In Defense of Jack and the Beanstalk

Brief History: This is another one that most of you know: cow traded by dumb kid for magic beans, beans sprout giant beanstalk, beanstalk leads kid to a life of crime, giantess becomes a widow with no magic treasures for economic support. This story is pretty old. Even the earliest written version was published before a lot of other popular tales. Fee Fi Fo Fum can be found in Shakespeare’s King Lear. The English especially loved giant stories and ones where a guy named Jack kills a bunch of them were always the most popular. Sometimes elements from Jack the Giant Killer legends would find their way into the beanstalk story. Sometimes Jack even gets a last name – which never happens in fairy tales.

Analysis: Sometimes people like to look into this story from a Biblical aspect – ascending to Heaven and all that. Sometimes people like to read into the fear of man-eating giants who could have had the strength create some of the United Kingdom’s more impressive stone structures. Then there’s Bruno Bettelheim  who claimed the beanstalk was a phallic symbol. Gross. I’m going to focus on the fact that, although Jack the Giant Killer is always portrayed as an adult (who is constantly marrying different members of King Arthur’s court as a reward), this Jack is a kid. On the one hand, he’s a screw-up who betrays the trust of a giant wife that hides him each time despite his stealing from her. On the other hand, he’s a kid who gets a second chance to show his mom that he can do something to take care of her, an idea that was prominent in past time periods.

Blame it on the Victorians: As the story was retold/republished through the 1800s, Jack’s crimes of taking the harp, the goose, and the life of the giant are softened with added backstory. To keep their hero from becoming a villain or a bad influence on children, the writers start to add in ideas of revenge. A story of how the giant had killed Jack’s father or been the cause of the drought on his farm are told, usually by Jack’s suffering mother. Because it’s okay if little boys steal and murder as long as it is an act of vengeance... I mean justice.

Last thoughts: Fee Fi Fo Fum, I smell a near rhyme that really only works if you have a thick English accent.

*If you want know any of the places where some of my research comes from, just contact me.