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Introduction to Cornish Giants

Cornish Giants Folktale
Cornish Giants

Cornwall is a land of ancient giants. Cornish lore includes stories such as Jack the Giant Killer, Jack and the Beanstalk, and has its own version of Tom Hickathrift. Cornish country folk associate giants with many local rock formations and ancient stone–age stone rings. One stone formation is called The Giant’s Dance which is said to be a group of giants frozen in stone as God’s punishment for dancing in a meadow on a Sunday.

Cornish giants are different from Goliath of the Old Testament–Goliath was merely tall. Although some Cornish giants have only one eye, Cornish giants are not the same as the Greek Cyclops. The giants portrayed by popular, contemporary versions of Jack and the Beanstalk are not accurate portrayals either because they paint the Cornish giant as a tall, stout, stupid fellow slow in thought and wit. It is true, however, that Jack, the typical opponent, is a wag and noted for his cleverness–it is usually by trickery that Jack wins the upper hand, but the giant is a worthy adversary.

Some Cornish giants are truly giant. The giant Bolster was said to be able to stride six miles at a time, making him more than twelve miles tall. Bolster is slender, to the point of being willowy, as the frontispiece illustrates. Yet, Bolster for all of his height and having his own wife, was lovesick for a mortal woman, and this mortal woman was a saint. Bolster refuses her rejection of him and she tricks him to his death.

Cornish giants can be ferocious, making their bread from the bones of men; or they can be gentle is spirit despite their immense strength which can devastating unintended effects on poor humans; or they can be ardent, if misguided, suitors to mere humans; or they can be playful or jealous amongst themselves; but usually they can reason and a human of subtle wit may deal effectively with them.

Legend credits Brutus, the Trojan grandson of Aeneas, with the colonization of Britain (Brutus’ Land), originally called Albion meaning white, as in the white chalk cliffs of Britain’s southern sea coast at Dover. A prophetic dream tells Brutus he is to sail for Albion, the home of giants. Brutus and his under–chief Corineus find a land full of giants when they arrive in Britain, giants who are fond of wrestling. It is through wrestling that Corineus defeats the leader of the British giants, Gogmagog. Corineus chooses the southwest peninsula of Britain as his lands because it has the most giants in it. He names these lands Cornwall after his own name.

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