CTS logo
Hockliffe logo
Fables and Fairy Tales Stories Before 1850 Stories After 1850 Periodicals and Annuals Religious Books, Bibles, Hymns, etc Books of Instruction Nursery Rhymes and Alphabets
Movable and Toy Books; Myths and Heroes Poetry, Verse and Rhymes; Games Games and Pastimes Natural Science Geography and Travel History and Biography Mathematics
Previous Next

Fables and Fairy Tales. 0023: Anon., The Pleasant and Delightful History of Jack and the Giants

Author: Anon.
Title: The pleasant and delightful history of Jack and the giants. Parts I and II
Cat. Number: 0023
Date: No date but c.1790?
1st Edition: 1711?
Pub. Place: Nottingham
Publisher: 'Printed for the Running Stationers'
Price: Unknown
Pages: 2 vols. in one, 12pp. and 12pp.
Size: 17 x 10 cm
Illustrations: LTwo frontispieces and eight further wood-cuts

Images of all pages of this book

Page 003 of item 0023

Introductory essay

No text of Jack the Giant Killer has been found which establishes that the tale was in circulation before the eighteenth century. The earliest recorded version was dated 1711, but even this has now vanished from the British Library. Elements of the story can be detected in tales of other cultures and in various earlier literary productions in English, a snatch of the giant's rhyme - 'fie, foh, fume...' - appearing in King Lear (1605) for instance. This, along with the sheer universal appeal of the story of a little man triumphing over oppressive ogres, has led the Opies to suggest that the story of Jack the Giant Killer had probably existed as a number of separate episodes for some centuries in England, even if it was only united into one coherent narrative at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Given the absence of any earlier extant versions, the Opies have taken for their ur-text a version of the tale published in Shrewsbury in the 1760s or a little before, and this is printed in their The Classic Fairy Tales (pp.58-82). The same text as was used by many later eighteenth and early nineteenth-century chapbook editions.

Of the many versions of the tale in the Hockliffe Collection (0020, 0022, 0023, 0032, 0036, 0037) only one follows this Shrewsbury edition, namely The Pleasant and Delightful History of Jack and the Giants, published in Nottingham 'for the Running Stationers' (0023). There are significant differences, though. The paragraph layout is altered, the split between parts one and two occurs in a different place, and the Hockliffe's edition is laid out into chapters, unlike that printed by the Opies. The most substantial difference is that the Hockliffe edition omits about thirty per cent of the Opie text. A few individual, and not especially material, lines are omitted here and there, and two large sections do not appear. One fits in after Jack has taken the magical sword, cloak, shoes and cap (pt. 2, p.5), and tells of how Jack, on behalf of the prince whom he is accompanying, frees a princess held under an evil enchantment by following her each night to Lucifer. Jack steals the Devil's handkerchief and then kills him. The second omitted section continues the tale from the point at which the Hockliffe version leaves off. It recounts the slaying of another two giants, Giliagantus and Thunderdel (who recites the famous lines 'Fee, fau, fum / I smell the blood of an English man, / Be he alive, or be he dead, / I'll grind his bones to make my bread') and ends with King Arthur rewarding Jack with a splendid palace and the hand in marriage of a duke's daughter.

Despite the fact that one of these cuts excised Jack's rather blasphemous slaying of Lucifer it would be wrong to think of them as attempt at Bowdlerisation. The coarsest section of the tale - in which Jack runs his sword of sharpness 'up to the hilt in the Giant's fundament', watches with glee the giant 'dance the canaries with the sword in his arse', and laughs that the giant will die 'with the sad griping of the guts' (pt.2, p.10) - remains firmly in place in the Hockliffe version. Perhaps this should be taken to indicate that this version of the tale was not designed for children - unlike, for example, the version which forms part of Pretty Stories, for the Amusement of Good Children (0037), the subtitle of which reveals its intended audience, and in which these episodes are omitted. We should also be sceptical of the idea that what the 'Running Stationers' Hockliffe text excises from the standard Opie text what was least valuable to an audience. The deaths of Giliagantus and Thunderdel are not noticeably less interesting than any of the others, and are included in most other editions of the story, including the other versions in the Hockliffe Collection. The same is true of the account of Arthur's rewarding of Jack. It seems likely that it was simply pressure of space which led to the excisions. What the cuts do suggest is that the undated Hockliffe version was probably published a little later than that used by the Opies. Doreen Boggis, the first cataloguer of the Hockliffe Collection, suggested otherwise, claiming that the absence of a publisher in the imprint, and the presence of the words 'Printed for the Running Stationers', indicated that it dated from the first half of the eighteenth century (Boggis, Catalogue of the Hockliffe Collection, p.3). This is not necessarily the case, for the 'running stationers' - itinerant chapmen - existed well into the nineteenth century. The term was in use in the 1680s and for more than a century beyond, as the catalogue of the British Library or the Eighteenth Century Short Title Catalogue show (and both, though for no obvious reason, suggest a date of c.1800 for this edition of The History of Jack the Giants). In any case, there had to be something for the Nottingham publishers to cut from. This would not necessarily have been the Opies' Shrewsbury edition itself, but since this is the earliest surviving edition of the text, it seems likely that the Nottingham publishers made their cuts from a similar text in the second half of the century, rather than the first.

The other editions in the Hockliffe Collection are similarly difficult to date. John Bysh, publisher of the History of Jack the Giant Killer (0020) was operating at 158-59 Albany Road, London, from 1860-62 and at 56, 58, 20 Albany Road in 1863 and 1864 (Brown, London Publishers and Printers, p.31). A John Bysh was also operating at 52 Paternoster Row from 1818-21, but the Hockliffe book seems similar to other fairy tales and popular stories published by Bysh in the British Library which can be dated to 1860 or 1861 from their time of acquisition (and, less precisely, from the design of the protagonists' clothes in the illustrations). Jack the Giant Killer, a Hero Celebrated by ancient Historians (0022) is probably earlier. It was published by Rusher's of Banbury, a leading producer of chapbooks, but one about whom little is known. John Golby Rusher (1784-1877) succeeded his father William (1759-1849) in his printing business, and established Banbury as an important publishing centre. Beyond this meagre data, we have only Rusher's own description of his enterprise to go on. His own Galloping Guide to the ABC contains this verse (Stockham, 'On Selling Children's Books', p.29):

'Rusher's fam'd Warehouse,
Books, Pictures and Toys,
Are selling to please all
The good Girls and Boys:
For youth of all ages
There's plenty in store,
Amusement, instruction,
For rich and for poor.'

That J. G. Rusher published for so long (the British Library has a collection of 'Banbury Lists' - annual directories of local information - the first of which is dated 1812 and the last 1874) - makes it difficult to establish the publication dates of his works. The one remaining clue is that the Edwin Pearson, in his Banbury Chap Books and Nursery Toy Book Literature asserts that the illustrations in Jack the Giant Killer were 'designed by Craig and engraved by Lee' (p.33). This is probably William Marshall Craig and John Lee. Craig was drawing-master to Princess Charlotte of Wales, miniature painter to the Duke and Duchess of York, and water-colour painter to the Queen. The Dictionary of National Biography records that he was one of the principal designers of wood of his day, and that all the best engravers of the era, including Thomas Bewick and Lee, worked for his famous 'Scripture Illustrated' (1806). Along with Bewick, Lee had been one of the foremost engravers of his day, engraving the cuts of the Cheap Repository in the later 1790s for instance. Craig was working at least until the late 1820s, but Lee had died in 1804, suggesting that Rusher's Jack the Giant Killer dates from before this. This is possible, but it seems just as likely either that Pearson was wrong in his attribution of the wood engravings to Lee or that he was referring to John Lee's son, James, also an engraver, but not known to have worked in partnership with Craig. It is also possible that the wood engravings were made early in the century, but used by Rusher only later.

Rusher's edition of Jack the Giant Killer attempted to cram all the episodes of Jack's adventures into a mere fourteen pages. What's more, this was to be accomplished in verse - save for a few interspersed paragraphs of prose which were needed to explain the action - and the narrative was to share space with the five wood engravings which, in truth, are the chapbook's chief attraction. Unsurprisingly then, the narrative is cursory. Jack has evidently acquired his magical sword, cap, horse and shoes before the tale opens, and each of the many assassinations takes only a line or two. Nevertheless, as was his wont, Rusher still found space to add a little local interest for his Oxfordshire readers, describing the nearby places which Jack is said by tradition to have visited (p.12). And the tale ends with even more detail about Jack's fate than the much longer Pleasant and Delightful Histories could manage, either in the Hockliffe or the Opie version. Here, Jack not only marries the duke's daughter and becomes rich, but sends his sons to college to be 'refined' and tells the tale of his deeds to his daughters (p.15).

Opie, Peter and Iona, The Classic Fairy Tales, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974, rpt. London, 1980

Boggis, Dorren H., Catalogue of the Hockliffle Collection of Early Children's Books, Bedford: Bedford College of Education, 1969

Brown, Philip A. H., London Publishers and Printers, c.1800-1870, London: British Library, 1982

Stockham, Peter, 'On Selling Children's Books', The Private Library, 3rd ser., 3, i (Spring 1980), 21-36

Pearson, Edwin, Banbury chap books and nursery toy book literature [of 18th and 19th C.], London, 1890

Lee, Stephen (ed.), Dictionary of National Biography, London: Smith, Elder, and Co., 1892 and after