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Jack the giant killer

The meaning of «jack the giant killer»

"Jack the Giant Killer" is a Cornish fairy tale and legend about a young adult who slays a number of bad giants during King Arthur's reign. The tale is characterised by violence, gore and blood-letting. Giants are prominent in Cornish folklore, Breton mythology and Welsh Bardic lore. Some parallels to elements and incidents in Norse mythology have been detected in the tale, and the trappings of Jack's last adventure with the Giant Galigantus suggest parallels with French and Breton fairy tales such as Bluebeard. Jack's belt is similar to the belt in "The Valiant Little Tailor", and his magical sword, shoes, cap, and cloak are similar to those owned by Tom Thumb or those found in Welsh and Norse mythology.

Jack and his tale are rarely referenced in English literature prior to the eighteenth century (there is an allusion to Jack the Giant Killer in Shakespeare's King Lear, where in Act 3, one character, Edgar, in his feigned madness, cries, "Fie, foh, and fum,/ I smell the blood of a British man"). Jack's story did not appear in print until 1711. One scholar speculates the public had grown weary of King Arthur and Jack was created to fill the role. Henry Fielding, John Newbery, Samuel Johnson, Boswell, and William Cowper were familiar with the tale.

In 1962, a feature-length film based on the tale was released starring Kerwin Mathews. The film made extensive use of stop motion in the manner of Ray Harryhausen.

This plot summary is based on a text published ca. 1760 by John Cotton and Joshua Eddowes, which in its turn was based on a chapbook ca. 1711, and reprinted in 'The Classic Fairy Tales' by Iona and Peter Opie in 1974.

The tale is set during the reign of King Arthur and tells of a young Cornish farmer's son named Jack who is not only strong but so clever he easily confounds the learned with his penetrating wit. Jack encounters a livestock-eating giant called Cormoran (Cornish: 'The Giant of the Sea' SWF:Kowr-Mor-An) and lures him to his death in a pit trap. Jack is dubbed 'Jack the Giant-Killer' for this feat and receives not only the giant's wealth, but a sword and belt to commemorate the event.

A man-eating giant named Blunderbore vows vengeance for Cormoran's death and carries Jack off to an enchanted castle. Jack manages to slay Blunderbore and his brother Rebecks by hanging and stabbing them. He frees three ladies held captive in the giant's castle.

On a trip into Wales, Jack tricks a two-headed Welsh giant into slashing his own belly open. King Arthur's son now enters the story and Jack becomes his servant.

They spend the night with a three-headed giant and rob him in the morning. In gratitude for having spared his castle, the three-headed giant gives Jack a magic sword, a cap of knowledge, a cloak of invisibility, and shoes of swiftness.

On the road, Jack and the Prince meet an enchanted Lady serving Lucifer. Jack breaks the spell with his magic accessories, beheads Lucifer, and the Lady marries the Prince. Jack is rewarded with membership in the Round Table.

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