Last month I talked about giants who were “proto gods” and giants who were Lords and Barons, “sociopolitical” giants if you like. This month I have two more giant types for you. These I have come to consider as the “psychological” and the “geological” giants.
Despite being famously antisocial giants do seem to enjoy games and a common feature of the stories is a series of tests or challenges. Those who attempt the tests and fail get eaten but those who succeed can win the giant’s daughter. Giants may be outsized, gross and dim but their daughters are almost exclusively smart supermodels of human compatible height equipped with magical skills. This is handy for the would be hero who finds they cannot clean the giant’s stable, thatch their barn with multicoloured feathers, or any of the other tasks set for him. He is saved from becoming breakfast by the giant’s daughter: she sends him to sleep and when he wakes the work is done! Passing the tests is rarely the end of the story and the lovers have to escape… at which point the tale morphs in to “motif D672 The Obstacle Flight”. As the fortunate pair gallop away on a horse with ears full of food, chucking towels and combs behind them (which turn into rivers and woods), we realise why the girl has none of her father’s attributes: it is not a giant story at all, it’s a ‘uniting with the inner spirit’ story. The giant could just as easily be, and often is, a wizard, a fairy or even a plain old king. These then are the “psychological” giants whose size is only there to add weight to the obstacle they form between the protagonist and their inner self.
The Geological giants are an untidy lot. They are forever dropping things all over the countryside. Their quoits, chairs, building materials and even bodies litter the landscape. Probably the most famous is the belligerent, Welsh, big bloke who decided to flood Shrewsbury by damming up the river Severn with a spadeful of clay. He had been walking around for some time carrying his murderous load when, somewhere near Wellington, he asked directions from a cobbler with a big sack of worn out shoes he was taking home to mend. “Why do you want to go to Shrewsbury?” asked the shoemaker and was duly shocked by the giant’s explanation. With the quick wit common to his trade the cobbler answered “Oooh, it’s a long way to Shrewsbury, further than you’ll get today or tomorrow, or probably the day after that.” and to emphasise his point he tipped out the sack of wrecked and useless footwear saying “I’ve just come from Shrewsbury and I’ve worn out all these shoes on the way!” “What?” roared the giant, “My arms are aching already, I’m not walking all that way!” so he tipped the earth off his spade and headed back to Wales. The large heap of earth is still there, visible across the Shropshire Plain, and forms the hill now known as The Wrekin.
Responsible for glacial erratics, gorges, hills, the odd island and every lump of granite in Cornwall, the geological giant is easily identified and their genesis is explained by their story. Although in some ways the simplest of the giants, they have some common ground with the elementals. The powers that they metaphorically represent are slowly working away all around us. Rain and wind steadily excavate metamorphic upthrusts, rivers carve away at hillsides and massive glaciers drop their cargoes of displaced stones wherever their journey ends. The stories may be set “Once upon a time” but the giants are very much still with us.
…here’s to living happily ever after, until the next adventure.