Jack and the Beanstalk Wrap-Up
So, as discussed at the beginning of the month, Jack and the Beanstalk has never been one of my favorite fairy tales. There were just too many problems with it and I couldn’t stand the end where this boy tricked, cheated, lied, stole, and was rewarded in the end. Maybe that said something about real life, but fairy tales aren’t real life, damn it! If I wanted stories like that, I’d just watch the news!
So I always kinda shrugged this story off as a kid, and then I fell in love with Into the Woods – and let me tell you something, I could write you an entire post on Into the Woods, and maybe someday I will (no promises, but maybe). And what I love about Into the Woods is that, in the first act, the stories are all pretty much exactly what they are in real life. They play out just as we know them, interconnected, but in the end, it’s the happily ever afters we expect: Cinderella and Rapunzel get their princes, Little Red is rescued from the wolf, and Jack and his mother are rich off stolen goods.
And then we have Act Two. The whole idea behind Act Two is what happens next? What comes after happily ever after, and is it as perfect as we think? And the driving action of Act Two? The new problem that brings with it so many other problems? The Giant’s Wife has come down the beanstalk, looking for Jack and for justice to be served upon the boy who stole her goods and killed her husband.
And I watched this musical and thought, Yeah. That’s about right. Maybe not kill him, but shouldn’t he answer for what he did?
So since that time (and I was about eight, mind), that’s been my prevailing attitude toward Jack in this story. If I’m going to read about him, I want his wrongs to either not be wrongs as such or to be something he either regrets or has to answer for.
And in each of my four novels this month, we’ve gotten that. Two chose the route of giving Jack stronger motivations in going up the beanstalk (Crazy Jack and The World Above), one had Jack regret his actions later in his life (The Thief and the Beanstalk), and one did both (Calamity Jack).
In Crazy Jack, the giant’s wife had been stolen, and Jack was trying to set her free. She helped him steal the goods as her way to stick it to the husband she was trying to escape from. Jack was also a bit crazy in this one. I love that this book chose to go the route of insanity/stupidity because it called to mind all those other Jack tales, the Foolish Jack stories that this one isn’t really a part of, but could be.
In The World Above, Jack isn’t fighting against the giant, really, but against his father’s usurper, so he’s taking back what rightfully belongs to him. In this story, I love the choice to have Jack originally from the giant’s world, trying to go back and find a place in his rightful home. This Jack was still reckless and impulsive, like Jack from the story, but with a firmer purpose in place.
In The Thief and the Beanstalk, though, we go in the other direction. Jack is a thief, he did do wrong, he lied and cheated and betrayed, all of it. And he knows it. He got rich off of horrible deeds, and that fact has haunted him his whole life, but he’s too much of a coward to go up again and put things right. But he has answered for his crimes, in the guilt that has consumed and defined him most of his life.
And in Calamity Jack, we get this marvelous combination, where Jack is climbing the beanstalk to try and take down the tyrant running his town and making life miserable, but on the other hand, he is also a stupid, reckless kid getting in trouble just for the hell of it. Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. That was a fascinating spin on Jack, and I’m glad it was taken.
So we have four very different Jacks here, and four very different takes on the beanstalk and the world that lies at its top, but I enjoyed them all. Rankings:
The World Above by Cameron Dokey is my favorite of the month. I love how she explores the world and the way Robin Hood is intertwined so seamlessly. Highly recommended.
The other three then fall right behind, all recommended, but I love them for such vastly different reasons it’s hard to rank them further!
March’s story will be Cinderella, and truly, I need about five more weeks in the month! There’s a lot to tackle! See you then!