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
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 cow who is their only source of income. When the cow stops giving milk, Jack's mother has told 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 on 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 a castle that is the home of a giant. Jack breaks into the house. 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]

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. 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 early-17th-century King Lear in the form "Fie, foh, and fum, I smell the blood of a British man." (Act 3, Scene 4),[6] and something similar also appears in "Jack the Giant Killer".


"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).


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 maintained that 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)
  • The first film adaptation was made in 1902 by Edwin S. Porter for the Edison Manufacturing Company.
  • 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 on a farm in "Happy Valley", so called because it is always green and prosperous thanks to the magical singing from an enchanted golden harp in a castle, until one day it mysteriously disappears during a dark storm, resulting in the valley being plagued by a severe drought. Times become so hard for Mickey and his friends that soon 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, and it's up to Mickey to find the keys to unlock the box and rescue them as well as the harp which they also find in the giant's possession. The film villainizes the giant by blaming Happy Valley's hard times on Willy's theft of the magic harp, without which song the land withers; 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 (as a segment of Fun and Fancy Free) by Edgar Bergen, and later (by itself as a short) by Sterling Holloway. Additionally, Walt Disney Animation Studios will do another adaption of the fairy tale called 'Gigantic.' Tangled director Nathan Greno will direct and it is set to be released in late 2018.[14]
  • Warner Bros. adapted the story into three Merrie Melodies cartoons. Friz Freleng directed Jack-Wabbit and the Beanstalk (1943), Chuck Jones directed Beanstalk Bunny (1955), and Freleng directed Tweety and the Beanstalk (1957). The 1952 Abbott and Costello adaption wasn't the only time a comedy team was involved with the story. The Three Stooges had their own five-minute animated retelling entitled Three Jacks and a Beanstalk (1965).
  • In 1966 Hanna-Barbera produced a live action version of Jack and the Beanstalk, with Gene Kelly that won an Emmy Award.[15]
  • 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.
  • Michael Davis directed the 1994 adaptation entitled Beanstalk, starring J. D. Daniels as Jack and Stuart Pankin as the Giant. The film was released by Moonbeam Entertainment, the children's video division of Full Moon Entertainment.
  • Wolves, Witches and Giants Episode 9 of Season 1, Jack and the Beanstalk, broadcast on 19 October 1995, has Jack's mother chop down the beanstalk and the Giant plummet through the earth to Australia. The hen that Jack has stolen fails to lay any eggs and ends up "in the pot by Sunday", leaving Jack and his mother to live in reduced circumstances for the rest of their lives.
  • 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.
  • Avalon Family Entertainment's film entitled Jack and the Beanstalk (released on home video April 20, 2010) is a low-budget live-action adaptation starring Christopher Lloyd, Chevy Chase, James Earl Jones, Gilbert Gottfried, Katey Sagal, Wallace Shawn and Chloë Grace Moretz. Jack is played by Colin Ford.
  • The Warner Bros. film directed by Bryan Singer and starring Nicholas Hoult as Jack is entitled Jack the Giant Slayer and was released in March 2013.[16] In this tale Jack climbs the beanstalk to save a princess.
  • Warner Bros. Animation's Direct-to-DVD film Tom and Jerry's Giant Adventure is set to be based on the fairy tale.[17]
  • In the 2014 movie Into the Woods, and the musical of the same name, one of the main characters, Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) climbs a beanstalk, much like in the original version. He acquires a golden harp, a goose that lays golden eggs, and several gold pieces. The story goes on as it does in the original fairy tale, but continues afterwards showing what happens after you get your happy ending. In this adaption, the giant's vengeful wife (Frances de la Tour) attacks the kingdom to find and kill Jack as revenge for him murdering her husband where some characters were killed during her rampage. The Giant's Wife is eventually killed by the surviving characters in the story.

Other adaptations[edit]

  • 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.
  • Roald Dahl rewrote the story in a more modern and gruesome way in his book Revolting Rhymes (1982), where Jack initially refuses to climb the beanstalk and his mother is thus eaten when she ascends to pick the golden leaves at the top, with Jack recovering the leaves himself after having a thorough wash so that the giant cannot smell him. The story of Jack and the Beanstalk is also referenced 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]
  • In 1973 the story was adapted, as The Goodies and the Beanstalk, by the BBC television series The Goodies.
  • 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 The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!, entitled "Mario and the Beanstalk", does a retelling with Bowser as the giant (there is no explanation as to how he becomes a giant).
  • 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.
  • Jack and Beanstalk was featured in Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child where Jack is voiced by Wayne Collins and the Giant is voiced by Tone Loc. The story is in an African-American style.
  • Stephen Sondheim's musical Into the Woods (and the film of the same name), features Jack, originally portrayed by Ben Wright, along with several other fairy tale characters. In the second half of the musical, the Giant's Wife climbs down a second beanstalk to exact revenge for her husband's death, furious at Jack's betrayal of her hospitality. She is eventually killed as well.
  • Bart Simpson plays the role of the main character in a Simpsons video game "The Simpsons: Bart & the Beanstalk".
  • ABC's Once Upon a Time debuts their spin on the tale in the episode "Tiny" of season two, where Jack, now a female named Jacqueline (known as Jack) is played by Cassidy Freeman and the Giant named Anton is played by Jorge Garcia. In this adaptation, Jack is portrayed as a villainous character.
  • The story was adapted in 2012 by software maker Net Entertainment and made into a slot machine game.[19]

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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