OT: Jack and the Beanstalk

mecha godscylla mechagodscylla at hotmail.com
Sun Sep 28 13:09:02 EDT 2003


Minnow asked:

>In Jack and the Beanstalk, the Giant memorably says
>
>Fi-fi-foh-fum
>I smell the blood of an Englishman.
>Be he alive or be he dead
>I'll grind his bones to make my bread.
>
>but when did he first say it?  Is it in Perrault in Samber's 1729
>translation as "Mother Goose Tales", or is it later than that?  Was the
>rhyming phrase perhaps introduced in the pantomime version, and when did
>that first appear?  Critically, is it reasonable for a child to use it as a
>threat in a book set in 1817-18, and an adult immediately to recognise it
>and respond that he is not a giant and doesn't live at the top of a
>beanstalk?
>
>Help?


As luck would have it, here on my shelf is English Fairy Tales, collected by 
Joseph Jacobs - my 1967 edition was reproduced from the 1898 third edition.  
In this book are both Jack and the Beanstalk and Jack the Giant Killer, both 
of which have the above formula.  Jacobs' notes and references section 
doesn't address the formula for the Bean Stalk tale, but has the following 
to say about the Jack the Giant Killer version (which is more elaborate than 
the more familiar Bean Stalk tale):

Source - From two chapbooks at the British Museum (London, 1805, Paisley, 
1814?).

And

The "Fee-fi-fo-fum" formula is common to all English stories of giants and 
ogres; it also occurs in Peele's play [The Old Wive's Tale] and in King 
Lear... Messrs. Jones and Kropf have some remarks on it in their "Magyar 
Tales," pp. 340-1; so has Mr. Lang in his "Perrault," p. lxiii, where he 
traces it to the Furies in Aeschylys' Euminides.

No bibliography is included - a pox on the careless citation habits of 
bygone days.  But certainly the King Lear would be easy to check.  It would 
be interesting to read that Lang commentary and see how he ties it to the 
Euminides, wouldn't it?

Hope this helps

Elise

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