“Whistlin’ Towards the Devil’s House”: Poetic Transformations and Natural Metaphysics in an Appalachian Folktale Performance


The late Ray Hicks of Beech Mountain, North Carolina was an acclaimed master of the traditional storytelling art. Yet little has been written that conveys the poetic dimensions of his tellings, nor their striking liberties within traditional molds. This study centers on a performance of one of Hicks’s signature tales, “Wicked John and the Devil.” His masterful play with markers of truth and belief are explored in order to question traditional folkloristic classifications of folktale genres.


The twenty-five minutes transcribed here were recorded at Ray Hicks's home on Beech Mountain, North Carolina, on June 6, 1985. They are a cutting from a long afternoon and evening of storytelling and conversation in the Hicks front room, with an audience consisting of my friend Kathleen Zundell (a storyteller from Los Angeles), one Beech Mountain neighbor (a man in his fifties), Ray's son Ted, and myself. Ray's wife Rosa was in the kitchen preparing food.

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