Friday, February 23, 2007


Another illustration by Mirko Hanak for Joseph Jacobs' version of Jack and the Beanstalk.

I like the swallows.

Not my favourite folk/fairy tale.

Perhaps because I had prissy, priggy ethical issues, even as a child, about property rights and theft, even for ogres and giants; and Jack, the little bugger, was stealing, like a sneaking, thieving little low life.

While anti-subversive in that sense, I was wholly subversive in another - which got me into big trouble with an itinerant preacher when I was eight. I maintained that the Pharisees and the Sadducees couldn't have been all bad. If I was going straight to hell for rejecting that absolute condemnation by class, I would maintain that giants and orgres weren't, every single one of them bad, neither.

So my sympathies were, you might say, divided.

Another query from a writer bum...

It occured to me that Jack and the Beanstalk could be seen as an appropriate fable outlining certain tensions in the industry, if not the entire procedure for becoming published.

As frequently as writers whine about the power structure and the search for the magic bean, management expresses irritation at their impudence and colossal gormlessness. We read various accounts of bones being ground too.
But damn, I wouldn't mind having that golden harp.


Anonymous said...

The golden harp, the magic flute,
the key: It takes all these things and a bit of right place/right time and who you know/blow and luck and talent of course. No easy way. It's
a rocky twisty road for sure.


Erik Ivan James said...

For me, the "golden harp", right now, would be a good Mentor...I think. I keep right on confusing myself by heading off in a zillion different directions at once. What's that got to do with beans? It seems I just keep farting into the wind, that's what.

Bernita said...

I see it more as climbing a beanstalk, Anna!

Erik, you're supposed to plant them, not eat them!

writtenwyrdd said...

For morality tales, this one bugs me, too, bernita. I suspect that this embodies the "it's okay to pillage the enemy" sort of logic.

Bernita said...

I expect you're right, Written.
Some versions assuage Jack's moral lapse by explaining that the giant killed Jack's father, so it's war, of a sort.

Robyn said...

Jack's mother was perfectly okay with the stolen goods; so it's fine to misbehave, son, if you make me rich while you do it?

HEE on the Pharisees. An awful lot of deacon boards today would not see much of a difference if they were compared.

Bernita said...

It's alright to despoil the Egyptians, Robyn.
And she sent him to bed without any supper when she though he had been taken in by a con man though he was just a boy.

Verily, that is the truth about certain church boards I have been familiar with.

December Quinn said...

I love looking at fairy tales a different way. My CP did a series of erotic novellas based on them that are awesome, very cute, and will be releasing soon.

Neil Gaiman did an amazing Snow White called "Snow, Glass, Apples". It was in Poppy Z. Brite's "Love in Vein II" antho. The antho was only so-so, but that story is, of course, stunning.

I've always had sympathy for the fairy tale bad guys, though. Especially the animal ones. they're just doing what they do, playing their part in the big crle of life, and along comes some poncy brat with a magic stick or something and all of the sudden the world is upside down.

Bernita said...

I'n curious, December, if one is an erotic take on Puss 'n Boots, or had that already been taken?

One thing I like in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time was his re-habilitation of ogres. Very charming characters.

December Quinn said...

No, she's done the Hansel & Gretel witch (that one's my favorite), Cinderella's stepmother, and...someone from Sleeping Beauty? I don't remember the last one, oops.

raine said...

Some versions assuage Jack's moral lapse by explaining that the giant killed Jack's father, so it's war, of a sort.

Oh phffft. :-p~~~
Justifying bad behavior after the fact!

I had to laugh at this. I remember the surprised reactions of old friends at times by seeing alternate sides to these fables.
After all, there was this poor old lady, living alone in the woods & not bothering anyone, when these two juvenile delinquents wander by and start eating her ginerbread house! Vandalism, pure and simple.

But yes--we all want the golden harp, don't we? ;-)

Gabriele C. said...

Ops, that one went right over my head.

Must be a culture thing.

Bernita said...

Quite, Raine!
On the other hand, the fable of the Boy Who Cried Wolf always bothered me. He was just a kid, after all.

Some writers describe representation/publication almost as a form of theft from the publishing ogres.

Which did, Gabriele? Jack?

kmfrontain said...

I look at Jack and the Beanstalk as a window on European racism dating back from who knows how many centuries. What did it say to kids listening? If this isn't a person of your people, go ahead, kill and steal. People were doing this all the time back then, weren't they? Off to the Crusades to steal the holy land back from the current occupants. That's one big golden egg, the holy lands. Saracens were the big ogre. One hell of bean stalk to climb to get there. Had to chop the route back to make sure the enemy didn't attack you at home. Jack wanted excuses to take things wrongfully, just like the people of the day. Just like people of today. This sort of justification still happens.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

LOL...tell us what you really feel...when you talk like that you make me snort! LOL!

writtenwyrdd said...

We all might want the golden harp, it's true...but I recall the first time I read that story (Original Grimm version? Not sure...) it indicated to me that the harp didn't want to go with Jack, that it cried out in protest and woke the giant up as Jack stole it. There's a clue that Jack wasn't doing any favors!

What's really interesting to me is how over time all the versions become more and more along the Disney formula lines. I can't help but read for both sides of the story,either, like most of you guys seem to do as well.

Bernita said...

Karen, I doubt somehow that Europeans were the only group that practised what you call "racism."
The folktales of many cultures express an ethic of honour that applied only to their group, clan or tribe.

Puzzled, Bonnie. Why?

Bernita said...

Not sure if Jack is a Grimm tale either, Written.
Worth noting that the fi-fi-fo bit is present in King Lear.

kmfrontain said...

Yes, of course justifications are used by all societies/groups of people when they commit a wrong. Jack and the Beanstalk happens to have the concept immortalized in fairy tale form. I think children listening to this, way back when, had an entirely different view of the rightness of Jack's actions. No Disney attitude with them. It's important to see this distinction between modern North American "think" and the outlook of someone from centuries ago. It was very not Disney. The Brothers Grimm put together an anthology that shows us how people viewed the world in Europe, centuries earlier. There was loads of racism, violence, stereotyping, social injustices, applauding theft (when not caught), deploring crime (when caught), etc.

Gabriele C. said...

I don't think it's a Grimm tale, Bernita, though in that case I would know what everyone is talking about here. :)

kmfrontain said...

Heh heh. You look at Hollywood movies, you see a lot of the same criminal think idealized even today. We're making our own folk tales out of images, and they don't speak well of us, in some cases.

writtenwyrdd said...

I just find it disturbing that the folk tales are being changed or sanitized (what I mean by Disney version) more and more. I can recall seeing the unvarnished versions in school libraries in the 60s, and you can only find the happy happy joy joy versions now, for example.

It seems rather like the revision of history to make all the bad things better.

An example of that disturbing trend in literature is bad enough; but changing history... A friend in Kansas City MO saw his daughter's history book (6th grade I believe) and it called the Trail of Tears a "voluntary migration".

Bernita said...

Certainly, there have always been people who think it is quite alright to steal from the rich and/or powerful. The company. The government.

The story is essentially this, Gabriele.
The son of a poor widow takes thir cow to market. He is accosted by a man who offers him some magic beans in exchange for her.
His mother is angry and throws them out the window. Overnight a giant beanstalk grows. Jack climbed it an discovers an ogre's castle. The soft-hearted ogre's wife hides Jack. When the ogre falls asleep, Jack steals a bag of gold. When the gold runs out, Jacke climbs the stalk again and steals successively a hen that lays golden eggs and a harp that plays beautiful music by itself.
As he runs off the harp cries out "Master," the ogre roars after Jack, but Jack when reaching the ground, grabs an axe and chops down the beanstalk. The ogre dies and Jack and his mother live happily ever after.

Gabriele C. said...

Didn't know that one. I sorta can understand the bag of gold, if they're poor, but stealing the harp is pushings things a bit far.

Bernita said...

"Revision" goes on all the time, Written.
I imagine all these tales underwent revision everytime they were told, even before they were collected and written down.

kmfrontain said...

You change countries and history changes. English history texts call William a conqueror -- William the Conqueror -- but French texts call him Guillame le batard. Perspective is everything.

The Brothers Grimm may not have realized it at the time, or perhaps they did and were therefore brilliant, but compiling all those folk tales did us a great service. So long as we can access the original versions 9or close to original), we have a window into the mindset of people from long ago. Sure we're looking at fairy tales, but the ideals come through. We see some attitudes were the same now as then. We see some different. It's very interesting stuff.

Bernita said...

It seems there was quite an antiquarian interest in the 1800's in the collection and preservation of folklore of all sorts. And the re-telling of the same.
Charles Perrault,France; Cozena Nemcova, Bohemia; Hans Cristian Anderson, Denmark; Pavil Dobsinsky, Slovakia; Alexander Nikolayevich Afanasjev,Alexander Pushkin, Russia;and many, many others.

Bernita said...

That should be Bozena Nemcova.

kmfrontain said...

I had an anthology of Hans Christian Anderson's work and found myself depressed after reading it. He was very into beautiful death stories (Little Mermaid, Little Match Girl). I prefer the bash 'em and run sort of fairy tale characters to the apathetic types. Did you notice that about his work?

Bernita said...

Since I don't seem to have Anderson among my collection, I imagine I did, Karen. I know I didn't care for either of those.
I'm with you, stuff the morbid and pathetic.

Scott from Oregon said...

Wasn't the assumption that the ogre STOLE the bag of gold first?

SO Jack was simply redistributing earthly wealth from an unearthly creature?

Bernita said...

Nope, Scott, only that he liked to eat people.
His accumulation of riches could as well be explained as a nod to the custom that the goods of a challenger/opponent belonged to the victor.
Jack didn't redistribute, he kept it.

spyscribbler said...

I'm rotting for you to get your golden harp, Bernita! I want to read it, when you do!

spyscribbler said...

ROOTING, rooting. Rooting! Not rotting. Sorry!

Bernita said...

Natasha, I was going to say I hoped neither of us would be "rotting" before a novel of mine gets published.
But some days one wonders.

CloudWhite said...

The discussion is interesting. To me it is a matter of means justify ends or ends justify means. We don't approve lying, but it is used in politic activities daily. We don't approve killing, but countries start wars and people get killed. How do we justify those?

By the way, I provide a link to the story here in case some one interested to read the story again.