A to Z Challenge Folklore

Giants of All Kinds #folklore #AtoZChallenge

G is for Giant

I’m doing folklore and book review posts to reach and please a larger audience. Previous years have shown select interest in both and to minimise blogging throughout the year, I’m focusing my efforts on April.

If you’d rather check out my book review for today, go here.

Learn more about the challenge here.

I think the first giant I encountered was the one in Jack and the Beanstalk. But there are so many others out there.


MYTHS OF THE CHEROKEE By James Mooney [1900]

The Giants From The West

James Wafford, of the western Cherokee, who was born in Georgia in 1806, says that his grandmother, who must have been born about the middle of the last century, told him that she had beard from the old people that long before her time a party of giants had come once to visit the Cherokee. They were nearly twice as tall as common men, and had their eyes set slanting in their heads, so that the Cherokee called them Tsunil’kälû’, “The Slant-eyed people,” because they looked like the giant hunter Tsul’kälû’ (see the story). They said that these giants lived very far away in the direction in which the sun goes down. The Cherokee received them as friends, and they stayed some time, and then returned to their home in the west. The story may be a distorted historical tradition.

BULFINCH’S MYTHOLOGY by Thomas Bulfinch [1855]

MONSTERS, in the language of mythology, were beings of unnatural proportions or parts, usually regarded with terror, as possessing immense strength and ferocity, which they employed for the injury and annoyance of men. Some of them were supposed to combine the members of different animals; such were the Sphinx and Chimaera and to these all the terrible qualities of wild beasts were attributed, together with human sagacity and faculties. Others, as the giants, differed from men chiefly in their size; and in this particular we must recognize a wide distinction among them. The human giants, if so they may be called, such as the Cyclops, Antaeus, Orion, and others, must be supposed not to be altogether disproportioned to human beings, for they mingled in love and strife with them. But the super-human giants, who warred with the gods, were of vastly larger dimensions. Tityus, we are told, when stretched on the plain, covered nine acres, and Enceladus required the whole of Mount AEtna to be laid upon him to keep him down.

We have already spoken of the war which the giants waged against the gods, and of its result. While this war lasted the giants proved a formidable enemy. Some of them, like Briareus, had a hundred arms; others, like Typhon, breathed out fire. At one time they put the gods to such fear that they fled into Egypt and hid themselves under various forms. Jupiter took the form of a ram, whence he was afterwards worshipped in Egypt as the god Ammon, with curved horns. Apollo became a crow, Bacchus a goat, Diana a cat, Juno a cow, Venus a fish, Mercury a bird. At another time the giants attempted to climb up into heaven, and for that purpose took up the mountain Ossa and piled it on Pelion.* They were at last subdued by thunderbolts, which Minerva invented, and taught Vulcan and his Cyclops to make for Jupiter.

The Orange Fairy Book, by Andrew Lang, [1906]

The Three Treasures of the Giants

Long, long ago, there lived an old man and his wife who had three sons; the eldest was called Martin, the second Michael, while the third was named Jack.

One evening they were all seated round the table, eating their supper of bread and milk.

‘Martin,’ said the old man suddenly, ‘I feel that I cannot live much longer. You, as the eldest, will inherit this hut; but, if you value my blessing, be good to your mother and brothers.’

‘Certainly, father; how can you suppose I should do them wrong?’ replied Martin indignantly, helping himself to all the best bits in the dish as he spoke. The old man saw nothing, but Michael looked on in surprise, and Jack was so astonished that he quite forgot to eat his own supper.

A little while after, the father fell ill, and sent for his sons, who were out hunting, to bid him farewell. After giving good advice to the two eldest, he turned to Jack.

‘My boy,’ he said, ‘you have not got quite as much sense as other people, but if Heaven has deprived you of some of your wits, it was given you a kind heart. Always listen to what it says, and take heed to the words of your mother and brothers, as well as you are able!’ So saying the old man sank back on his pillows and died.

The cries of grief uttered by Martin and Michael sounded through the house, but Jack remained by the bedside of his father, still and silent, as if he were dead also. At length he got up, and going into the garden, hid himself in some trees, and wept like a child, while his two brothers made ready for the funeral.

No sooner was the old man buried than Martin and Michael agreed that they would go into the world together to seek their fortunes, while Jack stayed at home with their mother. Jack would have liked nothing better than to sit and dream by the fire, but the mother, who was very old herself, declared that there was no work for him to do, and that he must seek it with his brothers.

So, one fine morning, all three set out; Martin and Michael carried two great bags full of food, but Jack carried nothing. This made his brothers very angry, for the day was hot and the bags were heavy, and about noon they sat down under a tree and began to eat. Jack was as hungry as they were, but he knew that it was no use asking for anything; and he threw himself under another tree, and wept bitterly.

‘Another time perhaps you won’t be so lazy, and will bring food for yourself,’ said Martin, but to his surprise Jack answered:

‘You are a nice pair! You talk of seeking your fortunes so as not to be a burden on our mother, and you begin by carrying off all the food she has in the house!’

This reply was so unexpected that for some moments neither of the brothers made any answer. Then they offered their brother some of their food, and when he had finished eating they went their way once more.

Towards evening they reached a small hut, and knocking at the door, asked if they might spend the night there. The man, who was a wood-cutter, invited them him, and begged them to sit down to supper. Martin thanked him, but being very proud, explained that it was only shelter they wanted, as they had plenty of food with them; and he and Michael at once opened their bags and began to eat, while Jack hid himself in a corner. The wife, on seeing this, took pity on him, and called him to come and share their supper, which he gladly did, and very good he found it. At this, Martin regretted deeply that he had been so foolish as to refuse, for his bits of bread and cheese seemed very hard when he smelt the savoury soup his brother was enjoying.

‘He shan’t have such a chance again,’ thought he; and the next morning he insisted on plunging into a thick forest where they were likely to meet nobody.

For a long time they wandered hither and thither, for they had no path to guide them; but at last they came upon a wide clearing, in the midst of which stood a castle. Jack shouted with delight, but Martin, who was in a bad temper, said sharply:

‘We must have taken a wrong turning! Let us go back.’

‘Idiot!’ replied Michael, who was hungry too, and, like many people when they are hungry, very cross also. ‘We set out to travel through the world, and what does it matter if we go to the right or to the left?’ And, without another word, took the path to the castle, closely followed by Jack, and after a moment by Martin likewise.

The door of the castle stood open, and they entered a great hall, and looked about them. Not a creature was to be seen, and suddenly Martin—he did not know why—felt a little frightened. He would have left the castle at once, but stopped when Jack boldly walked up to a door in the wall and opened it. He could not for very shame be outdone by his younger brother, and passed behind him into another splendid hall, which was filled from floor to ceiling with great pieces of copper money.

The sight quite dazzled Martin and Michael, who emptied all the provisions that remained out of their bags, and heaped them up instead with handfuls of copper.

Scarcely had they done this when Jack threw open another door, and this time it led to a hall filled with silver. In an instant his brothers had turned their bags upside down, so that the copper money tumbled out on to the floor, and were shovelling in handfuls of the silver instead. They had hardly finished, when Jack opened yet a third door, and all three fell back in amazement, for this room as a mass of gold, so bright that their eyes grew sore as they looked at it. However, they soon recovered from their surprise, and quickly emptied their bags of silver, and filled them with gold instead. When they would hold no more, Martin said:

‘We had better hurry off now lest somebody else should come, and we might not know what to do’; and, followed by Michael, he hastily left the castle. Jack lingered behind for a few minutes to put pieces of gold, silver, and copper into his pocket, and to eat the food that his brothers had thrown down in the first room. Then he went after them, and found them lying down to rest in the midst of a forest. It was near sunset, and Martin began to feel hungry, so, when Jack arrived, he bade him return to the castle and bring the bread and cheese that they had left there.

‘It is hardly worth doing that,’ answered Jack; ‘for I picked up the pieces and ate them myself.’

At this reply both brothers were beside themselves with anger, and fell upon the boy, beating him, and calling him names, till they were quite tired.

‘Go where you like,’ cried Martin with a final kick; ‘but never come near us again.’ And poor Jack ran weeping into the woods.

The next morning his brothers went home, and bought a beautiful house, where they lived with their mother like great lords.

Jack remained for some hours in hiding, thankful to be safe from his tormentors; but when no one came to trouble him, and his back did not ache so much, he began to think what he had better do. At length he made up his mind to go to the caste and take away as much money with him as would enable him to live in comfort for the rest of his life. This being decided, he sprang up, and set out along the path which led to the castle. As before, the door stood open, and he went on till he had reached the hall of gold, and there he took off his jacket and tied the sleeves together so that it might make a kind of bag. He then began to pour in the gold by handfuls, when, all at once, a noise like thunder shook the castle. This was followed by a voice, hoarse as that of a bull, which cried:

‘I smell the smell of a man.’ And two giants entered.

‘So, little worm! it is you who steal our treasures!’ exclaimed the biggest. ‘Well, we have got you now, and we will cook you for supper!’ But here the other giant drew him aside, and for a moment or two they whispered together. At length the first giant spoke:

‘To please my friend I will spare your life on condition that, for the future, you shall guard our treasures. If you are hungry take this little table and rap on it, saying, as you do so: “The dinner of an emperor!” and you will get as much food as you want.’

With a light heart Jack promised all that was asked of him, and for some days enjoyed himself mightily. He had everything he could wish for, and did nothing from morning till night; but by-and-by he began to get very tired of it all.

‘Let the giants guard their treasures themselves,’ he said to himself at last; ‘I am going away. But I will leave all the gold and silver behind me, and will take nought but you, my good little table.’

So, tucking the table under his arm, he started off for the forest, but he did not linger there long, and soon found himself in the fields on the other side. There he saw an old man, who begged Jack to give him something to eat.

‘You could not have asked a better person,’ answered Jack cheerfully. And signing to him to sit down with him under a tree, he set the table in front of them, and struck it three times, crying:

‘The dinner of an emperor!’ He had hardly uttered the words when fish and meat of all kinds appeared on it!

‘That is a clever trick of yours,’ said the old man, when he had eaten as much as he wanted. ‘Give it to me in exchange for a treasure I have which is still better. Do you see this cornet? Well, you have only to tell it that you wish for an army, and you will have as many soldiers as you require.’

Now, since he had been left to himself, Jack had grown ambitious, so, after a moment’s hesitation, he took the cornet and gave the table in exchange. The old man bade him farewell, and set off down one path, while Jack chose another, and for a long time he was quite pleased with his new possession. Then, as he felt hungry, he wished for his table back again, as no house was in sight, and he wanted some supper badly. All at once he remembered his cornet, and a wicked thought entered his mind.

‘Two hundred hussars, forward!’ cried he. And the neighing of horses and the clanking of swords were heard close at hand. The officer who rode at their head approached Jack, and politely inquired what he wished them to do.

‘A mile or two along that road,’ answered Jack, ‘you will find an old man carrying a table. Take the table from him and bring it to me.’

The officer saluted and went back to his men, who started at a gallop to do Jack’s bidding.

In ten minutes they had returned, bearing the table with them.

‘That is all, thank you,’ said Jack; and the soldiers disappeared inside the cornet.

Oh, what a good supper Jack had that night, quite forgetting that he owed it to a mean trick. The next day he breakfasted early, and then walked on towards the nearest town. On the way thither he met another old man, who begged for something to eat.

‘Certainly, you shall have something to eat,’ replied Jack. And, placing the table on the ground he cried:

‘The dinner of an emperor!’ when all sorts of food dishes appeared. At first the old man ate quite greedily, and said nothing; but, after his hunger was satisfied, he turned to Jack and said:

‘That is a very clever trick of yours. Give the table to me and you shall have something still better.’

‘I don’t believe that there is anything better,’ answered Jack.

‘Yes, there is. Here is my bag; it will give you as many castles as you can possibly want.’

Jack thought for a moment; then he replied: ‘Very well, I will exchange with you.’ And passing the table to the old man, he hung the bag over his arm.

Five minutes later he summoned five hundred lancers out of the cornet and bade them go after the old man and fetch back the table.

Now that by his cunning he had obtained possession of the three magic objects, he resolved to return to his native place. Smearing his face with dirt, and tearing his clothes so as to look like a beggar, he stopped the passers by and, on pretence of seeking money or food, he questioned them about the village gossip. In this manner he learned that his brothers had become great men, much respected in all the country round. When he heard that, he lost no time in going to the door of their fine house and imploring them to give him food and shelter; but the only thing he got was hard words, and a command to beg elsewhere. At length, however, at their mother’s entreaty, he was told that he might pass the night in the stable. Here he waited until everybody in the house was sound asleep, when he drew his bag from under his cloak, and desired that a castle might appear in that place; and the cornet gave him soldiers to guard the castle, while the table furnished him with a good supper. In the morning, he caused it all to vanish, and when his brothers entered the stable they found him lying on the straw.

Jack remained here for many days, doing nothing, and—as far as anybody knew—eating nothing. This conduct puzzled his brothers greatly, and they put such constant questions to him, that at length he told them the secret of the table, and even gave a dinner to them, which far outdid any they had ever seen or heard of. But though they had solemnly promised to reveal nothing, somehow or other the tale leaked out, and before long reached the ears of the king himself. That very evening his chamberlain arrived at Jack’s dwelling, with a request from the king that he might borrow the table for three days.

‘Very well,’ answered Jack, ‘you can take it back with you. But tell his majesty that if he does not return it at the end of the three days I will make war upon him.’

So the chamberlain carried away the table and took it straight to the king, telling him at the same time of Jack’s threat, at which they both laughed till their sides ached.

Now the king was so delighted with the table, and the dinners it gave him, that when the three days were over he could not make up his mind to part with it. Instead, he sent for his carpenter, and bade him copy it exactly, and when it was done he told his chamberlain to return it to Jack with his best thanks. It happened to be dinner time, and Jack invited the chamberlain, who knew nothing of the trick, to stay and dine with him. The good man, who had eaten several excellent meals provided by the table in the last three days, accepted the invitation with pleasure, even though he was to dine in a stable, and sat down on the straw beside Jack.

‘The dinner of an emperor!’ cried Jack. But not even a morsel of cheese made its appearance.

‘The dinner of an emperor!’ shouted Jack in a voice of thunder. Then the truth dawned on him; and, crushing the table between his hands, he turned to the chamberlain, who, bewildered and half-frightened, was wondering how to get away.

‘Tell your false king that to-morrow I will destroy his castle as easily as I have broken this table.’

The chamberlain hastened back to the palace, and gave the king Jack’s message, at which he laughed more than before, and called all his courtiers to hear the story. But they were not quite so merry when they woke next morning and beheld ten thousand horsemen, and as many archers, surrounding the palace. The king saw it was useless to hold out, and he took the white flag of truce in one hand, and the real table in the other, and set out to look for Jack.

‘I committed a crime,’ said he; ‘but I will do my best to make up for it. Here is your table, which I own with shame that I tried to steal, and you shall have besides, my daughter as your wife!’

There was no need to delay the marriage when the table was able to furnish the most splendid banquet that ever was seen, and after everyone had eaten and drunk as much as they wanted, Jack took his bag and commanded a castle filled with all sorts of treasures to arise in the park for himself and his bride.

At this proof of his power the king’s heart died within him.

‘Your magic is greater than mine,’ he said; ‘and you are young and strong, while I am old and tired. Take, therefore, the sceptre from my hand, and my crown from my head, and rule my people better than I have done.’

So at last Jack’s ambition was satisfied. He could not hope to be more than king, and as long as he had his cornet to provide him with soldiers he was secure against his enemies. He never forgave his brothers for the way they had treated him, though he presented his mother with a beautiful castle, and everything she could possibly wish for. In the centre of his own palace was a treasure chamber, and in this chamber the table, the cornet, and the bag were kept as the most prized of all his possessions, and not a week passed without a visit from king John to make sure they were safe. He reigned long and well, and died a very old man, beloved by his people. But his good example was not followed by his sons and his grandsons. They grew so proud that they were ashamed to think that the founder of their race had once been a poor boy; and as they and all the world could not fail to remember it, as long as the table, the cornet, and the bag were shown in the treasure chamber, one king, more foolish than the rest, thrust them into a dark and damp cellar.

For some time the kingdom remained, though it became weaker and weaker every year that passed. Then, one day, a rumour reached the king that a large army was marching against him. Vaguely he recollected some tales he had heard about a magic cornet which could provide as many soldiers as would serve to conquer the earth, and which had been removed by his grandfather to a cellar. Thither he hastened that he might renew his power once more, and in that black and slimy spot he found the treasures indeed. But the table fell to pieces as he touched it, in the cornet there remained only a few fragments of leathern belts which the rats had gnawed, and in the bag nothing but broken bits of stone.

And the king bowed his head to the doom that awaited him, and in his heart cursed the ruin wrought by the pride and foolishness of himself and his forefathers.

Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry Edited and Selected by W. B. Yeats [1888]


WHEN the pagan gods of Ireland–the Tuath-De-Danān–robbed of worship and offerings, grew smaller and smaller in the popular imagination, until they turned into the fairies, the pagan heroes grew bigger and bigger, until they turned into the giants.

Hausa Folk-Lore, by Maalam Shaihua, tr. by R. Sutherland Rattray, [1913]

A story about a giant, and the cause of thunder

This story is about a forest giant, about him and a man called, A-Man-among-Men.

A story, a story. Let it go, let it come.

There was a certain man by name, A-Man-among-Men, always when he came from the bush he used to lift up a tree (and) come, (and) throw (it down), and say, ‘I am A-Man-among-Men.’ His wife said, ‘Come now, leave off saying you are a-man-among-men; if you saw a-man-among-men you would run.’ But he said, ‘It is a lie.’

Now it was always so, if he has brought in wood, then he would throw it down with force, (and) say, ‘I am A-Man-among-Men.’ The wife said, ‘Come now, leave off saying so; if you have seen a man-among-men, you would run.’ But he said, I It is a lie.’

Now one day his wife went to the stream. She came to a certain well; the well bucket, ten men were (necessary to) draw it up. She came, (but) had to do without the water, so she turned back. She was going home, when she met another woman (who) said, ‘Where are you going with a calabash, with no water?’ She said, ‘I have come and seen a bucket there. I could not draw it; that is what caused me to turn back home.’ And this (second) woman, who had this (a) son, said, ‘Let us return that you may find (water).’ She said, ‘All right.’

So they returned together to the well. This woman, who had the son, told the boy to lift the bucket and draw water. Now the boy was small, not past the age when he was carried on his mother’s back. Then he lifted the bucket then and there, and put it in the well, (and) drew up the water. They filled their large water-pots, they bathed, they washed their clothes, they lifted up the water to go home. This one was astonished.

Then she saw that one who had the boy has turned off the path and was entering the bush. Then the wife of (him called) A-Man-among-Men said, ‘Where are you going?’ She said to her, ‘I am going home, where else?’ She said, ‘Is that the way to your home?’ She said, ‘Yes.’ She said, ‘Whose home is it?’ She said, ‘The home of A-Man-among-Men.’

Then she was silent; she did not say anything till she got home. She told her husband. He said that to-morrow she must take him (there). She replied, ‘May Allah give us a to-morrow.’ Next morning he was the first to get up from sleep. He took the weapons of the chase and slung them over his shoulder. He put his axe on his shoulder and wakened her (his wife) from sleep. He said, ‘Get up, let us go. Take me that I may see, that I may see the (one called) A-Man-among-Men.’

She got up, lifted her large water-pot, and passed on in front. He was following her until they got to the edge of the well. Now they found what they sought indeed. (As) they were coming, the wife of A-Man-among-Men came up, both she and her son. They greeted her, and the wife of this one showed him the bucket (and) said, ‘Lift it and draw water for me.’

So he went and lifted the bucket in a rage and let it down the well; but the bucket pulled him, (and) he would have fallen into the well, when the little boy seized him, both him and the bucket, and drew (out) and threw them on one side. Then the boy lifted up the bucket, put it in the well, drew water, and filled their water-pots.

His wife said, ‘You have said you are going to see him called A-Man-among-Men. You have seen this is his wife and son. If you still want to go you can go together. As for me, I am not going.’ The boy’s mother said, ‘Oh, what is the matter? You had better not come.’ (But) he said he would come; and she said, ‘Let us be off.’ They set out.

When they arrived (at the house) then she showed him a place for storing meat, (and) he got inside. Now he, the master of the house, was not at home; he has gone to the bush. She (his wife) said, ‘You have seen he has gone to the bush; but you must not stir if he has come.’ He sat inside till evening came.

The master of the house came. He keeps saying, ‘I smell the smell of a man.’ His wife said, ‘Is there another person here? It is not is not I.’ Thus, if he said he smelled the smell of a man, then she would say, ‘Is there another person here. Is it not I? If you want to eat me up, well and good, for there is no one else but I.’

Now he was a huge man, his words like a tornado; ten elephants he would eat. When dawn came, he made his morning meal of one; then he went to the bush, and if he should see a person there he would kill him.

Now he (A Man-among-Men) was in the store-house, hidden. The man’s wife told him, saying, ‘You must not move till he is asleep. If you have seen the place dark, he is not asleep; if you have seen the place light, that is a sign he is asleep; come out and fly.’ Shortly after he saw the place has become light like day, so he came out.

He was running, he was running, until dawn, he was running, till the sun rose he was running, he did not stand. Then that man woke up from sleep and he said, ‘I smell the smell of a man, I smell the smell of a man.’ He rose up, he followed where the man had gone. He was running. He also, the other one, was running till he met some people who were clearing the ground for a farm, (and) they asked what had happened. And he said, ‘Some one chased (is chasing) me.’ They said, ‘Stand here till he comes.’

A short time passed, and the wind caused by him came; it lifted them (and) cast them down. And he said, ‘Yes, that is it, the wind he makes (running); he himself has not yet come. If you are able (to withstand him) tell me. If you are not able, say so.’ And they said, ‘Pass on.’

So he ran off, and came and met some people hoeing. They said, ‘What chased (is chasing) you?’ He replied, ‘Some one pursued (is pursuing) me.’ They said, ‘What kind of a man chased (is chasing) (one) such as you.’ He said, ‘Some one who says he is A-Man-among-Men. They said, ‘Not a man-among-men, a man-among-women. Stand till he comes.’

He stood. Here he was when the wind of him came, it was pushing about the men who were hoeing. So he said, ‘You have seen, that is the wind he makes; he has not yet come himself If you are a match for him tell me; if not say so.’ And they said, ‘Pass on’; and off he ran. He was running. He came across some people sowing; they said, ‘What are you running for?’ He said, ‘Some one chased (is chasing) me.’ And they said, ‘What kind of a man is it who chased (is chasing) the like of you?’ He said, ‘His name is A-Man-among-Men.’ They said, ‘Sit here till he comes.’ He sat down.

In a short time the wind he made came (and) it lifted them and cast them down. And they said, ‘What kind of wind is that?’ He, the man who was being pursued, said, ‘It is his wind.’ And they said, ‘Pass on.’ They threw away the sowing implements, (and) went into the bush (and) hid,
but that one was running on.

He came (and) met a certain huge man; he was sitting alone at the foot of a baobab tree. He had killed elephants and was roasting them, as for him, twenty elephants he could eat; in the morning he broke his fast with five. His name was ‘The Giant of the Forest.’

Then he questioned him and said, ‘Where are you going in all this haste?’ And he said, ‘A-Man-among-Men chased (is chasing) me.’ And the Giant of the Forest said, ‘Come here, sit down till he comes.’ He sat down. They waited a little while. Then a wind made by A-Man-among-Men came, and lifted him, (and) was about to carry him off, when the Giant of the Forest shouted to him to come back. And he said, ‘It is not I myself who am going off, the wind caused by the man is taking me away.’ At that the Giant of the Forest got in a rage, he got up and caught his hand, and placed it under his thigh.

He was sitting until A-Man-among-Men came up and said, ‘You sitting there, are you of the living, or of the dead?’ And the Giant of the Forest said, ‘You are interfering.’ And A-Man-among-Men said, ‘If you want to find health give up to me what you are keeping there.’ And the Giant of the Forest said, ‘Come and take (him).’ And at that he flew into a rage and sprang and seized him. They were struggling together.

When they had twisted their legs round one another they leaped up into the heavens. Till this day they are wrestling there; when they are tired out they sit down and rest; and if they rise up to struggle that is the thunder you are wont to hear in the sky; it is they struggling.

He also, that other one, found himself (escaped), and went home, and told the tale. And his wife said, ‘That is why I was always telling you whatever you do, make little of it. Whether it be you excel in strength, or in power, or riches, or poverty, and are puffed up with pride, it is all the same; some one is better than you. You said, it was a lie. Behold, your own eyes have seen.’

Giants. Image credit.

The Element Encyclopedia of the Celts by Rodney Castleden


Giants and ogres are an integral part of later Celtic legend (see Myths: Comorre the Cursed, Morven, the Prop of Brittany, Tom and the Giant). Some of the giants, such as the colossal Bran the Blessed, clearly were once gods. Bran was so big that no house could contain him, and so big that he was able to wade across the Irish Sea from Wales to Ireland. He was enormously strong, but he was benign. His decapitated head chatted amiably and brought a blessing wherever it was carried; it protected Britain from invaders so long as it was safely lodged in London (see Myths: Branwen).

The huge hill figure depicting the Cerne Giant was originally intended as an icon of the Iron Age protector god of Dorset, though he has been interpreted subsequently in all sorts of different ways (see Cerne Abbas).

Aggressive, short-tempered giants are stock characters in medieval storytelling. The Giant of Grabbist was a stone-throwing giant, but he was also actively benevolent. He once lifted a boat that was in difficulties at sea and set it down safely in harbor. The Giant of Grabbist is slightly comical, and as the storytelling tradition developed, giants became steadily more grotesque and foolish. Increasingly, they became figures of fun. The Giant of Carn Galva in Cornwall was a kindly giant. He was more playful than warlike. Giants were responsible for placing rocking-stones (“logan-stones”) on top of the granite tors of the English West Country. The Carn Galva Giant put in place the rocking-stone on the westernmost hill-top, so that he could rock himself to sleep as he watched the sun sink into the sea in the west. Nearby is a pile of roughly cube-shaped boulders that the giant used to build up and then kick down again as a pastime, like a bored child playing with building blocks. His main occupation was to protect the people of Morvah and Zennor from attack by the Titans who lived on Lelant Hills. The Giant of Carn Galva never killed any of the Morvah people except one, and that was by accident, in play.

The giant was fond of a young man from Choon, who used to walk up to the hilltop occasionally, just to see how the giant was getting on, to cheer him up and play a game of bob to pass the time. One afternoon, the giant was so pleased with the game they had played that when the young man from Choon threw down his quoit ready to go home, the giant tapped him good-naturedly on the shoulder with the tips of his fingers. “Be sure to come again tomorrow, son, and then we’ll have another good game!” But the young man dropped dead at his feet—the giant had broken his skull with his gentle tap. When the giant realized his young friend was dead, he cradled his body in his arms and sat down on the big, square rock at the foot of the hill, rocking himself to and fro. He wailed and cried louder than the noise of the breakers on the cliffs. “Oh, why didn’t they make the shell of your noddle stronger? It’s as soft as a piecrust and made too thin by half! And how shall I pass the time without you here to play bob with me, and hide-and-seek?” The giant pined away for seven years before he died of a broken heart.

The landscape detail included in stories such as this one help to explain how the stories evolved and why they persisted. They gave people an explanation of strangely shaped landforms that otherwise were a total mystery to them. At Peel Castle on the Isle of Man is the legendary grave of the first king of Eubonia, the ancient name of the island. It is 30 feet (9m) long.

*Read more in the book.

Giant. Image credit

The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore by Patricia Monaghan

Gargantua Continental Celtic god. The great French artist Rabelais based the most famous giant in French literature upon this obscure Celtic god, perhaps originally named Gurgiunt or Gargam. A resident of the Otherworld, he burst through occasionally to create landscapes by tossing around rocks or opening a cask so that floodwaters covered the earth.

Giant (giantess) Folkloric figure. The fact that huge rocks, bigger than anything that could be readily moved by humans, were deposited across the islands of Ireland and Britain by retreating glaciers meant that the landscape suggested huge beings powerful enough to build the other landscape features. Common tales tell of gigantic women who drop boulders from their aprons and of feuding giants who throw the boulders at each other.

In Scotland the Great Cave (or Cave of Raitts) in Inverness was said to have been built by a giantess who carved the 70-foot cavern from the hillside while her companion giants quarried the stone used to prop up the cave’s sides. Such landscape-forming legends are frequent in Scotland, where we find the story of giants who sought to marry the daughters of a human knight; the girls were saved by men who fought with a giant hag who had to power to turn them into stone. Her curses could be lifted and the petrified returned to life, however, with the water from a well on the Island of the Big Women, a mystical land that appears in many Scottish folktales, apparently a specifically giant-occupied part of the Otherworld.

*Read more in the book.

Giant Ent. Image credit

The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies by Lucy Cooper

Giants feature in numerous folk tales from around the world, their characters ranging from malevolent and cannibalistic to stone-throwing and playful, if sometimes fatally forgetful of their own tremendous strength, as in the tale of the Cornish giant who playfully tapped his mortal friend on the head, killing him stone dead.

Responsible for earthquakes in Greek mythology, through the shaking of their buried bodies, and the building of huge megalithic structures in, for instance, Basque folk tales, the common attribute of giants is phenomenal strength. How this force is used depends upon the character of each giant, which determines the outcome as either disastrously evil or an explanation of otherwise unusual features in a landscape such as randomly scattered boulders.

*Read more in the book.

Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology by Theresa Bane


Variations: Iöunn, Ogres

Giants are a species of fairy animal common to most of the world’s mythologies. Universally described as being larger and taller than a human, be it by a few or several hundred feet, there the similarity ends. Depending on the culture, religion, and reason for having a giant in a tale, these beings come in a wide variety of characteristics, descriptions, and personalities. Giants have been wizened war chiefs capable of leading armies while others of their species are barely intelligent enough to talk and walk at the same time, easily outwitted by the Simple Jacks of folklore. Some have said to be the gods and the creators of the universe and others are the progenitors of the of the great noble families, while others yet are more animal-like, living in caves, barely clothed in furs, wielding a misshapen club, and robbing the countryside of its goats and sheep.

Having great strength is common among giants as well, but this is typically in proportion to their size and not otherwise remarkable.

Giants, like the rest of the fay, are good or evil depending on their motivation. Also, like the fay, many natural landmarks are named after them, for giants are often accredited with having created islands, mountains, rivers, and standing stones.

It appears that whenever a giant is particularly bloodthirsty, cruel and preys on humans to consume for their flesh it is called an ogre; this would be incorrect, for although an ogre can be gigantic in size, not all are, most are in fact human size but monstrous in appearance due to their physical deformities.

Giants play a particularly important role in Greek and Norse mythology, representing the force of nature and violent natural phenomena.

*Read more in the book.

Giant. Image credit

Encyclopedia of Giants and Humanoids in Myth, Legend and Folklore by Theresa Bane

Jotun (Yoo-tun), plural: Jotnar

Variations: Eoten, Etin, Hrym, Jetunn, Jöttin, Jotnar, Jötunn, Jute, Iotunn, Thurse

Powerful and wise, on par with the gods, the Jotnar of Norse mythology were mostly pictured as gigantic beings, but some were the size of humans. Living in Jotunheimr, the Jotnar came in many forms, some having multiple limbs.

The first Jotnar were created while Ymir was exploring Ginnungagap; as he slept near Muspelheimr its heat caused him to sweat; the moisture from his left arm formed a male and female Jotun. His left foot sweated a son with six heads who was named Thrudgelmir. Not all Jotnar are the enemy of the Aesir; in some stories they are devoted friends. There are many Jotnar about whom nothing is known but a name.

Laestrygones (les-trig-o-neez)

Variations: Laestrygonians, Laistrygones

A tribe of cannibalistic gigante from ancient Greek mythology, the Laestrygones only appear in the story of Odysseus as he attempts to make his way home after the Trojan War ended. The king of the Laestrygones, Lamus, ruled over the island of Telepylos; when Odysseus and his fleet put in there one of his men was taken and eaten. Odysseus and his men ran back to their ship and set sail as quickly as they could but the Gigante managed to harpoon all the ships except for the one Odysseus himself was making his escape upon. All hands were captured and consumed by the Laestrygones.

*Read more in the book.

Giant. Image credit

Further Reading:

Giant knight. Image credit

Folklore in a Nutshell by Ronel

As with humans, there are different races of giants. There are those who are more human-like, such as Orion, who mingled with humans and gods alike. And then there are those of superhuman proportions such as Typhon, who sometimes appeared as a tornado to the mortal gaze as the many heads, snakes and other protrusions from his body is just too much for the mortal mind to grasp. But the true giants of Greek mythology, the Gigantes, are the children of Gaia and Uranus when Kronus castrated his father and his blood fell to the earth. These giants are often confused with the Titans, but they had their own war with the Olympians – which they lost – and were then buried beneath volcanoes and are the cause of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

Moving from Greek mythology to Norse, the Jotnar are a race of giants who are in turns in conflict with the gods of Asgard and their allies. They live in Jotunheim – giant land. There are different kinds of giants: frost giants, fire giants, mountain giants and sea giants. Aegir, the sea god, is a giant. And so is Loki. Even Loki’s children the wolf Fenrir and the sea serpent Jormungand are giants in animal form. These giants are capable shape-shifters, as Loki continuously shows in tales about him. And though they are at times allies to the Aesir and Vanir (the gods), when Ragnarok arrives it will be because their mutual hatred cannot be contained any longer. The fire giant Surt who is the guardian of the fiery realm of Muspelheim will lead an army of fire giants to set the world ablaze.

In Celtic tradition, though, as the Tuatha de Danann grew smaller and became the fae, the heroes of the time became bigger and bigger until they became giants and gods. Bran the Blessed is one such hero. The Cailleach is usually depicted as a giant crone who shaped the landscape when rocks fell from her apron, and so mountains and valleys were created.

Giants can be found all over the world, though, and were a favourite of medieval tales. They are always huge, strong and vaguely human in appearance. They range from malevolent to playful, from enjoying human flesh to befriending humans.

Just remember that they can sometimes forget their own strength, so look out for yourself before you end up like the Cornish lad who died when his giant friend tapped him friendlily on his head.

Giant. Image credit

Giants in Modern Culture

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

Brobdingnag is a fictional land, which is occupied by giants, in Jonathan Swift‘s 1726 satirical novel Gulliver’s Travels. The story’s main character, Lemuel Gulliver, visits the land after the ship on which he is travelling is blown off course. The adjective “Brobdingnagian” has come to describe anything of colossal size.

The people of Brobdingnag are described as giants who are as tall as 60 feet high and whose stride is ten yards. All of the other animals and plants, and even natural features such as rivers and even hail, are in proportion.

Gulliver states that a nine-year-old girl named Glumdalclitch, who teaches him the language, stands “not above 40 feet tall, being small for her age”. In at least two cases, he states explicitly that a Brobdingnagian’s eyes are “above sixty feet” from the ground, giving a ratio of at least eleven to one. He also states that he would “appear as inconsiderable to this nation as a Lilliputian would be among us”, indicating the same twelve to one ratio given for Lilliput was intended.

Learn more here.
Gulliver with the King and Queen of Brobdingnag, from a French edition of Gulliver’s Travels (1850s) Image credit

Harry Potter books/films

giant was a very large humanoid magical being which could potentially grow to approximately twenty-five feet tall, but other than their height, they greatly resembled humans. They were not as intelligent as wizards, but were capable of communication. Giants had their own language for communication, but sometimes spoke English.

Some appeared as large and hairy humanoids, while others resembled humongous-sized people, and some may even have had bestial features (i.e. protruding sharp molars). Giants generally lived in tribes, although as their numbers dwindled, the tribes merged into larger groups. A Giant tribe was led by the strongest giant, known as the Gurg.

Learn more here.
Giant. Image credit

Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan

Giants are humanoid Monsters of great physical stature and strength. The giants of Greek mythology, or Gigantes (“the earth-born”) as they are called in the Greek tongue, were a class of oversized and often monstrous men who were closely related to the gods. The most famous of these were the hundred Thracian Gigantes who waged war on the gods, but there were many others besides, including the one-eyed Polyphemus, the six-armed Gegeines, and the Laistrygonian Giants.

Giant Typhon. Image credit

Magnus Chase books by Rick Riordan

The Jötnar (ON “Devourers” or “Eaters”; pronounced “YOT-nar”; singular Jötunn, pronounced “YO-tun”) are a tribe of primordial beings that inhabit the lands of NiflheimMuspellheim and Jotunheim. The most well-known Jötnar are the Frost, Fire, Storm, Earth, and Mountain Jötnar, however, several other types also exists. They derive from the same family as the Aesir and Vanir, but personify wild, chaotic, primordial forces and often interact with the other gods (both the Aesir and the Vanir tribes), usually in hostile ways, but there have been instances of intermarriage between these tribes.

Jötnar, for the most part, looks like humans, having the same size and shape, but due to their chaotic nature, several are born with non-human features – claws, fangs, misshapen faces, extra body parts, etc. – or have a completely non-humanoid shape (such Jormungand and Fenrir, children of Loki). Some of them can even be of gigantic proportions, although they are usually born at regular size, but will grow to their unnatural height over time.

Learn more here
Giant Ymir. Image credit

Ella Enchanted book/film

Slannen the Elf You know, I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but you’re much prettier than I would’ve expected.

Brumhilda Oh, I know. Giants are supposed to be big, ugly and mean. It’s because of stories like “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Stinking Grimm Brothers!

Learn more here
Giant. Image credit

Jack and the Beanstalk (various versions in book and film)


I smell the blood of an Englishman!

Be he alive or be he dead,

I’ll grind his bones to make my bread!” – The Giant, Jack & The Beanstalk

In the British fairy tale Jack & The Beanstalk, a giant features as the story’s antagonist. Living high up in a castle above the clouds, this giant hoards treasure that he plunders from the Englishmen living on the land below. As well as money, the giant is also in possession of a hen that lays golden eggs (a goose in some versions of the story) and an enchanted harp that plays itself.

Learn more here.

The Lord of the Rings books/films

Giants were one of the mysterious races of Middle-earth, mentioned only fleetingly.

Giants are mainly beings of legend. Gandalf the Grey was known for telling stories about dragons and goblins and giants[12] and Bilbo had heard of giants in tales,[13] but none of these tales survive and the origin and history of the giants is obscure.[14]

Giants are mentioned as creatures mainly in the early Legendarium written by young J.R.R. Tolkien, and there are some references of them in the drafts of The Lord of the Rings that were removed later; their only definite appearance is in The Hobbit

Giants were the wicked precursors of Ents. The elm-like features of the Giant Nan, and that in early versions of The Lord of the Rings it was the Giant Treebeard who held Gandalf captive, not Saruman,[23] makes the connection between Giants and Ents within J.R.R. Tolkien‘s imagination clear.[14]

An early name for the Ettenmoors was called “Entish Lands”. As Christopher Tolkien notes, “Ent” comes from an Old English word for “giant”,[24] and was used before Tolkien conceived the later benevolent Ents of The Two Towers. The word is seen at various points in Beowulf, for example line 2717, enta geweorc, “the work of giants”.[25]

In Germanic mythology names for the giants were jotun (Norse) and eoten (Old English). From the latter word Tolkien derived the name “etten“.

In the Return of the King it is noted that Minas Tirith “seemed to have been not builded but carven by giants out of the bones of the earth“.[15] Hammond and Scull have suggested that this notion derives from Old English mythology, in which giants were often portrayed as builders of ancient structures.[28]

Learn more here.
Giant. Image credit

Giants in My Writing

Origin of the Fae: Giants

Giants prefer to live in their own realm within Faerie where they cannot be bothered by silly humans seeking to steal their treasures – or certain fae who want to fight them for the chance to brag that they’ve beaten a giant.
Giants are excellent shape-shifters and can come in any size and form. When they have to be in the mortal realm for some reason or another, some appear as tornados or hurricanes, while others are fine by going unnoticed in the form of birds.
Though they are Solitary Fae, they have carved out a home in Faerie free from the Courts.

Giants translated to Afrikaans: Reuse

See them in action:

Solitary Fae (Origin of the Fae #6) by Ronel Janse van Vuuren

What do you think of giants? Where did you hear about giants for the first time? Any folklore about giants you’d like to share? Check out my Pinterest board dedicated to the subject.

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No-one writes about the fae like Ronel Janse van Vuuren.

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