When I write my stories, as much as possible I try to find the first time it was written down, or in some cases, translated. The nature of telling established stories is that they tend to get changed along the way, often to reflect the morals held by society at the time.
After the success of our first Children’s picture book, Hannah and I are embarking on a second project – Jack and the Beanstalk. I was thrilled to find online a copy of the pamphlet, first published in 1734, thought to be the very first time that Jack and the Beanstalk had been put into print. I downloaded a copy, made a cup of tea, and sat down to devour this incredible piece of history.
My goodness, I was shocked. SHOCKED. This is not a version for kids – thank goodness I wasn’t reading it to my own two children. Secondly, how rude were people in 1734. It seems all they thought about was humping each other. Thirdly, it’s a Christmas Pamphlet! Was Christmas all about humping in the olden days?
I have since found a later version which is more like the story we tell to our children today, mostly without the virgins in it! But I’m sure, as grown-ups, you don’t care about that. So below is a summary of the original version of Jack and the Beanstalk, so that you can also be shocked!
JACK SPRIGGING AND THE ENCHANTED BEAN – as told by ye olde randy person
There was never such a dirty, lazy, tatter-de-mallion (tattered or delapitated) Dog as Jack, who spent his days drinking beer. He lived in a hovel with his Grandmother, who he was sleeping with! Because she so enjoyed Jack as a “comfortable bed-fellow”, she told him about a magic bean that she had in her possession which would make him his fortune, so one day she would give him the bean.
JACK Give me the bean now, that I may try how rich I can be, and then how much I shall love my dear Grandmother!
G’MA No, Child. Should I do that, you would grow rich and turn Rake (a progressive deterioration, especially through self-indulgence), and you would never think of your poor Grandmother again. And if I was to know you were playing such tricks, I’d whip your little Narfey-Parfey for you (probably means his bottom – doubt it means his manhood given she was sleeping with him – then they do say size doesn’t matter!)
JACK No! Don’t hurt me!
G’MA No, you lusty boy. You know I love you too well to hurt you. I love you as becomes me, and you ought to take notice on’t.
JACK OK, I won’t keep banging on about the bean!
Now it just conveniently happened that the night before, Grandma had accidentally dropped her bean out of her purse into the ashes, so when Jack went to light the fire the next morning, he found it! “Odds Budd” says Jack, ” I’ll set it in our Garden, and see what it will come to, for I always loved Beans and Bacon (not sure the beanstalk is going to grow bacon). As soon as the bean touched the earth it sprouted so quickly that it gave Jack a ‘Fillip’ on the nose, making him bleed furiously. He ran into his grandma, complaining “I’m dying!” She had little sympathy for him, for it turns out that she was an enchantress toad. “I now only have an hour to live before I turn back into a toad” she cried, and chased Jack with the broom. He ran away up the Beanstalk, and sure enough, when the hour was up, she turned into a toad and hopped away.
Are you with me so far?!
As Jack was climbing the Beanstalk, he discovered that there were pubs on the leaves at regular intervals. Handy! Jack popped into several of these pubs on the way up, eventually ending up at a pub that had nothing in it, except for a barman who magically turned into a beautiful lady when the roof came off his/her pub! It’s unclear why the roof came off. Then a whole load of pages came in, riding Hobby Horses, that well-known source of transport, and declared Jack an Invincible Champion and gave him a magick ring. Turns out that the toad Grandmother had been possessing the bean folk too. Not sure if she was shagging them or not. Probably. To be fair, this story leaves a lot of open-ended questions. For example, it turns out that the barman has turned into The Empress of the Mountains of the Moon, or rather changed back into her. However, she originally started life as the black cat of the grandmother, who was a toad. Obviously, Jack started bonking her, but they became girlfriend and boyfriend too so it’s not that bad! He used his newfound magick to create a romantic bedroom for them, with a chamber pot on either side of the bed. Pure opulence.
I mean, really?! Story structure has come on somewhat since randy person printed this guff.
After his business, he fell asleep and during a dream an enchantress handily told him he must continue up the Beanstalk, meet the giant Gogmagog, pretend to be his friend for 3 days, then when they were alone use his magic ring to turn the Empress of the Mountains and Moon into a Basilisk, kill the giant and claim his throne for his own.
He did this, with his now massive entourage. The giant was killed, and Jack found loads of virgins in his dungeon. He freed them too, and they all lived happily ever after in the sky.
I have paraphrased slightly!
Despite being lude, rude, and a bit shocking, I would highly recommend reading this story in its original format. It gives an insight into the people of the time, their thoughts and values (or lack of). Each generation takes this tale and changes it ever so slightly to reflect themselves. Then they pass it on. The story of Jack and the Beanstalk is now over 5000 years old. That’s quite some time we’ve been passing this story on. There must be something within it that every generation see’s in themselves. My job now, and Hannah’s, is to find that something and make sure it resonates with this generation too.
Wish us luck!
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SARAH CANTRILL is a woman on a mission to inspire every young child to become a reader for pleasure. She is the Artistic Director & Founder of STORY STORKS, a social enterprise that delivers interactive story workshops to early years children and their grown-ups, that help kids to fall in love with stories and develop their early language skills meaning that they have an easier time of learning to read when the time is right. She is also passionate about helping and supporting parents through the early years and lobbying for a better understanding of them and the issues they present. Occasionally she also speaks up for the kids too!