Narrative
Tales /märchen

Jack and the Beanstalk

The informant is a Film Production and Biochemistry major at the University of Southern California, where he is in his third year. He is originally from Washington state, and his family moved there from North Dakota. Before North Dakota, his family lived in various parts of Eastern Europe. The informant says that is very much influenced by his grandfather, who is a professional storyteller.

This piece is one of many versions of Jack and the Beanstalk that the informant heard from his grandfather.

“My grandfather told a lot of stories, and he would always begin them like “Just over that hill,” and we lived in the Pacific Northwest so he would always point to this one hill. At least as a kid, that little suspension of disbelief, I suppose just like, you never knew where the story was going to go. He, he loves, you know spinning the same tale over and over again. He about, like 10 different versions of Jack and the Beanstalk. Some of them are like a funnier version of Jack and the Beanstalk, where the bean man is just a swindler, and he just has, like, a very dry sense of humor.”

What’s your favorite version of Jack and the Beanstalk that he’s told you?

“Okay. I think that the version that I always liked was somewhat like the original version, but Jack spent a lot more time up in the clouds, which I think is, you know like, any good story makes you want to search for more than just like the, the, the story that you possibly hear, so it’s the same sort of thing where Jack is, you know, outside and he sells his cow, um, for some magic beans, you know, part of the whole story that he would spin is that Jack had this whole personal relationship with the cow and like he would like, my grandfather would do this thing where Jack would have this whole dialogue with the cow and all the cow would say is “Moo” back. You could like, I don’t know, in the most root form, Jack really cared for this cow and was sad to see the cow go.

You know, it was this whole almost dramatic scene, and so he gets the beans, he goes up to the clouds, and Jack, being mischievous, goes into the house looking for, for gold because his mom’s so poor. Sorry, he’s not mischievous, that’s a different one. He’s going in there to look for food and, like, gold to help with his mom’s situation and he ends up hiding in the oven of the giant, and at first Jack like, then Jack like sees this whole thing play out between the giant being unhappy, and um…so he has five beans.

Sorry, I’m remembering this piece by piece, but um, so Jack like, he’s going to steal from the giant up in the clouds, and he’s about to like take a golden spinning wheel, and then he like has to duck into the oven, and then he sees how unhappy the relationship is, or not unhappy… That there’s something wrong with the relationship between the wife giant and the husband giant, and he like, has this like moment where he decides not to steal the wheel and he goes down the beanstalk again, and he has five beans so this was the first bean that he used.

So he goes back down, and he tells his mom that the beanstalk goes away, because it goes up and then it comes back down and goes back down into the earth. He tells his mom about all of this, like fortunes up in the clouds and the giants and everything. Somehow the word gets to the sultan of the area, and then the sultan wants to go up to the clouds. I can’t remember all the pieces, but Jack has this changing, well he gets duped and he gets his beans taken away, but he has one bean left. And so it’s kind of a moment where he could use that bean as the sultan wants to take gold from the giant, and so Jack can either use that bean to go up and take the gold for himself and go away or he can go up there to let the giant know that the sultan is coming. And so Jack decides to let the giant know that the sultan is coming to take it, and ultimately the bad guy falls off the clouds, and you know, Jack and his mom establish some kind of relationship with the giants.

And I just thought it was a sweet tale of, you know, what misunderstanding can be. And this idea of not treating people as objects, but as people. I don’t know, it was just an interesting story to hear as a kid, and I always liked that version. I don’t know the “original” version of Jack and the Beanstalk, to be absolutely honest.”

Analysis:

I found this piece particularly compelling not just because of the tale itself, but also because the informant’s grandfather told so many version of the same tale. This particular version has a very different message from many Jack and the Beanstalk stories, where the giants were deserving of empathy and Jack did not steal from him. This version is also tied to the Pacific Northwest for the informant, as his grandfather always told the story as if it happened just over that hill over there.

Knowing the informant, it does not surprise me that he likes this version best, as the message in this tale is very much in line with his own personal beliefs. Both the cow and the giants have more complex roles in this version, and the emphasis is on, as the informant says, seeing everyone as real people and not just objects.

For another version of this tale, see feature film Jack the Giant Slayer (2013), directed by Bryan Singer. 

Jack the Giant Slayer. Dir. Bryan Singer. Perf. Nicholas Hoult, Stanley Tucci. New Line Cinema, Legendary Pictures, 2013. DVD.

 

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