Tom Hickathrift - the Crusader who became Jack the Giant Killer

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Features The Return of the Crusader by Karl Friedrich Lessing (Public Domain), and an illustration from Jack the Giant Killer (Public Domain)

Tom Hickathrift - the Crusader who became Jack the Giant Killer

Many of you will be familiar with the legend or fairy-tale of Jack the Giant Killer and, in England, the popular Christmas pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk. But, Jack is a relatively recent invention, first recorded in pamphlets and chapbooks in the early 18th Century, whereas a century previously, in the early 1600s, the giant-slaying hero was a certain Tom Hickathrift. (Most of the chapbook illustrations show Tom in contemporary 17th century clothing.)

Jack kills the giant, Cormoran.

Jack kills the giant, Cormoran. (Public Domain)

Legendary Lazy Boy

“Before the days of William the Conqueror” (in other words pre-AD 1066, which is a convenient way for storytellers to say it was a long, long time ago, before there were any records to dispute the accuracy of the tale) Tom lived near the town of Wisbech, in the East of England, in the Lincolnshire-Norfolk Fens. Like the later Jack, Tom was a lazy boy living with his widowed mother who struggled to provide enough food for the both of them. In the case of Tom, the problem was exacerbated by the fact he was a big lad – some versions of the story say by the time he was ten years old, he was already seven or eight feet tall – with an even bigger appetite “eating enough for five grown men”.

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