June 14, 2012

I wandered through Andrew Lang’s Red Fairy Book the other day and came across the tale of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’. Now, it so happens that when I was growing up, the Giant recited:

‘Fe fi fo 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 here, in Andrew Lang’s Red Fairy Book, the giant says:

‘Fe, fa, fi-fo-fum,

I smell the breath of an Englishman.

Let him be alive or let him be dead,

I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.’

I like the ‘fa’. I think I’ll include it from now on, and it does make more sense that the Giant could smell Jack’s breath easier than Jack’s blood, especially if Jack had been eating onions or garlic. Right? And because it sounds more Gigantic to me, I’ll keep ‘be he’ over ‘let him be’. And how a helpful Fairy flew into the Jack story in the Red Fairy Book, I’ll never know.

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