Jack The Giant-killer
: English Fairy Tales
When good King Arthur reigned with Guinevere his Queen, there lived,
near the Land's End in Cornwall, a farmer who had one only son called
Jack. Now Jack was brisk and ready; of such a lively wit that none nor
nothing could worst him.
In those days, the Mount of St. Michael in Cornwall was the fastness of
a hugeous giant whose name was Cormoran.
He was full eight
en feet in height, some three yards about his middle,
of a grim fierce face, and he was the terror of all the country-side. He
lived in a cave amidst the rocky Mount, and when he desired victuals he
would wade across the tides to the mainland and furnish himself forth
with all that came in his way. The poor folk and the rich folk alike ran
out of their houses and hid themselves when they heard the swish-swash
of his big feet in the water; for if he saw them, he would think nothing
of broiling half-a-dozen or so of them for breakfast. As it was, he
seized their cattle by the score, carrying off half-a-dozen fat oxen on
his back at a time, and hanging sheep and pigs to his waistbelt like
bunches of dip-candles. Now this had gone on for long years, and the
poor folk of Cornwall were in despair, for none could put an end to the
It so happened that one market day Jack, then quite a young lad, found
the town upside down over some new exploit of the giant's. Women were
weeping, men were cursing, and the magistrates were sitting in Council
over what was to be done. But none could suggest a plan. Then Jack,
blithe and gay, went up to the magistrates, and with a fine
courtesy--for he was ever polite--asked them what reward would be given
to him who killed the giant Cormoran.
"The treasures of the Giant's Cave," quoth they.
"Every whit of it?" quoth Jack, who was never to be done.
"To the last farthing," quoth they.
"Then will I undertake the task," said Jack, and forthwith set about the
It was winter-time, and having got himself a horn, a pickaxe, and a
shovel, he went over to the Mount in the dark evening, set to work, and
before dawn he had dug a pit, no less than twenty-two feet deep and nigh
as big across. This he covered with long thin sticks and straw,
sprinkling a little loose mould over all to make it look like solid
ground. So, just as dawn was breaking, he planted himself fair and
square on the side of the pit that was farthest from the giant's cave,
raised the horn to his lips, and with full blast sounded:
"Tantivy! Tantivy! Tantivy!"
just as he would have done had he been hunting a fox.
Of course this woke the giant, who rushed in a rage out of his cave, and
seeing little Jack, fair and square blowing away at his horn, as calm
and cool as may be, he became still more angry, and made for the
disturber of his rest, bawling out, "I'll teach you to wake a giant, you
little whipper-snapper. You shall pay dearly for your tantivys, I'll
take you and broil you whole for break--"
He had only got as far as this when crash--he fell into the pit! So
there was a break indeed; such an one that it caused the very
foundations of the Mount to shake.
But Jack shook with laughter. "Ho, ho!" he cried, "how about breakfast
now, Sir Giant? Will you have me broiled or baked? And will no diet
serve you but poor little Jack? Faith! I've got you in Lob's pound now!
You're in the stocks for bad behaviour, and I'll plague you as I like.
Would I had rotten eggs; but this will do as well." And with that he up
with his pickaxe and dealt the giant Cormoran such a most weighty knock
on the very crown of his head, that he killed him on the spot.
Whereupon Jack calmly filled up the pit with earth again and went to
search the cave, where he found much treasure.
Now when the magistrates heard of Jack's great exploit, they proclaimed
that henceforth he should be known as--
JACK THE GIANT-KILLER.
And they presented him with a sword and belt, on which these words were
embroidered in gold:
Here's the valiant Cornishman
Who slew the giant Cormoran.
Of course the news of Jack's victory soon spread over all England, so
that another giant named Blunderbore who lived to the north, hearing of
it, vowed if ever he came across Jack he would be revenged upon him. Now
this giant Blunderbore was lord of an enchanted castle that stood in the
middle of a lonesome forest.
It so happened that Jack, about four months after he had killed
Cormoran, had occasion to journey into Wales, and on the road he passed
this forest. Weary with walking, and finding a pleasant fountain by the
wayside, he lay down to rest and was soon fast asleep.
Now the giant Blunderbore, coming to the well for water, found Jack
sleeping, and knew by the lines embroidered on his belt that here was
the far-famed giant-killer. Rejoiced at his luck, the giant, without
more ado, lifted Jack to his shoulder and began to carry him through the
wood to the enchanted castle.
But the rustling of the boughs awakened Jack, who, finding himself
already in the clutches of the giant, was terrified; nor was his alarm
decreased by seeing the courtyard of the castle all strewn with men's
"Yours will be with them ere long," said Blunderbore as he locked poor
Jack into an immense chamber above the castle gateway. It had a
high-pitched, beamed roof, and one window that looked down the road.
Here poor Jack was to stay while Blunderbore went to fetch his
brother-giant, who lived in the same wood, that he might share in the
Now, after a time, Jack, watching through the window, saw the two giants
tramping hastily down the road, eager for their dinner.
"Now," quoth Jack to himself, "my death or my deliverance is at hand."
For he had thought out a plan. In one corner of the room he had seen two
strong cords. These he took, and making a cunning noose at the end of
each, he hung them out of the window, and, as the giants were unlocking
the iron door of the gate, managed to slip them over their heads without
their noticing it. Then, quick as thought, he tied the other ends to a
beam, so that as the giants moved on the nooses tightened and throttled
them until they grew black in the face. Seeing this, Jack slid down the
ropes, and drawing his sword, slew them both.
So, taking the keys of the castle, he unlocked all the doors and set
free three beauteous ladies who, tied by the hair of their heads, he
found almost starved to death. "Sweet ladies," quoth Jack, kneeling on
one knee--for he was ever polite--"here are the keys of this enchanted
castle. I have destroyed the giant Blunderbore and his brutish brother,
and thus have restored to you your liberty. These keys should bring you
all else you require."
So saying he proceeded on his journey to Wales.
He travelled as fast as he could; perhaps too fast, for, losing his way,
he found himself benighted and far from any habitation. He wandered on
always in hopes, until on entering a narrow valley he came on a very
large, dreary-looking house standing alone. Being anxious for shelter he
went up to the door and knocked. You may imagine his surprise and alarm
when the summons was answered by a giant with two heads. But though this
monster's look was exceedingly fierce, his manners were quite polite;
the truth being that he was a Welsh giant, and as such double-faced and
smooth, given to gaining his malicious ends by a show of false
So he welcomed Jack heartily in a strong Welsh accent, and prepared a
bedroom for him, where he was left with kind wishes for a good rest.
Jack, however, was too tired to sleep well, and as he lay awake, he
overheard his host muttering to himself in the next room. Having very
keen ears he was able to make out these words, or something like them:
"Though here you lodge with me this night,
You shall not see the morning light.
My club shall dash your brains outright."
"Say'st thou so!" quoth Jack to himself, starting up at once, "So that
is your Welsh trick, is it? But I will be even with you." Then, leaving
his bed, he laid a big billet of wood among the blankets, and taking one
of these to keep himself warm, made himself snug in a corner of the
room, pretending to snore, so as to make Mr. Giant think he was asleep.
And sure enough, after a little time, in came the monster on tiptoe as
if treading on eggs, and carrying a big club. Then--
WHACK! WHACK! WHACK!
Jack could hear the bed being belaboured until the Giant, thinking every
bone of his guest's skin must be broken, stole out of the room again;
whereupon Jack went calmly to bed once more and slept soundly! Next
morning the giant couldn't believe his eyes when he saw Jack coming down
the stairs fresh and hearty.
"Odds splutter hur nails!" he cried, astonished. "Did she sleep well?
Was there not nothing felt in the night?"
"Oh," replied Jack, laughing in his sleeve, "I think a rat did come and
give me two or three flaps of his tail."
[Illustration: Taking the keys of the castle, Jack unlocked all the doors]
[Illustration: "Odds splutter hur nails!" cried the giant, not to be
outdone. "Hur can do that hurself!"]
On this the giant was dumbfoundered, and led Jack to breakfast, bringing
him a bowl which held at least four gallons of hasty-pudding, and
bidding him, as a man of such mettle, eat the lot. Now Jack when
travelling wore under his cloak a leathern bag to carry his things
withal; so, quick as thought, he hitched this round in front with the
opening just under his chin; thus, as he ate, he could slip the best
part of the pudding into it without the giant's being any the wiser. So
they sate down to breakfast, the giant gobbling down his own measure of
hasty-pudding, while Jack made away with his.
"See," says crafty Jack when he had finished. "I'll show you a trick
worth two of yours," and with that he up with a carving-knife and,
ripping up the leathern bag, out fell all the hasty-pudding on the
"Odds splutter hur nails!" cried the giant, not to be outdone. "Hur can
do that hurself!" Whereupon he seized the carving-knife, and ripping
open his own belly fell down dead.
Thus was Jack quit of the Welsh giant.
Now it so happened that in those days, when gallant knights were always
seeking adventures, King Arthur's only son, a very valiant Prince,
begged of his father a large sum of money to enable him to journey to
Wales, and there strive to set free a certain beautiful lady who was
possessed by seven evil spirits. In vain the King denied him; so at last
he gave way and the Prince set out with two horses, one of which he
rode, the other laden with gold pieces. Now after some days' journey the
Prince came to a market-town in Wales where there was a great commotion.
On asking the reason for it he was told that, according to law, the
corpse of a very generous man had been arrested on its way to the grave,
because, in life, it had owed large sums to the money-lenders.
"That is a cruel law," said the young Prince. "Go, bury the dead in
peace, and let the creditors come to my lodgings; I will pay the debts
of the dead."
So the creditors came, but they were so numerous that by evening the
Prince had but twopence left for himself, and could not go further on
Now it so happened that Jack the Giant-Killer on his way to Wales passed
through the town, and, hearing of the Prince's plight, was so taken with
his kindness and generosity that he determined to be the Prince's
servant. So this was agreed upon, and next morning, after Jack had paid
the reckoning with his last farthing, the two set out together. But as
they were leaving the town, an old woman ran after the Prince and called
out, "Justice! Justice! The dead man owed me twopence these seven years.
Pay me as well as the others."
And the Prince, kind and generous, put his hand to his pocket and gave
the old woman the twopence that was left to him. So now they had not a
penny between them, and when the sun grew low the Prince said:
"Jack! Since we have no money, how are we to get a night's lodging?"
Then Jack replied, "We shall do well enough, Master; for within two or
three miles of this place there lives a huge and monstrous giant with
three heads, who can fight four hundred men in armour and make them fly
from him like chaff before the wind."
"And what good will that be to us?" quoth the Prince. "He will for sure
chop us up in a mouthful."
"Nay," said Jack, laughing. "Let me go and prepare the way for you. By
all accounts this giant is a dolt. Mayhap I may manage better than
So the Prince remained where he was, and Jack pricked his steed at full
speed till he came to the giant's castle, at the gate of which he
knocked so loud that he made the neighbouring hills resound.
On this the giant roared from within in a voice like thunder:
Then said Jack as bold as brass, "None but your poor cousin Jack."
"Cousin Jack!" quoth the giant, astounded. "And what news with my poor
cousin Jack?" For, see you, he was quite taken aback; so Jack made haste
to reassure him.
"Dear coz, heavy news, God wot!"
"Heavy news," echoed the giant, half afraid. "God wot, no heavy news can
come to me. Have I not three heads? Can I not fight five hundred men in
armour? Can I not make them fly like chaff before the wind?"
"True," replied crafty Jack, "but I came to warn you because the great
King Arthur's son with a thousand men in armour is on his way to kill
At this the giant began to shiver and to shake. "Ah! Cousin Jack! Kind
cousin Jack! This is heavy news indeed," quoth he. "Tell me, what am I
[Illustration: "Ah! Cousin Jack! Kind cousin Jack! This is heavy news
"Hide yourself in the vault," says crafty Jack, "and I will lock and
bolt and bar you in; and keep the key till the Prince has gone. So you
will be safe."
Then the giant made haste and ran down into the vault, and Jack locked,
and bolted, and barred him in. Then being thus secure, he went and
fetched his master, and the two made themselves heartily merry over what
the giant was to have had for supper, while the miserable monster
shivered and shook with fright in the underground vault.
Well, after a good night's rest Jack woke his master in early morn, and
having furnished him well with gold and silver from the giant's
treasure, bade him ride three miles forward on his journey. So when Jack
judged that the Prince was pretty well out of the smell of the giant,
he took the key and let his prisoner out. He was half dead with cold and
damp, but very grateful; and he begged Jack to let him know what he
would be given as a reward for saving the giant's life and castle from
destruction, and he should have it.
"You're very welcome," said Jack, who always had his eyes about him.
"All I want is the old coat and cap, together with the rusty old sword
and slippers which are at your bed-head."
When the giant heard this he sighed and shook his head. "You don't know
what you are asking," quoth he. "They are the most precious things I
possess, but as I have promised, you must have them. The coat will make
you invisible, the cap will tell you all you want to know, the sword
will cut asunder whatever you strike, and the slippers will take you
wherever you want to go in the twinkling of an eye!"
So Jack, overjoyed, rode away with the coat and cap, the sword and the
slippers, and soon overtook his master; and they rode on together until
they reached the castle where the beautiful lady lived whom the Prince
Now she was very beautiful, for all she was possessed of seven devils,
and when she heard the Prince sought her as a suitor, she smiled and
ordered a splendid banquet to be prepared for his reception. And she
sate on his right hand, and plied him with food and drink.
And when the repast was over she took out her own handkerchief and
wiped his lips gently, and said, with a smile:
"I have a task for you, my lord! You must show me that kerchief
to-morrow morning or lose your head."
And with that she put the handkerchief in her bosom and said,
The Prince was in despair, but Jack said nothing till his master was in
bed. Then he put on the old cap he had got from the giant, and lo! in a
minute he knew all that he wanted to know. So, in the dead of the night,
when the beautiful lady called on one of her familiar spirits to carry
her to Lucifer himself, Jack was beforehand with her, and putting on his
coat of darkness and his slippers of swiftness, was there as soon as she
was. And when she gave the handkerchief to the Devil, bidding him keep
it safe, and he put it away on a high shelf, Jack just up and nipped it
away in a trice!
So the next morning, when the beauteous enchanted lady looked to see the
Prince crestfallen, he just made a fine bow and presented her with the
At first she was terribly disappointed, but, as the day drew on, she
ordered another and still more splendid repast to be got ready. And this
time, when the repast was over, she kissed the Prince full on the lips
"I have a task for you, my lover. Show me to-morrow morning the last
lips I kiss to-night or you lose your head."
Then the Prince, who by this time was head over ears in love, said
tenderly, "If you will kiss none but mine, I will." Now the beauteous
lady, for all she was possessed by seven devils, could not but see that
the Prince was a very handsome young man; so she blushed a little, and
"That is neither here nor there: you must show me them, or death is your
So the Prince went to his bed, sorrowful as before; but Jack put on the
cap of knowledge and knew in a moment all he wanted to know.
Thus when, in the dead of the night, the beauteous lady called on her
familiar spirit to take her to Lucifer himself, Jack in his coat of
darkness and his shoes of swiftness was there before her.
"Thou hast betrayed me once," said the beauteous lady to Lucifer,
frowning, "by letting go my handkerchief. Now will I give thee something
none can steal, and so best the Prince, King's son though he be."
With that she kissed the loathly demon full on the lips, and left him.
Whereupon Jack with one blow of the rusty sword of strength cut off
Lucifer's head, and, hiding it under his coat of darkness, brought it
back to his master.
Thus next morning when the beauteous lady, with malice in her beautiful
eyes, asked the Prince to show her the lips she had last kissed, he
pulled out the demon's head by the horns. On that the seven devils,
which possessed the poor lady, gave seven dreadful shrieks and left her.
Thus the enchantment being broken, she appeared in all her perfect
beauty and goodness.
So she and the Prince were married the very next morning. After which
they journeyed back to the court of King Arthur, where Jack the
Giant-Killer, for his many exploits, was made one of the Knights of the
This, however, did not satisfy our hero, who was soon on the road again
searching for giants. Now he had not gone far when he came upon one,
seated on a huge block of timber near the entrance to a dark cave. He
was a most terrific giant. His goggle eyes were as coals of fire, his
countenance was grim and gruesome; his cheeks, like huge flitches of
bacon, were covered with a stubbly beard, the bristles of which
resembled rods of iron wire, while the locks of hair that fell on his
brawny shoulders showed like curled snakes or hissing adders. He held a
knotted iron club, and breathed so heavily you could hear him a mile
away. Nothing daunted by this fearsome sight, Jack alighted from his
horse and, putting on his coat of darkness, went close up to the giant
and said softly: "Hullo! is that you? It will not be long before I have
you fast by your beard."
[Illustration: Seated on a huge block of timber near the entrance to a
So saying he made a cut with the sword of strength at the giant's head,
but, somehow, missing his aim, cut off the nose instead, clean as a
whistle! My goodness! How the giant roared! It was like claps of
thunder, and he began to lay about him with the knotted iron club, like
one possessed. But Jack in his coat of darkness easily dodged the
blows, and running in behind, drove the sword up to the hilt into the
giant's back, so that he fell stone dead.
Jack then cut off the head and sent it to King Arthur by a waggoner whom
he hired for the purpose. After which he began to search the giant's
cave to find his treasure. He passed through many windings and turnings
until he came to a huge hall paved and roofed with freestone. At the
upper end of this was an immense fireplace where hung an iron cauldron,
the like of which, for size, Jack had never seen before. It was boiling
and gave out a savoury steam; while beside it, on the right hand, stood
a big massive table set out with huge platters and mugs. Here it was
that the giants used to dine. Going a little further he came upon a
sort of window barred with iron, and looking within beheld a vast number
of miserable captives.
"Alas! Alack!" they cried on seeing him. "Art come, young man, to join
us in this dreadful prison?"
"That depends," quoth Jack: "but first tell me wherefore you are thus
"Through no fault," they cried at once. "We are captives of the cruel
giants and are kept here and well nourished until such time as the
monsters desire a feast. Then they choose the fattest and sup off them."
On hearing this Jack straightway unlocked the door of the prison and set
the poor fellows free. Then, searching the giants' coffers, he divided
the gold and silver equally amongst the captives as some redress for
their sufferings, and taking them to a neighbouring castle gave them a
right good feast.
Now as they were all making merry over their deliverance, and praising
Jack's prowess, a messenger arrived to say that one Thunderdell, a huge
giant with two heads, having heard of the death of his kinsman, was on
his way from the northern dales to be revenged, and was already within a
mile or two of the castle, the country folk with their flocks and herds
flying before him like chaff before the wind.
[Illustration: On his way ... to be revenged]
Now the castle with its gardens stood on a small island that was
surrounded by a moat twenty feet wide and thirty feet deep, having very
steep sides. And this moat was spanned by a drawbridge. This, without a
moment's delay, Jack ordered should be sawn on both sides at the middle,
so as to only leave one plank uncut over which he in his invisible coat
of darkness passed swiftly to meet his enemy, bearing in his hand the
wonderful sword of strength.
Now though the giant could not, of course, see Jack, he could smell him,
for giants have keen noses. Therefore Thunderdell cried out in a voice
like his name:
"Fee, fi, fo, fum!
I smell the blood of an Englishman.
Be he alive, or be he dead,
I'll grind his bones to make my bread!"
[Illustration: The country folk flying before him like chaff before the
"Is that so?" quoth Jack, cheerful as ever. "Then art thou a monstrous
miller for sure!"
On this the giant, peering round everywhere for a glimpse of his foe,
"Art thou, indeed, the villain who hath killed so many of my kinsmen?
Then, indeed, will I tear thee to pieces with my teeth, suck thy blood,
and grind thy bones to powder."
"Thou'lt have to catch me first," quoth Jack, laughing, and throwing off
his coat of darkness and putting on his slippers of swiftness, he began
nimbly to lead the giant a pretty dance, he leaping and doubling light
as a feather, the monster following heavily like a walking tower, so
that the very foundations of the earth seemed to shake at every step.
At this game the onlookers nearly split their sides with laughter, until
Jack, judging there had been enough of it, made for the drawbridge, ran
neatly over the single plank, and reaching the other side waited in
teasing fashion for his adversary.
On came the giant at full speed, foaming at the mouth with rage, and
flourishing his club. But when he came to the middle of the bridge his
great weight, of course, broke the plank, and there he was fallen
headlong into the moat, rolling and wallowing like a whale, plunging
from place to place, yet unable to get out and be revenged.
The spectators greeted his efforts with roars of laughter, and Jack
himself was at first too overcome with merriment to do more than scoff.
At last, however, he went for a rope, cast it over the giant's two
heads, so, with the help of a team of horses, drew them shorewards,
where two blows from the sword of strength settled the matter.
After some time spent in mirth and pastimes, Jack began once more to
grow restless, and taking leave of his companions set out for fresh
He travelled far and fast, through woods, and vales, and hills, till at
last he came, late at night, on a lonesome house set at the foot of a
high mountain. Knocking at the door, it was opened by an old man whose
head was white as snow.
"Father," said Jack, ever courteous, "can you lodge a benighted
"Ay, that will I, and welcome to my poor cottage," replied the old man.
Whereupon Jack came in, and after supper they sate together chatting in
friendly fashion. Then it was that the old man, seeing by Jack's belt
that he was the famous Giant-Killer, spoke in this wise:
"My son! You are the great conqueror of evil monsters. Now close by
there lives one well worthy of your prowess. On the top of yonder high
hill is an enchanted castle kept by a giant named Galligantua, who, by
the help of a wicked old magician, inveigles many beautiful ladies and
valiant knights into the castle, where they are transformed into all
sorts of birds and beasts, yea, even into fishes and insects. There they
live pitiably in confinement; but most of all do I grieve for a duke's
daughter whom they kidnapped in her father's garden, bringing her hither
in a burning chariot drawn by fiery dragons. Her form is that of a white
hind; and though many valiant knights have tried their utmost to break
the spell and work her deliverance, none have succeeded; for, see you,
at the entrance to the castle are two dreadful griffins who destroy
every one who attempts to pass them by."
Now Jack bethought him of the coat of darkness which had served him so
well before, and he put on the cap of knowledge, and in an instant he
knew what had to be done. Then the very next morning, at dawn-time, Jack
arose and put on his invisible coat and his slippers of swiftness. And
in the twinkling of an eye there he was on the top of the mountain! And
there were the two griffins guarding the castle gates--horrible
creatures with forked tails and tongues. But they could not see him
because of the coat of darkness, so he passed them by unharmed.
And hung to the doors of the gateway he found a golden trumpet on a
silver chain, and beneath it was engraved in red lettering:
Whoever shall this trumpet blow
Will cause the giant's overthrow.
The black enchantment he will break,
And gladness out of sadness make.
No sooner had Jack read these words than he put the horn to his lips and
blew a loud
"Tantivy! Tantivy! Tantivy!"
Now at the very first note the castle trembled to its vast foundations,
and before he had finished the measure, both the giant and the magician
were biting their thumbs and tearing their hair, knowing that their
wickedness must now come to an end. But the giant showed fight and took
up his club to defend himself; whereupon Jack, with one clean cut of the
sword of strength, severed his head from his body, and would doubtless
have done the same to the magician, but that the latter was a coward,
and, calling up a whirlwind, was swept away by it into the air, nor
has he ever been seen or heard of since. The enchantments being thus
broken, all the valiant knights and beautiful ladies, who had been
transformed into birds and beasts and fishes and reptiles and insects,
returned to their proper shapes, including the duke's daughter, who,
from being a white hind, showed as the most beauteous maiden upon whom
the sun ever shone. Now, no sooner had this occurred than the whole
castle vanished away in a cloud of smoke, and from that moment giants
vanished also from the land.
[Illustration: The giant Galligantua and the wicked old magician
transform the duke's daughter into a white hind]
So Jack, when he had presented the head of Galligantua to King Arthur,
together with all the lords and ladies he had delivered from
enchantment, found he had nothing more to do. As a reward for past
services, however, King Arthur bestowed the hand of the duke's daughter
upon honest Jack the Giant-Killer. So married they were, and the whole
kingdom was filled with joy at their wedding. Furthermore, the King
bestowed on Jack a noble castle with a magnificent estate belonging
thereto, whereon he, his lady, and their children lived in great joy and
content for the rest of their days.
[Illustration: Headpiece--The Three Sillies]