How Many Giants Must Jack Slay?

Jack the Giant Slayer Movie Poster

More fairy tale movies. This weekend “Jack the Giant Slayer” comes out. I have to admit, as soon as I saw the trailer, I immediately thought of the fairy tale “Jack and the Beanstalk”, not the lesser-known tale “Jack the Giant Killer”. So what is the difference?

Jack and the Beanstalk

Well, let’s see. In “Jack and the Beanstalk”, Jack trades his cow for magic beans which grow overnight allowing Jack to climb the beanstalk up to the land of the giants. He is able to trick them and return with riches three different times before he and his mother cut down the beanstalk, killing the giant that was hot on his heels.

Jack the Giant Slayer fairy tale

Meanwhile, in “Jack the Giant Killer”, set during the time of Arthurian legend, Jack starts as a strong and extremely clever fellow who kills a cattle-devouring giant. From there, he goes on to travel through the country killing several more giants and even gaining a cloak of invisibility along the way (Harry Potter eat your heart out!). He eventually beheads a giant in league with a sorcerer on an enchanted island; the sorcerer then flees, thus freeing a Duke’s daughter from her enchantment. Jack then marries the Duke’s daughter and lives happily ever after. (Really, could a fairy tale end any other way?)

The first printed version of “Jack and the Beanstalk” is traced back to 1807 while the first printed version of “Jack the Giant Killer” can be dated to 1711. Both are of British origin and I have heard some theories that Jack is the same person in both tales. I think this fits. I mean in “Jack and the Beanstalk”, Jack is living with his mother and returns to his mother at the end of the tale. In “Jack the Giant Killer”, Jack goes off to make a name for himself – a very big one, it turns out, by slaying so many giants and saving so many people that King Arthur even makes him a member of the Round Table. I could easily see that “Jack and the Beanstalk” could be Jack Part 1 while “Jack the Giant Killer” is Jack Part 2 (although “Jack the Giant Killer” was originally published in two parts itself).


But what about the giants? Where did they all come from? Oh, yeah, they climbed down the beanstalk. But, really – giants were well-known in British folklore. Arthurian legends even contains some. And, later, in Shakespeare, “King Lear” contains the famous giant line, “fie, foh, and fumme, I smell the blood of a British man”. John Matthews argues giants represent the “original inhabitants, ancestors, or gods of the island before the coming of civilized man”.

David and Goliath

But by no means are giants limited to British folklore. Everyone has heard of David and Goliath in the Bible. And there’s also the Greek Cyclops. There are Scandinavian and Indian giants, as well as Irish, Scottish, and giants in Norse mythology, too. Ash Silverlock has a great blog post if you want to read more about giants.

In the meantime, I will join everyone at the movies to see “Jack the Giant Slayer” this weekend. Come back and post what you thought of the movie. Or now, feel free to tell me your views on giants or just fairy tales in general. Just click the comment cloud at the top of this post.


4 thoughts on “How Many Giants Must Jack Slay?

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