Gender-Flipped Tales: Jill and the Beanstalk

Milky-WhiteThe Tale:

There was once upon a time a poor widower who had an only daughter named Jill, and a cow named Milky-white. And all they had to live on was the milk the cow gave every morning, which they carried to the market and sold. But one morning Milky-white gave no milk and they didn’t know what to do.

“What shall we do, what shall we do?” said the widower, wringing his hands.

“Cheer up, father, I’ll go and get work somewhere,” said Jill.

“We’ve tried that before, and nobody would take you,” said her father; “we must sell Milky-white and with the money, start shop, or something.”

“All right, father,” says Jill; “it’s market-day today, and I’ll soon sell Milky-white, and then we’ll see what we can do.”

So she took the cow’s halter in her hand, and off she started. She hadn’t gone far when she met a funny-looking old woman, who said to her: “Good morning, Jill.”

“Good morning to you,” said Jill, and wondered how she knew her name.

“Well, Jill, and where are you off to?” said the woman.

“I’m going to market to sell our cow here.”

“Oh, you look the proper sort of maid to sell cows,” said the woman; “I wonder if you know how many beans make five.”

“Two in each hand and one in your mouth,” says Jill, as sharp as a needle.

“Right you are,” said the woman, “and here they are, the very beans themselves,” she went on, pulling out of her pocket a number of strange-looking beans. “As you are so sharp,” says she, “I don’t mind doing a swap with you — your cow for these beans.”

“Walker!” says Jill; “wouldn’t you like it?”

“Ah! you don’t know what these beans are,” said the woman; “if you plant them overnight, by morning they grow right up to the sky.”

“Really?” says Jill; “you don’t say so.”

“Yes, that is so, and if it doesn’t turn out to be true you can have your cow back.”

“Right,” says Jill, and hands her over Milky-white’s halter and pockets the beans.

Back goes Jill home, and as she hadn’t gone very far it wasn’t dusk by the time she got to her door.

“Back already, Jill?” said her father; “I see you haven’t got Milky-white, so you’ve sold her. How much did you get for her?”

“You’ll never guess, father,” says Jill.

“No, you don’t say so. Good girl! Five pounds, ten, fifteen, no, it can’t be twenty.”

“I told you you couldn’t guess. What do you say to these beans; they’re magical, plant them overnight and —”

Beanstalk“What!” says Jill’s father, “have you been such a fool, such a dolt, such an idiot, as to give away my Milky-white, the best milker in the parish, and prime beef to boot, for a set of paltry beans? Take that! Take that! Take that! And as for your precious beans here they go out of the window. And now off with you to bed. Not a sup shall you drink, and not a bit shall you swallow this very night.”

So Jill went upstairs to her little room in the attic, and sad and sorry she was, to be sure, as much for her father’s sake, as for the loss of her supper.

At last she dropped off to sleep.

When she woke up, the room looked so funny. The sun was shining into part of it, and yet all the rest was quite dark and shady. So Jill jumped up and dressed herself and went to the window. And what do you think she saw? Why, the beans her father had thrown out of the window into the garden had sprung up into a big beanstalk which went up and up and up till it reached the sky. So the woman spoke truth after all.

The beanstalk grew up quite close past Jill’s window, so all she had to do was to open it and give a jump on to the beanstalk which ran up just like a big plaited ladder. So Jill climbed, and she climbed and she climbed and she climbed and she climbed and she climbed and she climbed till at last she reached the sky. And when she got there she found a long broad road going as straight as a dart. So she walked along and she walked along and she walked along till she came to a great big tall house, and on the doorstep there was a great big tall man.

“Good morning, sir,” says Jill, quite polite-like. “Could you be so kind as to give me some breakfast?” For she hadn’t had anything to eat, you know, the night before and was as hungry as a hunter.

“It’s breakfast you want, is it?” says the great big tall man, “it’s breakfast you’ll be if you don’t move off from here. My woman is an ogress and there’s nothing she likes better than girls broiled on toast. You’d better be moving on or she’ll soon be coming.”

“Oh! please, sir, do give me something to eat, sir. I’ve had nothing to eat since yesterday morning, really and truly, sir,” says Jill. “I may as well be broiled as die of hunger.”

Well, the ogress’ husband wasn’t such a bad sort after all. So he took Jill into the kitchen, and gave her a hunk of bread and cheese and a jug of milk. But Jill hadn’t half finished these when thump! thump! thump! the whole house began to tremble with the noise of someone coming.

“Goodness gracious me! It’s my old woman,” said the ogress’ husband, “what on earth shall I do? Come along quick and jump in here.” And he bundled Jill into the oven just as the ogress came in.

She was a big one, to be sure. At her belt she had three calves strung up by the heels, and she unhooked them and threw them down on the table and said: “Here, husband, broil me a couple of these for breakfast. Ah! what’s this I smell?

I smell the blood of an Englishwoman,
Be she alive, or be she dead,
I’ll have her bones to grind my bread.”

“Nonsense, dear,” said her husband, “you’re dreaming. Or perhaps you smell the scraps of that little girl you liked so much for yesterday’s dinner. Here, you go and have a wash and tidy up, and by the time you come back your breakfast’ll be ready for you.”

So off the ogress went, and Jill was just going to jump out of the oven and run away when the man told her not. “Wait till she’s asleep,” says he; “she always has a snooze after breakfast.”

Well, the ogress had her breakfast, and after that she goes to a big chest and takes out of it a couple of bags of gold, and sits down counting them till at last her head began to nod and she began to snore till the whole house shook again.

Then Jill crept out on tiptoe from her oven, and as she was passing the ogress she took one of the bags of gold under his arm, and off she pelters till she came to the beanstalk, and then she threw down the bag of gold, which, of course, fell into her father’s garden, and then she climbed down and climbed down till at last she got home and told her father and showed him the gold and said: “Well, father, wasn’t I right about the beans? They are really magical, you see.”

So they lived on the bag of gold for some time, but at last they came to the end of that so Jill made up her mind to try her luck once more up at the top of the beanstalk. So one fine morning she rose up early, and got on to the beanstalk, and she climbed and she climbed and she climbed and she climbed and she climbed and she climbed till at last she got on the road again and came the great big tall house she had been to before. There, sure enough, was the great tall man a-standing on the doorstep.

“Good morning, sir,” says Jill, as bold as brass, “could you be so good as to give me something to eat?”

“Go away, my girl,” said the big, tall man, “or else my woman will eat you up for breakfast. But aren’t you the youngster who came here once before? Do you know, that very day my man missed one of his bags of gold.”

“That’s strange, sir,” said Jill, “I dare say I could tell you something about that but I’m so hungry I can’t speak till I’ve had something to eat.”

Well, the big tall man was that curious that he took her in and gave her something to eat. But she had scarcely begun munching it as slowly as he could when thump! thump! they heard the giant’s footstep, and her husband hid Jill away in the oven.

All happened as it did before. In came the ogress as she did before, said: “Fee-fi-fo-fum,” and had her breakfast off three broiled oxen. Then she said: “Husband, bring me the hen that lays the golden eggs.” So he brought it, and the ogress said: “Lay,” and it laid an egg all of gold. And then the ogress began to nod her head, and to snore till the house shook.

Golden EggsThen Jill crept out of the oven on tiptoe and caught hold of the golden hen, and was off before you could say “Jill Robinson.” But this time the hen gave a cackle which woke the ogress, and just as Jill got out of the house she heard her calling:

“Husband, husband, what have you done with my golden hen?”

And the husband said: “Why, my dear?”

But that was all Jill heard, for she rushed off to the beanstalk and climbed down like a house on fire. And when he got home she showed her father the wonderful hen, and said “Lay” to it; and it laid a golden egg every time she said ‘Lay.”

Well, Jill was not content, and it wasn’t long before she determined to have another try at her luck up there at the top of the beanstalk. So one fine morning, she rose up early, and went on to the beanstalk, and she climbed and she climbed and she climbed and she climbed till he got to the top. But this time she knew better than to go straight to the ogress’ house. And when she got near it, she waited behind a bush till she saw the ogress’ husband come out with a pail to get some water, and then she crept into the house and got into the copper. She hadn’t been there long when she heard thump! thump! thump! as before, and in came the ogress and her husband.

“Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishwoman,” cried out the ogress. “I smell her, husband, I smell her.”

“Do you, my dearie?” says the ogress’ husband. “Then if it’s that little rogue that stole your gold and the hen that laid the golden eggs she’s sure to have got into the oven.” And they both rushed to the oven. But Jill wasn’t there, luckily, and the ogress’ husband said: “There you are again with your fee-fi-fo-fum. Why, of course, it’s the lassie you caught last night that I’ve broiled for your breakfast. How forgetful I am, and how careless you are not to know the difference between live un and a dead un.”

So the ogress sat down to the breakfast and ate it, but every now and then she would mutter: “Well, I could have sworn —” and she’d get up and search the larder and the cupboards, and everything, only, luckily, she didn’t think of the copper.

After breakfast was over, the ogress called out: “Husband, husband, bring me my golden harp.” So he brought it and put it on the table before her. Then she said: “Sing!” and the golden harp sang most beautifully. And it went on singing till the ogress fell asleep, and commenced to snore like thunder.

Then Jill lifted up the copper-lid very quietly and got down like a mouse and crept on hands and knees till she came to the table when she got up and caught hold of the golden harp and dashed with it towards the door. But the harp called out quite loud: “Mistress! Mistress!” and the ogress woke up just in time to see Jill running off with his harp.

Singing HarpJill ran as fast as she could, and the ogress came rushing after, and would soon have caught her only Jill had a start and dodged her a bit and knew where she was going. When she got to the beanstalk the ogress was not more than twenty yards away when suddenly she saw Jill disappear like, and when she came to the end of the road she saw Jill underneath climbing down for dear life. Well, the ogress didn’t like trusting herself to such a ladder, and she stood and waited, so Jill got another start. But just then the harp cried out: “Mistress! Mistress!” and the ogress swung herself down on to the beanstalk, which shook with her weight. Down climbs Jill, and after her climbed the ogress. By this time Jill had climbed down and climbed down and climbed down till she was very nearly home. So she called out: “Father! Father! bring me an axe, bring me an axe.” And her father came rushing out with the axe in his hand, but when he came to the beanstalk he stood stock still with fright, for there he saw the ogress just coming down below the clouds.

But Jill jumped down and got hold of the axe and gave a chop at the beanstalk which cut it half in two. The ogress felt the beanstalk shake and quiver so she stopped to see what was the matter. Then Jill gave another chop with the axe, and the beanstalk was cut in two and began to topple over. Then the ogress fell down and broke her crown, and the beanstalk came toppling after.

Then Jill showed her father her golden harp, and what with showing that and selling the golden eggs, Jill and her father became very rich, and she married a great prince, and they lived happy ever after.

By Joseph Jacobs (available in its original form at SurLaLune Fairy Tales)


I actually think that this story flipped really well. The relationship between the ogress and her husband is a little strange (we don’t imagine giants being house-husbands very often), but really, if you were married to an ogre, wouldn’t you do the cooking too? I would, even if I were a guy. Jack/Jill is still basically a freeloading rogue and the parent figure largely just lets her be that way. That works equally well with the genders flipped as it did originally (now the protagonist more like the daughter in “Diamonds and Toads” who ended up with toads, but Jack would have been that kid anyway). I think this worked really well overall. Oh, and I decided for the first time to leave something the way it was. The cow and the hen both retained their original sexes (I just couldn’t write about milking a bull or a rooster who laid eggs, it doesn’t make sense). Since their identities isn’t at all vital to the story, I decided to bend the rules for them in the interests of the story maintaining logical biology (magic beanstalks and golden eggs notwithstanding).

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