Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Day 401: Jack and the Beanstalk

It's time for one of the first Classic and Contemporary Fairy Tale Class Posts. I told you I'd be talking about them over time, especially as I read them, since I really wanted to watch the Disney films they are inspired on as I read the stories in class. I'm a bit behind: I've already read Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel and various others. Right there I've got 5 movies to watch, and as a college student who already doesn't have enough time to do all of her work, it's just not going over so well for me.

But since I'm currently avoiding practicing my alto (I suppose I'm just pushing it off again until tomorrow...anger) by continuing work on my super secret and special project, I'm also watching the first of the Disney films inspired by these classic fairy tales.

Today in class (really only a few minutes ago), we were talking about Jack and the Beanstalk specifically, and about the morals that fairy tales attempt to teach to children. This seems like a logical and easy thing to talk about. I mean, in Red Riding Hood, the moral is generally seen as "don't talk to strangers," and one could say that the moral of Hansel and Gretel is to not accept candy from strangers (or go into their homes), or even to never give up even when all seems lost (like the bread crumbs the birds ate up and prevented Hansel and Gretel from getting home to their father).

And in the Disney films, morals are always there. In Snow White, I suppose you could say the lesson is to not be vain, and Cinderella teaches you to continue hoping for a better future, and to stay true to yourself. Dumbo teaches everyone about believing in yourself and so on and so forth. I could go on forever about the tales that teach friendship and love and kindness, but that's not the point here. We have a lot left to talk about.

Our topic in class today, however, was not about these obvious lessons that fairytales teach us, but instead about the basic fact that not every one of these early stories has a moral, or particularly a good one. Jack and the Beanstalk is probably one of the greatest examples of this, and I'll talk about three versions of Jack and the Beanstalk that are popular, at least in my life.

First off, we have the classic, original version that I just read recently for class. The version I read was by Joseph Jacobs, and it tells the tale of young Jack, who lives with his mother and their pride and joy: their cow. But soon the cow dries up, and Jack's mother tells him to sell the cow to gain some last money that they may live off of. So he sets out to sell Milky-white, their cow, and meets an old man willing to give him some beans in trade. Not ordinary beans though: magic beans. He accepts, and hurries home to show his mother, who thinks him a foolish boy and throws the beans out the window before sending Jack to bed. The next morning, however, when Jack wakes up, he looks out his window to find the beans had grown into a beanstalk that reached to the sky. So he climbs it and at the top finds the home of ogres (or Giants, depending on the version you read). These ogres eat children, and can smell blood (more on that later), and Jack reaches the top and tricks one of them into feeding him and keeping him safe from her husband, who is looking carefully everywhere for young Jack, just so he can eat him. But Jack must be ungrateful, for he finds a couple bags of gold and takes them before hurrying back down the beanstalk. His mother is happy, but still Jack returns, and again tricks the ogres. Only this time he comes across a goose that lays golden eggs whenever you command it to. Jack steals the goose and hurries back down the beanstalk. At this point he will never again have to worry about running out of money, for the goose will provide with whatever they need. Still, he rushes back up the beanstalk one last time, and this time steals a beautiful golden harp. But the harp begins to cry out for its master, the ogre, and Jack barely escapes to the bottom with the harp before cutting the beanstalk with an ax, causing the ogre to fall to his death. Jack and his mother live happily, and Jack ends the story by marrying a beautiful Princess.

So WHAT IN THE WORLD is this story really telling us? Telling children? I remember as a child a bit of a different story, which probably is partly from the Disney version of the story, which can be found in Fun and Fancy Free. It's called Mickey and the Beanstalk, and I remember watching it from time to time as a kid, despite the fact that it's probably one of the Disney films that most people don't know...which is sad because it's a beautiful film with a wealth of different fairy tales.

Anyway, the Disney version of Jack and the Beanstalk. It actually has more than just Jack. Here we have Mickey, Donald and Goofy. They live in Happy Valley, but then the golden singing harp is stolen and the valley turns dark and cold. We first meet our three friends as they sit down for a very very very small dinner, in which makes Donald go a bit crazy. But what doesn't make Donald go crazy? He thinks they should kill the cow, who used to be a prized milker, but is now dried up. Mickey and Goofy prevent Donald from killing the cow, and instead decide to sell her instead. Mickey takes the cow to the village and while he is gone Goofy and Donald are dreaming about all the food that Mickey will return with. But...he, of course, only returns with beans. Donald is not happy. But then a beanstalk grows from the beans and takes the house and the three friends up to the clouds, where they find themselves in the giant's house. There they find the golden harp trapped. The giant that lives there, however, seems pretty happy. He can do all sorts of magical stuff just by saying Fe Fi Fo Fum. Mickey, Donald and Goofy are hiding from the giant, terrified, as he eats his dinner. Mickey is in the sandwich though, and the giant catches him. Mickey tells the giant about the lines on his hand and basically talks his way out of the giant's grasp. He tries to get the giant to turn himself into a fly so they can catch him with the flyswatter. The giant didn't like that so much, and he locks them (all but Mickey) in a box after taking out the magic golden harp. If the golden harp can put the giant to sleep with her beautiful voice, then maybe everything would be ok. It works, and Mickey is able to get his friends out, but not until he embarks on a raging fight with the giant, who is quite angry for the tricks that Mickey has played on him. Mickey runs, and down at the bottom of the beanstalk, Donald and Goofy are already chopping it down. The giant falls, tumbling towards the ground and dies. They all returned and the Happy Valley was restored, where they lived happily ever after. Also, at the end of the film, the giant comes back and goes off exploring Hollywood!

But let's talk for a moment about a different version of Jack and the Beanstalk...a more recent version. No, I'm not talking about Jack the Giant Slayer. You should know me better than that. Of course, Once Upon a Time has had it's own version of Jack, and when I originally saw the episode I was like "wait what?" I liked the play they took on it, but it wasn't until today in class that I really found an appreciation for the episode (which I'll be rewatching sometime today hopefully). You can find it in Season 2, in the episode titled "Tiny." In the OUAT version, Jack is a girl, Jacklyn to be specific, and she's hanging out with James (you know, David/Charming's twin brother that eventually dies). When Tiny comes into town she basically tricks him into taking hem up the beanstalk, and they try to steal the riches at the top, along with the other magic beans. Their swords are tipped with poison, so whenever they slash at one of Tiny's brothers, they end up dying. In the end, Jack dies, James escapes with the riches, Tiny is the sole survivor and hates humans: explaining why later in life (but earlier in the season), Tiny is so mistrusting of Hook and Emma.

The reason I love this version more now than when I first watched the episode is because of that discussion we had today. The other versions of Jack and the Beanstalk, right up to Jack the Giant Slayer I'm sure, make Jack the HERO of the story, when in reality, all he did was steal and lie and cheat! How does that make him a hero? Yes, the giant or ogre at the top of the beanstalk eats children, but in reality, he is the victim! Not necessarily the villain of the story, right? Here, Jack[lyn] attempts to steal from the giants, and inflicts plenty of pain, and she dies as a result. It takes Tiny many years to trust another human (and we don't see him do that for several more episodes until after he is in Storybrooke again). That's what I love about Once Upon a Time, it emphasizes both the good and the bad of each character, and they really take an in depth look at the original fairy tale before making their own version. In reality, the OUAT version of Jack and the Beanstalk is much closer moral and theme wise than any other version...even if Jack is a girl and the point is to gain money for the kingdom and not her and her poor mother. She's still greedy, and unlike in the fairy tale, she must pay for her actions and does not have a necessarily so happy ending.

Also, one of the little things that Once threw in there that I enjoyed was the fact that In Tallahassee when Hook and Emma climb, Hook mentions that Giants can smell blood, which, in the case of the original story, is very much true. Good job OUAT!

Now, I won't go into any further detail here because if I do I'll give away all my secrets for my special project! You'll just have to wait and see what that one is!

Have a magical day!