Jack and the Beanstalk

Jack and the Beanstalk
"Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman."
Illustration by Arthur Rackham from
a 1918 English Fairy Tales, by Flora Annie Steel

Jack and the Beanstalk is a folktale said by English historian Francis Palgrave to be an oral legend that arrived in England with the Vikings. The tale is closely associated with the tale of Jack the Giant-killer. It is known under a number of versions. Benjamin Tabart's moralized version of 1807[1] is the first appearance in print, but "Felix Summerly" (Henry Cole) popularized it in The Home Treasury (1842),[2] and Joseph Jacobs rewrote it in English Fairy Tales (1890).[3] Jacobs's version is most commonly reprinted today and is believed to more closely adhere to the oral versions than Tabart's, because it lacks the moralizing of that version.[4]


Plot summary

In the Jacobs version of the story Jack is a young lad living with his widowed mother. Their only means of income is a cow. When this cow stops giving milk one morning, Jack is sent to the market to sell it. On the way to the market he meets an old man who offers to give him "magic" beans in exchange for the cow.

Jack takes the beans but when he arrives home with no money, his mother gets angry and throws the beans out the window and sends Jack to bed without supper.

As Jack sleeps, the beans grow into a gigantic beanstalk. Jack climbs the bean stalk and arrives in a land high up in the sky where he follows a road to a house, which is the home of an ogre. He enters the house and asks the ogre's wife for food. She gives him food, but the ogre returns and senses that a human is nearby:

I smell the blood of an Englishman?
Be he 'live, or be he dead,
I'll grind his bones to make my bread.

However, Jack is hidden by the ogre's wife and overhears the ogre counting his money. Jack steals a bag of gold coins as he makes his escape down the beanstalk. Jack repeats his journey up the beanstalk two more times, each time he is helped by the increasingly suspicions wife of the ogre and narrowly escapes with one of the ogre's treasures. The second time he steals a hen which laid golden eggs and the third time a magical harp that played by itself. This time he is almost caught by the ogre who follows him down the beanstalk. Jack calls his mother for an axe and chops the beanstalk down, killing the ogre. The end of the story has Jack and his mother living happily ever after with their new riches.


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

The origin of Jack and the Beanstalk is unclear. However, Sir Francis Palgrave once wrote that it was most likely that the tale arrived with the Viking boats. The earliest printed edition which has survived is the 1807 book The History of Jack and the Bean Stalk, printed by Benjamin Tabart, although the story was already in existence sometime before this, as a burlesque of the story 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 the story name him as Blunderbore; a giant of that name also appears in Jack the Giant Killer.

The giant's "Fee! Fie! Foe! Fum!" was included in William Shakespeare's King Lear.[5]


It is Aarne-Thompson type 328, though some scholars, such as Goldberg[6] argue that the Aarne Thompson system is inadequate to the tale, a possible reference to the genre anomaly.[7] Other tales of this type include the Italian Thirteenth and the French How the Dragon was Tricked.

The Brothers Grimm drew analogies between this tale and the German The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs, where the devil's mother or grandmother acted much like the wife in this tale: a female figure protecting the child from the evil male figure.[8]

The tale is unusual in that the hero, although grown, does not marry at the end of it but returns to his mother; this is found in few other tales, although some, such as some variants of Vasilisa the Beautiful, do feature it.[9]

The beanstalk is reminiscent of the ancient Northern European belief in a world tree connecting Earth to heaven.


The story portrays a hero unscrupulously hiding in a man's house, playing on his wife's sympathies in order to rob and finally murder the owner of the house. In Tabart's moralized version, a fairy woman explains to Jack that the giant had robbed and killed his father, thus transforming the acts into justified retribution.[10]

Jacobs dropped the justification on the grounds that it had not been in the version he had heard as a child, and because children knew that robbery and murder were wrong without being told so by a fairy tale.[11]

Many modern interpretations have followed Tabart and painted the giant as a villain, terrorizing smaller folk and often stealing items of value, so that Jack becomes a legitimate protagonist. For example, the 1952 film starring Abbott and Costello blames the giant for Jack's ill fortunes and impoverishment, as he has been stealing food and wealth from the smaller folk of the lands below his home, including the hen that lays golden eggs, which in this version originally belonged to Jack's family. In other versions it is implied that the giant had stolen the hen and the harp from Jack's father. However, Brian Henson's 2001 TV miniseries Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story is an alternative version of the tale which abandons Tabart's additions and significantly vilifies Jack, due to Henson's disgust with Jack's morally questionable actions in the original story.[12]

Film adaptations

The first film adaptation was made in 1902 by Edwin S. Porter for the Edison Manufacturing Company.[13]

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, and accompanied him with 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 out the window 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 villainizes 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.

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 5 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.[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.

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.

Another film adaptation was Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story (2001), directed by Brian Henson.

The newest film adaptation is Avalon Family Entertainment's Jack and the Beanstalk. The live-action adaptation boasts an all-star cast, led by Christopher Lloyd, Chevy Chase, James Earl Jones, Gilbert Gottfried, Katey Sagal, Wallace Shawn and Chloë Grace Moretz. It was released on home video April 20, 2010.[15]

Announced in 2010, Jack and the Beanstalk was also going to be a upcoming Disney movie directed by Chris Buck but was cancelled because Warner Bros. is making a new version of the fairy tale.[16]

Other media

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 The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde feels a strange impulse to climb the giant beanstalk that was grown in his mother's yard after she threw out the magic beans he had traded for her 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 Bean Stalk tale. Jack trades his old cow to a gypsy for three beans that are guaranteed to feed him his entire life. It has been adapted as a play for performance by children.[17]

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 episode of The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!, titled "Mario and the Beanstalk", does a retelling with Bowser as the giant (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.

Stephen Sondheim's musical Into the Woods features Jack 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.

Bart Simpson plays the role of the main character in The Simpsons video game Bart & the Beanstalk.

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 & Philippe Manca .

A recent parody occurred on 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.


  1. ^ Tabart, The History of Jack and the Bean-Stalk (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. ^ Joseph Jacobs, "Jack and the Beanstalk", English Fairy Tales
  4. ^ Maria Tatar, p 132, The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales, ISBN 0-393-05163-3
  5. ^ Maria Tatar, p 136, The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales, ISBN 0-393-05163-3
  6. ^ Goldberg, Christine. "The composition of Jack and the beanstalk". The composition of Jack and the Beanstalk. Marvels and Tales. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/mat/summary/v015/15.1goldberg.html. Retrieved 2011-05-28. 
  7. ^ D. L. Ashliman, Jack and the Beanstalk: eight versions of an English fairy tale (Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 328)
  8. ^ Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Grimm's Fairy Tales, "The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs"
  9. ^ Maria Tatar, Off with Their Heads! p. 199 ISBN 0-691-06943-3
  10. ^ Maria Tatar, Off with Their Heads! p. 198 ISBN 0-691-06943-3
  11. ^ Joseph Jacobs, English Fairy Tales, Notes to "Jack and the Beanstalk"
  12. ^ Joe Nazzaro, "Back to the Beanstalk", Starlog Fantasy Worlds, February 2002, pages 56-59,
  13. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0000399/
  14. ^ Barbera, Joseph (1994). My Life in "Toons": From Flatbush to Bedrock in Under a Century. Atlanta, GA: Turner Publishing. pp. 162–165. ISBN 1-57036-042-1. 
  15. ^ Live-Action Beanstalk in the Works - Comingsoon.net
  16. ^ http://blueskydisney.blogspot.com/2010/07/rebirth-to-rebirth-2.html
  17. ^ [1]

External links

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