The following is an annotated version
of the fairy tale. I recommend reading the entire story before
exploring the annotations, especially if you have not read the tale recently.
THERE was once upon a time a poor widow1 who had an only son named Jack,2 and a cow named Milky-white.3 And all they had to live on was the milk the cow gave every morning, which they carried to the market and sold. But one morning Milky-white gave no milk4 and they didnt know what to do.
"What shall we do, what shall we do?" said the widow, wringing her hands.
"Cheer up, mother, Ill go and get work somewhere," said Jack.
"Right you are," said the man, "and here they are, the very beans themselves," he went on, pulling out of his pocket a number of strange-looking beans. "As you are so sharp," says he, "I dont mind doing a swop with you your cow for these beans."9
"Walker!" says Jack; "wouldnt you like it?"
"Ah! you dont know what these beans are," said the man; "if you plant them overnight, by morning they grow right up to the sky."
"Really?" says Jack; "you dont say so."
"Yes, that is so, and if it doesnt turn out to be true you can have your cow back."
"Right," says Jack, and hands him over Milky-whites halter and pockets the beans.
Back goes Jack home, and as he hadnt gone very far it wasnt dusk10 by the time he got to his door.
"Back already, Jack?" said his mother; "I see you havent got Milky-white, so youve sold her. How much did you get for her?"
"Youll never guess, mother," says Jack.
"No, you dont say so. Good boy! Five pounds, ten, fifteen, no, it cant be twenty."
"I told you you couldnt guess. What do you say to these beans; theyre magical, plant them overnight and "
So Jack went upstairs to his little room in the attic, and sad and sorry he was, to be sure, as much for his mothers sake, as for the loss of his supper.
At last he dropped off to sleep.
When he woke up, the room looked so funny. The sun was shining into part of it, and yet all the rest was quite dark and shady. So Jack jumped up and dressed himself and went to the window. And what do you think he saw? Why, the beans his mother had thrown out of the window into the garden had sprung up into a big beanstalk14 which went up and up and up till it reached the sky.15 So the man spoke truth after all.
The beanstalk grew up quite close past Jacks window, so all he had to do was to open it and give a jump on to the beanstalk which ran up just like a big plaited ladder. So Jack climbed,16 and he climbed and he climbed and he climbed and he climbed and he climbed and he climbed till at last he reached the sky. And when he got there he found a long broad road going as straight as a dart. So he walked along and he walked along and he walked along till he came to a great big tall house,17 and on the doorstep there was a great big tall woman.18
"Good morning, mum," says Jack, quite polite-like.19 "Could you be so kind as to give me some breakfast?" For he hadnt had anything to eat, you know, the night before and was as hungry as a hunter.
"Its breakfast you want, is it?" says the great big tall woman, "its breakfast youll be if you dont move off from here. My man is an ogre20 and theres nothing he likes better than boys broiled on toast. Youd better be moving on or hell soon be coming."
"Oh! please, mum, do give me something to eat, mum. Ive had nothing to eat since yesterday morning, really and truly, mum," says Jack. "I may as well be broiled as die of hunger."
Well, the ogres wife wasn't such a bad sort after all. So she took Jack into the kitchen, and gave him a hunk of bread and cheese and a jug of milk. But Jack hadnt half finished these when thump! thump! thump! the whole house began to tremble with the noise of someone coming.
"Goodness gracious me! Its my old man," said the ogres wife, "what on earth shall I do? Come along quick and jump in here." And she bundled Jack into the oven21 just as the ogre came in.
He was a big one, to be sure. At his belt he had three calves strung up by the heels, and he unhooked them and threw them down on the table and said: "Here, wife, broil me a couple of these for breakfast. Ah! whats this I smell?
So off the ogre went, and Jack was just going to jump out of the oven and run away when the woman told him not. "Wait till hes asleep," says she; "he always has a snooze after breakfast."
Well, the ogre had his breakfast, and after that he goes to a big chest and takes out of it a couple of bags of gold,24 and sits down counting them till at last his head began to nod and he began to snore till the whole house shook again.
Then Jack crept out on tiptoe from his oven, and as he was passing the ogre he took one of the bags of gold under his arm,25 and off he pelters till he came to the beanstalk, and then he threw down the bag of gold, which, of course, fell into his mothers garden, and then he climbed down and climbed down till at last he got home and told his mother and showed her the gold and said: "Well, mother, wasnt I right about the beans? They are really magical, you see."
So they lived on the bag of gold for some time, but at last they came to the end of that so Jack made up his mind to try his luck once more up at the top of the beanstalk. So one fine morning he rose up early, and got on to the beanstalk, and he climbed and he climbed and he climbed and he climbed and he climbed and he climbed till at last he got on the road again and came the great big tall house he had been to before. There, sure enough, was the great tall woman a-standing on the doorstep.
"Good morning, mum," says Jack, as bold as brass, "could you be so good as to give me something to eat?"
"Go away, my boy," said the big, tall woman, "or else my man will eat you up for breakfast. But arent you the youngster who came here once before? Do you know, that very day my man missed one of his bags of gold."
"Thats strange, mum," said Jack, "I dare say I could tell you something about that but Im so hungry I cant speak till Ive had something to eat."
Well, the big tall woman was that curious that she took him in and gave him something to eat. But he had scarcely begun munching it as slowly as he could when thump! thump! they heard the giants footstep, and his wife hid Jack away in the oven.
All happened as it did before. In came the ogre as he did before, said: "Fee-fi-fo-fum," and had his breakfast off three broiled oxen. Then he said: "Wife, bring me the hen that lays the golden eggs."26 So she brought it, and the ogre said: "Lay," and it laid an egg all of gold. And then the ogre began to nod his head, and to snore till the house shook.
Then Jack crept out of the oven on tiptoe and caught hold of the golden hen, and was off before you could say "Jack Robinson."27 But this time the hen gave a cackle which woke the ogre, and just as Jack got out of the house he heard him calling:
"Wife, wife, what have you done with my golden hen?"
And the wife said: "Why, my dear?"
But that was all Jack heard, for he rushed off to the beanstalk and climbed down like a house on fire. And when he got home he showed his mother the wonderful hen, and said "Lay" to it; and it laid a golden egg every time he said 'Lay."
Well, Jack was not content,28 and it wasnt long before he determined to have another try at his luck up there at the top of the beanstalk. So one fine morning, he rose up early, and went on to the beanstalk, and he climbed and he climbed and he climbed and he climbed till he got to the top. But this time he knew better than to go straight to the ogres house. And when he got near it, he waited behind a bush till he saw the ogres wife come out with a pail to get some water, and then he crept into the house and got into the copper.29 He hadnt been there long when he heard thump! thump! thump! as before, and in came the ogre and his wife.
"Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman," cried out the ogre. "I smell him, wife, I smell him."
"Do you, my dearie?" says the ogres wife. "Then if its that little rogue that stole your gold and the hen that laid the golden eggs hes sure to have got into the oven." And they both rushed to the oven. But Jack wasnt there, luckily, and the ogres wife said: "There you are again with your fee-fi-fo-fum. Why, of course, its the laddie you caught last night that Ive broiled for your breakfast. How forgetful I am, and how careless you are not to know the difference between live un and a dead un."
So the ogre sat down to the breakfast and ate it, but every now and then he would mutter: "Well, I could have sworn " and hed get up and search the larder and the cupboards, and everything, only, luckily, he didnt think of the copper.
After breakfast was over, the ogre called out: "Wife, wife, bring me my golden harp." So she brought it and put it on the table before him. Then he said: "Sing!" and the golden harp30 sang most beautifully. And it went on singing till the ogre fell asleep, and commenced to snore like thunder.
Then Jack lifted up the copper-lid very quietly and got down like a mouse and crept on hands and knees till he came to the table when he got up and caught hold of the golden harp and dashed with it towards the door. But the harp called out quite loud: "Master! Master!" and the ogre woke up just in time to see Jack running off with his harp.
Jack ran as fast as he could, and the ogre came rushing after, and would soon have caught him only Jack had a start and dodged him a bit and knew where he was going.31 When he got to the beanstalk the ogre was not more than twenty yards away when suddenly he saw Jack disappear like, and when he came to the end of the road he saw Jack underneath climbing down for dear life. Well, the ogre didnt like trusting himself to such a ladder, and he stood and waited, so Jack got another start. But just then the harp cried out: "Master! Master!" and the ogre swung himself down on to the beanstalk, which shook with his weight. Down climbs Jack, and after him climbed the ogre. By this time Jack had climbed down and climbed down and climbed down till he was very nearly home. So he called out: "Mother! Mother! bring me an axe, bring me an axe." And his mother came rushing out with the axe in her hand, but when she came to the beanstalk she stood stock still with fright, for there she saw the ogre just coming down below the clouds.
Note about Joseph Jacob's version: Andrew Lang's version of Jack and the Beanstalk is based on the first literary, or recorded, version of the tale published in 1807 by Benjamin Tabart. While Tabart's is not the definitive version--there is no true definitive version--it has many intriguing elements most likely created by Tabart himself.
Joseph Jacobs later recorded a version for his book, English Fairy Tales (1890), that is considered to be closer to a majority of the tale's oral variants. It is also the version most commonly used in fairy tale collections. I chose to annotate Jacobs' version for this reason.
To compare the two versions, you can read the Tabart/Lang version on SurLaLune at Jack and the Beanstalk. I discuss many of the significant differences between the two versions in my annotations of the tale.