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
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", 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
Fielding, 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 starring
Kerwin Mathews. The film made extensive use of stop motion in the
manner of Ray Harryhausen.
2.2 The History of Jack and the Giants
3 British giants
4.1 1962 film
4.2 Jack the
5 See also
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
St Michael's Mount home of the Giant
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.
Thor and Skrymir
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
Cilydd makes his way to his cousin Arthur's court at
Cornwall where he demands Olwen as his bride; the beautiful daughter
of the giant
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
his Mantle of Invisibility Gwenn one of the Thirteen Treasures of the
Island of Britain mentioned in two of the branches; or the similar
Caswallawn in the Second Branch. Another parallel is
the Greek demigod Perseus, who was given a magic sword, the winged
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
St Michael's Mount – or Mont
Saint-Michel in Brittany – was related by
Geoffrey of Monmouth in
Historia Regum Britanniae
Historia Regum Britanniae in 1136, and published by Sir Thomas Malory
in 1485 in the fifth chapter of the fifth book of Le Morte
Then came to [King Arthur] an husbandman ... and told him how there
was ... a great giant which had slain, murdered and devoured much
people of the country ... [Arthur journeyed to the Mount, discovered
the giant roasting dead children,] ... and hailed him, saying ...
[A]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 of 1528.
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
Giant Killer, in particular the violently misogynistic character of
Bluebeard ( La Barbe bleue, published 1697) is now believed to
ultimately derive in part from King Mark Conomor, the 6th century
continental ( and probable insular) British King of
Dumnonia, associated in later folklore with both
Cormoran of St
Michael's Mount and
Mont Saint Michel
Mont Saint Michel – the bluebeard (a 'Celtic'
marker of masculinity) is indicative of his otherwordly nature.
The History of Jack and the Giants
"The History of Jack and the Giants" (the earliest known edition) was
published in two parts by J. White of Newcastle in 1711, the Opies
indicate, but was not listed in catalogues or inventories of the
period nor was Jack one of the folk heroes in the repertoire of Robert
Powel (i.e., Martin Powell), a puppeteer established in Covent Garden.
"Jack and the Giants" however is referenced in The Weekly Comedy of 22
January 1708, according to the Opies, and in the tenth number
Terra-Filius in 1721.
The title page from
A Little Pretty Pocket-Book
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
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
Giant Killer", 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
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 & Ireland (1992) that giants are very common throughout
British folklore, and often represent the "original" inhabitants,
ancestors, or gods of the island before the coming of "civilised man",
their gigantic stature reflecting their "otherwordly" nature.
Giants figure prominently in Cornish, Breton and Welsh folklore, and
in common with many animist belief systems, they represent the force
of nature. 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
Cymbeline and King Arthur, other mythical British kings. Carol Rose
reports in Giants, Monsters, and Dragons that the tale of Jack the
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
warrior Corineus, and was killed when
Corineus threw him from a cliff
into the sea:
For it was a diversion to him [Corineus] 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 [Gogmagog], in stature twelve
cubits [6.5 m], 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
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 Cornwall:
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
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
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 Mabinogion).
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
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
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 others, animators 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
that in 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
Channel 4 and The Sci-Fi Channel.
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. [page needed].
^ Gantz 1987, p. 80.
^ a b c d e f g Opie & Opie 1992, pp. 47–50.
^ a b c Zipes 2000, pp. 266–268.
^ Armitage 2012, p. [page needed].
^ Opie & Opie 1992, p. 78.
^ O'Connor 2010, p. [page needed].
^ 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.
Armitage, Simon (2012). The Death of King Arthur. Faber & Faber.
Bettelheim, Bruno (1977) . The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning
and Importance of Fairy Tales. Vintage Books.
CLP staff. "kowr". cornish dictionary, gerlyver kernewek. Cornish
Language Partnership. Retrieved 1 February 2015.
Davies, Sioned (2007). The
Mabinogion trans. [full citation
Gantz, Jeffrey (translator) (1987). The Mabinogion. New York: Penguin.
Flemming, Kit (11 February 2010). "
Nicholas Hoult To Star In 'Jack The
Giant Killer'". 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.
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.
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