If you enjoyed the tiny rhyming couplets concerning Jack and Jill as a tot, you are either a bastard with no empathy, or your childhood was lies. This story is clearly one of the most sinister in all of nursery rhyme-dom; it takes but an objective glance at all the evidence to conclude that this r-rated fable of a nightmare was designed to scare the bejesus out of your oblivious merry ass.
Consider, if you will, the first stanza: “Jack and Jill/ Went up the hill/To fetch a pail of water.”
Tradition holds that the water source was a well. And they used a pail, so the water surface available was likely small. But why was the source of water situated at the top of the hill? Wells are almost never are, both because water tends to settle in lower altitudes and because it requires a lot more engineering and manual labor to extract a substance from a hill while keeping the hill intact. One conceivable advantage to locating a well on top of a hill is the reduced threat of pestilence – if water tends to accumulate in lowlands, so do communicable diseases. Another is defense; it would be easy for the townsfolk in times of water privation to spot intruders at the top of the hill and to act accordingly to bring those water-thieves down.
It is clear that Jack and Jill inhabit a pestilent hellscape far removed from any significant human infrastructure. Only a serious water shortage combined with the palpable fear of plague could have driven their people to locate a remote hillside water cache and to use it as their primary water supply.
Why do Jack and Jill go together, if they’re only getting a single pail of water?
Read on: “Jack fell down and broke his crown.”
So, we can confirm that hill was a bitch to climb. It wasn’t a rolling green expanse, was it, if falling down it cracked Jack’s skull open? Picture instead the twisted spine of a dense stone outcrop – the uninhabitable, rocky kind of formation that might have trapped the receding waters of earlier rains and held them untapped for all time. These were desperate days, indeed. No wonder Jack and Jill went together – the arduous task of descending with a pail of water would seem to merit a buddy system.
“And Jill came tumbling after.”
Wait…so they both fell, one after the other. How did that happen? The rhyme says they went up the hill, so they clearly reached the well. But there’s no mention of the pail or water when Jack and then Jill come down. It seems as though something stopped them short of completing their task – something dangerous enough to compromise the precautions of their buddy system and send one after the other of them bouncing down the treacherous landscape.
The lines of a lesser-known second stanza may have a clue as to what.
“Up Jack got and home did trot/ As fast as he could caper.”
Jack’s behavior in any normal circumstance would seem bizarre. No mention of Jill’s condition, but if a “fall” was enough to crack Jack’s skull, imagine what a “tumble” down the mountainous ascent could do. Jack doesn’t stick around long enough to find out – he jumps up, and runs home at top speed. What urgent dilemma could lead him to abandon his climbing buddy without assessing her condition? What drives him ignore his own fractured skull, jump to his feet and start running? Clearly, he is in a flight response. Something evil was waiting for Jack and Jill at the top of that hill – but what was at the bottom to make Jack so afraid?
“And went to bed/And bound his head/With vinegar and brown paper.”
Well! There you have it.
Jack and Jill were obviously the lone survivors of a zombie apocalypse. The hilltop well provided the only supply of water that hadn’t been contaminated by zombified corpse puss. They went together to fetch the water, after every other inhabitant of their town had apparently been turned – one of them to carry the pail, and one to carry the bow.
Tragically, it seems a zombie horde must have made its way to the summit ahead of them. By Jack’s reaction, we can surmise they landed a few good bites on Jill just as Jack lost his footing and began to fall. The poor girl must have already been in her death throes by the time she started tumbling; knowing she would rise again, Jack had to run away as fast as he could once he was at the bottom. He runs not to a hospital, not to a nurse, not to a doctor (because, at this point, there are none) but to his own home, whatever that might have been, and tended his head wound himself – with vinegar and brown paper. Clearly, his primary concern was to mask the scent of his own sweet brains.