Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales | Annotated Tale

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Jack and the Giants

IN THE reign of King Arthur, and in the county of Cornwall, near to the Land's End of England, there lived a wealthy farmer, who had an only son named Jack. He was brisk, and of a lively ready wit, so that whatever he could not perform by force and strength, he accomplished by ingenious wit and policy. Never was any person heard of that could worst him, and he very often even baffled the learned by his sharp and ready inventions.

               In those days the Mount of Cornwall was kept by a huge and monstrous giant of eighteen feet in height, and about three yards in compass, of a fierce and grim countenance, the terror of all the neighbouring towns and villages. He inhabited a cave in the middle of the mount, and he was such a selfish monster that he would not suffer any one to live near him. He fed on other men's cattle, which often became his prey, for whensoever he wanted food, he would wade over to the main land, where he would furnish himself with whatever came in his way. The inhabitants, at his approach, forsook their habitations, while he seized on their cattle, making nothing of carrying half-a-dozen oxen on his back at a time; and as for their sheep and hogs, he would tie them round his waist like a bunch of bandoleers. [1] This course he had followed for many years, so that a great part of the county was impoverished by his depredations.

               This was the state of affairs, when Jack, happening one day to be present at the town-hall when the authorities were consulting about the giant, had the curiosity to ask what reward would be given to the person who destroyed him. The giant's treasure was declared as the recompense, and Jack at once undertook the task.

               In order to accomplish his purpose, he furnished himself with a horn, shovel, and pickaxe, and went over to the Mount in the beginning of a dark winter's evening, when he fell to work, and before morning had dug a pit twenty-two feet deep, and nearly as broad, covering it over with long sticks and straw. Then strewing a little mould upon it, it appeared like plain ground. This accomplished, Jack placed himself on the side of the pit which was furthest from the giant's lodging, and, just at the break of day, he put the horn to his mouth, and blew with all his might, Although Jack was a little fellow, and the powers of his voice are not described as being very great, he managed to make noise enough to arouse the giant, and excite his indignation. The monster accordingly rushed from his cave, exclaiming, "You incorrigible villain, are you come here to disturb my rest? you shall pay dearly for this. Satisfaction I will have, for I will take you whole and broil you for breakfast." He had no sooner uttered this cruel threat, than tumbling into the pit, he made the very foundations of the Mount ring again. "Oh, giant," said Jack, "where are you now? Oh faith, you are gotten now into Lob's Pound, [2] where I will surely plague you for your threatening words: what do you think now of broiling me for your breakfast? will no other diet serve you but poor Jack?" Thus did little Jack tantalize the big giant, as a cat does a mouse when she knows it cannot escape, and when he had tired of that amusement, he gave him a heavy blow with his pickaxe on the very crown of his head, which "tumbled him down," and killed him on the spot. When Jack saw he was dead, he filled up the pit with earth, and went to search the cave, which he found contained much treasure. The magistrates, in the exuberance of their joy, did not add to Jack's gains from their own, but after the best and cheapest mode of payment, made a declaration he should henceforth be termed Jack the Giant-killer, and presented him with a sword and embroidered belt, on the latter of which were inscribed these words in letters of gold:

Here's the right valiant Cornish man,       
Who slew the giant Cormelian.

               The news of Jack's victory, as might be expected, soon spread over all the West of England, so that another giant, named Thunderbore, hearing of it, and entertaining a partiality for his race, vowed to be revenged on the little hero, if ever it was his fortune to light on him. This giant was the lord of an enchanted castle, situated in the midst of a lonely wood. Now Jack, about four months after his last exploit, walking near this castle in his journey towards Wales, being weary, seated himself near a pleasant fountain in the wood, "o'ercanopied with luscious woodbine," and presently fell asleep. While he was enjoying his repose, the giant, coming to the fountain for water, of course discovered him, and recognised the hated individual by the lines written on the belt. He immediately took Jack on his shoulders, and carried him towards his enchanted castle. Now, as they passed through a thicket, the rustling of the boughs awakened Jack, who was uncomfortably surprised to find himself in the clutches of the giant. His terror was not diminished when, on entering the castle, he saw the court-yard strewed with human bones, the giant maliciously telling him his own would ere long increase the hateful pile. After this assurance, the cannibal locked poor Jack in an upper chamber, leaving him there while he went to fetch another giant living in the same wood to keep him company in the anticipated destruction of their enemy. While he was gone, dreadful shrieks and lamentations affrighted Jack, especially a voice which continually cried,—

Do what you can to get away,       
Or you'll become the giant's prey;       
He's gone to fetch his brother, who       
Will kill, and likewise torture you.

               This warning, and the hideous tone in which it was delivered, almost distracted poor Jack, who going to the window, and opening a casement, beheld afar off the two giants approaching towards the castle. "Now," quoth Jack to himself, "my death or my deliverance is at hand." The event proved that his anticipations were well founded, for the giants of those days, however powerful, were at best very stupid fellows, and readily conquered by stratagem, were it of the humblest kind. There happened to be strong cords in the room in which Jack was confined, two of which he took, and made a strong noose at the end of each; and while the giant was unlocking the iron gate of the castle, he threw the ropes over each of their heads, and then, before the giants knew what he was about, he drew the other ends across a beam, and, pulling with all his might, throttled them till they were black in the face. Then, sliding down the rope, he came to their heads, and as they could not defend themselves, easily despatched them with his sword. This business so adroitly accomplished, Jack released the fair prisoners in the castle, delivered the keys to them, and, like a true knight-errant, continued his journey without condescending to improve the condition of his purse.

               This plan, however honorable, was not without its disadvantages, and owing to his slender stock of money, he was obliged to make the best of his way by travelling as hard as he could. At length, losing his road, he was belated, and could not get to any place of entertainment until, coming to a lonesome valley, he found a large house, and by reason of his present necessity, took courage to knock at the gate. But what was his astonishment, when there came forth a monstrous giant with two heads; yet he did not appear so fiery as the others were, for he was a Welsh giant, and what he did was by private and secret malice under the false show of friendship. Jack having unfolded his condition to the giant, was shown into a bedroom, where, in the dead of night, he heard his host in another apartment uttering these formidable words:

Though here you lodge with me this night,       
You shall not see the morning light:       
My club shall dash your brains out quite!

               "Say'st thou so," quoth Jack; "that is like one of your Welsh tricks, yet I hope to be cunning enough for you." He immediately got out of bed, and, feeling about in the dark, found a thick billet of wood, which he laid in the bed in his stead, and hid himself in a dark corner of the room. Shortly after he had done so, in came the Welsh giant, who thoroughly pummelled the billet with his club, thinking, naturally enough, he had broken every bone in Jack's skin. The next morning, however, to the inexpressible surprise of the giant, Jack came down stairs as if nothing had happened, and gave him thanks for his night's lodging. "How have you rested," quoth the giant; "did you not feel anything in the night?" Jack provokingly replied, "No, nothing but a rat which gave me two or three flaps with her tail." This reply was totally incomprehensible to the giant, who of course saw anything but a joke in it. However, concealing his amazement as well as he could, he took Jack in to breakfast, assigning to each a bowl containing four gallons of hasty pudding. One would have thought that the greater portion of so extravagant an allowance would have been declined by our hero, but he was unwilling the giant should imagine his incapability to eat it, and accordingly placed a large leather bag under his loose coat, in such a position that he could convey the pudding into it without the deception being perceived. Breakfast at length being finished, Jack excited the giant's curiosity by offering to show him an extraordinary sleight of hand; so taking a knife, he ripped the leather bag, and out of course descended on the ground all the hasty pudding. The giant had not the slightest suspicion of the trick, veritably believing the pudding came from its natural receptacle; and having the same antipathy to being beaten, exclaimed in true Welsh, "Odds splutters, hur can do that trick hurself." The sequel may be readily guessed. The monster took the knife, and thinking to follow Jack's example with impunity, killed himself on the spot. [3]

               King Arthur's only son requested his father to furnish him with a large sum of money, in order that he might go and seek his fortune in the principality of Wales, where lived a beautiful lady possessed with seven evil spirits. The king tried all he could do to persuade him to alter his determination, but it was all in vain, so at last he granted his request, and the prince set out with two horses, one loaded with money, the other for himself to ride upon. Now, after several days' travel, he came to a market-town in Wales, where he beheld a vast concourse of people gathered together. The prince demanded the reason of it, and was told that they had arrested a corpse for several large sums of money which the deceased owed when he died. The prince replied that it was a pity creditors should be so cruel, and said, "Go bury the dead, and let his creditors come to my lodging, and there their debts shall be discharged." They accordingly came, but in such great numbers, that before night he had almost left himself penniless.

               Now Jack the Giant-killer happened to be in the town while these transactions took place, and he was so pleased with the generosity exhibited by the prince, that he offered to become his servant, an offer which was immediately accepted. The next morning they set forward on their journey, when, as they were just leaving the town, an old woman called after the prince, saying, "He has owed me twopence these seven years; pray pay me as well as the rest." So reasonable and urgent a demand could not be resisted, and the prince immediately discharged the debt, but it took the last penny he had to accomplish it. This event, though generally ridiculed by heroes, was one by no means overlooked by the prince, who required all Jack's assuring eloquence to console him. Jack himself, indeed, had a very poor exchequer, and after their day's refreshment, they were entirely without money. When night drew on, the prince was anxious to secure a lodging, but as they had no means to hire one, Jack said, "Never mind, master, we shall do well enough, for I have an uncle lives within two miles of this place; he is a huge and monstrous giant with three heads; he'll fight five hundred men in armour, and make them flee before him." "Alas!" quoth the prince, "what shall we do there? He'll certainly chop us up at a mouthful. Nay, we are scarce enough to fill his hollow tooth!" "It is no matter for that," quoth Jack; "I myself will go before, and prepare the way for you; therefore tarry and wait till I return." Jack then rides off full speed, and coming to the gate of the castle, he knocked so loud that the neighbouring hills resounded like thunder. The giant, terribly vexed with the liberty taken by Jack, roared out, "Who's there?" He was answered, "None but your poor cousin Jack." Quoth he, "What news with my poor cousin Jack?" He replied, "Dear uncle, heavy news." "God wot," quoth the giant, "prithee what heavy news can come to me? I am a giant with three heads, and besides thou knowest I can fight five hundred men in armour, and make them fly like chaff before the wind." "Oh, but," quoth Jack, "here's the prince a-coming with a thousand men in armour to kill you, and destroy all that you have!" "Oh, cousin Jack," said the giant, "this is heavy news indeed! I will immediately run and hide myself, and thou shalt lock, bolt, and bar me in, and keep the keys till the prince is gone." Jack joyfully complied with the giant's request, and fetching his master, they feasted and made themselves merry whilst the poor giant laid trembling in a vault under ground.

               In the morning, Jack furnished the prince with a fresh supply of gold and silver, and then sent him three miles forward on his journey, concluding, according to the story-book, "he was then pretty well out of the smell of the giant." Jack afterwards returned, and liberated the giant from the vault, who asked what he should give him for preserving the castle from destruction. "Why," quoth Jack, "I desire nothing but the old coat and cap, together with the old rusty sword and slippers which are at your bed's head." Quoth the giant, "Thou shalt have them, and pray keep them for my sake, for they are things of excellent use; the coat will keep you invisible, the cap will furnish you with knowledge, the sword cuts asunder whatever you strike, and the shoes are of extraordinary swiftness. These may be serviceable to you: therefore take them with all my heart."

               Jack was delighted with these useful presents, and having overtaken his master, they quickly arrived at the lady's house, who, finding the prince to be a suitor, prepared a splendid banquet for him. After the repast was concluded, she wiped his mouth with a handkerchief, and then concealed it in her dress, saying, "You must show me that handkerchief to-morrow morning, or else you will lose your head." The prince went to bed in great sorrow at this hard condition, but fortunately Jack's cap of knowledge instructed him how it was to be fulfilled. In the middle of the night she called upon her familiar [4] to carry her to the evil spirit. Jack immediately put on his coat of darkness, and his shoes of swiftness, and was there before her, his coat rendering him invisible. When she entered the lower regions, she gave the handkerchief to the spirit, who laid it upon a shelf, whence Jack took it, and brought it to his master, who showed it to the lady the next day, and so saved his life. The next evening at supper she saluted the prince, telling him he must show her the lips tomorrow morning that she kissed last this night, or lose his head. He replied, "If you kiss none but mine, I will." "That is neither here nor there," said she, "if you do not, death is your portion!" At midnight she went below as before, and was angry with the spirit for letting the handkerchief go: "But now," quoth she, "I will be too hard for the prince, for I will kiss thee, and he is to show me thy lips." She did so, and Jack, who was standing by, cut off the spirit's head, and brought it under his invisible coat to his master, who produced it triumphantly the next morning before the lady. This feat destroyed the enchantment, the evil spirits immediately forsook her, and she appeared still more sweet and lovely, beautiful as she was before. They were married the next morning, and shortly afterwards went to the court of King Arthur, where Jack, for his eminent services, was created one of the knights of the Round Table.

               Our hero, having been successful in all his undertakings, and resolving not to remain idle, but to perform what services he could for the honour of his country, humbly besought his majesty to fit him out with a horse and money to enable him to travel in search of new adventures; for, said he, "there are many giants yet living in the remote part of Wales, to the unspeakable damage of your majesty's subjects; wherefore may it please you to encourage me, I do not doubt but in a short time to cut them off root and branch, and so rid all the realm of those giants and monsters in human shape." We need scarcely say that Jack's generous offer was at once accepted. The king furnished him with the necessary accoutrements, and Jack set out with his magical cap, sword, and shoes, the better to perform the dangerous enterprises which now lay before him.

               After travelling over several hills and mountains, the country through which he passed offering many impediments to travellers, on the third day he arrived at a very large wood, which he had no sooner entered than his ears were assailed with piercing shrieks. Advancing softly towards the place where the cries appeared to proceed from, he was horror-struck at perceiving a huge giant dragging along a fair lady, and a knight her husband, by the hair of their heads, "with as much ease," says the original narrative, "as if they had been a pair of gloves." Jack shed tears of pity on the fate of this hapless couple, but not suffering his feelings to render him neglectful of action, he put on his invisible coat, and taking with him his infallible sword, succeeded, after considerable trouble, and many cuts, to despatch the monster, whose dying groans were so terrible, that they made the whole wood ring again. The courteous knight and his fair lady were overpowered with gratitude, and, after returning Jack their best thanks, they invited him to their residence, there to recruit his strength after the frightful encounter, and receive more substantial demonstrations of their obligations to him. Jack, however, declared that he would not rest until he had found out the giant's habitation. The knight, on hearing this determination, was very sorrowful, and replied, "Noble stranger, it is too much to run a second hazard: this monster lived in a den under yonder mountain, with a brother more fierce and cruel than himself. Therefore, if you should go thither, and perish in the attempt, it would be a heart-breaking to me and my lady: let me persuade you to go with us, and desist from any further pursuit." The knight's reasoning had the very opposite effect that was intended, for Jack, hearing of another giant, eagerly embraced the opportunity of displaying his skill, promising, however, to return to the knight when he had accomplished his second labour.

               He had not ridden more than a mile and a half, when the cave mentioned by the knight appeared to view, near the entrance of which he beheld the giant, sitting upon a block of timber, with a knotted iron club by his side, waiting, as he supposed, for his brother's return with his barbarous prey. This giant is described as having "goggle eyes like flames of fire, a countenance grim and ugly, cheeks like a couple of large flitches of bacon, the bristles of his beard resembling rods of iron wire, and locks that hung down upon his brawny shoulders like curled snakes or hissing adders." Jack alighted from his horse, and putting on the invisible coat, approached near the giant, and said softly, "Oh! are you there? it will not be long ere I shall take you fast by the beard." The giant all this while could not see him, on account of his invisible coat, so that Jack, coming up close to the monster, struck a blow with his sword at his head, but unfortunately missing his aim, he cut off the nose instead. The giant, as we may suppose, "roared like claps of thunder," and began to lay about him in all directions with his iron club so desperately, that even Jack was frightened, but exercising his usual ingenuity, he soon despatched him. After this, Jack cut off the giant's head, and sent it, together with that of his brother, to King Arthur, by a waggoner he hired for that purpose, who gave an account of all his wonderful proceedings.

               The redoubtable Jack next proceeded to search the giant's cave in search of his treasure, and passing along through a great many winding passages, he came at length to a large room paved with freestone, at the upper end of which was a boiling caldron, and on the right hand a large table, at which the giants usually dined. After passing this dining-room, he came to a large and well-secured den filled with human captives, who were fattened and taken at intervals for food, as we do poultry. Jack set the poor prisoners at liberty, and, to compensate them for their sufferings and dreadful anticipations, shared the giant's treasure equally amongst them, and sent them to their homes overjoyed at their unexpected deliverance.

               It was about sunrise when Jack, after the conclusion of this adventure, having had a good night's rest, mounted his horse to proceed on his journey, and, by the help of directions, reached the knight's house about noon. He was received with the most extraordinary demonstrations of joy, and his kind host, out of respect to Jack, prepared a feast which lasted many days, all the nobility and gentry in the neighbourhood being invited to it. The knight related the hero's adventures to his assembled guests, and presented him with a beautiful ring, on which was engraved a representation of the giant dragging the distressed knight and his lady, with this motto:

We were in sad distress you see,         
     Under the giant's fierce command,       
But gain'd our lives and liberty         
     By valiant Jack's victorious hand.

               But earthly happiness is not generally of long duration, and so in some respects it proved on the present occasion, for in the midst of the festivities arrived a messenger with the dismal intelligence that one Thunderdell, a giant with two heads, having heard of the death of his two kinsmen, came from the north to be revenged on Jack, and was already within a mile of the knight's house, the country people flying before him in all directions. The intelligence had no effect on the dauntless Jack, who immediately said, "Let him come! I have a tool to pick his teeth;" and with this elegant assertion, he invited the guests to witness his performance from a high terrace in the garden of the castle.

               It is now necessary to inform the reader that the knight's house or castle was situated in an island encompassed with a moat thirty feet deep, and twenty feet wide, passable by a drawbridge. Now Jack, intending to accomplish his purpose by a clever stratagem, employed men to cut through this drawbridge on both sides nearly to the middle; and then, dressing himself in his invisible coat, he marched against the giant with his well-tried sword. As he approached his adversary, although invisible, the giant, being, as it appears, an epicure in such matters, was aware of his approach, and exclaimed, in a fearful tone of voice—

Fi, fee, fo, fum! [5]         
     I smell the blood of an English man!       
Be he alive or be he dead,         
     I'll grind his bones to make me bread!

               "Say you so," said Jack; "then you are a monstrous miller indeed." The giant, deeply incensed, replied, "Art thou that villain who killed my kinsman? then I will tear thee with my teeth, and grind thy bones to powder." "But," says Jack, still provoking him, "you must catch me first, if you please:" so putting aside his invisible coat, so that the giant might see him, and putting on his wonderful shoes, he enticed him into a chase by just approaching near enough to give him an apparent chance of capture. The giant, we are told, "followed like a walking castle, so that the very foundations of the earth seemed to shake at every step." Jack led him a good distance, in order that the wondering guests at the castle might see him to advantage, but at last, to end the matter, he ran over the drawbridge, the giant pursuing him with his club; but coming to the place where the bridge was cut, the giant's great weight burst it asunder, and he was precipitated into the moat, where he rolled about, says the author, "like a vast whale." While the monster was in this condition, Jack sadly bantered him about the boast he had made of grinding his bones to powder, but at length, having teased him sufficiently, a cart-rope was cast over the two heads of the giant, and he was drawn ashore by a team of horses, where Jack served him as he had done his relatives, cut off his heads, and sent them to King Arthur.

               It would seem that the giant-killer rested a short time after this adventure, but he was soon tired of inactivity, and again went in search of another giant, the last whose head he was destined to chop off. After passing a long distance, he came at length to a large mountain, at the foot of which was a very lonely house. Knocking at the door, it was opened by "an ancient [6] man, with a head as white as snow," who received Jack very courteously, and at once consented to his request for a lodging. Whilst they were at supper, the old man, who appears to have known more than was suspected, thus addressed the hero: "Son, I am sensible you are a conqueror of giants, and I therefore inform you that on the top of this mountain is an enchanted castle, maintained by a giant named Galligantus, who, by the help of a conjuror, gets many knights into his castle, where they are transformed into sundry shapes and forms: but, above all, I especially lament a duke's daughter, whom they took from her father's garden, bringing her through the air in a chariot drawn by fiery dragons, and securing her within the castle walls, transformed her into the shape of a hind. Now, though a great many knights have endeavoured to break the enchantment, and work her deliverance, yet no one has been able to accomplish it, on account of two fiery griffins which are placed at the gate, and which destroyed them at their approach; but you, my son, being furnished with an invisible coat, may pass by them undiscovered, and on the gates of the castle you will find engraven in large characters by what means the enchantment may be broken." The undaunted Jack at once accepted the commission, and pledged his faith to the old man to proceed early in the morning on this new adventure.

               In the morning, as soon as it was daylight, Jack put on his invisible coat, and prepared himself for the enterprise. When he had reached the top of the mountain, he discovered the two fiery griffins, but, being invisible, he passed them without the slightest danger. When he had reached the gate of the castle, he noticed a golden trumpet attached to it, under which were written in large characters the following lines:

Whoever doth this trumpet blow, [7]       
Shall soon the giant overthrow,       
And break the black enchantment straight,       
So all shall be in happy state.

               Jack at once accepted the challenge, and putting the trumpet to his mouth, gave a blast that made the hills re-echo. The castle trembled to its foundations, and the giant and conjuror were overstricken with fear, knowing that the reign of their enchantments was at an end. The former was speedily slain by Jack, but the conjuror, mounting up into the air, was carried away in a whirlwind, and never heard of more. The enchantments were immediately broken, and all the lords and ladies, who had so long been cruelly transformed, were standing on the native earth in their natural shapes, the castle having vanished with the conjuror.

               The only relic of the giant which was left was the head, which Jack cut off in the first instance, and which we must suppose rolled away from the influence of the enchanted castle, or it would have "vanished into thin air" with the body. It was fortunate that it did so, for it proved an inestimable trophy at the court of King Arthur, where Jack the Giant-killer was shortly afterwards united to the duke's daughter whom he had freed from enchantment, "not only to the joy of the court, but of all the kingdom." To complete his happiness, he was endowed with a noble house and estates, and his penchant for giant-killing having subsided, or, what is more probable, no more monsters appearing to interrupt his tranquillity, he accomplished the usual conclusion to these romantic narratives, by passing the remainder of his life in the enjoyment of every domestic felicity.


The present copy of this tale is taken, with a few necessary alterations, from the original editions, which differ very considerably from the modern versions; and it is worthy of preservation in its antique costume, for the story is undoubtedly of Teutonic origin. "Jack, commonly called the Giant Killer," says Sir W. Scott, "and Thomas Thumb landed in England from the very same keels and war-ships which conveyed Hengist and Horsa, and Ebba the Saxon." One incident in the romance exactly corresponds to a device played by the giant Skrimner, when he and Thor travelled to Utgard Castle, related in the Edda of Snorro. Skrimner placed an immense rock on the leafy couch where Thor supposed he was sleeping, and when the latter, desiring to rid himself of his companion, heard the giant snore, he struck the rock with his tremendous hammer, thinking it was the monster's head. "Hath a leaf fallen upon me from the tree?" exclaimed the awakened giant. He went to sleep again, and snoring louder than ever, Thor gave a blow which he thought must have cracked his skull. "What is the matter?" quoth Skrimner, "hath an acorn fallen on my head?" A third time the snore was heard, and a third time the hammer fell with redoubled force, insomuch that Thor weened the iron had buried itself in Skrimner's temples. "Methinks," quoth the giant, rubbing his cheek, "some moss hath fallen on my face!" Jack's invisible coat, his magic sword, and his shoes of swiftness, are also undoubtedly borrowed from Northern romance. [8]

               An incident very similar to the blows with the rat's tail occurs in the story of the Brave Little Tailor, in Grimm; who outwits a giant in several ingenious ways, one of which may be described. On one occasion the giant wished to try the strength of the tailor, by challenging him to carry a tree. The latter said, "Very well, you carry the butt-end, while I will carry all the branches, by far the heaviest part of the tree." So the giant lifted the tree up on his shoulders, and the tailor very coolly sat on the branches while the giant carried the tree. At length he was so tired with his load, he was obliged to drop it, and the tailor, nimbly jumping off, made belief as if he had been carrying the branches all the time, and said: "A pretty fellow you are, that can't carry a tree!"

               The edition of Jack the Giant-killer here used was printed at Newcastle-on-Tyne in 1711. The earliest in the British Museum is dated 1809, nor does the Bodleian, I believe, contain a copy of a more ancient type.

               Jack and the Bean-stalk may be added to the series of English nursery-tales derived from the Teutonic. The bean-stalk is a descendant of the wonderful ash in the Edda. The distich put into the mouth of the giant,

Snouk but, snouk ben,       
I find the smell of earthly men;

is, says Scott, scarcely inferior to the keen-scented anthropophaginian in Jack the Giant-killer.

               I have alluded to the quotation from this primitive romance made by Shakespeare in King Lear, but if the story of Rowland, published by Mr. Jamieson, is to be trusted, it would seem that the great dramatist was indebted to a ballad of the time. This position would, however, compel us to adopt the belief that the words of the giant are also taken from the ballad; a supposition to which I am most unwilling to assent. In fact, I believe that Edgar quotes from two different compositions, the first line from a ballad on Rowland, the second from Jack and the Giants. "And Rowland into the castle came" is a line in the second ballad of Rosmer Hafmand, or the Merman Rosmer, in the Danish Koempe Viser, p. 165. The story alluded to above may be briefly given as follows.

               The sons of King Arthur were playing at ball in the merry town of Carlisle, and their sister, "Burd [9] Ellen" was in the midst of them. Now it happened that Child Rowland gave the ball such a powerful kick with his foot that "o'er the kirk he gar'd it flee." Burd Ellen went round about in search of the ball, but what was the consternation of her brothers when they found that she did not return, although "they bade lang and ay langer,"—

They sought her east, they sought her west,         
They sought her up and down;       
And wae were the hearts in merry Carlisle,         
For she was nae gait found.

               At last her eldest brother went to the Warlock or Wizard Merlin, and asked him if he knew where his sister, the fair Burd Ellen, was. "The fair Burd Ellen," said the Warlock Merlin, "is carried away by the fairies, and is now in the castle of the King of Elfland; and it were too bold an undertaking for the stoutest knight in Christendom to bring her back." The brother, however, insisted upon undertaking the enterprise, and after receiving proper instructions from Merlin, which he failed in observing, he set out on his perilous expedition, and was never more seen.

               The other brothers took the same course, and shared a similar fate, till it came to the turn of Child Rowland, who with great difficulty obtained the consent of his mother, for Queen Guinever began to be afraid of losing all her children. Rowland, having received her blessing, girt on his father's celebrated sword Excaliber, that never struck in vain, and repaired to Merlin's cave. The wizard gave him all necessary instructions for his journey and conduct, the most important of which were that he should kill every person he met with after entering the land of Faerie, and should neither eat nor drink of what was offered him in that country, whatever his hunger or thirst might be; for if he tasted or touched in Elfland, he must remain in the power of the elves, and never see middle-earth again.

               Child Rowland faithfully promised to observe the instructions of Merlin, and he accordingly went to Elfland, where he found, as the wizard had foretold, the king's horseherd feeding his horses. "Canst thou tell me," said Rowland, "where the castle of the king of Elfland is?" "I cannot," replied the horseherd, "but go a little further, and thou wilt come to a cowherd, and perhaps he will know." When he had made this answer, Rowland, remembering his instructions, took his good sword, and cut off the head of the horseherd. He then went a little further, and met with a cowherd, to whom he repeated the same question, and obtained the same answer. Child Rowland then cut off the cowherd's head, and having pursued exactly the same course with a shepherd, goatherd, and a swineherd, he is referred by the last to a hen-wife, who, in reply to his question, said, "Go on yet a little farther till you come to a round green hill, surrounded with terraces from the bottom to the top: go round it three times widershins, [10] and every time say, "Open door, open door, and let me come in!' and the third time the door will open, and you may go in." Child Rowland immediately cut off the hen-wife's head in return for her intelligence, and following her directions, a door in the hill opened, and he went in. As soon as he entered, the door closed behind him, and he traversed a long passage, which was dimly but pleasantly lighted by crystallized rock, till he came to two wide and lofty folding-doors, which stood ajar. He opened them, and entered an immense hall, which seemed nearly as big as the hill itself. It was the most magnificent apartment in all the land of Faerie, for the pillars were of gold and silver, and the keystones ornamented with clusters of diamonds. A gold chain hung from the middle of the roof, supporting an enormous lamp composed of one hollowed transparent pearl, in the midst of which was a large magical carbuncle that beautifully illumined the whole of the hall.

               At the upper end of the hall, seated on a splendid sofa, under a rich canopy, was his sister the Burd Ellen, "kembing her yellow hair wi' a silver kemb," who immediately perceiving him, was sorrow-struck at the anticipation of his being destroyed by the king of Elfland,—

And hear ye this, my youngest brither,         
Why badena ye not at hame?       
Had ye a hunder and thousand lives,         
Ye canna brook ane o' them.

               And she informs him that he will certainly lose his life if the king finds him in the hall. A long conversation then takes place, and Rowland tells her all his adventures, concluding his narrative with the observation that, after his long journey, he is very hungry.

               On this the Burd Ellen shook her head, and looked sorrowfully at him; but, impelled by her enchantment, she rose up, and procured him a golden bowl full of bread and milk. It was then that the Child Rowland remembered the instructions of the Warlock Merlin, and he passionately exclaimed, "Burd Ellen, I will neither eat nor drink till I set thee free!" Immediately this speech was uttered, the folding-doors of the hall burst open with tremendous violence, and in came the king of Elfland,—

With, Fe, fi, fo, fum,       
I smell the blood of a Christian man!       
Be he dead, be he living, wi' my brand       
I'll clash his harns frae his harn-pan! [11]

               "Strike, then, Bogle, if thou darest," exclaimed the undaunted Child Rowland, and a furious combat ensued, but Rowland, by the help of his good sword, conquered the elf-king, sparing his life on condition that he would restore to him his two brothers and sister. The king joyfully consented, and having disenchanted them by the anointment of a bright red liquor, they all four returned in triumph to merry Carlisle.


[1] Bandoleers were little wooden cases covered with leather, each of them containing the charge of powder for a musket, and fastened to a broad band of leather, which the person who was to use them put round his neck.

[2] An old jocular term for a prison, or any place of confinement.

[3]  The foregoing portion of this wonderful history is that most generally known; but the incidents now become more complicated, and after the introduction of Arthur's son upon the scene, we arrive at particulars which have long been banished from the nursery library.

[4]  An attendant spirit.

[5] These lines are quoted by Edgar in the tragedy of King Lear.

[6]  An old man.

[7]  Variations of this incident are found in romances of all nations.

[8]  The last is also found in the second relation of Ssidi Kur, a Calmuck romance.

[9]  It is almost unnecessary to observe that burd was an ancient term for lady.

[10] The contrary way to the course of the sun.

[11]  Literally, "I will dash his brains from his skull with my sword."

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Jack and the Giants
Tale Author/Editor: Halliwell, James Orchard
Book Title: Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales
Book Author/Editor: Halliwell, James Orchard
Publisher: John Russell Smith
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1849
Country of Origin: England
Classification: ATU 328: The Boy Steals the Ogre's Treasure

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