Friday, February 1, 2013

Jack and the Beanstalk (According to Cassie)

Jack and the Beanstalk (According to Cassie)

So, basically, there’s this kid, and he lives with his mother, and they’re incredibly poor. They’ve got a cow and a hut, and that’s pretty much it, and while the cow gives milk, they can get by. They drink the milk and sell the rest of it, and while it’s not great, they manage.

But then the cow stops giving milk, as I assume cows are wont to do at some point, and the mother starts freaking out over how they’re going to live.

Jack says, “Don’t worry! I’ll go get a job!” Which, while a responsible response to the situation, kinda makes me ask why he didn’t have one before now.

Mom jumps in with, “We tried that before, and no one will take you.” Which, while might be true for whatever reason . . . c’mon, Mom. The job market shifts and changes every six months, and opportunities that might not have been open before might need someone with Jack’s skill set, so shouldn’t he at least submit some applications?

...sorry. Facing the prospect of job hunting soon. Neither here nor there. Moving on.

So, the Mother’s superior plan is to take this dried-up who is now of no use to you, and go sell her at market and use the money to start up a shop.

Now, no doubt you’ve heard the version where Jack doesn’t want to sell the cow because she’s his best friend, and yes, that’s a version that exist. But there’s also the version where Jack obeys his mother without comment, taking the cow to market to sell. Mom wants five pounds for the animal, and while I’m not an expert in converting fairy tale money sums into today’s currency, if that’s the money required to start up a small business, I’m really thinking the cow’s not gonna be worth that much.

I’m also thinking that this mother is sadly out of touch with reality, and setting up her son for failure. I mean, come on. This cow is either so old, so ill-fed, or so sick that she won’t produce milk – who exactly are you thinking is going to buy her at all, let alone for five pounds?

Now, in some stories, Jack gets lost on the way to market (which really paints him as a simpleton, given that he supposedly went every week to sell milk), and in others, he meets his mysterious gentleman on the road. And because Jack has never been warned of the dangers of talking to mysterious strangers he meets in the woods, he tells the man who he is and where he’s going and what he’s trying to do.

Well, the man won’t pay five pounds for a cow, but he does have five beans, which he claims are magic, and would Jack accept that as payment? And Jack, further painting himself as a simpleton, agrees.

I mean, okay. I want to be charitable. I want to give Jack the benefit of the doubt. But dude. In what world do you accept five beans as equal payment for a cow, even an old, dried-up one?? There’s ways to make that believable, absolutely. But this fairy tale? Doesn’t do it. Jack just comes off as an absolute ninny. And that might be the point, to be honest.

Anyway, Jack makes the trade and takes the beans home to his mother, all proud and excited, and his mother, predictably, is furious. She takes the beans and throws them out the window and sends Jack to bed without supper, though whether that’s a punishment or just because there’s no supper to be had isn’t clearly defined.

But it turns out the beans were magic after all, because overnight, a giant beanstalk grows from the place where Jack’s mother threw them. Upon discovering this, Jack decides that the best option is to climb it, beanstalks being known for their sturdiness, after all.

But this beanstalk is, and upon climbing all morning, Jack finds himself in a magical kingdom high in the sky, full of giants. Terribly hungry, he goes up to the nearest giant door and knocks on it and begs food from the giantess who answers. Which . . . yeah, not what I would have chosen to do first, I don’t think. Of course, it should be noted that I would also never climb a beanstalk stretching into the sky, either.

Luckily for Jack, the giantess is a decent sort of woman. She tries to warn him away, stating that her husband enjoys snacking on human boys like carrot sticks, but Jack really wants some food, so she takes him to the kitchen to feed him.

And then, who should return home, but the giant husband who likes to eat human boys! The giantess, a quick thinker, bundles Jack into the oven (which, had this been any other fairy tale, could have ended much differently) to hide him, and the giant appears with his classic “Fee Fi Fo Fum” line, and his wife tells him he’s crazy! There are no human boys here! Certainly not hiding in the oven! Here, have some food.

Once the giant has eaten and fallen asleep, Jack is able to slip out of the house, but not before showing his thanks to the giantess for feeding him, hiding him, and saving his life, by stealing a sack of gold on his way out.

Seriously, Jack? I mean, I suppose with that mother, it’s no wonder, but man!

Anyway, this repeats twice more, and you’d think the giantess would wise up, but not so much, and Jack walks away with a goose that lays golden eggs and a magic harp before he’s caught because he doesn’t stop to think that a magic harp might also be sentient and wake the giant he’s trying to escape from.

So the giant wakes, and is pissed at hell that this little human boy has been stealing from him, so he chases after him, down the beanstalk. Jack reaches the bottom first, chops down the stalk with his axe, and sends the giant crashing to his death. And Jack and his mother live happily ever after, rich off of stolen goods! Yay!

Thoughts on this story? Okay. So often we think of this tale as the story of a brave and plucky lad who won riches and killed a monster! But, is it really? Honestly, Jack’s . . . kind of a tool. He’s dumb as a box of rocks, sells his cow for beans, steals, lies, and repays the kindness of the giantess by robbing her and killing her husband. And are there any repercussions? Nope. None. Whatsoever. In fact, the story ends with Jack marrying a rich princess and living happily ever after.

Guys, this one’s a problem. Let’s see who can fix it.

What am I looking for in an adaptation?

Define Jack. Jack is a very strange dichotomy in this story. On the one hand, he seems just staggeringly dumb, but on the other, he’s a conniving thief. So what it is? Is he purposefully taking revenge on the giants for some wrong done? Is he just dumb as a box of rocks and not thinking about anything really? Is he inherently lazy and will do anything for money he doesn’t have to work for? Is he a good kid whose story has been mistold? What? I would like a firm characterization.

Tie in this mysterious man. His sole purpose in the story is to get the magic beans to Jack. But why? If he knew of their magic, why trade them for an old, dried-up cow? Were they given to Jack specifically?  Did he just take pity on this kid? Is he a con man? Did he know the beans were magic? What’s his story, and why was he carrying around magic beans, and does he have more to do with things than we think?

Explore the implications of the giants’ world. There’s an entire civilization up in the clouds and nobody knows about it? How does that work, exactly? Are there any legends of the magical world? How did it come to be there? Why is it only accessible by beanstalk? Are they aware that another world exists beneath their feet? What’s going on in this hidden world?

Make the ending matter. The ending of this story is so problematic. Jack gets away with murder, literally, and with stealing, and there are no repercussions? How do people react to this? How do they deal with the massive dead giant rotting away in the middle of the forest or town or fields or wherever he lands? I’m not saying they should change the way this ends, I just want these things to be addressed.

The line-up for the month:

Week 1: Calamity Jack by Shannon and Dean Hal
Week 2: Crazy Jack by Donna Jo Napoli
Week 3: The Thief and the Beanstalk by P.T. Catanese
Week 4: The World Above by Cameron Dokey

See you later today with Calamity Jack!

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