Jack and the Beanstalk

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Jack and the Beanstalk
Jack and the Beanstalk Giant - Project Gutenberg eText 17034.jpg
Illustration by Arthur Rackham, 1918, in English Fairy Tales by Flora Annie Steel
Folk tale
NameJack and the Beanstalk
Aarne-Thompson groupingAT 328 ("The Treasures of the Giant")
Published inBenjamin Tabart, The History of Jack and the Bean-Stalk (1807)
Joseph Jacobs, English Fairy Tales (1890)
RelatedJack the Giant Killer
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"Beanstalk" redirects here. For other uses, see Beanstalk (disambiguation).
Jack and the Beanstalk
Jack and the Beanstalk Giant - Project Gutenberg eText 17034.jpg
Illustration by Arthur Rackham, 1918, in English Fairy Tales by Flora Annie Steel
Folk tale
NameJack and the Beanstalk
Aarne-Thompson groupingAT 328 ("The Treasures of the Giant")
Published inBenjamin Tabart, The History of Jack and the Bean-Stalk (1807)
Joseph Jacobs, English Fairy Tales (1890)
RelatedJack 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[clarification needed] 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.[citation needed]


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[edit]

Jack and the Beanstalk (1917)

Other adaptations[edit]

See also[edit]


  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 Joseph Jacobs (1890). English Fairy Tales. London: David Nutt. pp. 59–67, 233. 
  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. ^ http://www.bleedingcool.com/2013/08/21/exclusive-lots-of-details-of-disneys-unannounced-animated-movie-giants
  15. ^ Barbera, Joseph (1994). My Life in "Toons": From Flatbush to Bedrock in Under a Century. Atlanta, GA: Turner Publishing. pp. 162–65. ISBN 1-57036-042-1. 
  16. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1351685/
  17. ^ "Tom and Jerry's Giant Adventure Blu-ray". Blu-ray.com. April 25, 2013. Retrieved 2013-04-25. 
  18. ^ Jack and the wonder beans (Book, 1996). [WorldCat.org]. Retrieved on 2013-07-29.
  19. ^ Jack and the Beanstalk Slots. [SlotsForMoney.com]. Retrieved on 2014-09-18.

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