BY ELIZABETH RUSSELL
Once upon a time, there was a boy named Jack. He lived with his mother in a cottage on the outskirts of a kingdom, right between the town and the outlying farmland. The kingdom was going through a period of drought: everyone was starving, and Jack and his mother were no exception. One morning, his mother said to him, “Jack, we are going to starve. You must take the cow into the village and sell her for what you can get. We will live on what she sells for a few weeks and then we will die.”
So Jack took the cow and headed down the path to the village. On his way, he met a hobbling old man who carried a little handkerchief. Inside the handkerchief, the old man said, were four magic beans, and he offered to trade Jack the beans for the cow. Jack saw that this was the most he would get for the dried-up, starving cow and gratefully accepted. When he got home, however, his mother was less than pleased and grabbing his ear with one hand, threw the beans out the window with the other. “How could you!?” she cried. “We were supposed to live for another few weeks, but now you will go to bed with no supper tonight, because we have no food to make a supper with!” And at that, Jack went to his bed, tired out from his walk and his empty stomach.
The next morning when Jack woke up in the early light, he found a great plant had grown up where his mother had thrown the beans. All the way up to the sky it reached, and further even than that. It was taller than the tallest skyscraper in our world.
Well, Jack knew he had not long to live and decided that there is no moment like the present, so he started making his way up the vine. “Maybe I’ve already died,” he thought, “and now I’m climbing up to heaven.”
But eventually he found himself at the top, and the beanstalk supported a great castle – a castle larger than the biggest prison in our world. It was a castle made for giants.
Jack went inside and was in awe of all the magnificent things he saw there: sparkling gold, glistening jewels, gorgeous velvet, and exotic spices. Most of the things were far too large for a normal-sized man like Jack, but some were people-sized, and these he picked up and fingered: some were softly embroidered, others were prickly-plated, and still others glassy smooth. He breathed deeply and there wafted a most heavenly scent upon the air. Jack could have stayed in that castle forever; he was beginning to lose himself in the radiance of it all when he was suddenly startled by something far more beautiful. Through the door at the other end of the room emerged a lovely girl of normal, person-sized height. She was adorned in a dusty apron, carried a dirty broom, and her hair curled around her forehead in sweaty, frazzled wisps. But nothing could dim the vibrant, fresh beauty in her face or the stately way that she held herself erect.
She started when she saw Jack and dropped her broom. “What are you doing here?” she cried in alarm.
“I did not mean to startle you, miss. I found a giant beanstalk and climbed it to find myself in this beautiful place.”
“This place is not beautiful at all,” exclaimed the girl. “I know it glistens and dazzles, but it is all false finery that covers the den of a troll. My master eats any man that he can find, and he will eat you if he smells you here. You must leave immediately.”
As you might have guessed, Jack was instantly head-over-heels in love with this beautiful girl, and because of this, her concern did not fill him with proper caution; instead, since he had a dreamy nature, he was grateful for her concern, and he saw her through stars and galaxies, shining in the glow of the stained-glass window draping its light upon her.
“My name’s Jack.”
“Please, Jack,” she begged, “please leave.”
“If I leave,” he said, “you must come with me for I will not leave you to live with a man-eating troll.”
“I cannot go,” she started to tell him, but then Jack, who really was starving to death, suddenly fainted.
When Jack awoke, he was lying on cold stone beside a ginormous fire with a cold cloth on his forehead. The smell of hot soup wafted to him from a bowl at his side.
“You should really eat,” came the voice of the girl, and he turned to see her standing on top of a giant wooden countertop cutting up vegetables. “You look like you’re starving.”
Jack ate without another word, practically swallowing the entire bowl in one gulp. He was that hungry.
“Thank you.” He started to climb up the leg of the counter-top.
“No!” cried the girl. “I was telling you earlier, I can’t leave but you must!”
“Why can’t you leave?”
“I am the princess of the kingdom below.”
“Yes. I was kidnapped three years ago and forced to cook and clean for the giant. I have a spell on me, and if I try to escape, this whole castle will fall down upon the kingdom and kill everyone.” Jack had reached the top of the counter, and she handed him an apple. “Now you must go. It is almost his lunchtime and he will be down shortly. Then he will eat you and I will have to watch.”
Jack’s heart leapt at her concern. “There must be a way to break the spell?” he asked.
“So long as he has his magic items, he will have power over me.”
“What are his magic items?”
The princess pointed to the corner of the kitchen. “His magic golden eggs and magic golden harp give him all his spells.”
Suddenly the entire room shook, and Jack fell against the wooden counter-top. The princess, who was more used to it, just wobbled a bit.
“Quick!” she cried. “We are too late, he is coming! You must hide.”
She slid down the leg of the counter, and he followed her, then she grabbed his hand and raced to a cupboard. Jack was too overcome by her touch to do anything but completely obey her. She pushed him inside, and before he realized what had happened, she had sliced his hand with a knife.
“Ah!” he cried, pulling away.
“No time!” she cried and taking his hand, dripped his blood into a bowl. “Wait until he is eating then leave through that door. Go down your beanstalk and never come back here again.” Then she shut him up into complete darkness except for a small sliver of light between the cracks.
He saw the princess take the blood that she had drawn from his smarting hand and pour it into the giant’s bowl of soup. If he had not been so completely in love, Jack might have shuddered at the fact that he himself had just eaten that soup.
“FEE, FIE, FOE, FUM!”
The room shook and the pottery on the shelves clinked and rattled. “I SMELL THE BLOOD OF AN ENGLISHMAN!” The ground quaked as the largest man you have ever seen rumbled into the room. Jack peered through the sliver of a crack and bounced up and down with each heavy footfall. The giant turned his head so that he could see the hugeness of his face, the wideness of his shoulders, and the fierceness of his eyes. Then he did shudder. No, he quaked; and not from the vibrations of the giant’s steps.
“Do you, sir? That’s just a little something special I put together for you. I managed to bargain it off Mrs. Dungbury of Gigantic St.”
“AH! YOU KNOW WHAT I LIKE!” The giant sat down at the large table and started eating like a mad animal, pouring soup in his mouth before even having time to swallow.
Then Jack took his chance. He leapt out of the cupboard, and the giant was so busy with his soup that he noticed nothing else. The princess watched him anxiously, but Jack did not head straight for the door like she had told him; he jumped up onto the table in the corner, where the golden eggs and harp were laid out in all their glory. The princess in fear shook her head at him, but he ignored her and picked up the eggs one by one (there were three of them, and each was very heavy). Then he reached for the harp, but it was magical, and played music whenever anyone touched her, so now she began to play herself, and at hearing the sound, the dinner table shook as the giant lifted up his mighty head.
“WHY DOES MY BEAUTIFUL HARP PLAY MUSIC?” he asked the princess.
Jack rabbited and raced across the kitchen floor for the door to freedom, but he still clutched the golden eggs to his chest.
“I do believe she just wants to make your dining experience more enjoyable, sir,” said the princess, and sighed with relief when she saw that Jack was safely out of the room.
Jack climbed down the beanstalk as quick as he could. When he got to the bottom, he found his mother waiting for him.
“And where have you been all morning? Do you expect me to starve to death alone?!” She stood before him with arms crossed over her chest in her strictest manner, but he could see how thin her cheeks really were.
“Mother, look!” he cried, holding out the eggs that he had wrapped in his shirt.
“Oh, my!!” she cried out and threw her hands high into the air in astonishment.
They sold the eggs and got enough money from them to live on for the next ten years.
But Jack could not forget the Princess Miranda, so the very next morning, he got up earlier than the sun and started climbing the beanstalk again. As soon as he entered the palace, he headed for the kitchen to find her.
“Princess!” he cried, when he saw the lovely girl at the giant fireplace. She was standing on an iron ladder to reach a huge, boiling stew pot and using a great spoon to stir it. Her face was flushed and her arms straining, but her back was strong and she looked more beautiful than ever.
“Jack!” she yelled at him, “you’ve come back! But why? You must have sold those golden eggs and are no longer starving. You’ll get eaten!”
“No Princess,” he answered her, “I will not. I will steal the golden harp so that you can escape from this man-eating giant, and his castle will not fall on your kingdom.”
“Oh, Jack…” she cried with rising hope, but then she pulled back, shaking her head. “No, no. I can’t accept this. I won’t let you put your life in danger again. I’m the princess, and it is my duty to keep the kingdom safe: all of it.”
But Jack just grinned at her foolishly. He did so like it when she worried about him.
“FEE, FIE, FO, FUM!” The ground heaved and the pottery clattered. The pot over the fire swayed and the ladder tipped. Jack jumped forward to steady it, but the Princess, who was very used the trembling, had already caught herself against the brick.
“Quick!” she cried. “This is very early for him to come; he must have smelled you!”
Jack knew what to do and jumped inside the cupboard. When the Princess came to him with the knife and bowl, he dutifully held out his hand. Without flinching, the princess took his blood and shut him inside the cupboard.
“I SMELL THE BLOOD OF AN ENGLISHMAN!”
“Do you smell that?” she cried gaily. “It’s the last of it that I got from Mrs. Dungbury.”
While the giant was busy gorging himself on the stew, Jack once again slipped out of the cupboard and made for the table in the corner. There was the beautiful golden harp which he took up and then ran across the table.
But the enchanted harp, alarmed at Jack’s wild motions, played vigorously in dismay.
“WHY DOES MY BEAUTIFUL HARP PLAY MUSIC?” the giant cried out in anger and whirled toward the corner-table before the princess could distract him.
“RAARGH!” he cried in rage when he saw Jack holding his precious magic harp.
“Run!” screamed the princess.
“Come on!” cried Jack as he raced across the kitchen to escape. He grabbed the princess’s hand and now she could do nothing but obey him. She followed him outside and to the beanstalk, and they both started climbing.
The giant followed close behind, but he was slower and had to search for strong parts of the vine to hold him up. They were halfway down before he had really started.
“I’LL GET YOU! AND I’LL DROP MY PALACE ON YOUR KINGDOM!”
“No, you won’t!” Jack yelled up as they kept going down.
“What if he does?” asked the Princess when they reached the bottom. The whole ground shook with the giant’s footfalls.
“He won’t,” said Jack, and ran to the back of the house where he got an ax. Then he went back to the vine and started chopping.
“HA HA!” cried the giant, “YOU’LL MAKE IT FALL ON THE KINGDOM ANYWAY!”
“Not if you fall the other way,” yelled Jack and at that, the vine fell over. And sure enough, Jack chopped so it fell across the fields and pastures, crushing the meagre, dried-up crops.
The giant was dead with no harm to the kingdom.
There was great fear when everyone felt the earthquake of the palace crashing onto the fields. The kingdom panicked at the loss of the crops, but when they gathered about the fallen beanstalk, they rejoiced over all the wealth of treasures within the Giant’s palace.
In the giant’s attic, cellar, and pantry, they found mountains of seeds and nuts, hordes of dried fruit and vegetables, oceans of grain, and hills of dried meat. No more starvation, no more death, and no more illness, all thanks to Jack’s heroic conquest.
There was, of course, wonderful rejoicing at the return of the princess, and she, of course, married Jack. Her father was not thrilled that she would marry a farmer, but he was too happy to have her back to argue hard with her choice.