“I was half lawyer; I always noticed the loopholes.” ― Rachel Hartman
As soon as humanity buckled down and got serious about this whole civilization thing, we started writing laws and forming bureaucracies. This is fortunate, as in our jubilance about our sudden safety from wild animals, marauding barbarians, inclement weather, and crop failures we probably started forgetting that we shouldn’t eat each other, steal our brother’s girlfriend, or pee in the community well. Them’s the breaks when the only thing that demonstrably differentiates us from the beasts is our opposable thumbs and gift of gab. The upside to our general chattiness was that we ended up valuing communication, and because we know we can never remember where we buried the treasure or misplaced the keys to the kiva, we started using the evolutionary equivalent of an external hard drive. We started taking notes. Which became directives. Then we had to set up court systems (even if it was just the king saying “off with his head”) and start pretending that all these helpful scribblings were more than vague suggestions on how to get along with our fellow man, or which day we were supposed to go dig the canal. Of course, the invention of codified law was shortly followed by the discovery of the loophole, and folks have been finding ways to profit off it ever since. Having successfully found loopholes in human law, it’s no wonder the occasional clever lad hypothesizes that such shenanigans may extend to the transcendental realm. I’m here to assure you that never works out. Just ask “Stingy” Jack, or as he is more commonly known, Jack O’Lantern (from Jack of the Lantern). You might become a holiday icon, but the rest of your existence sucks.
According to Celtic folklore (with slight variations across Western Europe), a certain insufferable, but undeniably sharp blacksmith named “Stingy” Jack led a mean and debaucherous life. I give him props for committing to it. Once you find your talent in this humdrum existence of ours, you really have to embrace it. Unfortunately for Jack, being an unrepentant son-of-a-bitch is typically not only considered a serious character flaw, but also one of those many peccadillos that will land you on some divine administrator’s shit list, or rather short list for eternal damnation. Such was Jack’s acceptance of his own nature, that he figured he better start looking for a way to circumvent the system. Jack needed a loophole and he was willing to cut a deal. Clearly, a man after the Devil’s own heart. Thus, it comes as no surprise that on one fine day, Jack would stumble across a devil looking to make a deal. Now Jack, albeit obnoxious, was a shrewd fellow with obvious business acumen, and it would take more than a 9-to-5 crossroads demon to trip him up. Opinions vary as to exactly the sort of canny maneuver Jack used, but the consensus is that he tricked the Prince of Darkness into agreeing that he would be eternally barred from hell. That’s some pretty savvy lawyering.
Sadly, while Jack had effectively ensured that upon his death he wouldn’t be spit-roasted at a barbecue by the Lake of Fire – which in my estimation is a pretty spiffy achievement, he hadn’t really considered the long term implications. Eventually, Jack went the way of all mortal flesh, and found himself standing before the Pearly Gates, where he was found wanting, so was turned away and ushered off to the fiery pits of Hell. Now, the devil may be the author of all evil, but he has an unrivaled respect for tort law. Consequently, poor Jack was sent packing, unwanted by Heaven, and contractually barred from Hell. Oddly, the Devil can sometimes do the gentlemanly thing, and it’s no surprise that in observing Jack was doomed to wander the earth as a cold and lonely disembodied revenant, and perhaps seeing in him a kindred spirit, Satan charitably tossed Jack an ember from the fires of Hell to keep him warm.
Jack thankfully accepted the ember, stuffed it into a hollowed out turnip, and has loitered about the earth ever since – those strange lights and ignis fatuus that flicker in the woods may just be Jack, eternally warning us that there is no profit in looking for existential loopholes. On Halloween night, when those pumpkins are burning bright, maybe leave a piece of candy in remembrance of poor Jack. Or for those of you who are of drinking age, pour a little malt liquor on your pumpkin in toast. I think Jack would have liked that.