Tag Archives: giant

Paul Bunyan: A folk tale hero


“I think what’s not talked about a lot is Paul Bunyan.” The informant grew a smile on their face. “Paul Bunyan is an American folk tale. It’s just a guy that’s really big. So it’s this really big guy and he lives in the sort of upper-Midwest of the United States– near Canada, Minnesota. That area. And he has this big blue ox named Babe that he saved from the snow of one cold winter. That’s his pet.”

They looked up in thought for a moment. “There’s not really a single tale, he just is a folk figure. He was born big and then grew up to be even bigger. Once he was an adult he became a lumberjack, so he wore plaid and looked like, you know, the basic lumberjack with an axe made for his size. And by virtue of being big, he was very good at being a lumberjack. “

People don’t think of America having folk tales like that, but we do! And Paul Bunyan is the biggest one.”


“I don’t think of Paul Bunyan a lot, and the area he exists in isn’t one I’m particularly used to. I just have an appreciation knowing that he’s a specifically American thing.”

“I don’t remember specifically, but it’s a piece of Americana that you just absorb over time simply by being raised in the United States. Kind of like Uncle Sam and John Henry. It was just cultural osmosis.”

“He’s very much just representative of the lumberjacking culture. It’s an interesting folk tale because it’s something that was uniquely American. Folk tales are representative of the culture and Paul Bunyan uniquely represents individualism, the rugged American spirit, being self-made, and all ‘I pulled myself up by my boot straps.'”


I believe Paul Bunyan is very much representative of an average man with potential that’s larger than life. I think that a very important aspect of his character is the fact that, despite being so large and strong, his choice of work is very humble and is a huge part of his identity, marking its importance. It’s this aspect of him that makes him strangely relatable and human. Personally, I’m aware of Paul Bunyan’s tale being a result of fakelore– as it was created by lumberjacking companies, but the fact that my informant wasn’t aware of this, makes me think about the effectiveness of the tale. Maybe, since Paul Bunyan is representative of the American spirit, there’s something to say about the commercial value behind him.


IN: Okay, so far away in a village in Africa, uhm there was a giant by the name of Abiyoyo. For some reason, he got angry and started rampaging, like towards the village of people. Until this little boy decided to take this guitar and start singing, “abiyoyo, abiyoyo, abiyoyo..” and all of the villagers joined in and it started to make him get happy. The giant started dancing, and he and the boy walked into the sunset singing the song.

JJ: Does abiyoyo mean anything? Or did it start to mean anything after?

IN: No, as far as I know it was just kind of arbitrary, like a cool sounding word. It could mean something I guess.

Context: During a slow work shift I asked the informant if he remembered any folktales from his childhood.

Background: The informant is s South-African American. This was a story his father used to always tell him before bed. It is one of the few ways that his family actively passed down their African heritage to him in the States, so this was a significant story to him growing up.

Analysis: In this tale, we see music as a healing tool and important instrument in society. Music is a huge piece in African culture, and this story undoubtedly expresses that. Music has the ability to calm and tranquilize even a beastly giant, and gives reason for little kids to learn instruments and develop and explain interest in music.


Saint Christopher Medallion

Informant – “When I was being raised, Saint Christopher was an important saint. All of us, the kids, got medals, little medallions that we wore, that were Saint Christopher medals. Saint Christopher was the patron saint of travelers.
Now Christopher means Christ carrier. And the legend is that he was a big person, almost a giant, and he came upon a little boy on the bank of a stream and the little boy asked him to please carry him over to the other side. And so Christopher said sure and proceeded to carry him on his shoulders across the river, and as he went further and the water got deeper the boy got heavier and heavier, and it took all his strength, and when he finally reached the shore, exhausted, he asked the child ‘My gosh how could you weigh so much?’ And the child revealed that he was really Christ and that he was carrying the weight of the world. And then he disappeared.”

Informant – “I grew up with it. And while I was growing up, Christopher was touted as being a real person, but more recent research has found that there is no real record of his existence. The first mention of him was like 3 centuries after he supposedly existed. So they say he’s pretty much a legend.

JK – “What were the medallions for?”

Informant – “It was really a religious good luck charm. It was supposed to protect us from the travails of travels and journeys and all that.”

There is an interesting connection between the medallion and the story. One wears a medallion around one’s neck. You feel the weight at the back of the neck – the same place where you would feel the most weight if you were carrying someone on your shoulders.

Minggan the Giant

Background: Y.G.M. is a 49-year-old Filipino woman who works at Nye Partners in Women’s Health as the office manager. She was born and raised in Quezon City in the Philippines, and lived there until she was 25 years old. Y.G.M. self-identifies as Filipino, and as a result of her upbringing, Filipino culture is very engrained into her personal beliefs. She attended college at Mirian College, and received a bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts. Y.G.M. then immigrated to Chicago, Illinois with her family in 1997, and got her first job working at Citibank in River Forest, Illinois. She now lives with her husband in a suburb of Chicago.


Main piece:

Y.G.M.: So Minggan is also like a mythological creature and he’s a giant that lived in the Sierra Madre mountains which is up north in the Philippines and it was believed that he was in love with um a mountain goddess called Mariang Sinukuan. From time to time he would be in the mountains and um, he Mariang Sinukuan, the goddess, wanted to put him to a test and he could only win her heart if he would pass that test. Um – she wanted him to stop the river from flowing so they can build a pond in the mountains but Minggan failed the test.


Q: How could he have completed this test?  What was he supposed to do?


Y.G.M.: He was supposed to, um, create.  He was supposed to stop the river from flowing and build a pond in the mountains so she can be with all the living things that live under water. He was supposed to complete it before evening.


Performance Context: This story would typically be told to Filipino children to teach them more about Filipino folklore and legends.


My Thoughts: There are many stories throughout all of world folklore where there is a plotline involving a series of trials that the protagonist must pass in order to succeed, as in this legend. This idea of trials is a common motif and plotline that can be found in many folktales and myths. This element can be noted in Propp’s 31 Functions as well as in the ATU.


For another version of this story, please see Page 34 of Tales from the 7,000 Isles: Filipino Folk Stories: Filipino Folk Stories, written by Dianne de Las Casas and Zarah C. Gagatiga.

Casas, Dianne De Las, and Zarah C. Gagatiga. Tales From the 7,000 Isles: Filipino Folk Stories (Tales From the Seven Thousand Isles). N.p.: Libraries Unlimited Incorporated, 2011. Print.

The Clever Boy

Once there was a boy who worked for a giant. It was a very hard job. The giant had a great big ox that made a horrible mess, and the boy had constantly to sweep out after the ox, and he still couldn’t keep the place clean. The giant was always bawling him out.

One day when he’d worked especially hard, the boy got a bright idea. He took a cork and pushed it into the ox’s rear end. In the morning the giant came to inspect the barn, and found everything nice and clean, but he couldn’t understand why the ox was so fat, or why it wouldn’t eat.

“Perhaps you’d better take a look, Pop,” said the boy.

“Perhaps I should,” answered the giant, and started his examination. When he got to the tail, he lifted it up, causing the cork to fly out of the ox’s behind. It hit the giant right in the temple so hard that he died on the spot and was buried under the manure.

The boy took over everything the giant owned and lived there happily for the rest of his days.


This narrative was taken from a collection of Swedish folktales, in which many of the stories featured bumbling, boisterous giants who posed problems for the humans. In some way, the human would always outsmart the giant and kill him or steal his riches. The tales, especially “The Clever Boy,” highlight the skill of those who appear underprivileged at first glance. What chance does a small boy have against a giant, who in this story and many others, is extremely wealthy and powerful? The answer is stressed in the title; with his cleverness and manipulation, the hero is able to thwart the giant and demonstrate the important of brains over brawn.

Furthermore, the giant himself would stand in for an abusive authority figure perhaps, particularly one who was corrupt and much richer than the rest of the townsfolk, who could pride themselves on nothing else but the cleverness they carried with them. It’s a typical triumphant tale of underdog beats bully, only with Nordic characters.

There is also quite a bit of humor in these tales, no matter if they are long or short. “The Clever Boy” features an ox’s behind and the giant dying in a pile of manure. We still have bathroom jokes and tales to this day, because as perverse and immature as they may be, they can still be funny, especially to those whom the stories are aimed at. Children would be satisfied and gleeful at this ending, in which the boy gets out of doing chores, something which they also probably dream about, and makes the authority figure die in a very undignified way. The boy even calls the giant, “Pop,” a term that’s too familiar for a employer-worker relationship, but very applicable in a parent-child one. Thus the children instantly see themselves as the hero and may strive to outsmart the giants in their lives, also known as their parents. All these features combined make the story a memorable one and lets it stand out from the other hero vs. giant tales.


Collected from:

Blecher, Lone Thygesen and Blecher, George. Swedish Folktales and Legends. New York: Pantheon Books, 1993. Print.