Thursday, 30 August 2012

The Analysis of Jack and the Beanstalk


This is a very well-known tale.  It's probably one of the most famous of the entire fairy tale genre.  It's got action, drama, comedy and of course, Jack.

I can understand that we're all supposed to be on Jacks side.  It's his name, after all, that's in the title and without him there is no story, he is the plucky underdog who manages to get a break.  It's just that the more you think about it the more you come to realize that here is a person who is nothing more than a conman, a thief and a killer [1] who shows no remorse.  


Read on my audience, read on if you dare!

Jack was poor; there was no getting away from the fact.  He lived with his poor old mother and their poor old cow.  Eventually the cow stopped giving milk and Jack set off to the market to sell the cow to anybody gullible enough to believe that the cow was still giving out milk by the gallon.

He never got to the market because while he was on his way he met a mysterious stranger who offered him 4 magic beans in return for the cow.
“She's a good cow” said Jack, breaking rule number 3 of fairy tale people journeying on the road to anywhere [2] “you might need to up the offer a little”
“Very well” said the mysterious stranger “five beans magic for the use of”
“Done!” said Jack handing over the rope that went around daisies neck
“You most certainly have been” replied the stranger and quickly exited before Jack had time to go “wait, what?”

Jack returned home in triumph which lasted about 5 seconds after his mother found out what he'd done.
“You fool!” she raged “oh curse me for a numpkin that I have someone like you as a son.  Only the largest of fools would sell a whole cow for five beans!”
“They are magic beans though” said Jack which proved to be the worst thing that he could have said because his mother threw the beans out the window, kicked him up the backside and sent him to bed without dinner

What happens next is fairly predictable.  The beans actually were magic and grew into a gigantic beanstalk that disappeared into the sky.  Jack, being the adventurous boy that he was, climbed up and broke through into the cloud lands.
The first thing he saw was a huge castle and decided to visit since they were neighbors now.  He knocked on the gigantic door but when nobody came to open it he noticed that the door wasn't locked and, with great effort, he was able to push it until it creaked slowly open [3]
“What are you doing?” asked the biggest woman that he'd ever seen
“I'm lost” Jack mumbled pathetically.  “May I have something to eat?”
“All right, come in quickly.  I'll give you a bowl of milk.  We've just bought a cow you know, but you'd better be quick because my husband the ogre eats children.  If you hear him coming hide at once”

“Fe fi fo fum” the ogres booming voice gave Jack enough time to hide “I smell the blood of and Englishman!” [4]
“Course you do dear” his wife said “sit down and I'll make your dinner”
Poor Jack was forced to sit under the teacup through that whole meal but little did he know that he was to be rewarded for his patience.

The ogre had treasure and he counted it each night since that's what treasure is for.  When he was alone he crept out from under the cup, saw the gold pieces on the table, filled up a bag with them and ran for the hills or, to be precise, the beanstalk.
When he got to the bottom and found his mother fretting he showed her the bag of gold and told her about his adventure.
“You see I did the right thing when I sold the cow for the magic beans” Jack said “Now we're rich”
Time went by as time is wont to do and the house was made livable, the debts were paid and truly the good times were here. 

The thing about the good times my dearios, the one thing that you've always got to remember is that they don't last.  Winter, as the wise man says, is coming and oh dear when the gold ran out Jack and his mother were in the same situation as before.

But Jack was clever enough to realize that there was a simple solution to his problem and up the beanstalk he went to make a withdrawal from the first bank of child eating ogre.
This time the boy went straight through to the kitchen and hid in the large mouse hole.
“I smell children” the ogre complained to his wife
“That'll be the black pudding”
After dinner the ogre produced a hen on the table and from the mousehole Jack watched as it laid golden eggs.  As before he fell asleep but this time the hens squawking woke him up
“Thief!” he shouted but jack was already far away and back down the beanstalk
“Is that all you stole?” his mother asked disapprovingly
“Just wait” Jack squeezed the chicken in a certain way and was rewarded with a golden egg.

With a gold egg every day Jack and his mother were once again wealthy.  The house was rebuilt into a mansion and the good times were most certainly here to stay.  But the pair never forgot those years of poverty and no traveler who needed food or shelter was ever turned away.

The story could have ended there; by all rights it should have my lovelies.  Jack and his mother are rich and have clearly mended their ways.  But 'tis oft said that money can't buy happiness and when his mother fell ill all the gold in the world couldn't put it right as you'll soon see

Jacks mother fell ill, she was tired and unable to smile at anything.  He hired doctors, wise men of renown and then other kind who just went quack.  But none could discover what her illness was.  He brought in clowns to cheer her but none of them managed to make her smile.
Finally he looked up at the beanstalk “Perhaps the ogre has something I can use” and stepped forwards to climb once again
This time there was an open window and after his dinner the ogre brought out the last and greatest of his treasures, a magic harp

When the ogre fell asleep Jack made his move and legged it back to the beanstalk with the harp in his arms
“Wake up master!” the harp called out in the key of C “I'm being half inched!” in fear she improvised a bit of a jazz riff which finally managed to wake up the ogre because if there one thing that ogres hate it's jazz.
“Shut up!” Jack told her “if you play for me you'll be happier”
“Keep telling yourself that boyo” the harp grumbled in Am “all you'll get out of me is out of tune country and western.  Not even the good country and western either”
The beanstalk was reached and descended at great speed and when Jack played the harp for his mother she became well again.  The harp played beautiful music because Jack had provided her with the one thing that every true artiste craves an audience. [5]

But Jacks still got to deal with the ogre who's now climbing down the beanstalk and, from the woodshed [6] he grabbed the axe and chopped the beanstalk down.  The ogre fell down to his death and everyone was happy, or at least everyone who mattered which, at this point was counted as everyone who was Jack and his mother.

The magical sound of the harp cured his mothers' sickness and she was once again happy and cheerful.  The hen kept on laying golden eggs and Jack's life had gone through a lot of changes since he had accepted the magic beans but without his courage and his wit he and his mother could never have found happiness [7]

  • Jacks Mother:
Now I'll accept that they are poor and needed money badly but I've got to say that the fact that she doesn't punish Jack for the first theft (the gold) and is actually disappointed at the result of the second (the hen) does not paint her in a very flattering light.

An interesting point is that there are no other families mentioned in this story and, in most of the film versions the house sits all alone miles from anywhere.  This family clearly has a very bad reputation around the community [8]

  • The Beanstalk:
Not to rain on anyone’s parade but this thing reaches up to the clouds at the very least.  That means it's going to have a very wide base and we're all expected to believe that Jack chopped it down in a matter of minutes with an axe?

If you haven't chopped a tree down with an axe then I'll assure you that it's not an easy job.  A chainsaw is quicker and more fun but by giving Jack a chainsaw we'd be sacrificing believability for convenience.

The beanstalk was very tall; no problem with that, Jack climbed it, understandable.  It's just that, if he's going up high enough to get to the clouds then the oxygen level is going to very thin.  Quite aside from all the dangers associated with oxygen deprivation there is a chance that this whole adventure is nothing more than a hallucination.

  • The Ogre:
We're supposed to think of him as the bad guy.  We certainly get told that he eats children which has always been ranked just below Hitler on the evil scale but really, where the proof?  What if this whole “eating children” thing is nothing more than a primitive security system that he's devised in order to protect his treasure?

  • Minor points of interest:
Jacks No traveler turned away policy – Given what we now know about this family it strikes me as very suspicious.  Knock upon their door with caution weary traveler and try not to have anything they want.

The mysterious stranger - Jack got taken in by the magic bean scam but the mysterious stranger was probably looking up at the sky the next day and kicking himself because (A) he'd never realized that the beans were actually magic and (B) Daisy the cow was not a grand milker as Jack had claimed.

 Might the mysterious stranger have been the ogre in disguise?  Perhaps this is the way he captures children, if so then it's a plan that could only have been conceived after a night of naughty boy ice cream and the Scooby Doo box set [9].

The Beanstalk - So they're in possession of a magic beanstalk, presumably this is going to give them magic beans.  Wouldn't now be the time to get down to the very real bank and float a loan to keep them going until bean season starts?


PT Barnum said it best “Never give a sucker an even break” and that's what this story is all about. 
A blind twist of fate turns jack from the sucker who got conned out of his cow for five beans into Jack the beanstalk climber who steals what he wants when he wants it.
Jack might be happy for the moment with his hen, harp and mansion but I don't think that any of it is going to hold him there for very long.  Sooner or later he'll wake up and start wondering if there isn't something better, something bigger just around the corner.  Eventually he becomes the mysterious stranger to some other wide eyed youth with a tired old cow and the cycle begins again.

But the adventures of Jack, while entertaining and, perhaps more importantly, distracting don't actually reveal the person who actually came out on top in all this.  The Ogres wife, who took Jack in the first time and then carefully didn't notice him the other times he visited.  She would have been the one to get the hen and the harp for her husband while making certain that there was an easy way in for Jack [10]

It would not surprise me in the least if there were a rather hefty insurance policy taken out on her husband and even if there weren't then she's gotten rid of the child eating millstone around her neck with no questions, no fuss and no incriminating fingers of blame being pointed at her. 

If the Ogre has family then it's going to be Jack that they'll be coming after and even if they do ask questions before swallowing it doesn't matter as Jack is nothing more than a stooge who never knew that he was working for her the whole time.

Well played Mrs Ogre.  Well played indeed.

  1. We can argue murderer but as far as I know there are no laws against killing ogres. 
  2.  Rule number 3 is “For your own safety do not talk to mysterious strangers that you happen to run into”  Rules 1 & 2 are “You do not talk about fight club” 
  3. Wait.  What?  Someone tell me when this has ever been socially acceptable. 
  4.  Underneath the giant teacup Jack started practicing an Irish brogue and wondering how you went about applying for citizenship. 
  5.  The fact that the music room overlooked the woodshed had nothing to do with it.  You've got to keep these artistes on their toes you know. 
  6.  Which comes standard on all mansions I'm sure. 
  7.  Except for the fact that they didn't exactly “find” happiness.  The came out on top after targeting an ogre, taking everything he had and then killing him. 
  8. What's worse is that now they're Nuevo riche 
  9.  He's allowed to skip over the ones with Scrappy Doo in them.  I'm not a complete monster. 
  10.  But not so easy that he get suspicious.


  1. The modern day equivalent of Jack would be your typical central banker. Steal all their gold, then when they come after you chop down their house and kill them.

    1. Don't forget to post a bill to the family and claim that it was their fault for dealing with the Bank of Eeevil.

  2. lol, amusing post.
    You'll find a lot of the original fairytales are rather, well, grim (excuse the pun).

    1. Those'll be the ones that I read to my kids (eventually) Any Prince Charming that makes an appearence in those ones is going to have to be prepared to work for his princess!

  3. This is hilarious!! I love when you do these retellings!

    1. Maybe I should get these published. I seem to be working on them more than Harts Change ;P