1980's, 80's fantasy, 80s, beanstalk, billy bryan, blog, castle, castle in the clouds, cow, cow costume, dennis christopher, elliot gould, english fairy tale, english fairy tales, Faerie Tale Theatre, faerie tale theatre reviews, fairy tale, fairy tale history, fairytale, fee fi fo fum, giant, giant wife, giant's wife, giants, giants in the sky, golden eggs, jack, Jack and the beanstalk, jean stapleton, jerry hall, katherine helmond, magic beans, magic harp, magic hen, mark blankfield, pantomime, perspective, puppet, puppeteers, retelling, review, review series, series review, shelley duvall, singing harp, television review, television series, tv, tv review, tv series
“When you mounted that beanstalk, you started to climb that ladder to fortune!”
– The Mysterious Old Man, reminding us that opportunities are worth the arduous climb
What’s in a name? Would that which we would call a Jack by any other name be as wily, cunning, adventurous or tricky? Perhaps, but then he wouldn’t be nearly as memorable as those who share the namesake. Funny how you find a lot of Jacks in fairy tales and nursery rhymes, isn’t it? There’s Jack Sprat, Jack Horner, Jack Be Nimble, Jack O’Lantern, and of course, Jack The Giant Killer, a distant cousin of today’s story. Thanks to the multitude of English and Appalachian tales featuring a hero with that sobriquet, naming a character Jack has become shorthand for a clever, agile, and often charming personality, a tradition in fiction which continues to this day (Jack Sparrow, Reacher, and Skellington, anyone?) Of course, it’s only natural that someone with a larger-than-life persona would have an enemy in someone who is, quite literally, larger than life.
Myths of giants and giant killers have rocked the folkloric landscape since the days of Greek and Norse mythology. The story of Jack and the Beanstalk, however, grew almost entirely out of England. Scholars have found its roots go as far back as 4500 BC, with some signs that it may have originated in early Iran. Inspired by the aforementioned Jack The Giant Killer and passed down through years of oral tradition, the story as we first know it appeared in English publications in 1734 as “The Story of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean” (I can see why the title got whittled down). It was later popularized in 1845 by Henry Cole, the man who invented greeting cards, and again by Australian folklorist Joseph Jacobs in 1890. Jacobs’ version is the one that stuck around the longest, and is the take on Jack’s adventures that we’re all familiar with, for better or worse.
See, while all those qualities I mentioned earlier can be noble in some Jacks, they can be villainous in others, like Spring-Heeled Jack and Jack The Ripper – and even in the case of this particular Jack. Back in the salad days of Jack and the Beanstalk’s popularity, no one really questioned the morality of Jack’s actions. I suppose just being a giant (and an implied man-eating one at that) were wicked enough traits to make him the designated antagonist. When the Victorian period dictated that all children’s stories should teach morals in as hamfisted a manner as possible, Andrew Lang and Benjamin Tabart rewrote Jack and the Beanstalk so that Jack has a tragic backstory that gives him the moral high ground and makes the Giant more monstrous from the reader’s perspective. While the idea does have merit, I’m left wondering if two wrongs really do make a right. Does stealing from someone and eventually murdering them negate your culpability if the victim committed those same crimes against you first? What if your retribution left behind a widow with no one to support her? Does that still make you a hero, or leave you in the need of some good PR? I suppose that’s why I lean towards versions where Jack realizes his greed is making him as much a monster as the giant, or where the consequences of his actions catch up to him and he must take responsibility in order to set things right (hi, Into The Woods). I definitely don’t expect Faerie Tale Theatre’s to delve into such a moral gray area, but how do they handle making this Jack a hero worth rooting for?Continue reading