Jack and the Beanstalk: Summary, Author & Origin

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will summarize the fairy tale 'Jack and the Beanstalk.' Further, we will discuss the origins of this famous children's story, including various less popular versions.

The Fairy Tale

'Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman' are familiar words for young children who thrill at the introduction to the monstrous giant in the well-known fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk. While many of us are familiar with the story, you may not know the origins. Let's find out more about this children's story.

The Beanstalk

The story begins with a poor widow with a son named Jack and a cow named Milky-white. When Milky-white stops giving milk, the woman decides to send Jack to market to sell the cow. Along the way, he meets a stranger who tells him a riddle and then offers 5 magic beans that 'by morning they grow right up to the sky' in exchange for the cow. When Jack's mother realizes what he is done, she is so upset that she throws out the beans and sends Jack to bed without his supper.

The next morning, a giant beanstalk had grown up to the sky. Jack climbed the beanstalk to the sky where he found a house. Jack knocked on the door and asked the woman who answered for some breakfast. The woman warned, 'It's breakfast you'll be if you don't move off from here.' But the woman takes pity on him and brings him in to feed him.

The Giant

When her husband comes, the woman quickly hides Jack in the oven and dismisses her husband's assertions that he smells a human. After the giant eats breakfast, he counts his gold and then falls asleep. While he sleeps, Jack steals a bag of gold as he leaves.

The gold sustains Jack and his mother for quite some time, but eventually, it runs out and Jack must return to the beanstalk. Once again the woman gives Jack some breakfast and once again, Jack is forced to hide in the oven when her husband comes in. This time, Jack watches as the giant commands a hen to lay a golden egg. When the giant nods off, Jack steals the hen, but it cackles and wakes the giant.

The hen provides for Jack and his mother, but his discontent forces him to return to the beanstalk to see what he can find. This time, Jack sneaks into the house and sees a golden harp. The harp calls out to wake the sleeping giant. The giant chases Jack to the beanstalk and begins to climb down after him. When Jack reaches the bottom, he cuts down the beanstalk with an axe, killing the giant with the fall. Jack and his mother become wealthy from selling the golden eggs and 'lived happily ever after.'

The Origins

Tales about climbing into the sky have been told for thousands of years in multiple countries, but the first known written account of the story appeared in England in the 1730s in the form of a skit entitled 'Enchantment demonstrated in the Story of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean.'

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