Monthly Archives: May 2020

The Curious Case of the Giant in Jack and the Beanstalk

While versifying the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk for The Nestlings Press Book of Fairy Tales in Verse, I began wondering about the Giant.

Okay. The Giant lives in a castle on a cloud. (We will forget the laws of physics for now.) He has pillaged other people’s property, captured humans – specifically, Englishmen – and used their bones to grind his bread. When Jack’s magic beans produce a beanstalk high enough to reach the cloud, Jack is able to steal the Giant’s gold, singing harp, etc.

But how does the Giant get his food and other supplies? Is there a city on the cloud that he can regularly ravage? At least one version suggests there are roads on the cloud, which might indicate a community ripe for the picking. But the Giant specifically speaks of an Englishman – “fee fi fo fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman” – which suggests that, unless people from England have colonized the cloud, he has done much of his pillaging on the ground.

If so, how does he get down, and how does he get back up?

Presumably he can’t fly. He can’t just jump down, or he would have done so when chasing Jack instead of climbing after him on the beanstalk (and falling to his death when the stalk was cut).

If there are other large beanstalks reaching up to the clouds, presumably somebody would have noticed – and, since the Giant’s predations would have been general knowledge, would have chopped down those beanstalks. Ditto if the Giant let down a rope ladder.

I know, it’s bootless to seek realism in a fairy tale, but there should at least be internal logic to the tales. Maybe he has a private airfield and pilots a plane to do his dirty work, but given that the fairy tale long predates airplanes (and Jules Verne), that would be a stretch.

I sent these musings to a few friends. My partner Sandra recalled the version with the roads on the cloud. Doug Tindal said the Giant used a grocery delivery service. (“Instacart, Warren. Duh.”)

Peter Harris said the answer hinges on the golden goose. “Not only does it lay golden eggs, but it can go out and do grocery shopping and buy other Giant supplies (at the local Giant Party Goods, natch). Aesop lent out the rights to the use of the GG to Jack for his Beanstalk caper, but Jack hogged the limelight.”

Bill Aide said he consulted the singing harp in his basement, and “she explained that, like some African crocodiles, the Giant could survive for over a year on a giant helping of his nutritious bread. Jack’s timing was perfect, since the Giant had reached the 364th day of living off his own fat and was getting roaring hungry. As for the other supplies – toilet paper, Brahms CDs, etc. – he had hoarded them but was running low. Another reason to celebrate Jack’s timing.”

Richard Bachmann wasn’t sure he could help with this problem (“essentially I don’t know jack”), but “I do recall seeing a giant on a bag of frozen corn, so I guess he does come down now and again.”

So there you have it. There are niggling doubts – could the goose carry an Englishman up to the clouds? – but at least now we know there is a degree of verisimilitude to Jack’s story. I’m waiting for the local garden store to start stocking magic beans.

And here, for the record, are the opening lines from the Jack/Beanstalk verse:

There once was a hut made of second-hand wood.

It sat far from town and the soil wasn’t good.

Young Jack and his mother had little to eat.

They’d run out of eggs and they’d run out of meat.

The vegetable patch had been shrivelled by drought,

And all of their other supplies had run out.

Jack’s mother said, “Seems we have little choice now.

Go into the village and sell our sweet cow.

And make sure you get every penny she’s worth,

Or else we’ll be dining on rainfall and earth.”