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Literature / Jack the Giant Killer

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"Jack the Giant Killer" is a British folktale about a youth named Jack who kills giants. It came into existence as a chapbook printed as "The History of Jack and the Giants" in 1711, which fused various older giant-killing tales into one narrative (which is why the story is longer and more episodic than a typical folktale).

The Cornish Jack slays his first giant using a pit trap and a pickaxe, gaining him reputation amongst the nearby village. Following this he sets off on a series of challenges, encountering a giant named Blunderbore who he strangles with a cord. The third encounter is with a Welsh giant, who tries to kill Jack while he is resting at his castle. Jack is able to trick this giant, however, and manages to get him to stab himself at breakfast. In the fourth encounter, Jack uses his coat of invisibility, which he received in the castle of the third giant, to attack a giant and his brother with impunity. The final encounter is with the giant Galligantus, whom he first scares with a blast on a magic trumpet, then cuts off his head and sends it to King Arthur. Jack is rewarded by receiving Arthur's daughter's hand in marriage.

The story has similar themes with the British "Jack and the Beanstalk" and also the German "The Brave Little Tailor" recorded by The Brothers Grimm. Some versions include the "Fee-fie-fo-fum" chant more popularly known through the Beanstalk story. Its themes can be traced to the British (and more broadly European) body of folklore and legend. This can be seen in The History of the Kings of Britain, where the legendary Corineus fought giants and lent his name to Cornwall and the Cornish.

It was loosely adapted into a 1962 film of the same name. The 2013 film Jack the Giant Slayer alludes to this with its title, but is based on the Beanstalk story.

Tropes in "Jack the Giant Killer":

  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: It's a story about a man named Jack who kills giants.
  • Guile Hero: Since Jack obviously couldn't defeat the giants in a straight fight, he had to use different tricks to get the best of each.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The man-eating Cornish and Welsh giants of the story. Blunderbore also tries to force his human brides to eat the bodies of his victims.