As a child, my favorite fairy tale was Jack and the Beanstalk, more commonly referred to as Jack the Giant Killer, here in the USA. Well, it was my favorite along with Three Billy Goats Gruff. First published in 1807, it follows the exploits of Jack, a young man who acquires some magic seeds that—overnight—produce a beanstalk of gigantic proportions. For a reason not clearly explained in the story, Jack feels the need to immediately climb the stalk, a task which eventually carries him above the clouds and into the dominion of a giant, who (along with his castle) is somehow lighter-than-air, or at least immune to the tedious effects of gravity.
I always felt a bit bad for the old giant. He was minding his own business when Jack showed up and proceeded to do a little breaking and entering in the castle. Naturally enough, the giant wanted to grind up Jack and make bread out of his bones. It’s the sort of thing giants are expected to do, and he came up with the highly memorable: “Fee, fi, fo, fum. I smell the blood of an Englishman!”—something I heard endlessly during childhood visits to the States from dear old London. So, Jack goes on to carry out repeated black ops missions up the beanstalk, stealing first the giant’s bag of gold coins, then his favorite hen that could lay golden eggs, and finally a magic harp (why the giant had all this swag is not made clear, and how would a giant play a magic harp anyway? The harp was regular person-sized). In the end, not feeling that he’s done enough damage, Jack kills the giant, and goes off to marry the daughter of some boring old count, and live happily ever after as a wealthy man. What a thieving wretch he was! Who took care of the giant’s wife after Jack did in her sweetie? I used to worry about these things when I was a kid.