Let’s get this straight. I grew up with Jack and the Beanstalk. I’m not even sure where I heard the story. I think as a fairy tale in one of those little Golden Books they used to read to us. The story told of a boy named Jack who was sent to town to sell his mother’s cow and on the way came across someone with a hen that supposedly laid a golden egg. The boy was conned out of the cow for the hen and he took the chicken home and some how or another traded the hen for the beans…or something like that. Why am I confused? Well because history has confused the story.
You see, Jack and the Beanstalk has been confused with Jack the Giant Slayer and a host of other tales. The stories have been jumbled throughout history and not just by Hollywood or Disney.
The earliest recorded tale is Benjamin Tabart’s The History of Jack and the Bean Stalk in 1807*. However, the story was circulating long before that one. The Brother’s Grimm mixed up Jack’s account of slaying giants with a story called The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs. The Fee Fie Fo Fum came from Shakespeare King Lear. The earliest version has Jack playing on the sympathy of the Giant’s wife, hangs out in the big guy’s house and then kills him. Totally not a nice thing to do, so Tabart had a fairy come and tell Jack that the giant killed his father, thus giving Jack a moral (somewhat) excuse to kill the giant. Later versions had Jack finding his hen in the Giant’s possession, and having the giant terrorize the people of Jack’s village. The 1952 film by Abbott and Costello blamed the giant for Jack’s poverty.
From The Project Gutenberg eBook, English Fairy Tales (1918), by Flora Annie Steel, Illustrated by Arthur Rackham
Now if you take this Jack, who supposedly planted some seeds that grew to an uncanny height (following the tradition of ancient European legend of a vine that could climb to heaven) and climbed the plant to a world in the sky, came across a land infiltrated by giants…well in Jack and the Beanstalk it was one giant. But then…there’s another Jack. Jack the Giant Slayer.
When I saw the 2013 movie I thought the story was a modern take off of the old Golden Book story. Goes to show…No. Jack the Giant Slayer is somebody different. This Jack wanders around the hillside of Wales during the reign of King Arthur and kills giants. Lots of them, and all in a bloody gory way. I don’t believe he’s related at all to the beanstalk guy unless they are distant cousins ‘twice removed’ or some such lot.
So…it appears our modern tale tellers have stirred these two public figures together and mixed the potion even more…because the 2013 movie has Jack climbing the vine and killing giants. Lots of them. And he has some of King Arthur’s men in pursuit to boot!
I like the way they introduce the trailer. “If you think you know the story…you don’t know Jack.” Yep! You’re right!