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Jack and the Beanstalk

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Jack and the Beanstalk

Jack and the Beanstalk
Illustration by Arthur Rackham, 1918, in English Fairy Tales by Flora Annie Steel
Folk tale
Name Jack and the Beanstalk
Aarne-Thompson grouping AT 328 ("The Treasures of the Giant")
Country England
Published in Benjamin Tabart, The History of Jack and the Bean-Stalk (1807)
Joseph Jacobs, English Fairy Tales (1890)
Related Jack the Giant Killer

Jack and the Beanstalk is an English fairy tale. The earliest known appearance in print is Benjamin Tabart's moralised version of 1807.[1] "Felix Summerly" (Henry Cole) popularised it in The Home Treasury (1842),[2] and Joseph Jacobs rewrote it in English Fairy Tales (1890).[3] Jacobs' version is most commonly reprinted today and it is believed to be closer to the oral versions than Tabart's because it lacks the moralising.[4]

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.[5]


Jack is a young boy living with his widowed mother and a milk cow who is their only source of income. When the cow stops giving milk, Jack's mother has Jack take the cow to the market to be sold. On the way, he meets an old man who offers "magic beans" in exchange for the cow and Jack makes the trade. When he arrives home without any money, his mother becomes furious, throws the beans to the ground and sends Jack to bed.

A gigantic beanstalk grows overnight which Jack climbs to a land high in the sky. There he comes to a house (or in some versions, a castle) that is the home of a giant. He asks at the door for food and the giant's wife takes him in. When the giant returns, he senses that a human is nearby:

I smell the blood of an Englishman,
Be he alive, or be he dead,
I'll grind his bones to make my bread.[3]

Jack is hidden by the giant's wife and he overhears the giant counting money. When the giant sleeps, he steals a bag of gold coins and makes his escape down the beanstalk.

Jack returns up the beanstalk twice more. Each time he is helped by the wife, although she grows increasingly suspicious of him. He learns of other treasures and steals them when the giant sleeps: first a goose that lays golden eggs (the most common variant is a hen; compare the idiom "to kill the goose that laid the golden eggs."), then a harp that plays by itself. However, the giant is woken when Jack leaves the house with the harp. The giant chases him down the beanstalk and Jack calls to his mother for an axe. Before the giant reaches the ground, Jack cuts down the beanstalk, causing the giant to fall to his death. Jack and his mother then live happily ever after with their riches that Jack stole from the giant.


In Walter Crane's woodcut the harp reaches out to cling to the vine

The earliest surviving written version is The History of Jack and the Bean Stalk, a book printed by Benjamin Tabart in 1807, but the story is certainly older. A burlesque entitled The Story of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean was included in the 1734 second edition of Round About Our Coal-Fire.

In the classic version of the tale, the giant is unnamed, but many plays based on it name him Blunderbore. (One giant of that name appears in the 18th-century Jack the Giant Killer.)

The giant's cry "Fee! Fie! Foe! Fum! I smell the blood of an Englishman" appears in William Shakespeare's King Lear in the form "Fie, foh, and fum, I smell the blood of a British man." (Act 3, Scene 4).[6]


"Jack and the Beanstalk" is one of Aarne-Thompson tale-type 328, The Treasures of the Giant, which also includes the Italian Thirteenth and the French How the Dragon was Tricked. Christine Goldberg argues that the Aarne–Thompson system is inadequate to the tale because the others include nothing like the beanstalk, which does have analogies in other types[7] (a possible reference to the genre anomaly.)[8]

The Brothers Grimm drew analogy between this story and a German fairy tale, The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs. The devil's mother or grandmother acts much like the giant's wife, a female figure protecting the child from the evil male figure.[9]

Jack and the Beanstalk is unusual in that the hero, although grown, does not marry at the end but returns to his mother in some versions. In other versions he is said to have married a princess. This is found in few other tales, such as some variants of Vasilisa the Beautiful.[10]

The beanstalk is reminiscent of the ancient Northern European belief in a world tree connecting Earth to Heaven. A late addition to the medieval catalogue of Aesop's Fables, a tale of putative Persian origin, The Gourd and the Palm-tree instructs on the folly of intemperance using the emblematic trope of a fast-growing gourd vine that sprouts from seed and outgrows a mature palm yet perishes in the frost.

The emblem of the gourd in the Lyon edition of Andrea Alciato's Emblemata (1550)

The biblical tale of Jonah closes rather abruptly with the hero resting under a fast-growing gourd (Hebrew קיקיון (qiyqayown), the only time in Scripture so mentioned). While scholars place the historical events in the 8th century BCE, they were not recorded by Hebrew scribes until some centuries later. In his Latin Vulgate, St. Jerome refers to the Old Testament prophet's encounter with the fast-growing vine as "hedera" (in English, ivy) a choice St. Augustine rejected, preferring the commonly known vegetable known as cucurbita (Latin, from which the English cucumber is derived). During the Renaissance, the humanist artist Albrecht Dürer memorialised Jerome's courage to dissent in his famous woodcut Saint Jerome in His Study featuring a dried gourd hanging from the rafters. Possible confusion with the didactic of fable may have motivated use of clearer analogy for the type of Christ "I am the Vine you are the branches" already contained in the miraculous whale tale. The eschatological admonition to Nineveh contained in the Book of Jonah resembles the moral of the demise of the giant (not justified by villainy in the original). However the fairy tale's profane dualism reverses the sacred scripture's salvation of the errant inhabitants of Nineveh, opening a present beset by difficulties to the transcendent hope in Divine Providence.


The original story portrays a "hero" gaining the sympathy of a man's wife, hiding in his house, robbing and finally killing him. In Tabart's moralised version, a fairy woman explains to Jack that the giant previously robbed and killed his father, which justifies Jack's actions as retribution.[11] (Andrew Lang follows this version in the Red Fairy Book of 1890.)

Jacobs gave no justification because there was none in the version he had heard as a child, and because children know that robbery and murder are wrong without being told so in a fairy tale.[12]

Many modern interpretations have followed Tabart and made the giant a villain, terrorising smaller folk and stealing from them, so that Jack becomes a legitimate protagonist. For example, the 1952 film starring Abbott and Costello blames the giant for poverty below, as he has been stealing food and wealth; indeed, the hen that lays golden eggs originally belonged to Jack's family. In some other versions it is implied that the giant had stolen both the hen and the harp from Jack's father. On the other hand, Brian Henson's 2001 TV miniseries Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story not only abandons Tabart's additions but vilifies Jack, reflecting Jim Henson's disgust at Jack's unscrupulous actions.[13]

Film adaptations

Jack and the Beanstalk (1917)
  • Walt Disney made a short of the same name in 1922, and a separate adaptation entitled Mickey and the Beanstalk in 1947 as part of Fun and Fancy Free. This adaptation of the story put Mickey Mouse in the role of Jack, accompanied by Donald Duck, and Goofy. Mickey, Donald, and Goofy live in "Happy Valley" which is plagued by a severe drought, and they have nothing to eat except one loaf of bread. Mickey trades in the cow (which Donald was going to kill for food) for the magic beans. Donald throws the beans on the floor and down a knothole in a fit of rage, and the beanstalk sprouts that night, lifting the three of them into the sky while they sleep. In the magical kingdom, Mickey, Donald, and Goofy help themselves to a sumptuous feast. This rouses the ire of the giant (named "Willie" in this version), who captures Donald and Goofy and locks them in a box with a singing golden harp, and it's up to Mickey to find the keys to unlock the box and rescue them. The story villainises the giant by blaming Happy Valley's hard times on Willy's theft of the magic harp, whose song kept the land prosperous; unlike the harp of the original tale, this magic harp wants to be rescued from the giant, and the hapless heroes return her to her rightful place and Happy Valley to its former glory. This version of the fairy tale was narrated by Edgar Bergen, and later Sterling Holloway. Additionally, Walt Disney Animation Studios will do another adaption of the fairy tale called Giants. Tangled director Nathan Greno will direct and it is set to be released in late 2018.[14]
  • Gisaburo Sugii directed a feature-length anime telling of the story released in 1974, titled Jack to Mame no Ki. The film, a musical, was produced by Group TAC and released by Nippon Herald. The writers introduced a few new characters, including Jack's comic-relief dog, Crosby, and Margaret, a beautiful princess engaged to be married to the giant (named "Tulip" in this version) due to a spell being cast over her by the giant's mother (an evil witch). Jack, however, develops a crush on Margaret, and one of his aims in returning to the magic kingdom is to rescue her. The film was dubbed into English, with legendary voice talent Billie Lou Watt voicing Jack, and received a very limited run in U.S. theaters in 1976. It was later released on VHS (now out of print) and aired several times on HBO in the 1980s. However, it is now available on DVD with both English and Japanese dialogue.
  • The Jim Henson Company did a TV miniseries adaption of the story as Jim Henson's Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story (directed by Brian Henson) which reveals that Jack's theft from the giant was completely unmotivated, with the giant Thunderdell (played by Bill Barretta) being a friendly, welcoming individual, and the giant's subsequent death was caused by Jack's mother cutting the beanstalk down rather than Jack himself. The film focuses on Jack's modern-day descendant Jack Robinson (played by Matthew Modine) who learns the truth after the discovery of the giant's bones and the last of the five magic beans, Jack subsequently returning the goose and harp to the giants' kingdom.

Other adaptations

  • The story is the basis of the similarly titled traditional British pantomime, wherein the Giant is certainly a villain, Jack's mother the Dame, and Jack the Principal Boy.
  • Jack of Jack and the Beanstalk is the protagonist of the comic book Jack of Fables, a spin-off of Fables, which also features other elements from the story, such as giant beanstalks and giants living in the clouds.
  • DI Jack Spratt of the Nursery Crimes Division from the book Stubbs painting of a cow. He is also thought to be a giant killer though out of the four only one was technically a giant, the others were just very tall. All the killings were in self-defense.
  • Roald Dahl rewrote the story in a more modern and gruesome way in his book Revolting Rhymes (1982). The story of Jack and the Beanstalk is also featured in Dahl's The BFG, in which the evil giants are all afraid of the "giant-killer" Jack, who is said to kill giants with his fearsome beanstalk (although none of the giants appear to know how Jack uses it against them, the context of a nightmare one of the giants has about Jack suggesting that they think he wields the beanstalk as a weapon).
  • James Still published Jack and the Wonder Beans (1977, republished 1996) an Appalachian variation on the Jack and the Beanstalk tale. Jack trades his old cow to a gypsy for three beans that are guaranteed to feed him his for his entire life. It has been adapted as a play for performance by children.[18]
  • An episode of the BBC television series The Big Knights retold the story with the show's human protagonists as the "giants" to a race of tiny people living in their garden.
  • An arcade video game, Jack the Giantkiller, was released by Cinematronics in 1982 and is based on the story. Players control Jack, and must retrieve a series of treasures – a harp, a sack of gold coins, a golden goose and a princess – and eventually defeat the giant by chopping down the beanstalk.
  • An episode of liquid television contained a short retelling in which an ambitious cat plays the role of Jack. The tale ends with the cat inadvertently falling into the giant's boot. Not knowing the cat is trapped inside, the giant puts his boot on, squashing the cat under his foot, who loudly exclaims PU!
  • In The Magic School Bus episode "Gets Planted", the class put on a school production of Jack and the Beanstalk, with Phoebe starring as the beanstalk after Ms. Frizzle turned her into a bean plant.
  • Stephen Sondheim's musical Into the Woods features Jack, portrayed by Ben Wright, along with several other fairy tale characters. In the second half of the musical, the Giant's Wife climbs down the stalk to exact revenge for her husband's death, furious at Jack's betrayal of her hospitality. She is eventually killed as well.
  • "Dunce Upon A Time", an episode of Happy Tree Friends, is a parody of Jack and the Beanstalk. Giggles is Jack and Lumpy is the giant; there are 11 deaths in the episode. Nutty grew a tree in his mouth and the house raised up in the sky and to the giant's castle.
  • During a DC Comics storyline, the hero Hawkman - who has been perpetually reincarnated since Egyptian times- implied that one of his past lives was Jack, mentioning an encounter he had with an ancestor of the Flash's enemy Brother Grimm.
  • A rock musical called Jack et le Haricot Magique (Jack and the Magic Bean) has been created in France by Georges Dupuis and Philippe Manca.
  • A recent parody occurred on The Suite Life on Deck, with Zack as Jack, Mrs. Tutweiler as Jack's mother, London as the goose, Cody as the harp, Moseby as the giant, Bailey as the cow and Marcus as the person who gave Jack the magic bean.
  • Jack and the Beanstalk was featured in an episode of Level Up.
  • ABC's Jorge Garcia. In this adaptation, Jack is portrayed as a villainous character.
  • Parts of the story and/or related stories have been satirised in some of the adventures and missions of the Kingdom of Loathing MMO.
  • Keira Andrews and Leta Blake penned an erotic, m/m retelling of the story called Ascending Hearts.
  • TabTale LTD developed a Jack and the Beanstalk interactive book app for iPad.
  • Jack and the Beanstalk was spoofed in the Family Guy episode "Grimm Job" where Peter Griffin portrayed Jack and Chris Griffin portrayed the Giant.
  • Nick Jr. recently released a Bubble Guppies episode titled "Fintastic Fairytale" which featured characters and events resembling the Jack and the Beanstalk story line.
  • Part of the story is also featured in a quest called "Grim Tales" in the online MMORPG RuneScape, in which the player plays the part of 'Jack' and plants a magic beanstalk, fights a Cloud Giant and collects a golden trophy as part of the quest's storyline.
  • The story was adapted in 2012 by software maker Net Entertainment and made into a slot machine game.[19]

See also


  1. ^ Tabart, The History of Jack and the Bean-Stalk. in 1807 introduces a new character, a fairy who explains the moral of the tale to Jack (Matthew Orville Grenby, "Tame fairies make good teachers: the popularity of early British fairy tales", The Lion and the Unicorn 30.1 (January 2006:1–24).
  2. ^ In 1842 and 1844 Elizabeth Rigby, Lady Eastlake, reviewed children's books for the Quarterly Review (volumes 71 and 74), recommending a list of children's books, headed by "The House [sic] Treasury, by Felix Summerly, including The Traditional Nursery Songs of England, Beauty and the Beast, Jack and the Beanstalk, and other old friends, all charmingly done and beautifully illustrated." (noted by Geoffrey Summerfield, "The Making of The Home Treasury", Children's Literature 8 (1980:35–52).
  3. ^ a b  
  4. ^ Maria Tatar, The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales, p. 132. ISBN 0-393-05163-3
  5. ^ "The Folklore Tradition of Jack Tales". The Center for Children's Books. Graduate School of Library and Information Science University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 15 Jan 2004. Retrieved 11 June 2014. 
  6. ^ Tatar, The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales, p. 136.
  7. ^ Goldberg, Christine. "The composition of Jack and the beanstalk". Marvels and Tales. Retrieved 2011-05-28. 
  8. ^ D. L. Ashliman, ed. "Jack and the Beanstalk: eight versions of an English fairy tale (Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 328)". 2002–2010. Folklore and Mythology: Electronic Texts. University of Pittsburgh. 1996–2013.
  9. ^ Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, "The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs", Grimm's Fairy Tales.
  10. ^ Maria Tatar, Off with Their Heads! p. 199. ISBN 0-691-06943-3
  11. ^ Tatar, Off with Their Heads! p. 198.
  12. ^ Joseph Jacobs, Notes to "Jack and the Beanstalk", English Fairy Tales.
  13. ^ Joe Nazzaro, "Back to the Beanstalk", Starlog Fantasy Worlds, February 2002, pp. 56–59.
  14. ^
  15. ^ Barbera, Joseph (1994). My Life in "Toons": From Flatbush to Bedrock in Under a Century. Atlanta, GA:  
  16. ^
  17. ^ "Tom and Jerry's Giant Adventure Blu-ray". April 25, 2013. Retrieved 2013-04-25. 
  18. ^ Jack and the wonder beans (Book, 1996). []. Retrieved on 2013-07-29.
  19. ^ Jack and the Beanstalk Slots. []. Retrieved on 2014-09-18.

External links

  • Slavic origin of Jack and the beanstalk hypothesis
  • Pantomime based on the fairytale of "Jack and the Beanstalk"
  • Jack and the Beanstalk Felt Story at Story Resources
  • "Jack and the Beanstalk" at SurLaLune Fairy Tales — Annotated version of the fairy tale.
  • Adult Pantomime based on the fairytale of "Jack and the Beanstalk"
  • Jack tales in Appalachia — including "Jack and the Bean Tree"
  • Children's audio story of Jack and the Beanstalk at Storynory
  • Kamishibai (Japanese storycard) version — in English, with downloadable Japanese translation
  • The Disney version of Jack and the Beanstalk at The Encyclopedia of Disney Animated Shorts
  • Full text of Jack And The Bean-Stalk from "The Fairy Book"
  • Jack et le Haricot Magique - The Rock Musical by Georges Dupuis & Philippe Manca
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