Beanstalk Hero Myths

From Plastic Tub

In the English-speaking world, every child is familiar with the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk. A naïve young man (Jack) trades his cow for some "magic beans" that produce an enormous beanstalk by which he ascends to the clouds--and the home of a malevolent giant. Jack is captured but escapes with the aid of the giant’s wife, taking along a hen that lays golden eggs. Jack is a greedy boy however, and ascends once again, this time to steal a harp, which, as it turns out, resents being taken. The harp's cries for help attract the giant, who pursues Jack down the stalk. Jack, once safely on the ground, attacks the stalk with an axe, felling it and killing the giant. This tale, both alchemical parable and re-telling of the Prometheus myth, is in turn based upon the older story of Jack the Giant Killer, a tale about a youth who encounters a series of five giants which through cunning and magical assistance he is able to defeat. He even removes the last giant's head and sends it to King Arthur.

Although generally believed to have originated upon Old England's shores, what most people do not realize is that these tales derive from legends native to the Baltic Sea area--Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, etc. In these original tales, "Jaani" unwittingly retrieves a "magic stone" from an unscrupulous merchant who is unaware of its value. (In Baltic versions Jaani gives up his pig, and not a cow.) Under the stone's influence Jaani becomes corrupted; it gives him strange powers of insight that lead to unnatural economic windfalls. He climbs higher and higher in the social hierarchy, eventually challenging the aristocracy, the king, spirit beings and finally, the gods themselves. For his arrogance, Janni is hung upside down from atop a tall tree and his stone hidden away in an unknown place, although some variants say the stone was placed in a jar at the center of the sun.

Dr. Jeanne-Marie Sicre is the first scholar to have linked these tales with Elysius Dubord's brilliant writings on the origin of Mormo and the Sumerian Mommo (see Fallen Stone). She has also managed to link the stories, following the Mormo connection, to the story of the Owl King, a man legend says was turned to stone by the gods (or, in later versions, by God) for daring to set himself as their (his) equal. What is remarkable about her thesis is that legends from Iraq, the Baltic Sea and Southern France are linked in such a way as to suggest a common origin.

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More radical members of the Albion Jack-and-the-Beanstalk Story-Tellers Guild have issued a fatwa against Dr. Sicre for proposing that the myth is not native to British soil.

The Israeli Creation Myth is based on a similar tale wherein Jacob climbed a ladder and wrestled with God. When Jacob "overcame" his "struggle", God renamed him Israel and he founded a nation.