Per our nightly routine, I recently sat down to read my daughter a book before bedtime. Looking through her library, I pulled the classic fable Jack and The Beanstalk from her bookshelf. As I read the story to her aloud, I was newly surprised by what a poor picture of reality the fable presents. In fact, Jack and The Beanstalk may one of the worst fables ever.
For those who have not read through the fable recently, it is a tale about a boy named Jack who grows up in a single parent home dynamic that is lacking the stabilizing force of a father. He is both situationally and institutionally poor and there does not appear to be hope of future income and economic stability. Instead of selling the family cow, per his mother’s clear instruction, Jack disobeys his mother by A: talking to a stranger and B: exchanging the cow for some non-FDA approved magic beans. After being appropriately disciplined by his mother, Jack discovers that the planted magic beans turn into a magic beanstalk that leads to a wealthy Giant’s home. Jack makes three trips to the Giant’s home, each time stealing an item of worth from the Giant (some gold pieces, a golden egg, then the goose that lays the golden eggs). When the Giant comes after Jack, Jack kills him. The end.
Having reread this story to my daughter, I had more than a few questions about the way in which the original author portrayed the characters and commented on society at the time. Why was Jack portrayed as the hero in light of his clear character flaws? Also, why was the Giant portrayed as a villain? His only absolute vice appears to be drunkenness. Why is he not praised, for example, for his innovation in technology? Do you know how ridiculously difficult it would be to genetically modify a goose to lay golden eggs? Furthermore, why is he not valued as a paragon of business acumen? He achieved backwards integration in the 15th century!!! He not only controlled the rare supply of golden eggs, but also the perpetual wealth machine that is the production of the golden eggs? Where was Forbes magazine?
I believe that these and other hanging questions are why Jack’s story has made its way into the news cycle recently. The latest film adaptation of Jack The Giant Slayer bombed for these and other reasons, as critics have pointed out. The movie opened to terrible reviews, including this one from Southern Theology Dean Russ Moore (who wrote one of the best books on adoption ever, by the way). I did find it interesting that, while panning the film, Moore had high praise for components of the original fable:
But the movie misses, I think, the element that made the old stories so compelling in the first place. The movie obscures the way Jack, in the old stories, usually defeated the giants: not just with grit and luck and determination, but with trickery.
Wait a second . . . Jack uses trickery to defeat the Giant and that is to be . . . praised? Why is Jack not called out for his clear character flaws? Am I taking crazy pills here?
And again, do we have a good reason to despise the Giant in the first place? All we know about the Giant is that he is wealthy. Is that such a crime? In other words, is the fact that the Giant is a very large and innovative capitalist such a horrible thing? My buddy Owen Strachan would not approve of Jack’s attack on capitalism. After all, doesn’t Jack’s tale provide the intellectual and moral framework for reactionary movements such as the Occupy movement and socialism that conservative economists were deriding just a short time ago?
In the end, I want to remind my blog readers that Jack and The Beanstalk is a horrible portrait of humanity. The moral of the story is that it is perfectly acceptable to steal & kill if you are poor and good at tricking people. Let’s agree to not perpetuate such foolishness to future generations.