Jack & Bean Tree Tales

Related Appalachian Tales Related Tales from Other Regions Hispanic Connection

Jack and Bean Tree image by Gail HaleyHaley, Gail E. Jack and the Bean Tree. New York: Crown, 1986. N. pag. The giant's lavish mansion up in the magic bean tree contrasts with Jack's poor country home, but he manages to bring riches down to his Maw and escape the bloodthirsty giant. Jack takes a magic tablecloth, a hen that lays golden eggs, and a singing harp that calls for him. One of Haley's paintings on wood from this picture book is shown at right.

"Jack and the Bean Tree." In Richard Chase. The Jack Tales. Boston:  Houghton, 1943, pp. 31-40. With a full-page drawing of Jack and his mother at the bottom of the bean tree, one of the giant with a rifle, and another drawing of Jack tearing the coverlid off the angry giant's bed. Jack and his mother get lots of plunder when the giant's house falls to the ground. Chase gives detailed notes on variants in Appalachia and other countries. 

Still, James. Jack and the Wonder Beans. Illus. Margot Tomes. 1977. Rpt. Lexington, KY: University Press of KY, 1996. Still, who was poet laureate of Kentucky, called this book "my re-telling of Jack and the Beanstalk as it could only have been told back in Knott County" (Interview, 1979). He wove an abundant use of colloquial phrasing and colorful expressions into his tale. For example, the narrator declares, “Right!  Right as a rabbit foot. They were bean vines. The beans had come up. They were twisted togetJack and Wonder Beans coverher into a stalk thick as a black-smith’s arm.” Another example is “You know Jack. . . Independent as a hog on ice.” The giant says, "Fee fi chewing tobacco" and "Fee fie, pickle and cracker/I smell the toes of a tadwhacker." Jack takes a bag of gold and a hen that lays golden eggs, but it lays regular eggs on earth. Tomes' illustrations are all scenes on cream pages, some with square or oval line borders but not rigid lines. Jack always looks very small in relation to the giants. For additional references, see AppLit's bibliography and study guide on James Still.

Snipes, Larry E., James Still, Mark Noderer, and Vivian Robin Snipes. Jack and the Wonder Beans. New Orleans: Anchorage Press, 1996. A musical play based on Still's tale. Page on James Still by Dr. Steve Mooney at VA Tech.

“Jack and the Bean Tree.” Ray Hicks and Lynn Salsi. In The Jack Tales. Illus. Owen Smith. New York: Calloway, 2000. Jack takes a knife to prove he’s been up the bean tree, goes back because it’s his bean tree, then takes a fine hog rifle, and then a golden bedcover with bells on it. Both full-page color illustrations and smaller black and white drawings are somewhat reminiscent of the style of Thomas Hart Benton. The Tudor roots of "Jack and the Beanstalk" tales are especially evident in Smith’s illustration of the giant’s castle.  Jack always appears tiny with the giants, and on a leaf of the bean tree on end covers in green. The illustrations show the giant falling and on the ground across the bottom of two pages in black and white.  Includes a glossary of mountain terms and background on Ray Hicks as North Carolina storyteller, a master of the native oral tradition. 

“Jack and the Bean Tree.” Told by Ray Hicks on CD in The Jack Tales, 2000. Hicks' oral tellings are not identical to the written text in every detail, inviting interesting comparison of oral and written versions of the same tale.

"Jack and the Bean Stalk." In Old Greasybeard: Tales from the Cumberland Gap. Collected and annotated by Leonard Roberts.  Illus. Leonard Epstein. Detroit: Folklore Associates, 1969. Rpt. Pikeville, KY:  Pikeville College Press, 1980.  Collected from a 97-year-old Tennessee man. Jack and his mother are wealthy until the giant steals their bag of gold, magic harp, and hen that lays golden eggs, which Jack retrieves. First he sings about trading their cow for a series of animals (as in "Foolish Jack") and then a little white bean, which his mother throws out in anger. The giant says "Fee fie fo fum/1, 2, 3, and here I come." Previously published by Roberts in Nippy and the Yankee Doodle, and Other Authentic Folk Tales from the Southern Mountains. Berea, KY:  The Council of the Southern Mountains, 1958. "This version contains the old motif of the giant's theft of the magic articles from Jack's family and the still older cante fable form (story interspersed with song)."

"Jack and the Bean Stalk." In Pack, Linda Hager. A is for Appalachia! The Alphabet Book of Appalachian Heritage. Illus. Pat Banks. Prospect, KY: Harmony House Publishers, 2002. The author, from Hamlin, WV, reprints two tales by Leonard Roberts: "The Devil's Big Toe" on the page "G is for ghost stories" (p. 16), and "Jack and the Bean Stalk" on the page "J is for the clever boy in the Jack Tales" (pp. 20-22). Pack stresses that "Jack was a country boy just like the children who loved hearing about him." The tales are from Sang Branch Settlers and Old Greasybeard. Other pages describe traditional folkways, language, and customs. Watercolor illustrations are by an artist from Madison County, KY.

"The Bean Tree." Told by Samuel Harmon, Maryville, TN, 1939,  in a section of tales recorded from him in American Folktales: From the Collections of the Library of Congress. Ed. Carl Lindahl. Vol. 1. Armonk NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2004, pp. 35-36.  Surprisingly, Harmon did not remember the names of the characters or call the little boy in the story Jack.  The boy's mother finds a bean and tells him to plant it to make a bean tree, but she doesn't believe him when he tells how tall it grows. The giant says, "Fee Faw Fum,/I smell English meat here."  In the surprising ending, the mother and boy cut the bean tree down with an ax but it falls on them and kills them. Collector Herbert Halpert asked Harmon if he was sure nothing else happened and he said no, that was all at the end.

"Jack and the Beanstalk." In Isobel Gordon Carter. "Mountain White Folk-Lore: Tales from the Southern Blue Ridge." Journal of American Folklore 38 (1925): pp. 340-74 (this tale on pp. 365-66). A landmark article containing Jack tales told by Jane Hicks Gentry (1863-1925), recorded by Carter in 1923. Carter comments on the decline of storytelling among mountain families who used to know them better, although they had not been recorded as ballads had been. Jack is an orphan living with his mean grandmother, who sweeps up a bean and tells him to plant it. She slaps him for lying about a giant beanstalk but he decides to climb it and throws down some beans for her. The giant says, "Fi fo (or foo) fiddedly fun, I smell the blood of an Englishman. Dead or alive, I'll have his bones to eat with my bread and butter." Available online through library services such as JSTOR.

"Jack and the Wonder Beans." In Sing Down the Moon: Appalachian Wonder Tales. Theater of the First Amendment. George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, 2000. Conceived by Mary Hall Surface (from KY) and David Maddox (from NC). Written by Mary Hall Surface. Lyrics by Mary Hall Surface and David Maddox. Music by David Maddox. Play with music based on Appalachian folktales, including "Jack of Hearts and King Marock," "Catskins," "Jack's First Job," "The Sow and her Three Pigs," and "The Enchanted Tree." Web pages include photos, authors' notes. Also produced as set of 2 CDs. Picture, summary of each tale and downloadable script excerpts at Dramatic Publishing Online CatalogJack and the Bean Tree on Jack Tales Wall

"Jack and the Bean Tree." Ronald Kidd (comp.). On Top of Old Smoky: A Collection of Songs and Stories from Appalachia. Illus. Linda Anderson. Nashville, TN: Ideals Children's Books, 1992. A three-page retelling accompanied by one painting called A Mill in North Georgia.

"Jack and the Bean Tree." In Crabb, Gladys. Jack and the Mule Eggs and Other Jack Tales. CD. Musark, 2003. Told by a storyteller from Virginia and Georgia. Also includes "Jack and the Mule Eggs," "Jack & The King's Girl," "Jack and the Varmints."

Scamps. "This is a great participation show for disabled audiences and performers, as well as young people. Featuring the stories of 'Jack and the Bean Tree', 'Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby', and 'The Scarecrow Boy', Scamps is all about having fun on stage and expressing yourself. Classic sing-along songs and storybook characters will put a big smile on the faces of all audiences. Scamps is a flexible production that can be adapted to best fit the needs of your special group." From web site of Once Upon a Blue Ridge: A Traveling Live Theatre Company, Peter and Christina Holland, Meadows of Dan, VA (accessed 5/1/10).

"Jack and the Bean Tree." Smoky Mountain storytelling. See photos and video at Facebook page of Jack Tales Storytelling Theater (accessed 5/1/10). This was the first tale told by this group. In this version an old mountain woman gives Jack the beans. "Jack Tales Storytelling Theater is performed at Jack's Playhouse, located in the Adventure Bound Camping Resort (also known as Crazy Horse Campground), Highway 321, between Cosby and Gatlinburg, Tennessee."

Photo at right: Detail from The Jack Tales Wall. SW VA artist Charles Vess was commissioned in 1992 to create a brick sculpture wall at SW VA Community College, Richlands, VA. Vess explains the use of specific Jack Tales with photos of scenes on the wall at Green Man Press web site. Brick sculptor Johnny Hagerman completed this wall and a more recent one based on nearby American Indian pictographs and wildlife. The Jack Tales Wall page at SWVCC has a photo of Hardy Hardhead and the magic landship. In this photo (taken by Tina L. Hanlon, April 9, 2010), the figure at bottom right sitting on a vine is the old beggar man who is a magic helper, sometimes a divine figure in disguise, in many folktales.

See activities for young children in AppLit's Teaching Four "Jack" Books and Giants and Little People.

"Andy and the Gentleman Crook." The Andy Griffith Show. Written by Bob Gershman and Leo Solomon. CBS. Feb. 27, 1961. 26 minutes. Available on YouTube. In the first season of the CBS television show, episode 21 opens with Andy in his sheriff's office telling his son Opie and his friend the end of "Jack and the Bean Tree." Deputy Barney Fife is looking eager to hear the story like the children as Jack steals the golden harp and chops down the bean tree. Later a well-known gentleman crook captivates Opie and Barney with stories of famous criminals such as Baby Face Nelson. Everyone is charmed by the crook except Andy, who prevents him from escaping. At bedtime Andy says they have time for a Jack tale and tries to tell Opie "Jack and the Princess that Couldn't Laugh," but he doesn't get very far because Opie would rather hear about real people committing high crimes. In Season 4, episode 19 (114 in the series, "Hot Rod Otis," written by Harvey Bullock, Feb. 17, 1964), Otis the drunk asks Andy for a drink of water and then implies that he wants the story they had started a previous time when Otis was in jail for drunkenness. Andy sits in the cell in his underwear and starts in with "Fee fie fo fum" but Otis goes right to sleep. The next morning Andy says he didn't expect he'd need to know Grimms' fairy tales for this job (although "Jack and the Bean Stalk" is not from Grimm). In the same episode, Andy and Barney worry about Otis driving a new car. When Barney asks whether Andy could imagine if Otis had been driving when he passed out drunk, Andy gets an idea, to pretend Otis has died from driving drunk. They sing the sad Civil War song "The Vacant Chair" and get Otis crying about his own death. This trick is similar to another folktale motif (see "The Two Old Women's Bet" for tales in which people are tricked into thinking they died). Then they pretend they are waking Otis up from a nightmare. Andy tells a few seconds of the Jack tale as Otis goes back to sleep. The next morning Otis sells the car but Barney gets teary imagining Otis's possible death. In many episodes Andy uses imagination and tricks to get people to do the right thing and prevent conflict.

Related Appalachian Tales:

Ransom, Candice. Giant in the Garden. Illus. Greg Call and Jim Bernadin. Time Spies Series. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast/Mirrorstone, 2007. 113+ pp. Book 3 of a series for Grades 2-4, Ages 7-10. Time travel novel in which 3 children in Virginia have an adventure similar to "Jack and the Bean Tree," but the folk heroine who tricks the giant is a girl named Jackie and the giant plant is a pea vine. Includes background on Appalachian folktales and related activities.

Birdseye, Tom. Look Out Jack! The Giant is Back! Illus. Will Hillenbrand. New York: Holiday House, 2001. N. pag. Written as a comic sequel to "Jack and the Beanstalk," with Jack and his mother moving from abroad to a farm in the mountains of NC. But the dead beanstalk giant's bigger, nastier brother, "ugly as slug pie," finds Jack, demanding the harp, hen and money Jack had taken. He repeats, "Wham blam hickity hack!/ I'm gonna get that boy named Jack!/ He now be living, but soon he'll roast!/ I'll spread him with mustard and eat him on toast!" Jack doesn't respond to his ferocious threats, but fills him full of massive amounts of Southern food. The giant gets so sick to his stomach that Jack escapes, but only after the giant almost stops him by waving his smelly feet. Flora, fauna and Jack are nearly done in, until Jack smells his own roses for relief and takes off down the mountain. The giant's angry stomping starts earthquakes in California and buries him under the mountaintop. Then Jack and his mother really can live happily ever after. Hillenbrand's amusing cartoon-like illustrations highlight the contrast between the huge, gluttonous giant and Jack, his animal friends, and his piles of human-sized food. One double-page spread must be turned sideways for a dramatic vertical view of the fat giant.

"The Time Jack Went Up the Big Tree." In Davis, Donald. Jack Always Seeks His Fortune: Authentic Appalachian Jack Tales. Little Rock: August House, 1992, pp. 179-207. Davis calls this "the most imaginative story about Jack I ever heard... It is a long story which sometimes was not finished in one telling. The graphic images it called into my head as a child are still there" (p. 179). Jack is an adult who quits his job in a blacksmith's shop to seek his fortune. After he helps an old woman carry wood and shares his food with her at her cabin, she says he'll find something to help his quest in the morning. He wakes up outdoors in unfamiliar mountains and climbs a giant tree that goes so high he can see the earth curve. Two little men share their lunch and show him a town where people call the tree "the world." They tell of mysterious things farther up so he climbs until he finds a young woman crying in a castle, who is glad to see him. She is held prisoner in her lifelong home, since a king who wants to marry her killed her parents. Being adventurous, Jack enters a forbidden room of evil in the tallest tower, where he inadvertently releases the malicious king in the form of an imprisoned bird. In his quest to rescue the princess, he is helped by a wolf that tells him everyone there does shape-shifting, the wolf's magic hairs, and a witch's daughter. His ordeals involve the witch's multi-colored pigs, the four winds, and very fast horses. Eventually Jack, the princess, and her castle magically end up at the cabin of the old woman he helped in the beginning. The giant tree has disappeared, so they marry and stay happily in the castle. This tale has some similarities with "Raglif Jaglif Tetartlif Pole," which Leonard Roberts collected in Kentucky. See the page Noteworthy Girls in Jack Tales.

"The Man on the Moon." In Hicks, Orville, and Julia Taylor Ebel. Jack Tales and Mountain Yarns, As Told By Orville Hicks. Illus. Sherry Jenkins Jensen. Boone, NC: Parkway, 2009. pp. 92-99. Comments by Hicks and in Thomas McGowan's Afterword describe Orville learning old tales from his mother and from his cousins Ray and Rosa Hicks, but don't give other notes on particular tales. This tale is about mean and kind neighbors, somewhat like the bad and good girls in "Gallymanders." The kind man helps an injured bird, who brings him a seed that grows into an immense field of cucumbers and when he cuts one open, it's full of gold. The impatient mean man wants such a bird so he injures one with his slingshot. It brings him a seed that grows into a vine leading to the moon. He climbs it and the vine withers so he is angry being stuck on the moon but we can see him there still.

Jack and the Giants and Mutsmag depict ordinary people defeating giants. In Anne Shelby's The Adventures of Molly Whuppie and Other Appalachian Folktales,  Molly outwits several giants. The title story is similar to "Merrywise" and "Mutsmag," but Shelby included only one female giant, preferring to leave out witches and give women a chance to be the giant. See more at Appalachian Folktale Collections K-Z.

Anne Shelby gives the traditional magic beans a holiday twist in her original Jack tale, "Jack and the Christmas Beans." In A Kentucky Christmas. Ed. George Ella Lyon. Lexington: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 2003. Also in Shelby's The Adventures of Molly Whuppie and Other Appalachian Folktales. Illus. Paula McArdle. Chapel Hill: Univ. of NC Press, 2007, pp. 55-61. See more under Shelby's name at Appalachian Folktales in General Collections, Journals, Web Sites and Appalachian Folktale Collections K-Z.

"Tim and the Magic Articles." In Roberts, Leonard (collector). Old Greasybeard: Tales From the Cumberland GapIllus. Leonard Epstein. Detroit: Folklore Associates, 1969. Rpt. Pikeville, KY: Pikeville College Press, 1980. pp. 105-9. Tim steals magic objects from an old woman, returning to her house twice in disguise to take things home to his poor grandmother, somewhat like Jack in the giant's house. However, when Tim disobeys the old woman and lies to his grandmother, he gets a magic tablecloth, then money from a magic horse, and then a stick that beats him. His grandmother expresses disapproval also, so this trickster is punished for his tricks and lies.

Compare with Tales from Other Regions

There are hundreds of reprints and variants of "Jack and the Beanstalk" from Britain and elsewhere. This is by far the most popular Jack tale in the world and one of the oldest. It has been satirized and adapted in different settings in innumerable ways in the past century. Joseph Jacobs, in English Fairy Tales, 3rd ed., 1898, notes that his source was Australian, about 1860 (when he was a child in Australia). He also cites a "very poor" chap-book version in which a fairy tells Jack that the ogre had stolen his father's possessions, "to prevent the tale becoming an encouragement to theft!" Jacobs writes, "I have had greater confidence in my young friends, and have deleted the fairy who did not exist in the tale as told to me" (Dover edition, 1967, p. 238). The decline of Jack's family's fortune before his birth is actually found in many older versions and there is much debate about the tale's morality, whether Jack is a thief stealing from a cannibal or is reclaiming stolen riches. The mythic significance of the magic beanstalk has been much discussed by folklorists and literary scholars. An annotated copy of Jacobs' tale with many related resources is at SurLaLuneFairy Tales.com.

"Jack and the Beanstalk" from Andrew Lang's The Red Fairy Book is online at Classic Tales and Fables, at Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library, with 1891 illustrations, and at The Sur La Lune Fairy Tale Pages, with background information, illustrations, and references to many related tales and adaptations. Three different versions from the 1890s are reprinted at D. L. Ashliman's Jack and the Beanstalk. Ashliman identifies the tales as Aarne-Thompson type 328.

Other historic texts and illustrations can be viewed at The Jack and the Beanstalk and Jack the Giant-Killer Project (University of Southern Mississippi), including an 1875 version illustrated by Walter Crane and a board game from 1860.

"Jack and the Beanstalk." Told by Wilbur Roberts (b. 1856, native of the Bahamas, who heard it from a Puerto Rican), Riviera, Florida, 1940. American Folktales: From the Collections of the Library of Congress. Ed. Carl Lindahl. Vol. 2. Armonk NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2004, pp. 571-72. The headnote points out that this "best-known tale in English-language storybook traditions" has rarely been recorded by folklorists in live performance although it is popular in print and cartoons. The only other version found by Lindahl in collections of the American Folklife Center is the one by Samuel Harmon (see above). A nameless fella climbs a beanstalk into the heavens where women making clothes construct a linen rope for him to get back down. There are no giants or treasures. The following tale, "Little Nippy" from NC, has more in common with "Jack and the Beanstalk than this one does."

Kellogg, Stephen. Jack and the Beanstalk. William Morrow, 1991. One of many picture book adaptations of the tale, with Kellogg's typical detailed and humorous illustrations. See cover and brief review at ChildrensLit.com.

Beneduce, Ann K. Jack and the Beanstalk. Illus. Gennady Spirin. Philomel, 1999. A retelling of a Victorian version that gives Jack moral justification for killing the giant. A fairy urges Jack to avenge his father's death and theft of his magic heirlooms. Lavish realistic illustrations and borders by an artist from Russia. See cover at The Sur La Lune Fairy Tale Pages.

Jack and the Beanstalk—the Real Story. Directed by Brian Henson. A live-action television miniseries with a contemporary frame story about Jack's descendant. Jack Robinson grapples with the curse of death by age 40 inherited by men in his bloodline. Special effects by Jim Henson Creature Shop. Videocassette and DVD, 2001.

Jack and the Beanstalk. Faerie Tale Theatre Series. Live action film with a cast of famous actors. Videocassette. Playhouse Video, 1982.

Buck, William J. Jacky's Magical Beanstalk. Script published by New Plays for Children, 2004. 50 minutes. Humorous play for children ages 4-9 about a girl who uses magical help and her wits to overcome a giant.

Osborne, Mary Pope. Kate and the Beanstalk. Illus. Giselle Potter. Atheneum, 2000. An adaptation that sticks close to the traditional tale but with several twists, including a smart, plucky heroine getting revenge on the giant. See cover at The Sur La Lune Fairy Tale Pages.

Wildsmith, Brian and Rebecca. Jack and the Meanstalk. New York: Knopf, 1994. A British ecological fable about Professor Jack's misguided use of chemicals to make plants grow faster. See details at Transformations: Images that Blend Fantasy and Reality, Natural and Artificial in Picture Books and the Environment.

Stanley, Diana. The Giant and the Beanstalk. New York: HarperCollins, 2005. 32 pp. Fractured fairy tale picture book in which the giant goes looking for Jack, who stole his possessions, and encounters Jacks from other children's folklore."

"Jack and the Beanstalk" is one of the categories in Once Upon a Time . . . a personal web site with a list of novels based on fairy tales and synopses of individual tales with lists of novels for each. Sur La Lune Fairy Tales has similar lists with other genres in addition to novels.

Denslow's Jack and the Bean-Stalk. Adapted and illustrated by W. W. Denslow. New York: G. W. Dillingham,1903. In University of Florida Digital Collections. George A. Smathers Libraries. One of Denslow's picture books published after he illustrated L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, 1900. Many other historic books containing this tale are reproduced in this online collection.

Fleming, Candace. Clever Jack Takes the Cake. Illus. G. B. Karas. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2010. This picture book, an original Jack tale, is both heartwarming and ingenious as it plays with motifs from older tales and nursery rhymes. In the beginning Jack and his mother are poor, as in "Jack and the Bean Tree." When invited to the princess's tenth birthday party, Jack does some trading, hunting, and working to get ingredients and make her a cake. Traveling to the palace, Jack loses the cake bit by bit in a series of mishaps involving folk motifs such as four and twenty blackbirds, a troll demanding payment for crossing a bridge, and a dark forest. At the palace Jack has nothing to offer but the story of what happened to the cake. The princess, bored with her pile of golden presents from other guests, laughs and claps at Jack's gift of an adventure story, and lets her new friend cut her birthday cake. Fleming's web site provides teacher's guide, reviews, and reader's theater script.

Hispanic Connection:

Polette, Keith. Paco and the Giant Chile Plant/Paco y La Planta de Chile Gigante. Illus. Elizabeth O. Dulemba. McHenry, IL: Raven Tree Press, 2008. Picture book set in the desert Southwest. The giant in the clouds shouts, “FEE, FI, FO, FUM, I SMELL THE BLOOD OF A HUMAN ONE. BE HE THIN OR BE HE FAT, FOR MY TORTILLA, I’LL GRIND HIM FLAT!” Reading level 2.4. "The story is told in English and Spanish is sprinkled throughout the book within the context of the story. A bilingual vocabulary page in English and Spanish is included to help readers learn keywords in either language" (from publisher web site, where excerpt and other materials are available). Images and activities are available at Dulemba's web site, and images in her Facebook page photo album.

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