from the many gems that
lined its edges. Thelda walked forward and claimed it. She collected
her frame and put it on the growing pile of her very fancy things.
In the meantime, Clay, who had been turned into a drinking
cup (Jack figured no one would ever look twice at a reddish-brown
drinking cup), whispered, "I want to get a better look at that
Jack quickly turned Clay into sparrow. Clay flew over to
the frame and, within seconds, flew back. He was shaking all
If a reddish-brown lump of clay could be pale, then Clay
was. "That's me," said Clay. He explained. "It's a picture of
a boy and a girl. The girl in it is Thelda. And the boy is me."
"Are you sure?" asked Jack.
"As sure as I'm now a magic lump of clay that looks like
a sparrow," responded Clay.
"So what do we do?" asked Jack.
The clay bird shrugged. But before he could say anything,
the King, who was standing right next to Jack at this point,
surprised them by saying, "You certainly have a way with birds."
flinched, but said nothing.
The King spoke as if he knew more than he were letting on.
"When I so much as get near birds, they fly away. But
you have a sparrow sitting on your shoulder and, instead of
scaring it away, you seem to be able to talk to it."
It was Jack's turn to become pale.
The King continued, "All the bird was doing was chirping
and chirping, but it did seem as though you were having a conversation
Jack realized, finally, that only he could understand the
magic clay when it spoke to him. He was glad he never managed
to have the clay try to talk to his Mother.
The King kept speaking, "And as I have been racking my brain
to come up with a reward fitting your efforts, I find this
very interesting. Very interesting, indeed. I also noticed,
earlier, that you were sculpting a lump of clay you held in
your hand into an animal and bless my eyes if that little
ferret, was it?, didn't look so lifelike, so exactly
like a ferret that one might think it might even be able to
move. Even be able to, for example, follow people down
a hallway." At this the King winked at Jack and smiled.
Jack wondered how much the King knew. The King's next words
only made this less clear.
He looked Jack in the eyes and spoke more like a friend than
a King. "Jack, let me tell you an important fact. Anyone can
become a King. You just need to be born a Prince and,
soon enough, you get to be a King. But if one is planning to
stay a King, one must learn to notice things. And what
I have noticed is that you are very good with animals and lumps
The King waited for Jack to speak, perhaps hoping for a confession,
but still Jack said nothing. Jack was wondering if he were in
trouble and knew that trouble only got bigger when you tried
to talk your way out of it.
"Now," said the King. "As I was saying. I had been trying
to decide what type of reward would fit the boy who helped rescue
my only niece and rid the kingdom of its biggest enemy. And,
I thought the best reward would be the one most fitting,
the one most suited to the subject, not simply the most
generous. Therefore, I have decided that you and your family
can move into my city, choosing one of the finest houses, of
course. I know just the one! I will show it to you when we get
back. But, most importantly, I plan to place you, my son, in
charge of the Royal Zoo. Giving you the title and all the benefits,
plus all the responsibilities, as well (Nothing can ever be
just pleasure, Jack) of the Royal Zookeeper. With a significant
salary, of course."
Jack was thrilled! In the last few weeks, after studying
animals so closely so he could learn to make them from clay,
he had become truly fascinated by them. He would also, finally,
be able to tell his Mother what happened with the magic lump
of clay. Not only would she stop being disappointed, she'd likely
be very proud.
If this wasn't a happy ending, then he didn't know what was.
The King concluded. "I take the look on your face to mean
that it's acceptable. I will have it arranged." With that the
King took his leave and went over to help supervise the return
of the belongings.
"Did you hear that, Clay?" asked Jack. But when he glanced
over, he saw that the clay sparrow was no longer on his shoulder.
Jack looked around and there, perched on top of Thelda's picture
frame, he saw the tiny reddish-brown bird.
Jack (or should we now call him the Royal Zookeeper?) walked
bravely over to the King's niece.
even introducing himself, he tapped Thelda on her velvet-lined
shoulder, pointed at the picture frame, and asked, "Who's the
With a very sad look on her face, she said, "That's my brother."
She looked so sad, Jack decided it could mean only one thing.
"Is he dead?" Jack asked.
Thelda's face quickly turned from sad to angry. "No!" She
glared at him. "He's not dead!" Then she looked very sad again.
"Or at least I hope he's not dead. My father did something
mean to a witch two years ago and as a punishment she took my
brother away. And hid him. We found the witch but nothing we
did could make her tell us where she put my brother. We searched
her house and all her property, but we never found my brother
or anything that belonged to him. Or ... or ..." And here she
started to weep, getting the words out in big, slow sobs, "...
or … any clue… that he… might … still be … alive."
Jack felt sorry for Thelda. He also felt bad about thinking
she was a spoiled, rich girl.
He asked gently, "What was-, I mean, what is his name?"
But before she answered, he already knew.
"Clay," she said.
Suddenly, the little clay bird started flying around them
both as if it had gone batty. Thelda didn't know what to make
of the bird or the fact that this little plainly-dressed boy
didn't seem surprised that there was a crazy bird flapping all
over the place.
Jack said, "I think I just might know where he is." And with
that he held out his hand, palm up, for the little clay bird
to land upon. Which it did.
Thelda looked both confused and curious. "What are you saying?"
But Jack said nothing. She continued, "Are you saying that this
little bird is my Clay?"
Jack couldn't help but laugh. "I am saying that this little
bird certainly is clay. And I think he might be your
Clay as well."
He handed the bird over to Thelda. When she touched the bird
she was surprised.
"It's made of clay!" she exclaimed. "But it acts so real."
And suddenly she understood what Jack had been trying to explain.
It was her turn to become pale. She asked, in amazement, "The
witch turned my brother into a clay bird?"
"I think the witch did the clay part," explained Jack.
"But I did the bird part."
Thelda quickly determined what to do next. "Well, then, turn
him back into my Clay."
"Can I?" asked Jack.
"You must," she said.
"No, I mean, I'm not sure I'm good enough to make a human
being," said Jack.
At precisely the same time, using precisely the same words,
and sounding precisely like a sister and brother, both Clay
and Thelda assured him, "Of course, you can, Jack."
So Jack took back the clay bird and squeezed it into a lump
of clay. (Thelda winced when he did this.) And, slowly, working
from the picture and following Thelda's patient directions,
he made the clay in his hand into a perfect duplicate of the
Clay in the picture. Only much, much smaller. And all reddish-brown,
When he was finished, Thelda exclaimed with glee, "That's
But nothing happened.
The tiny, human-shaped Clay could walk and talk and looked
just like the Clay in the picture, but it remained a tiny, human-shaped
lump of clay.
This time, it was Clay himself who had the idea. "I'm too
young," he said. "I should be two years older now." He gestured
his tiny hands towards his tiny body. "I would no longer look
So, together, they made him look two years older. Taller.
Broader shoulders. Thinner cheeks. More muscles on the arms
and legs. But still nothing happened.
"Maybe make his hair longer," suggested Thelda.
As soon as Jack started pulling the clay hair a little longer,
Clay began to grow. Within seconds, Clay grew to be the size
Thelda remembered him… and then continued growing for six more
Before she threw her arms around her brother, she declared,
"My, how you've grown!"
Suddenly there was a huge applause! The three of them, Jack,
Thelda and Clay, realized that everyone had stopped collecting
their belongings and started watching to see if the lump of
clay would become Clay, the King's nephew.
All the people rushed forward and, both crying and laughing
loudly, they lifted Jack and Thelda and Clay upon their shoulders
and starting cheering and dancing. They were all so happy and
touched that many of them started weeping tears of joy. Even
Dirk of the Dark Woods, who was tied up with the other robbers,
couldn't help but wipe a small, happy tear from his one good
The King declared that all of next week would be a holiday.
That there would be jousts and dancing and feasts and carnivals
and other spectacles that can only happen at the ending of a
story like this. The King also declared that Jack and Thelda
and Clay would be the three guests of honor for this huge celebration.
And that's the entire story of Jack and the Lump of Clay.
All that's left to do now is to give it an ending. While many
things could be said, especially "They all lived happily
ever after" and "Jack and Thelda soon married and had
many fine children" the best way to end this story is to
use Jack's own words.
When he and Clay and Thelda were being carried above the
heads of the rejoicing people, Jack looked over to Clay and,
with a huge smile on his face, yelled, "Now, that's a
Oh, wait! I almost forgot to tell you what happened to
Ethan, the old man who gave Jack the magic clay.
It turns out there was
another island right next to Ogre's island. On this island
once lived a very rich, but very evil Troll. I say 'once
lived' because Ethan managed to trick the Troll into leaving
the island and never coming back. Well, to be fair, Milky did
most of the troll tricking and Ethan most of the yelling for
help, but either way, the troll was soon gone and they were
able to move into the troll's castle.
After a few days in the castle, with nothing much else to
do but count all of the troll's gold and clean up all of the
troll's mess, they started to get lonely. They looked over to
Ogre's Island and saw that Nate and his cow were also lonely.
So, working together, the four of them built a wide bridge between
their two islands and now, I can safely say, they're as rich
and as happy as any two old brothers and two cows can be.
© "Jack and the Lump of Clay" copyright
Stuart B Baum 2001