November 01, 2021

#08-146: Thar Be Giants

Norse giants Fafner and Fasolt seize Freyja

Note: Giants are found in stories the world over. But two particular "giant tales" are found in England, and both feature boys named Jack.

Get Ready: The American Robert Wadlow (1918-1940) was 8 feet 11.1 inches (272 centimeters) tall, and was considered the tallest man who ever lived. Few people have ever come near that height. So where do you think the nearly-universal stories of giants came from?

They're found in the Bible, where little David slew one. Gulliver met some in his travels. Some ancient Chinese believed that one was involved in the creation of the world. They're also found in India, the ancient Americas, the Germanic lands, and Greece and Rome. And recently, we met another: Paul Bunyan.

I'm talking, of course, about giants. Most of us know them through fairy tales where they are large, not very bright, and usually ill-tempered. Two of the best-known giants are found in so-called "Jack Tales" of Cornish and English origin.

In one story, "Jack and the Beanstalk," Jack is the foolish son of a poor widow. She sends Jack to sell their old cow, and he's duped into trading it for some allegedly magic beans. When he gives them to his mother, she angrily throws them out the window where, in the morning, a prodigious beanstalk has grown up through the clouds.

To please his mother, Jack climbs up the beanstalk and discovers a land in the clouds with a castle owned by a giant. The giant's wife is kind to Jack, but when her husband comes home, the boy must hide.

On his first trip, Jack steals a bag of gold; on the second, a goose that lays golden eggs; and on the third a golden harp which can play itself! Some versions say it's okay Jack stole these things, as the giant stole them from Jack's father in the first place.

Each time Jack goes up, the giant cries out:

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

In the end, the giant is chasing the boy when, having reached the bottom, Jack he (though some say it was his mother) chops down the beanstalk and the giant falls to his death.

In the second story, another boy is called "Jack the Giant Killer." Living in the time of King Arthur, he is strong and brave and gains a reputation for killing many giants. In one story, he robs a three-headed giant, but spares his life. In gratitude, the giant gives him four gifts: a magic sword, a cap of knowledge, a cloak of invisibility (like Harry Potter's!), and shoes of swiftness. With this equipment he becomes invincible, and after many more adventures becomes a member of King Arthur's Round Table.


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. allegedly
  2. duped
  3. gratitude
  4. grind
  5. harp
  6. ill-tempered
  7. invincible
  8. invisibility
  9. prodigious
  10. slew

  1. thankfulness
  2. ability to go unseen
  3. mean; easily angered
  4. supposedly; according to unproven claims
  5. tricked; fooled
  6. extraordinarily large
  7. killed
  8. turn into powder
  9. an old-fashioned stringed instrument
  10. unable to be beaten

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for November 1, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. d; 2. e; 3. a; 4. h; 5. i; 6. c; 7. j; 8. b; 9. f; 10. g