The story of "Jack and the Beanstalk" seems to be an amalgamation of many of the giant-killing stories such as "Jack the Giant Killer" (which has its links to Arthurian lore), and the tale of "The Brave Little Tailor". A 2016 Linguistic study traces its roots to at least 3500 B.C.E. as 'The Boy Steals The Ogre's Treasure' making it one of the oldest continuously told tales in all of history.Jack and his widowed mother are a poor family with nothing to their name but the family cow. When the last of their money finally runs out Jack's mother sends him into town to sell their cow at the local village. On the way, however, Jack meets a mysterious stranger who offers him five magic beans in exchange for the cow. Jack accepts the offer and brings the beans home to his mother. Needless to say she is furious and throws the beans out the window. Overnight the beans grow into a massive beanstalk that stretches onwards up into the clouds. Jack decides to climb the beanstalk and when he reaches the top finds a massive castle. He sneaks into the castle to find that it is the home to a Giant, who says:
I smell the blood of an Englishman.
Be he 'live, or be he dead,
I'll grind his bones to make my bread.
This folk tale provides examples of:
- Adapted Out: A lot of adaptations tend to leave the Giant's wife out.
- Anti-Hero: However you look at it, the protagonist goes from gullible fool to thief to killer (albeit in self-defense) over the course of the story.
- Deconstruction: Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods, Brian Henson's Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story and Terry Pratchett's Hogfather all have a go at Jack.
- Disney Villain Death: Jack kills the Giant by cutting down the beanstalk, making the Giant fall to his death.
- Floating Continent: The Giant's cloud castle.
- I'm a Humanitarian: Perhaps the giant and the witch from "Hansel and Gretel" swap recipes.
- The Nose Knows
- Space Elevator: The magic beanstalk.
- Mysterious Benefactor: The man with the beans.
- Our Giants Are Bigger
- Rule of Three: Gold, Goose and Harp.
- Wealthy Ever After
- Giant Food
Adaptations with their own trope pages include:
- Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story
- Into the Woods, a Stephen Sondheim musical that combines it with several other fairy stories
- Fun and Fancy Free: The Disney version, with a certain mouse playing the part of Jack.
- Gigantic: Another Disney film. This time it's an All-CGI Cartoon musical involving a human Jack helping a 60-foot 11-year-old girl find her home.
- Jack to Mame no Ki: Anime version of the story from the late '70s.
- Puss in Boots: The Shrek Spin-Off has Puss involved in a plot to get the magic beans and use them to get the goose that lays gold eggs.
- Although not a true adaptation, this Jack is a supporting character and love interest in Rapunzel's Revenge.
- Alluded to in the Green Bean Casserole episode of Good Eats. The Giant is upset with Alton, but is appeased by Alton's casserole. Apparently, the Giant is also something of a Henpecked Husband.
- The 2013 film Jack the Giant Slayer.
- The original Harvest Moon game had a part where you could grow a giant beanstalk. This led to fans calling the protagonist, and almost every other male protagonist, "Jack" — despite the fact that his Canon Name is "Pete".
- Fragments of the tale appear in Once Upon a Time, where Prince Charming and a gender-bent Jack climb the beanstalk in order to rob the giants and kill them all and the last surviving giant is a human-enthusiast. The Beanstalk still stands in the middle of the enchanted forest long after the events of the tale have passed.
- The Doctor Who Expanded Universe book Time Lord Fairy Tales retells this as "Jack and the Wormhole", in which Jack is more of a straight-up hero as the story is also a Twice Told Tale retelling of the Fourth Doctor serial "The Horns of Nimon".
- Jack is also the title character in the sixth Dark Parables game, Jack and the Sky Kingdom, which paints him as something of a Robin Hood-wannabe and a Lovable Rogue. He assists the Fairy Tale Detective in getting to the Sky Kingdom via the beanstalk, as he left something rather important there when he went treasure hunting there ten years earlier. That something would be his fiancee, Emma. Like all of the Dark Parables, the story connects multiple fairy tales; in this case, Jack's story is joined to that of Rumpelstiltskin and also Tom Thumb. He later returns to also be part of the action in the tenth game, Goldilocks and the Fallen Star.
- Nursery Crime's hero Jack Sprat is a "Person of Dubious Reality (PDR)" who is both the giant killer and the Jack Sprat who "ate no fat," which he has kept secret from his family and friends. When asked why his role spans two nursery rhymes, he says that it's a matter of economy. Throughout the book he also regularly points out that only one of the giants he killed was an actual giant; the rest were just tall.