by Jennie

‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ is an English folk/fairy tale, first published in 1734, but probably of much older origin, and passed on verbally at family and cultural gatherings.  The text of the story was changed over the years from the 1734 edition, so that Jack appears more of a hero than a thief.  The story, although read to children, is a little scary at times, but many folk/fairy stories are!  Here is a quick version of the story.

After selling their only cow for a handful of magic beans, Jack is banished to bed by his mother who throws the beans out of the window in disgust.  Low and behold, the beans grow into a beanstalk that reaches up into the sky.  Jack, waking in the morning decides to climb the beanstalk and at the top reaches the giant’s castle.


I smell the blood of an Englishman

Be he alive, or be he dead

I’ll have his bones to grind my bread

That’s what the giant chants when he gets a whiff of Jack who is about to steal the giant’s treasure.  He doesn’t find Jack though and Jack climbs the beanstalk several times, each time taking more treasure from the giant, including a goose that lays golden eggs.  Finally, the giant discovers Jack and Jack races back down the beanstalk.  Jack chops the beanstalk down because he knows the giant is chasing him, and the giant falls to his death.

As a kid, you accept that whatever the story, it must be true.  In the case of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, I thought, this must be the case; beanstalks can grow that tall with giants living at the top of them. What’s fascinating though is the imagination of the human race: how writers might be inspired to create stories like ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, and how in turn they might inspire other creative thinkers to question and explore our wonderful world.  Let me tell you a little of how I thought of writing about this story:

I met a long-distance bicycle rider a few weeks ago who intrigued me.  He has a passion for bike riding, but he also believes in the flat earth theory (the earth isn’t round after all, but flat with the north pole at the center and the south pole a wall of ice encircling the whole of the earth.)  I shared this information with a friend who in return shared back a story about another flat earth theory of enormous trees that once covered the earth.  The trees were so enormous that they reached the sky and were used by the gods to climb down to earth.

You might think these are ridiculous theories going against centuries of science.  A couple of thoughts spring to mind though:

People have always searched the sky above to unravel its mysteries.  Perhaps the story of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ was also searching for some answers.  The enormous beanstalk seems a good way of exploring the sky, don’t you think?

After finishing a crossword the other night where I had to guess a quote from Einstein – “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”, it had me wondering whether these flat earth theorists, or indeed many other people we think might have crazy ideas, are really very creative people who might one day come up with new ideas of science that will take the human race and our planet even more leaps forward than we already are.  What do you think?

Tonight, I will plant magic beans and climb to the skies!  Well, actually, I’m scared stiff of heights, so I’ll make my husband do the climbing!

Sources include:

Picture also from Wikipedia: Illustration by Arthur Rackham, 1918, in English Fairy Tales by Flora Annie Steel