English Fairy Tales (Joseph Jacobs)

Week 12: England - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images


Jack and the Beanstalk

Reading time: 5 minutes. Word count: 1000 words.

"Jack and the Beanstalk" is another one of the stories which Jacobs identifies as distinctively English. In his notes, Jacobs records the following variation: "There is a chap-book version which is very poor; when Jack arrives at the top of the Beanstalk he is met by a fairy, who gravely informs him that the ogre had stolen all his possessions from Jack's father. The object of this was to prevent the tale becoming an encouragement to theft!" Needless to say, Jacobs has not reported this pious version of the story, but instead the traditional version which he himself heard as a very young boy in Australia.

THERE was once upon a time a poor widow who had an only son named Jack, and a cow named Milky-white. And all they had to live on was the milk the cow gave every morning, which they carried to the market and sold. But one morning Milky-white gave no milk, and they didn’t know what to do.

‘What shall we do, what shall we do?’ said the widow, wringing her hands.

‘Cheer up, mother, I’ll go and get work somewhere,’ said Jack.

‘We’ve tried that before, and nobody would take you,’ said his mother; ‘we must sell Milky-white and with the money start a shop, or something.’

‘All right, mother,’ says Jack; ‘it’s market-day today, and I’ll soon sell Milky-white, and then we’ll see what we can do.’

So he took the cow’s halter in his hand, and off he started. He hadn’ t gone far when he met a funny-looking old man, who said to him: ‘Good morning, Jack.’

‘Good morning to you,’ said Jack, and wondered how he knew his name.

‘Well, Jack, and where are you off to?’ said the man.

‘I’m going to market to sell our cow there.’

‘Oh, you look the proper sort of chap to sell cows,’ said the man; ‘I wonder if you know how many beans make five.’

‘Two in each hand and one in your mouth,’ says Jack, as sharp as a needle.

‘Right you are,’ says the man, ‘and here they are, the very beans themselves,’ he went on, pulling out of his pocket a number of strange-looking beans. ‘As you are so sharp,’ says he, ‘I don’t mind doing a swap with you — your cow for these beans.’

‘Go along,’ says Jack; ‘wouldn’t you like it?’

‘Ah! you don’t know what these beans are,’ said the man; ‘if you plant them overnight, by morning they grow right up to the sky.’

‘Really?’ said Jack; ‘you don’t say so.’

‘Yes, that is so, and if it doesn’t turn out to be true you can have your cow back.’

‘Right,’ says Jack, and hands him over Milky-white’s halter and pockets the beans.

Back goes Jack home, and as he hadn’t gone very far it wasn’t dusk by the time he got to his door.

‘Back already, Jack?’ said his mother; ‘I see you haven’t got Milky-white, so you’ve sold her. How much did you get for her?’

‘You’ll never guess, mother,’ says Jack.

‘No, you don’t say so. Good boy! Five pounds, ten, fifteen, no, it can’t be twenty.’

‘I told you you couldn’t guess. What do you say to these beans; they’re magical, plant them overnight and —‘

‘What!’ says Jack’s mother, ‘have you been such a fool, such a dolt, such an idiot, as to give away my Milky-white, the best milker in the parish, and prime beef to boot, for a set of paltry beans? Take that! Take that! Take that! And as for your precious beans here they go out of the window. And now off with you to bed. Not a sup shall you drink, and not a bit shall you swallow this very night.’

So Jack went upstairs to his little room in the attic, and sad and sorry he was, to be sure, as much for his mother’s sake, as for the loss of his supper.

At last he dropped off to sleep.

When he woke up, the room looked so funny. The sun was shining into part of it, and yet all the rest was quite dark and shady. So Jack jumped up and dressed himself and went to the window. And what do you think he saw? Why, the beans his mother had thrown out of the window into the garden had sprung up into a big beanstalk which went up and up and up till it reached the sky. So the man spoke truth after all.

The beanstalk grew up quite close past Jack’s window, so all he had to do was to open it and give a jump on to the beanstalk which ran up just like a big ladder. So Jack climbed, and he climbed and he climbed and he climbed and he climbed and he climbed and he climbed till at last he reached the sky. And when he got there he found a long broad road going as straight as a dart. So he walked along and he walked along and he walked along till he came to a great big tall house, and on the doorstep there was a great big tall woman.

‘Good morning, mum,’ says Jack, quite polite-like. ‘Could you be so kind as to give me some breakfast?’ For he hadn’t had anything to eat, you know, the night before and was as hungry as a hunter.

‘It’s breakfast you want, is it?’ says the great big tall woman, ‘it’s breakfast you’ll be if you don’t move off from here. My man is an ogre and there’s nothing he likes better than boys broiled on toast. You’d better be moving on or he’ll be coming.’

‘Oh! please, mum, do give me something to eat, mum. I’ve had nothing to eat since yesterday morning, really and truly, mum,’ says Jack. ‘I may as well be broiled as die of hunger.’


Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • what did Jack give the old man in exchange for the magic beans?
  • who did Jack meet when he first arrived up in the sky?
  • why did Jack hide in the oven?

Source: English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs (1890). Weblink.


Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM