"JACK THE GIANT KILLER" is an English fairy tale and legend about a
young adult who slays a number of giants during
King Arthur 's reign.
The tale is characterised by violence, gore and blood-letting. Giants
are prominent in
Cornish folklore ,
Breton mythology and Welsh Bardic
lore . Some parallels to elements and incidents in Norse mythology
have been detected in the tale, and the trappings of Jack's last
adventure with the
Giant Galigantus suggest parallels with French and
Breton fairy tales such as
Bluebeard . Jack's belt is similar to the
belt in "
The Valiant Little Tailor
The Valiant Little Tailor ", and his magical sword, shoes,
cap, and cloak are similar to those owned by
Tom Thumb or those found
in Welsh and Norse mythology.
Neither Jack nor his tale are referenced in
English literature prior
to the eighteenth century, and his story did not appear in print until
1711. It is probable an enterprising publisher assembled a number of
anecdotes about giants to form the 1711 tale. One scholar speculates
the public had grown weary of
King Arthur – the greatest of all
giant killers – and Jack was created to fill his shoes. Henry
John Newbery ,
Samuel Johnson , Boswell , and William
Cowper were familiar with the tale.
In 1962, a feature-length film based on the tale was released
Kerwin Mathews . The film made extensive use of stop motion
in the manner of
Ray Harryhausen .
* 1 Plot
* 2 Background
* 2.2 The History of Jack and the Giants
* 3 British giants
* 4 Adaptations
* 4.1 1962 film
* 4.2 Jack the
* 5 See also
* 6 Notes
* 7 References
* 8 External links
Cormoran with a pick-axe
This plot summary is based on a text published ca. 1760 by John
Cotton and Joshua Eddowes, which in its turn was based on a chapbook
ca. 1711, and reprinted in 'The Classic Fairy Tales' by Iona and Peter
Opie in 1974.
The tale is set during the reign of
King Arthur and tells of a young
Cornish farmer's son named Jack who is not only strong but so clever
he easily confounds the learned with his penetrating wit. Jack
encounters a cattle-eating giant called
Cormoran (Cornish : 'The Giant
of the Sea' SWF:Kowr-Mor-An) and lures him to his death in a pit trap
. Jack is dubbed 'Jack the Giant-Killer' for this feat and receives
not only the giant's wealth, but a sword and belt to commemorate the
event. A man-eating giant named
Blunderbore vows vengeance for
Cormoran's death and carries Jack off to an enchanted castle. Jack
manages to slay
Blunderbore and his brother Rebecks by hanging and
stabbing them. He frees three ladies held captive in the giant's
On a trip into Wales, Jack tricks a two-headed Welsh giant into
slashing his own belly open. King Arthur's son now enters the story
and Jack becomes his servant.
They spend the night with a three-headed giant and rob him in the
morning. In gratitude for having spared his castle, the three-headed
giant gives Jack a magic sword, a cap of knowledge, a cloak of
invisibility, and shoes of swiftness. On the road, Jack and the Prince
meet an enchanted Lady serving
Lucifer . Jack breaks the spell with
his magic accessories, beheads Lucifer, and the Lady marries the
Prince. Jack is rewarded with membership in the
Round Table . St
Michael\'s Mount home of the
Jack ventures forth alone with his magic shoes, sword, cloak, and cap
to rid the realm of troublesome giants. He encounters a giant
terrorizing a knight and his lady. He cuts off the giant's legs, then
puts him to death. He discovers the giant's companion in a cave.
Invisible in his cloak, Jack cuts off the giant's nose then slays him
by plunging his sword into the monster's back. He frees the giant's
captives and returns to the house of the knight and lady he earlier
had rescued. A banquet is prepared, but it is interrupted by the
two-headed giant Thunderdel chanting "Fee, fau, fum". Jack defeats and
beheads the giant with a trick involving the house's moat and
Growing weary of the festivities, Jack sallies forth for more
adventures and meets an elderly man who directs him to an enchanted
castle belonging to the giant Galigantus (Galligantua, in the Joseph
Jacobs version). The giant holds captive many knights and ladies and a
Duke's daughter who has been transformed into a white doe through the
power of a sorcerer. Jack beheads the giant, the sorcerer flees, the
Duke's daughter is restored to her true shape, and the captives are
At the court of King Arthur, Jack marries the Duke's daughter and the
two are given an estate where they live happily ever after.
Tales of monsters and heroes are abundant around the world, making
the source of "Jack the
Giant Killer" difficult to pin down, however
the ascription of Jack's relation to
Cornwall suggests a Brythonic
(Celtic) origin. The early Welsh tale How
Culhwch won Olwen
(tentatively dated to c. 1100), set in
Arthurian Britain places Arthur
as chief among the kings of Britain. The young hero
Culhwch ap Cilydd
makes his way to his cousin Arthur's court at
Celliwig in Cornwall
where he demands Olwen as his bride; the beautiful daughter of the
Ysbaddaden Ben Cawr ('Chief of Giants'). The
Giant sets a series
of impossible tasks which Arthur's champions
Bedwyr and Cai are
honour-bound to fulfill before Olwen is released to the lad; and the
Giant King must die. Folklorists
Iona and Peter Opie have observed in
The Classic Fairy Tales (1974) that "the tenor of Jack's tale, and
some of the details of more than one of his tricks with which he
outwits the giants, have similarities with
Norse mythology ." An
Thor and the giant
Skrymir in the
Prose Edda of ca.
1220, they note, resembles the incident between Jack and the
stomach-slashing Welsh giant. The Opies further note that the Swedish
tale of "The Herd-boy and the Giant" shows similarities to the same
incident, and "shares an ancestor" with the Grimms\'s "The Valiant
Little Tailor ", a tale with wide distribution. According to the
Opies, Jack's magical accessories – the cap of knowledge, the cloak
of invisibility, the magic sword, and the shoes of swiftness – could
have been borrowed from the tale of
Tom Thumb or from Norse mythology,
however older analogues in British Celtic lore such as Y Mabinogi and
the tales of
Gwyn ap Nudd , cognate with the Irish Fionn mac Cumhaill
, suggest that these represent attributes of the earlier Celtic gods
such as the shoes associated with triple-headed
Lugus ; Welsh Lleu
Llaw Gyffes of the Fourth Branch , Arthur's invincible sword
Caledfwlch and his Mantle of Invisibility Gwenn one of the Thirteen
Treasures of the Island of Britain mentioned in two of the branches;
or the similar cloak of
Caswallawn in the Second Branch . Another
parallel is the Greek demigod
Perseus , who was given a magic sword,
the winged sandals of
Hermes and the 'cap of darkness' (borrowed from
Hades ) to slay the gorgon
Medusa . Ruth B. Bottigheimer observes in
The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales that Jack's final adventure with
Galigantus was influenced by the "magical devices" of French fairy
tales. The Opies conclude that analogues from around the world "offer
no surety of Jack's antiquity."
The Opies note that tales of giants were long known in Britain. King
Arthur 's encounter with the giant of St Michael\'s Mount – or Mont
Brittany – was related by
Geoffrey of Monmouth in
Historia Regum Britanniae in 1136, and published by Sir Thomas Malory
in 1485 in the fifth chapter of the fifth book of Le Morte d\'Arthur :
Then came to an husbandman ... and told him how there was ... a
great giant which had slain, murdered and devoured much people of the
country ... ... and hailed him, saying ... rise and dress thee, thou
glutton, for this day shalt thou die of my hand. Then the glutton anon
started up, and took a great club in his hand, and smote at the king
that his coronal fell to the earth. And the king hit him again that he
carved his belly and cut off his genitours, that his guts and his
entrails fell down to the ground. Then the giant threw away his club,
and caught the king in his arms that he crushed his ribs ... And then
Arthur weltered and wrung, that he was other while under and another
time above. And so weltering and wallowing they rolled down the hill
till they came to the sea mark, and ever as they so weltered Arthur
smote him with his dagger.
Anthropophagic giants are mentioned in
The Complaynt of Scotland in
1549, the Opies note, and, in
King Lear of 1605, they indicate,
Shakespeare alludes to the
Fee-fi-fo-fum chant (" ... fie, foh, and
fumme, / I smell the blood of a British man"), making it certain he
knew a tale of "blood-sniffing giants".
Thomas Nashe also alluded to
the chant in
Have with You to Saffron-Walden , written nine years
before King Lear., the earliest version can be found in The Red Ettin
The Opies observe that "no telling of the tale has been recorded in
English oral tradition", and that no mention of the tale is made in
sixteenth or seventeenth century literature, lending weight to the
probability of the tale originating from the oral traditions of the
Cornish (and/or Breton) 'droll teller'. The 17th century
Franco-Breton tale of
Bluebeard , however, contains parallels and
cognates with the contemporary insular British tale of Jack "> The
title page from
A Little Pretty Pocket-Book (1744) promises the reader
two letters from Jack the
As the eighteenth century wore on, Jack became a familiar figure.
Research by the Opies indicate that the farce Jack the Giant-Killer
was performed at the Haymarket in 1730; that
John Newbery printed
fictional letters about Jack in
A Little Pretty Pocket-Book in 1744;
and that a political satire, The last Speech of John Good, vulgarly
called Jack the Giant-Queller, was printed ca. 1745. The Opies and
Bottigheimer both note that
Henry Fielding alluded to Jack in Joseph
Dr. Johnson admitted to reading the tale; Boswell read
the tale in his boyhood; and
William Cowper was another who mentioned
In "Jack and Arthur: An Introduction to Jack the
Thomas Green writes that Jack has no place in Cornish folklore, but
was created at the beginning of the eighteenth century simply as a
framing device for a series of gory, giant-killing adventures. The
tales of Arthur precede and inform "Jack the
Giant Killer", he notes,
but points out that
Le Morte d'Arthur had been out of print since 1634
and concludes from this fact that the public had grown weary of
Arthur. Jack, he posits, was created to fill Arthur's shoes.
Bottigheimer notes that in the southern
Appalachians of America Jack
became a generic hero of tales usually adapted from the Brothers Grimm
. She points out however that "Jack the
Giant Killer" is rendered
directly from the chapbooks except the English hasty pudding in the
incident of the belly-slashing Welsh giant becomes mush .
Bruno Bettelheim observes in The Uses of
Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (1976) that
children may experience "grown-ups" as frightening giants, but stories
such as "Jack" teach them that they can outsmart the giants and can
"get the better of them." Bettelheim observes that a parent may be
reluctant to read a story to a child about adults being outsmarted by
children, but notes that the child understands intuitively that, in
reading him the tale, the parent has given his approval for "playing
with the idea of getting the better of giants", and of retaliating "in
fantasy for the threat which adult dominance entails".
Giant in Dorset was probably carved about 400 years
ago. Further information:
Giants (Welsh folklore)
John Matthews writes in Taliessin, Shamanism and the Bardic Mysteries
of Britain "> The modern
Standard Written Form in Cornish is Kowr
singular (mutating to Gowr), Kewri plural, transcribed into Late
Cornish as Gour, "Goë", "Cor" or similar. They are often responsible
for the creation of the natural landscape, and are often petrified in
death, a particularly recurrent theme in Celtic myth and folklore. An
obscure Count of
Brittany was named
Gourmaëlon ruling from 908 to 913
and may be an alternative source of the Giant's name
Cormoran , or
Gourmaillon, translated by
Joseph Loth as "he of the brown eyebrows".
The foundation myth of
Cornwall originates with the early Brythonic
Nennius in the
Historia Brittonum and made its way, via
Geoffrey of Monmouth into Early Modern English cannon where it was
absorbed by the
Elizabethans as the tale of
King Leir alongside that
King Arthur , other mythical British kings. Carol
Rose reports in Giants, Monsters, and Dragons that the tale of Jack
Giant Killer may be a development of the
Corineus and Gogmagog
legend. The motifs are echoed in the
Hunting of Twrch Trwyth .
Geoffrey of Monmouth reported in the first book of his
imaginative The History of the Kings of Britain that the indigenous
Cornwall were slaughtered by Brutus, the (eponymous founder
of Great Britain),
Corineus (eponymous founder of
Cornwall ) and his
brothers who had settled in Britain after the
Trojan War . Following
the defeat of the giants, their leader Gogmagog wrestled with the
Corineus , and was killed when
Corineus threw him from a cliff
into the sea:
For it was a diversion to him to encounter the said giants, which
were in greater numbers there than in all the other provinces that
fell to the share of his companions. Among the rest was one detestable
monster, named Goëmagot , in stature twelve cubits , and of such
prodigious strength that at one shake he pulled up an oak as if it had
been a hazel wand. On a certain day, when Brutus (founder of Britain
and Corineus' overlord) was holding a solemn festival to the gods, in
the port where they at first landed, this giant with twenty more of
his companions came in upon the Britons, among whom he made a dreadful
slaughter. But the Britons at last assembling together in a body, put
them to the rout, and killed them every one but Goëmagot. Brutus had
given orders to have him preserved alive, out of a desire to see a
combat between him and Corineus, who took a great pleasure in such
encounters. Corineus, overjoyed at this, prepared himself, and
throwing aside his arms, challenged him to wrestle with him. At the
beginning of the encounter,
Corineus and the giant, standing, front to
front, held each other strongly in their arms, and panted aloud for
breath, but Goëmagot presently grasping
Corineus with all his might,
broke three of his ribs, two on his right side and one on his left. At
which Corineus, highly enraged, roused up his whole strength, and
snatching him upon his shoulders, ran with him, as fast as the weight
would allow him, to the next shore, and there getting upon the top of
a high rock, hurled down the savage monster into the sea; where
falling on the sides of craggy rocks, he was torn to pieces, and
coloured the waves with his blood. The place where he fell, taking its
name from the giant's fall, is called Lam Goëmagot, that is,
Goëmagot's Leap, to this day.
The match is traditionally presumed to have occurred at Plymouth Hoe
on the Cornish-
Devon border, although
Rame Head is a nearby
alternative location. In the early seventeenth century, Richard Carew
reported a carved chalk figure of a giant at the site in the first
book of The Survey of
Againe, the activitie of
Devon and Cornishmen, in this facultie of
wrastling, beyond those of other Shires, dooth seeme to derive them a
speciall pedigree, from that graund wrastler Corineus. Moreover, upon
the Hawe at Plymmouth, there is cut out in the ground, the
pourtrayture of two men, the one bigger, the other lesser, with
Clubbes in their hands, (whom they terme Gog-Magog) and (as I have
learned) it is renewed by order of the Townesmen, when cause
requireth, which should inferre the same to bee a monument of some
moment. And lastly the place, having a steepe cliffe adjoyning,
affordeth an oportunitie to the fact. In an illustration by
Arthur Rackham ,
Galligantus and the sorcerer transform the Duke's
daughter into a white doe
CORMORAN (sometimes Cormilan, Cormelian, Gormillan, or Gourmaillon)
is the first giant slain by Jack.
Cormoran and his wife, the giantess
Cormelian , are particularly associated with St Michael\'s Mount ,
apparently an ancient pre-Christian site of worship. According to
Cornish legend, the couple were responsible for its construction by
carrying granite from the West
Penwith Moors to the current location
of the Mount. When
Cormoran fell asleep from exhaustion, his wife
tried to sneak a greenschist slab from a shorter distance away.
Cormoran awoke and kicked the stone out of her apron, where it fell to
form the island of Chapel Rock . Trecobben , the giant of Trencrom
Hill (near St Ives ), accidentally killed
Cormelian when he threw a
hammer over to the Mount for Cormoran's use. The giantess was buried
beneath Chapel Rock.
BLUNDERBORE (sometimes Blunderboar, Thunderbore, Blunderbus, or
Blunderbuss) is usually associated with the area of
Penwith , and was
Ludgvan Lese (a manor in
Ludgvan ), where he terrorised
travellers heading north to St Ives. The Anglo-Germanic name
'Blunderbore' is sometimes appropriated by other giants, as in "Tom
the Tinkeard " and in some versions of "
Jack and the Beanstalk " and
Molly Whuppie ". Jack hangs
Blunderbore and another giant
In the version of "Jack the
Giant Killer" recorded by
Joseph Jacobs ,
Blunderbore lives in
Penwith , where he kidnaps three lords and
ladies, planning to eat the men and make the women his wives. When the
women refuse to consume their husbands in company with the giant, he
hangs them by their hair in his dungeon and leaves them to starve.
Shortly, Jack stops along the highway from
Penwith to Wales. He drinks
from a fountain and takes a nap ( a device common in Brythonic Celtic
stories, such as the
Blunderbore discovers the sleeping
Jack, and recognising him by his labelled belt, carries him to his
castle and locks him in a cell. While
Blunderbore is off inviting a
fellow giant to come help him eat Jack, Jack creates nooses from some
rope. When the giants arrive, he drops the nooses around their necks,
ties the rope to a beam, slides down the rope, and slits their
A giant named
Blunderbore appears in the similar Cornish fairy tale
Tom the Tinkeard " (or "Tom the Tinkard"), a local variant of "Tom
Hickathrift ". Here,
Blunderbore has built a hedge over the King's
Highway between St Ives and
Marazion , claiming the land as his own.
The motif of the abduction of women appears in this version, as
Blunderbore has kidnapped at least twenty women to be his wives. The
hero Tom rouses the giant from a nap while taking a wagon and oxen
back from St Ives to Marazion.
Blunderbore tears up an elm to swat Tom
off his property, but Tom slides one of the axles from the wagon and
uses it to fight and eventually fatally wound the giant. The dying
giant confers all his wealth to Tom and requests a proper burial.
Main article: Jack the
Giant Killer (1962 film)
United Artists released a middle-budget film produced by
Edward Small and directed by
Nathan H. Juran called Jack the Giant
Kerwin Mathews stars as Jack and
Torin Thatcher as the
sorcerer Pendragon. Jeff Stafford of TCM notes that the four men made
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad an artistic and commercial triumph in 1958,
and hoped Jack would be just as successful. The film performed
moderately well at the box office, despite a review in The New York
Times that slammed the acting, the dialogue, and the "rubber"
monsters. Many would say that the movie was a
Ray Harryhausen film,
but in truth, it was not. The special effects were handled by, among
Wah Chang ,
Gene Warren and
Jim Danforth . In their
defence, they didn't build the models themselves and, therefore, they
were not as mobile as they would have liked, limiting the model's
movements somewhat and reducing the smoothness of the animation.
Stafford points out that the screenplay is based on Cornish folklore,
but the plot resembles the damsel in distress theme of 7th Voyage: a
hero battles giants and monsters to rescue a princess held captive by
a sorcerer. Some elements appear to be borrowed from other films
Stafford notes. The disembodied torch-carrying arms, for example,
recall those in Cocteau 's La Belle et La Bête , the dragon suggests
Walt Disney 's Sleeping Beauty , and Pendragon's witches and
demons were probably inspired by the banshees in Disney's Darby
O\'Gill and the Little People . At a later date, producer Small added
songs and the film was rereleased as a musical . According to
imdb.com , the film went unreleased in the UK until 1967 and even then
received cuts for an A (now PG) certificate to edit the witch's attack
on the ship, Princess Elaine being attacked by the giant, and Jack's
fight with the dragon. Versions that were shown on UK television in
the early 1990s had further cuts in the scene where Jack kills
Cormoran with a scythe, rendering the scene almost unintelligible. It
has since been shown uncut on
Channel 4 and The Sci-Fi Channel .
JACK THE GIANT SLAYER
Main article: Jack the
The film Jack the
Giant Slayer, directed by
Bryan Singer and starring
Nicholas Hoult was produced by
Legendary Pictures and was released on
1 March 2013. It is a very loose adaption of both "Jack and the
Beanstalk" and "Jack the
Jack and the Beanstalk
* ^ Davies 2007 , p. .
* ^ Gantz 1987 , p. 80.
* ^ A B C D E F G Opie ">.
* ^ Opie ">.
* ^ Green 2009 , pp. 1–4.
* ^ Bettelheim 1977 , pp. 27–28.
* ^ Matthews 1992 , p. 27.
* ^ CLP staff , kowr
* ^ Monaghan 2004 , pp. 211–212.
* ^ A B Rose 2001 , p. 87.
* ^ A B Stafford 2010 .
* ^ Flemming 2010 .
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ISBN 9780571249473 .
* Bettelheim, Bruno (1977) . The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning
and Importance of Fairy Tales . Vintage Books. ISBN 0-394-72265-5 .
* CLP staff. "kowr". cornish dictionary, gerlyver kernewek. Cornish
Language Partnership. Retrieved 1 February 2015.
* Davies, Sioned (2007). The
* Gantz, Jeffrey (translator) (1987). The Mabinogion. New York:
Penguin. ISBN 0-14-044322-3 .
* Flemming, Kit (11 February 2010). "
Nicholas Hoult To Star In
Deadline.com . Retrieved 2 March 2011.
* Green, Thomas (2009) . "Jack and Arthur: An Introduction to Jack
Giant Killer" (PDF). Thomas Green.
* Matthews, John (1992). Taliessin, Shamanism and the Bardic
Mysteries of Britain & Ireland. The Aquarian Press.
* Monaghan, Patricia (2004). The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology
and Folklore. Facts on File.
* O'Connor, Mike (2010). Cornish Folk Tales. History Press Limited.
ISBN 9780752450667 .
* Opie, Iona ; Opie, Peter (1992) . The Classic Fairy Tales. Oxford
University Press. ISBN 0-19-211559-6 .
* Rose, Carol (2001). Giants, Monsters, and Dragons. W.W. Norton &
Company. ISBN 0-393-32211-4 .
* Stafford, Jeff (2010). "Jack the
Giant Killer". Turner Classic
Movies. Retrieved 1 December 2010.
* Zipes, Jack , ed. (2000). The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales.
Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-9653635-7-0 .