The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body

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The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body is a Norwegian fairy tale collected by Asbjørnsen and Moe.

George MacDonald retold it as "The Giant's Heart" in Adela Cathcart. A version of the tale also appears in A Book of Giants by Ruth Manning-Sanders.


A king had seven sons, and when the other six went off to find brides, he kept the youngest with him because he could not bear to be parted from them all. They were supposed to bring back a bride for him, as well, but they found a king with six daughters and wooed them, forgetting their brother. But when they returned, they passed too close to a giant's castle, and he turned them all, both princes and princesses, to stone in a fit of rage.

When they did not return, the king, their father, tried to prevent the youngest brother from following, but he went. On the way, he gave food to a starving raven, helped a salmon back into the river, and gave a starving wolf his horse to eat. The wolf let the prince ride on him, instead, and showed him the giant's castle, telling him to go inside. The prince was reluctant fearing the wrath of the giant, but the wolf persuaded the prince to enter the castle, for there he would encounter not the giant, but the princess the giant kept prisoner.

The princess was very beautiful, and the prince wanted to know how he could kill the giant and set her and his family free. The princess said that there was no way, as the giant did not keep his heart in his body and therefore could not be killed. When the giant returned, the princess hid the prince, and asked the giant where he kept his heart. He told her that it was under the door sill. The prince and princess dug there the next day and found no heart. The princess strewed flowers over the door sill, and when the giant returned, told him that it was because his heart lay there. The giant admitted it was not there and told her it was in the cupboard. As before, the princess and the prince searched, to no avail; once again, the princess strewed garlands of flowers on the cupboard and told the giant it was because his heart was there. Thereupon the giant revealed to her that, in fact, in a distant lake was an island, upon which there sat a church; within the church was a well where a duck swam; in the duck's nest was an egg; and in the egg was the giant's heart.

The prince rode to the lake, and the wolf jumped to the island. The prince called upon the raven he had saved from starvation, and it brought him the keys to the church. Once inside, he coaxed the duck to him, but it dropped the egg in the well first, and the prince called on the salmon to get him the egg. The wolf told him to squeeze the egg, and when he did, the giant screamed. The wolf told him to squeeze it again, and the giant promised anything if he would spare his life. The prince told him to change his brothers and their brides back to life, and the giant did so. Then the prince squeezed the egg into two and went home with the princess as his bride; accompanying him were his brothers and their brides, and the king rejoiced.


In a much harsher version, the boy splits the heart in two and eats it with the wolf, chopping off the giant's head and keeping it as a trophy.

The Storyteller[edit]

The story was retold by John Hurt as an episode in Jim Henson's The Storyteller. It takes on a sadder tone, as the prince befriends the giant after freeing him from years of captivity in his father's castle, and after journeying to the mountain to get the egg and eventually releasing his brothers, beseeches them not to break the egg containing the giant's heart, as he promises now to be good. The brothers break the heart, and a hill forms where the giant falls.

Other works[edit]

The video game Paper Mario tells a variant of the story when Mario must battle the villain Tubba Blubba, a giant whose heart was removed in order to gain invincibility, but resulted in him becoming miserable. Mario first battles the heart, then the villain Tubba Blubba after it returns to his body and he becomes mortal again.

Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal also includes an evil giant who cannot be defeated until his heart is located and destroyed.

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