Fairytale Retellings & Prompts: Jack & The Beanstalk

This month we’re doing a series called the A-Z blogging challenge where we dive into Fairytale Retellings and provide prompts for writers. Writers are the people making the books, television shows, and movies of tomorrow. For more information on the challenge check out my earlier post here.

Fee-fi-fo-fum!
I smell the blood of an Englishman:
Be he alive, or be he dead,
I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.

THE GIANT

According to one reference, The moral of “Jack and the Beanstalk” has to do with taking advantage of the opportunities that life provides. In the beginning, Jack‘s family is so poor they are selling the family cow. The selling of the family’s last sources of sustenance represents their desperation.

Jack and the Beanstalk” is an English fairy tale. It appeared as “The Story of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean” in 1734 and as Benjamin Tabart’s moralized “The History of Jack and the Bean-Stalk” in 1807. 

Henry Cole, publishing under pen name Felix Summerly, popularized the tale in The Home Treasury (1845), and Joseph Jacobs rewrote it in English Fairy Tales (1890). Jacobs’ version is most commonly reprinted today and is believed to be closer to the oral versions than Tabart’s because it lacks the moralizing.

“Jack and the Beanstalk” is the best known of the “Jack tales”, a series of stories featuring the archetypal Cornish and English hero and stock character Jack.

Jack is a young, poor boy living with his widowed mother and a dairy cow on a farm cottage. The cow’s milk was their only source of income. When the cow stops giving, Jack’s mother tells him to take her to the market to be sold. On the way, Jack meets a bean dealer who offers magic beans in exchange for the cow, and Jack makes the trade. When he arrives home without any money, his mother becomes angry, throws the beans out of the window, and sends Jack to bed without dinner. During the night, the magic beans cause a gigantic beanstalk to grow outside Jack’s window. The next morning, Jack climbs the beanstalk to a land high in the sky. He finds an enormous castle and sneaks in. Soon after, the castle’s owner, a giant, returns home. He smells that Jack is nearby, and speaks a rhyme:

Fee-fi-fo-fum!
I smell the blood of an Englishman:
Be he alive, or be he dead,
I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.

The giant’s wife, (the giantess) persuades him that he is mistaken and helps Jack hide because the woman knows that he is poor. When the giant falls asleep, Jack steals a bag of gold coins and makes his escape down the beanstalk.

Jack climbs the beanstalk twice more. He learns of other treasures and steals them when the giant sleeps: first a hen that lays golden eggs on command, then a magic harp that plays by itself. The giant wakes when Jack leaves the house with the harp (who calls out to the giant) and chases Jack down the beanstalk. Jack calls to his mother for an axe and before the giant reaches the ground, cuts down the beanstalk, causing the giant to fall to his death.

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Jack and his mother live happily ever after with the riches that Jack acquired.

This might leave you asking the question of who is the real “villain” in the story? To be honest, I never thought of Jack as the innocent he’s painted in children’s versions of this story. I don’t think I’m alone as several newer adaptations paint Jack as a cunning thief and the demise of the race of giants.

What’s your take? Is there a way to make this story new again? Feel free to comment below.

For more blogs participating in A to Z 2020 click the link here.

ABOUT T.S. VALMOND:

T.S. Valmond is the science fiction and young adult fantasy author of The Bolaji Kingdoms Series and The Verity Chronicles. As an award-winning poet, world traveler, and sign language interpreter she uses her experiences to fuel her stories. She’s a regular contributor to the website and founder of the Riders & Flyers group.

2 Comments

  1. I agree with you, Jack is not very grateful for what is given to him…

    1. Jack is pretty lousy. It makes me think there could be a much better way to tell this story, like from the perspective of the giants or the family.

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