Gateway to the Classics: Nursery Tales Told to the Children by Amy Steedman
Nursery Tales Told to the Children by  Amy Steedman

Jack the Giant-Killer

In the happy days of Once upon a Time, when fairies and giants and magicians were still to be met with, there lived in England a terrible Giant called Cormoran. His home was in a great cave at the top of the Mount in Cornwall, and he was the terror of all that countryside.

This Giant was three times as tall as any man, and his waist was so big that it would have taken any one ten minutes to walk round him. He had red hair, and great goggling eyes, and when he walked, the earth shook as if there was an earthquake underneath.

Now the worst of this Giant was that he was always hungry, and when he was hungry he always stepped across from the Mount to the mainland and looked about over all the farms for something to eat. Sometimes he would take half-a-dozen oxen and sling them over his shoulder, or a dozen sheep, which he tucked into his waistband. And then he coolly stalked home again, and ate them up for one meal, and was ready for more.

No one dared to tell Cormoran he was a thief and a robber, or to cry "Hands off," for he was so big and strong that every one ran away in terror when they heard him coming.

There was only one person who was not afraid of the Giant, and that was a boy named Jack, a farmer's son, who lived quite close to the Mount. He grew more and more angry each time that Cormoran came and carried off the sheep and oxen without so much as saying "By your leave," and he made up his mind to put a stop to it.

"It is time somebody punished this horrible monster," said Jack one day. "And if no one else will do it, I will."

So he took a shovel and a pickaxe and a horn, and one evening, when it began to grow dark, he went across to the Mount. All night long he dug and dug until he made a large deep hole at the foot of the Mount in front of the Giant's cave. This hole he carefully covered over with long sticks and straw, and then he spread earth on the top so that it looked like solid ground.

By this time the dawn of the new day was just beginning, and the sea and sky were preparing to give the sun a golden welcome when Jack took up his horn and blew a long, loud blast.

"Who dares make such a hideous noise and wake me from my morning sleep?" thundered a voice from the Giant's cave. And presently the earth began to shake as Cormoran came stamping down the hill. The moment he saw Jack he shook with rage, and his goggling eyes flashed fire.

"So it was you, you miserable little shrimp, who dared to disturb me," he shouted. "I will put you in the pot and boil you like an egg for my breakfast." And as he said this he rushed forward to seize Jack.

But Jack had wisely taken his stand on the other side of the covered hole, and before the Giant could reach him, the earth and straw and sticks gave way, and the Giant tumbled headlong into the trap.

"Ho, ho!" laughed Jack. "So you would boil me for breakfast, would you?"

And as the Giant struggled to his feet and his hand appeared just above the ground, Jack took his pickaxe and with a mighty swing brought it down on the Giant's crown and killed him on the spot.

Then there were great rejoicings all around when the people heard that Cormoran was dead. And they were so proud of Jack that they declared he should be known throughout the land as Jack the Giant-Killer. Moreover, they made him a splendid belt, on which was embroidered in golden letters:

"This is the valiant Cornishman

Who slew the Giant Cormoran."

The fame of Jack's brave deed soon spread all over that countryside, and every giant who heard of it vowed vengeance against the Giant-Killer. There was one Giant who was specially furious, for he was Cormoran's brother, and lived close by in a great castle which stood in the midst of a lovely wood.

Now it happened that one day Jack set out on a journey to Wales, and his way led him through this very wood. He knew nothing about the Giant who lived there, and as it was a hot day he sat down to rest under the trees and soon fell asleep.

Just then the Giant, whose name was Blunderbore, happened to be passing that way. He might have passed on and never have noticed Jack had not his eye caught the glint of something shining on the ground. When he looked closer he saw a boy lying fast asleep with the sun shining on the golden letters written round his belt:

"This is the valiant Cornishman

Who slew the Giant Cormoran."

"Ah, ha! my fine fellow," cried Blunderbore, "I'll teach you to go about slaying giants." And he lifted Jack up between his finger and thumb and carried him off to the castle.

Jack was terribly frightened when he woke up and found out where he was. The Giant shook him well, and then with a hoarse laugh threw him into a room above the gateway and locked him in.

"I am going to invite another Giant to come and share my supper," he called out, as he left Jack sitting alone in the great empty room.

Poor Jack looked round to see if there was no chance of escape, but the only thing he could find in the room was a coil of thick rope.

"Now for death or freedom!" he cried aloud. And he made two large loops at the ends of the rope, and climbed into the window to watch for the return of the two Giants.

He soon saw them hurrying along towards the castle, and as they came underneath the gate he dropped the rope down so deftly that the two loops slipped over the Giants' heads. Then he jerked the rope tight and tied it to a beam, and pulled so hard that the Giants were choked in two minutes. And before they had time to free themselves Jack slid down the rope and cut off both their heads.

"Now I shall see what treasure I can find in the castle," said Jack. And he took the key from Blunderbore's belt and unlocked the great gate.

As soon as he had entered the castle he heard sounds of weeping and wailing, and soon made his way to a room, where he found three fair ladies, whom the Giant had meant to eat for his supper. They were sitting weeping together, bound by the strands of their own golden hair.

"Gentle ladies," said Jack, "your sorrows are ended. Blunderbore is dead, and I am come to set you free."

Then he cut their golden chains and gave them the keys of the castle. For he himself was obliged to journey on.

All that day Jack travelled merrily along, but when the evening shadows lengthened the road began to look strange, and as it grew darker and darker Jack began to think he had lost his way. So he made up his mind that he would seek shelter at the first house he came to. For the place had a wild and desolate look which he did not like.

Presently, to his joy, he spied a great house by the wayside, and he went up at once and knocked boldly at the big front door. The door was flung open in an instant, and there, towering above Jack, stood a hideous Giant with two heads.

Jack started back in surprise, but the Giant pretended to be quite friendly, and spoke so politely that Jack walked in and sat down to supper with him. After supper the Giant showed his guest to a bedroom, where everything was prepared for his comfort. So he gladly crept into bed, for he was very weary.

But in the middle of the night Jack awoke with a start, for he heard a voice mutter, mutter, mutter on the other side of the wall. And as he listened this is what it said:

"Peaceful though you sleep this night,

You shall die by morning light.

With this club your life I'll take

Ere from happy dreams you wake.

"Oh, indeed!" said Jack, wide awake in a moment. "We shall see about that!"

So he slipped out of bed and took a great log of wood from the fireplace, and put it in his bed. Then he hid himself at the other end of the room.

In a few minutes the door opened slowly, slowly, and the Giant came stealing in, treading so softly that not a board creaked. He felt his way, in the dark, to the bedside, and then he lifted his great club and brought it down with a tremendous thwack across the log of wood which was covered up by the bed-clothes. Three terrific blows the Giant gave, and then he went off grinning to himself. For now he was sure he had put an end to Jack the Giant-Killer.

But in the morning who should come strolling in to breakfast but Jack himself. The Giant's eyes in both his heads grew rounder and rounder with surprise.

"Did you sleep well last night?" he asked at last. "Did nothing disturb you?"

"Nothing but the rats," said Jack. "One of them ran across my bed and gave me three taps with its tail, but I soon dropped off to sleep again."

Now Jack had felt sure that the Giant would expect him to eat a very big breakfast, so he had carefully fastened a great leather bag under his coat, in such a way that he could easily slip the food into its mouth instead of his own. There was hasty-pudding for breakfast, and the Giant ladled out a bowlful, as big as a bath, for Jack to eat. Then he sat down to watch him, but to his surprise Jack took spoonful after spoonful until the bowl was quite empty.

"I wonder if you can cut yourself open as I can?" said Jack carelessly, when he had finished. Then he took a sharp knife and cut a large slit in the bag, and all the pudding came tumbling out.

"Of course I can," said the Giant, for he was not going to be outdone by Jack.

Then he seized the knife and cut a big hole in himself, and of course he dropped down dead at once.

Now Jack had heard that this Giant had four very wonderful things hidden away amongst his treasures. One was a coat which made any one who should wear it invisible, another was a sword which could cut anything in half, another a pair of shoes which carried the wearer along more swiftly than the wind, and lastly a cap which knew every secret on earth. So he searched through the house and among all the treasures until at last he found the magic coat and sword, and shoes and cap. Then he once more set off on his journey.

This time his way led him through the mountains, and before long he came to a gloomy cavern among the rocks. And in front of the cavern sat the most dreadful Giant which Jack had ever seen.

He was bigger than any of the other Giants, his hair and beard were like thick ropes, and his mouth was so huge that he could have taken Jack in at one bite. There he lay fast asleep, with his great spiked club lying by his side. He was snoring so loudly that the earth shook.

Then Jack slipped on his invisible coat, and stealing close to the Giant, gave him a blow with the flat side of his sword.

The Giant sprang to his feet in a moment, his eyes blazing like balls of fire, as he roared and hit out on all sides with his spiked club. But, of course, he could not see Jack, who kept well out of his reach. Then he turned round and round, looking for the person who had dared to strike him. But Jack ran swiftly in, and, with one blow of his magic sword, he cut off the Giant's head and hurled him to the ground.

"Now I wonder what the old monster has in his cave," said Jack to himself. And he began to search through all the passages until he came to an inner cave which was shut in by an iron grating. Groans and moans sounded from within, and when Jack opened the door he found a great company of knights and ladies who sat weeping and bewailing their sad fate.

They looked up when they saw Jack and cried out sadly, "Are you also to be cooked for the Giant's supper?"

But Jack only laughed and waved his sword above his head.

"I have come to set you free," he cried. "The Giant is dead, and you have nothing now to fear."

Then he led them all out into the sunshine until they came to a beautiful castle near at hand. And there they all feasted and made merry.

But in the middle of the feasting a most dreadful noise was heard, and a messenger rushed in, pale with terror, to tell them that the Giant Thunderdell was on his way to avenge his brother's death.

"Let him come!" said Jack, fearlessly grasping his magic sword. "And you, knights and fair ladies, when you have finished your feast, come out upon the terrace and see, if you will, how Jack the Giant-Killer deals with all such monsters."

Now the castle was surrounded by a deep moat full of water, and the only way to enter the castle was over the drawbridge. Then Jack quickly ordered his men to cut away both sides of the bridge nearly to the middle, so that the moment any one stepped upon it, it would give way. And when this was done he put on the invisible coat and shoes of swiftness, took his magic sword in his hand, and went out to meet the Giant. Louder and louder sounded the thundering noise as the Giant drew near, and when he met Jack, though he could not see him, he smelt the smell of human flesh and shouted aloud in a furious rage:

"Fe—fi—fo—fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman.

Be he living, or be he dead,

I'll grind his bones to make my bread."

"Ha-ha!" laughed Jack, "a nice loaf of bread I shall make!"

Then he took off his invisible coat and stood where the Giant could see him.

"Catch me if you can," he shouted. And the Giant, with a great roar of rage, rushed after him towards the castle.

But the magic shoes went even faster than the Giant could run, and Jack was safe on the other side of the drawbridge just as the Giant came thundering behind him. No sooner had Thunderdell placed his heavy foot on the middle of the bridge than it went down with a crash, and the Giant disappeared with a most terrific splash into the waters of the moat below.

There he lay like a great whale, puffing and blowing in the water, until Jack threw a rope around him and bade his men haul him ashore. Then with one stroke of the magic sword the Giant's two heads were cut clean off and rolled to the ground.

The knights and ladies were over-joyed when they saw the Giant slain, and they thought Jack was the greatest hero that had ever lived. And so the feasting and dancing began again, but Jack grew tired of being idle, and so he bid them all farewell and went on to seek for more adventures.

For many days Jack journeyed on, past peaceful farms and flowery meadow-land, until at last he came to a more gloomy region at the foot of a wild and lonely mountain. Everything looked so grey and desolate that Jack felt sure some evil thing must dwell close by, but though be gazed all round he could see nothing but a little old house built on the side of a great grey rock. "Somebody may be living there", thought Jack, so he went up and knocked loudly at the door.

"Come in and welcome, my son," said a gentle old voice. And when Jack opened the door he found an old man with long white hair sitting by the fireside.

The old man rose to welcome Jack, and as he did so his eyes caught the glitter of the golden letters which were embroidered on the hero's belt.

"Art thou indeed Jack the Giant-Killer?" he cried. "Thrice welcome then, my son. Surely none have needed thy aid as sorely as we."

Then he told Jack that on the brow of the Dark Mountain, in an enchanted castle, there lived a fierce and terrible Giant, and with him a wicked Magician. By the help of evil spells and black magic these two were able to lure knights and ladies into the castle and there change them into all sorts of hideous shapes.

"Woe is me!" went on the old man. "Saddest of all is the fate of the Duke's fair daughter. She was playing in the sunshine, stooping to pick the daisies which she wove into a star-like chain, when a dark shadow blotted out the sun, and the gentle summer breeze changed to a whistling hurricane. Then down swooped two fiery dragons drawing a brazen car in which sat the Giant and that wicked Magician. They caught the maiden up and carried her off to the castle before she could even cry for help. But so fair and innocent was the lily maid that their black spells were powerless to work their will, and they could only change her into a gentle white doe, who even now lives in the woods around the Enchanted Castle."

Jack's eyes flashed with anger as he listened to this tale, and he grasped his sword in hot haste.

"I will not rest until I have slain the monsters," he cried.

"Beware how thou seekest to enter the castle," said the old man gravely. "At the gate are two fiery griffins who have torn to pieces many knights who sought to free the maiden. But once beyond them, all will be well. For on the inner wall there is a legend cut in stone which will teach thee how to break the evil spell which is woven around all those within the walls of the Enchanted Castle."

Without waiting to bear another word Jack quickly put on his magic coat, and with the shoes of swiftness he quickly climbed to the brow of the Dark Mountain. And there he saw the gloomy walls of the Enchanted Castle standing black against the sky; while at its gates two fiery dragons were breathing out smoke and flame, just as the old man had warned him.

But the dragons could not see Jack, for he had on his invisible coat, and he crept past them unnoticed and entered the inner court.

There against the gate hung a silver trumpet, and underneath were these words graven in the stone:

"He who dares this trumpet blow

Shall the Giant overthrow.

Black enchantment's day is past

When shall sound the silver blast."

The moment he had read these words, Jack seized the trumpet with both hands and blew such a blast upon it that it seemed as if the very walls of the castle shook.

An answering noise as of distant thunder came from within the castle, and in a moment the Giant and the Magician appeared at the gate, their eyes rolling with terror, and their knees knocking together. For they knew their wicked spells were broken for ever.

Before the Giant could grasp his club Jack waved the magic sword in the air and cut off his head at one blow. Then, with a shriek of despair, the Magician bounded into the brazen car and was carried out of sight by the fiery griffins.

And scarcely had the last echoes of the silver blast died away, when the black shadow was lifted from the Enchanted Castle and all the knights and ladies were changed back to their proper shapes. The trees burst out into blossom and the flowers sprang up in the garden, and instead of the "White Doe there stood the most beautiful maiden that Jack had ever seen.

So the wicked spell was broken and every one was set free. And when King Arthur heard of all the brave deeds which Jack had done, he made him one of his own knights, and for a reward gave him the hand of the beautiful maiden, and the Enchanted Castle for his home.

So Jack was married to the lily maid, and people came from far and near to do honour to their brave deliverer, Jack the Giant-Killer.

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