the fairy talesthe mythsentrancepinocchioetcetera

jack and the beanstalk

Return to the fairy tales - book one


A retelling by J. Kearns

Jack was on his way to market to sell a cow when he met a man who pulled from his pocket some beans and said, "Jack, do you see these beans? These are exceptional beans. They are wonderful, marvelous, amazing beans. They are worth far more than that cow here that you are planning to sell at market...You won't regret it if you exchange your cow for my beans. It will be the smartest thing you've ever done, because these beans are special enough that they could make you and your mother very rich." And this sounded good to Jack.

t would be wonderful if every little boy and girl in the world had both a mother and father. Actually, every little boy and girl in the world does have a mother and father, because in order for a child to be made there must be both a mother and a father. But, not every child grows up with both a mother and a father around. In fact, now that I think about it, perhaps it shouldn't be considered especially lucky and wonderful for boys and girls to grow up with both a mother and a father. No, what makes little boys and girls lucky is for them to grow up with people who love them.  That is what is important.
Jack had both a mother and father when he was born, but when he was older his father died, which meant his mother became a widow, for a woman whose husband has died is known as a widow. Jack's father had not cared very much for Jack. He would have rathered that Jack be interested in sports and hunting, but Jack didn't care for sports or hunting. On top of that, Jack wasn't especially tall and he didn't have a lot of big muscles. Jack's father was the type who liked boys to be tall and have lots of big muscles, so he rather thought of Jack as being a runt, just like mother dogs have lots of puppies and the last in the litter may be smaller than the rest and known as the runt. It won't do to think of Jack as being like a puppy dog, but this is kind of how Jack's father saw him, as being the runt, even though he had no brothers and sisters.
Jack and his mother were very poor and lived in a small shack, but Jack loved his mother and his mother loved him and the warmth of their affection for each other made the shack seem to them sometimes a little nicer than it was. Still, Jack's mother wished she had more to give her son, and Jack wished life had been somewhat easier for his mother, for, despite her smiles, she always seemed to Jack to be very sad and he thought this must be because they were poor.


To be poor is certainly nothing to be ashamed of. Many people say that having money does not make one any happier, and some even say that money only brings misery. The fact may be that money can not make you any happier if you aren't at peace with yourself, but, as another saying goes, money oils the machine. In other words, it makes life easier. Everyone should have food, shelter, clothing and education, and not everyone does. There's lots and lots of money in the world, but a lot of people have hardly any money, while a small number of people have most of it.
Jack and his mother were so poor that they couldn't afford to heat their shack every day during the winter, and the winter that this story is concerned with was a particularly hard one. It was very, very cold, and Jack's mother became sick. She was so sick she could no longer work. Jack was still a boy and too young to even think about getting a job. They became about as dreadfully poor as you can get. You know how thin a sheet of paper is? Well, how thin a sheet of paper is, that's how close Jack and his mother were to having no home whatsoever. They didn't even have any food, and not having good food can make you very sick.
Jack and his mother did have one thing left. They had a cow. I bet you're wondering why, if they needed the food, didn't they just butcher the cow and eat its meat? Jack's mother knew if they did this, then very soon they would have eaten all the meat and they would have nothing left at all. On the other hand, she thought if they sold the cow, they would have money to spend on a little food, and perhaps they would be able also to spend a little money on something else which could turn around and make them a little income. For instance, with a little of the money she could buy, let's say, a few beads and she could string them together and make a simple necklace, and then sell the necklace for more than the beads cost, which means that they would make a small profit. So, Jack's mother one morning called her son over to her bed and said to him, "Jack, I'm too weak to go myself, so I want you to take the cow to market for me and sell her."
Maybe if Jack's mother had told him her plans to use a little of the money from the sale of the cow to buy some beads, he wouldn't have done what he ended up doing with the cow. But she didn't tell him. She didn't see any reason to. Jack was a good boy and she knew that if she told him to take the cow to market and sell it, he would do as she told him.


Some economies are based on exchanging money for goods and services. I give you some money and you give me some fruit. I work and you give me some money for working. But there are some economies, though not many, that are based on exchanges of goods and services. You want your porch painted so I paint your porch and you give me something I need or something I can trade for something I need. You could give me food, but if I had food I could take that food and trade the food for some books I wanted.
When Jack's mother asked Jack to sell the cow, she was thinking in terms of an economy based on exchanging money for goods and services. She could use some of the money to buy some beads, which she could make into a necklace, and sell it for a profit and buy more beads to make another necklace and also use the profit to buy more food or more beads. Jack didn't know that's how his mother was thinking, so in a way he really can't be looked upon too harshly for exchanging the cow for some beans rather than selling it. Which is exactly what he did. He exchanged the cow for some beans.
Jack was on his way to the market when on the road he met a man. This man went directly up to Jack and asked Jack his name and where he was going with the cow. Jack told him. The man then pulled from his pocket a bag which had five colorful beans in it. He said to Jack, "Jack, do you see these beans? These are exceptional beans. They are wonderful, marvelous, amazing beans. They are worth far more than that cow here that you are planning to sell at market. I know you and your mother are having a hard time. You won't regret it if you exchange your cow for my beans. It will be the smartest thing you've ever done, because these beans are special enough that they could make you and your mother very rich."
This sounded good to Jack, who liked the idea of his mother being rich. If his mother was rich, then they would have money to heat the shack and money to eat well and he was quite sure if the shack was heated and his mother ate well then she would get better and no longer be sick. On the spot, Jack exchanged the cow for the beans and went home.
When Jack's mother asked him how much money he got for the cow, Jack excitedly grinned and handed her the bag of beans. "What's this?" his mother asked, and Jack told her all about the man he'd met and how he had exchanged the cow for these marvelous, amazing, incredible beans.


Jack's poor mother cried and angrily yelled, "Jack, you are a fool! This handful of beans isn't worth but a few pennies. The cow was worth far more. How could you do this? You have been duped by a con man. This little handful of beans isn't even enough for a meal." And, so saying, Jack's mother threw the beans out the window.
Jack was stunned. He was hurt by his mother's angry words. But he was more saddened by the fact that he had thought that by exchanging the cow for the beans he had done something very good, which would bring wealth and comfort to his mother, but instead he had found out that he had been tricked and their last hope was gone. Jack went outside and covered the seeds with soil, but whether he was burying that last dashed hope, or instead tending his own hurt by ensuring the beans had a chance to grow and produce the hopeful life of a vine out of their dormant state, even he didn't know.
You see, when you put seeds in the ground, they are dormant, which means they are rather like sleeping or hibernating. During the winter, there are many seeds from flowers and things that lie sleeping in the ground. When spring comes, and the ground is warmed with sunshine and is made a little wet with rain water, then the seeds cease to sleep and plant life grows out of them and rises out of the ground.
That night, Jack went to bed feeling like he was indeed a very stupid, foolish boy, even though his mother, regretting her words, had patted his head and told him, "Jack, I'm sorry. You were too young to go to the market by yourself and sell the cow. I'm sure the beans you got are very fine beans. Tomorrow I'll make a broth from a few of them and I bet it will make me all well."
When Jack awoke the next morning, he went out to get a few of the beans, for he was certain that if his mother made a broth from them and drank it then she would get all well, just like she had said.
Oh, my!! To Jack's amazement, he saw that in one single night the beans had sprouted and grown stalks that climbed up, up, up the cliff behind the shack, and when they had reached the height of the cliff the stalks had continued up, up, up into the sky so that they disappeared in the clouds. The stalks that had grown from the beans, all the way up into the clouds, had twined and twisted themselves together so that they had formed a ladder.


  "It would be easy to climb it," thought Jack, who was a good climber. He tested the stalks and found that they would support his weight, and here being small was a great advantage for they would perhaps not support anyone a good deal heavier than him.
Jack knew better than to climb the ladder without his mother's consent. He went inside and woke his sick mother up and told her, "Mother, the beans have put out beanstalks that reach up to the clouds. May I climb them?"
Jack's mother, who was still sleepy, knew that beanstalks could not grow up to the clouds. She thought Jack was playing a pretend game. She said to him, "You may, but be home before nightfall."
Jack asked, excited, "Mother, what do you think I'll find there?"
Jack's mother seemed to think about this a moment, then answered in a strangely sad voice. "Perhaps you will find the kingdom in the clouds that some people talk about."
Jack said, "If I do, I promise to bring home something from it that proves the cloud kingdom exists and that I've been to it. I will be a very famous person then, and will be able to get you whatever you need to get well."
If Jack's mother heard him, she heard in her dreams, for she was already asleep again.
Jack went back out to the beanstalks and stared up at the clouds in which his mother said a mysterious kingdom might exist. Oh, how excited he was, that he might find that kingdom and bring home a piece of it. He would be famous then, and to be famous meant also being rich, for who was famous but for rich people? Wouldn't his mother be proud of him if he found this kingdom and became famous! Jack wanted very badly to be a rich hero and buy his mother a nice house and make sure she was always comfortable.
Why wait? Jack instantly began to climb. Up and up he went on the ladder of beanstalks until everything that he'd left behind him--the shack, the town, and even the tallest church tower in the town--looked very, very small, and still he couldn't see the top of the beanstalk. Jack, who hadn't had any breakfast (because there was no breakfast to be had at home) began to feel tired, but he was a persevering boy. He knew the way to succeed in anything was not to give up. So, after a moment's rest, he continued his climbing. Up Jack climbed, higher and higher, until he was afraid to look down for fear he'd be giddy.


Finally, Jack reached the clouds and climbing through them he came to the top of the beanstalk. Sure enough, looking about, atop the clouds, he saw a beautiful country. He saw fine forests and pleasant meadows filled with sheep. There was even a crystal stream, and very nearby it was a great, strong castle upon a great rock.
While Jack was standing there, staring at the castle in awe, a very strange looking woman emerged from the forest and approached him. She wore a pointed cap of red satin. "Who are you and where are you going?" she asked Jack.
Jack replied, "My name is Jack, and I came here so that I might find if the castle in the clouds was real. My mother said if I found it I was to bring home proof of its existence."
The strange looking woman said, "The castle you see here once belonged to a celebrated bard and friend of the fairies. It stands at the border of fairyland, and the little people gave this man some very precious gifts. A monstrous giant, who was a wicked being, heard rumors of these treasures and decided he would get them for himself. He bribed a false servant to let him inside the castle when the man was asleep, and he killed him. Then he went to the nursery and killed the children he found there. Only one son was left alive, who was a baby, for the man's wife had taken him with her to visit her old nurse, and she had stayed the night there with her child because of a ferocious storm. One of the man's servants had managed to escape, and in the morning he found the poor woman and told her the sad fate of her husband and children. The giant had vowed to kill the woman and her baby the moment he found them, so the lady went into hiding with her child and the nurse. When the old nurse died, she left to the woman the poor shack in which she'd been born, a little plot of land on which was a garden, and a cow. The woman had also a few pieces of jewelry she had been wearing when she went to visit her nurse on the night her husband was killed, distinguished gifts made to her husband for his art. The woman might have been able to live on the income of these pieces for the rest of her life, but she took a second husband, a worthless knight, who sold the jewelry and spent the money he got from it on gambling. This woman who escaped the giant, with one child, is your mother, and you are that child."
Jack replied, "You're joshing me."


The lady in the red cap answered, "I'm not joshing you."
"Then I know why I'm here," Jack said. "I must reclaim what was once my father's, and is now mine, from the giant."
The lady in the red cap asked Jack, "Have you the courage to do this?"
Jack answered, "I fear nothing when I'm doing right."
The lady in the red cap said, "Then you are one of those who slay giants. You must get into the castle and get back the precious fairy gifts which were given your father, for it also grieves the fairies these gifts are unlawfully possessed. One of these which was stolen is a hen that lays golden eggs. Another is a harp that talks. Remember, all the giant possesses is truly yours. You are stealing nothing from him."
As the lady in the red cap ceased speaking, she disappeared, and Jack knew that she must have been a fairy.
Jack went at once to the castle. Can you believe it?--he didn't attempt to sneak in. He actually announced his presence by blowing the horn at the castle portal. In a minute or two a frightful giantess answered the door. She had one great eye in the middle of her forehead, just like a cyclops. Jack was so alarmed by the sight of her that he turned to run away, but the giantess caught him up and dragged him into the castle.
"Ho, ho!," the giantess laughed. "You clearly didn't expect to see me, did you my wee little thumbkin. I shan't let you go again, either. I'm weary of my life, I'm so overworked, and I don't see why I shouldn't have a servant to do my bidding like all other fine ladies. You shall be my boy. You will clean the knives and sharpen them. You will make the fires. I have a never-ending list of chores and you will do them all when my husband is away, but when he is home I must hide you for he has eaten up all my other pages, and you would be a nice dinner appetizer, my little lad."
Jack was terribly frightened. But I'd like to know what he expected when he went right up to the front door of the castle and announced his arrival with the horn. After all, he'd been told about the giant who killed his father and his siblings and took over the castle. One would think he would have acted a little more slyly, but he hadn't, and now he was to be a prisoner and servant in the very castle that should have been his own home. Yes, Jack was very, very frightened, but he struggled to be brave and said, "Madame, I would consider it an honor to serve a great lady such as yourself."


"Ah, aren't you a nice boy," the giantess said, nodding her head. "It's lucky for you that you didn't scream out when you saw me, as the other boys who have been here did, for if you had screamed my husband would have awakened and eaten you, as he did them, for breakfast. Now, child, I'm going to hide you in the oven, where you will be safe." And so saying, the giantess opened the oven in the kitchen and shut Jack up in it.
After a little while, Jack heard a heavy tramping on the stairs, like the loudest thunder, and a fierce voice cried out,

Fe, fa, fi-fo-fum,
I smell the blood of a human man.
Be he alive, or be he dead,
I'll grind his bones to make my bread!

"Wife," said the giant, who had one large eye in the middle of his forehead, just like his wife, "I smell man-blood in this castle and it makes me hungrier than ever for breakfast. Bring the man to me so I may eat him."
"Oh, posh. You've grown old and stupid," cried the giantess, in her loud voice, back at the giant. "What you smell is a nice fresh steak off an elephant that I've cooked for you. Now, sit down and eat!"
"What's that?" said the old giant, who was hard of hearing. "You've cooked elfs and ants?"
"You stupid, old giant," the giantess yelled, "the only thing you smell is the elephant steak I've cooked."
"Elephant steak smells nothing like human men," the giant replied.
"Nevertheless, we are having elephant steak," the giantess said. "Now sit down and eat."
Jack, overcome more by curiosity now than by fear, opened the oven door just a peep so he could watch all that was going on.
It was quite obvious that the castle and all that was in it couldn't belong to the giant and the giantess, for the rooms and all the furnishings had been designed for normal-sized people. The chair upon which the giant sat creaked under his great weight, and the table at which he sat for his meal was so small in comparison to him that he couldn't fit his legs under it.


Jack saw the giantess place on the table, before the giant, a huge dish steaming meat. The giant, who had red hair bright as fire, was pleased by this, for he liked elephant steak, and it made him forget his idea of a human man being in the castle. After the giant finished his breakfast, he went out for a walk; and then the giantess brought Jack out to help her with all her chores. He worked hard all day, and when evening came the giantess fed him well and put him back into the oven.
The giant came in for his supper, and Jack watched in amazement how much he was able to eat, consuming a whole fowl in two bites even, bones and all. When the giant was done, he remained at the table, picking his teeth with a wolf bone, and called to his wife, "Bring me my money bags, that I may count my golden pieces before I sleep."
The giantess went and when she returned she had two large bags over her shoulders. Putting them down by her husband, she said, "There, that's all that's left of the bard's money. When it's gone, then what will we do?"
The giant replied, as he poured heaps and heaps of gold pieces out of the bags, "As long as we have the hen that lays the golden eggs, we need never fear poverty. For that matter, I could throw all these golden pieces in the sewer, that is how little we need them. But if I did that, someone else might find them, and we don't want our riches to profit anyone else, do we now? That is the beauty of having all this gold. As long as we possess it, whether we need it or not, someone else doesn't have it." Then, the giant counted all his gold pieces, stacking them up so they made nice, neat towers all over the table. When he was done he swept the gold pieces back into the bags.
The giant and his wife were so full from their meal that in no time at all they had fallen fast asleep, and were both snoring so loud that if you had been there you would have hardly been able to hear yourself think.
As soon as Jack saw this, he crawled out of the oven, took up the bags of money, and fled with them down the beanstalk.
"Mother, mother! Look what I've brought for you," he called, dashing into the house where she was resting in her poor bed and poured the gold pieces right out of the bags and on her so that she was almost completely covered with them.
"Oh, Jack," his mother said. "Where did you get these? You must take them back at once. They're not ours."


"But this is our money, all of it," Jack exclaimed, quite proud of his accomplishment, and excitedly told her the story of his adventure. When he was done telling her all that had happened, he saw that his mother had begun to cry, and, dismayed, he asked, "Mother, why are you crying? Don't you believe me? Do you still think I'm a thief?"
His mother, drying her tears, said, "No, Jack, when you first told me about the beanstalk-ladder I didn't believe it. And then, as I listened to your story, I realized you told the truth and what great danger you've been in. You did indeed find your way to the hidden kingdom in the clouds, and I am terrified for you because of it. What if if the giant had found you and killed you as he did your father. I never told you about him for fear you'd attempt to seek vengeance when you were old enough and be murdered as well, leaving me alone."
Jack replied, "You needn't be afraid for me. I'm a very smart boy, you know."
Oh, doesn't it sound vain that Jack would say such a thing. But this wasn't the case at all. Jack was simply a young boy who was very excited that he'd been able to help his mother, and wanted her to be proud of him and confident in him.
Jack purchased some medicine and good food for his mother. They ate better that night than they had in years, and afterwards he went straight off to bed as happy as could be.
Though Jack and his mother could have lived on the gold pieces for the rest of their lives, he knew he must climb back up the beanstalk and win back both the singing harp and the hen that laid the golden eggs. The next morning, while his mother was still asleep, Jack disguised himself by dying his hair, then climbed back up the beanstalk and returned to the castle. The giantess, not recognizing him, dragged him in as she had done before, to help her do the chores. He worked for her all day. That evening, when it was time for the giant's dinner, she hid Jack in the oven and told Jack to keep quite still lest her husband discover where he was and eat him.
The giant came in and bellowed,

Fe, fa, fi-fo-fum,
I smell the blood of a human man.
Be he alive, or be he dead,
I'll grind his bones to make my bread!


  "What nonsense!" said the giantess. "It's only a roasted bullock that I thought would make a nice tidbit for your dinner. Now sit down and eat."
The giant sat down at the table. Soon his wife brought him the roasted bullock on a large dish. "Unless my eyes deceive me," said the giant, "this is a bullock and not a human."
The giantess replied, "Well, you're not quite all the way blind. That is indeed a roasted bullock, just like I told you we were having."
The giant pouted but ate the bullock. When he and the giantess had finished their meal, the giant commanded his wife to bring him the hen that laid the golden eggs. Soon, she appeared with a little hen, which she placed on the table before him.
"Lay!" the giant said to the hen, and instantly she laid a golden egg.
"Lay!" said the giant again. And the little brown hen laid another golden egg.
"Lay!" said the giant a third time. And again a golden egg lay on the table.
The giant said, "Damn right you better lay a golden egg every time I tell you to, or you'll end up on the supper menu just like the fowl I digested last night."
  The giant put the hen down on the floor, and within a few moments he was snoring, fast asleep, as was the giantess. Jack climbed out of the oven, softly tip-toed to where the hen was, and picking her up he fled the castle as fast as he could and ran to the beanstalk which he descended as quickly as he dared for he had only one hand free, the hen tucked under his other arm.
The villagers had always been suspicious of Jack and his mother as they'd appeared one day from out of nowhere, and the old nurse had refused to discuss their origins. Now, they were befuddled that Jack and his mother suddenly, quietly, seemed to have come into money for all their needs, hiring carpenters to rebuild their house, replacing the roof, even adding rooms. Before long, Jack and his mother had a nice home with food in the cupboards, and livestock in the pens.
Still, even though Jack's mother's health had much improved, she was not completely well. She rarely smiled, and then only when Jack was near to her. He was sad that he could not purchase joy for his mother.


Jack had not forgotten about the harp which was still in the giant's possession. One morning he rose very early and climbed up the beanstalk-ladder again. Now, you ought to know that time in the cloud kingdom passed in a much different way from down here on the ground. There, time moved along at a much slower rate. So, when Jack blew the horn at the castle door and the giantess opened it, she said, "Oh, what wonderful luck I've had this week! For ages I have gone without servants, and in the space of three days I have had three humans appear at my door. The first two, who proved to be thieves, ran off after only one day of service, but you, your face is so innocent, I know you will make a fine replacement!" With that, the giantess, who did not recognize Jack because her eyesight was about as poor as her husband's, grabbed the boy and brought him into the castle. Again, he worked for her all day, then when it was time for the giant to come in for his dinner, the giantess hid Jack in the oven. This time, however, she gave Jack the hide off the sheep she had cooked for dinner and told him to cover himself with it lest her husband smell him.
After a while, the giant came down the stairs for his dinner, and roared out:

Fe, fa, fi-fo-fum,
I smell the blood of a human man.
Let him be alive or let him be dead,
I'll grind his bones to make my bread.

To this, the giantess replied, "You are a stupid old giant who can scarcely see or hear, and now I'm beginning to wonder if you've lost your sense of smell. We're having a nice sheep for dinner."
The giant sat down, and his wife brought in the whole sheep she had grilled. When the giant had finished eating, he said, "Wife, now bring me my harp, and I will have a little music."
The giantess left the room. When she returned, it was with a beautiful harp sparkling with diamonds and rubies.
"Ah," said the giant, "I do believe this harp is one of the nicest things I took from the bard. I'm very fond of music, you know, and this harp has made a faithful servant. It is difficult to remain sad or angry when I hear it." The giant drew the harp near to him and commanded it: "Play."


The harp played a soft, sad air.
"No, not that! Play something merrier!" the giant commanded.
And the harp played as merry a tune as you would ever hear.
"Now, play me a lullaby," the giant commanded; and the harp played the sweetest lullaby.
Imagine a giant falling asleep to a baby's lullaby, but that is exactly what happened.
Jack crept out of the oven and was about to lay hold on the harp when the giant half roused from his sleep and reached out to console himself by stroking the strings of his precious harp. Instead, his hand rested upon the sheepskin which Jack wore. Half asleep, the giant murmured, "Are you a sheep?"
Jack bleated, "Baaaa."
The giantess mumbled, "Must be one of the sheep I was counting jumping over fences when I fell to sleep."
Satisfied with this explanation, the giant immediately dozed off again.
Right away, Jack seized the harp and ran with it, but as he jumped over the threshold of the castle door, the harp called out, "Master! Master!"
Jack tried to muffle the harp's cries and said to it, angrily, "Don't you remember who your true master is?"
The giant had however already woken up and realized that the harp had been taken from him. With a tremendous roar he sprang from his seat, and in two strides he had reached the castle door. His wife heard and came running too.
Jack, being very nimble, fled like lightning with the harp, but the giant followed so close behind that he was almost upon Jack when he stepped on a loose stone, stumbled, and fell flat on the ground.    This gave Jack time to reach the beanstalks and hasten down; but just as he reached his mother's garden he saw the giant descending after him. Now, the giant was much bigger than Jack, and it seemed the beanstalks might not support his weight, but Jack was taking no chances. He grabbed up an axe and with one tremendous blow he cut through all the beanstalks but one. Jack was readying to strike this last stalk with the axe when the stalk broke, unable to support the weight of the giant.


Down came the giant with a terrible crash. He fell with such force that where he landed he made a large crater in the ground. Jack cautiously peered over the edge of the crater and saw that the giant, having broken his neck in the fall, landing on his head, was dead.
The giant's wife had run up to the top of the highest tower of the castle so she could watch from afar. When the giant fell, the ground quaked so that it shook even the cloud kingdom, and the giantess fell from the tower and died.
Then something amazing happened. On a high hill, in the plain beyond the home which had belonged to the nurse, there appeared the castle which the giant had seized from Jack's father. The giant had, with an enchantment, concealed the castle so it could only be seen in the hidden kingdom. This was so that no one would attempt to come and take from him the gifts which the little people had given Jack's father. But now that the giant and his wife were dead, and the gifts restored to Jack and his mother, the concealing enchantment was dispersed.
That's just about the end of the story. Except that when Jack's mother heard the singing harp again she became well. You see, she had not only been physically sick but sick at heart. The medicine she had taken had made her body well, but it took the restoration of the singing harp to her to begin to make her heart heal.

Retold by J. Kearns after the tale as related by Andrew Lang in "The Red Fairy Book".

Copyright information


Return to the fairy tales - book one


the tales - myths - pinocchio - about - contact - links

This is a site archived from the old web. Visit Idyllopus Press.