I came back home from a visit to my parents a couple of days ago to find giants seemingly rampaging through UK bookshops. The Giant Book of Giants has been in Waterstones’ ‘we recommend ‘ section for a few weeks now, and very grateful I am for that too.
I had this picture in my inbox from Yvonne Deutsch, my editor at Quarto. The giant – who I actually call Scott in my mind [he looks very much like one of my mates at the gym] – is showing his mettle at Waterstones in Epsom. He’s a 3D poster/height chart, and very big he is too.
Most people think of giants as stupid, often violent, oversize men who nearly always get floored by a crafty little ‘un at the end of the story. It’s a perception popularised by Jack and the Beanstalk, perhaps the most popular giant fable in the world.
But the word ‘giant’ actually comes from the Greek word ‘gigantes’, who were the enormous children of the earth-goddess Gaia. Imprisoned in Tartarus by the Olympian gods, the gigantes broke out and tried to storm Mount Olympus itself by stacking smaller mountains into a ladder. They were defeated by Herakles but their names lived on in Greek mythology: Alcyoneus, Leon, Ephialtes, Peloreus, etc.
Not that I’d heard of any of them when I was a child. Books were a bit scarce in my house [okay, make that VERY scarce] and most of the books I could get at our local library were Bible stories. That didn’t mean I missed out on stories about giants. The Bible is full of them. The most famous is, of course, Goliath who – like the big Jessie in Jack and the Beanstalk – met his match in a young lad, David. There were also the Nephilim, giants from Canaan who were destroyed in the great flood that only Noah and his family survived.
By far the most terrifying, though, were Gog and Magog, who appear in Genesis. They were sometimes referred to as one entity – Magog! Two monsters in one! What brilliant names! And what talent! They could predict the future. Originally believed to be descendants of Noah, their name became synonymous with terror and entered Muslim and European mythology. Today, they are even considered the protectors of London.
On a day out to the island of Gozo near Malta when I was a kid, I was taken to see a huge rock that might have formed part of a megalithic temple. What stayed with me, though, was a local legend that a giantess used it as a stool before she die of hunger during a bean famine. It was the first time I’d heard of women giants. As I grew older I discovered more stories about giantesses, who tend to be kinder, wilier, gentler and often much more dangerous than their male counterparts. I’ve included one, the star of a Finnish folk tale, in my book.
The other stories are Sinbad and the One-Eyed Giant, Jack and the Beanstalk, Finn and the Buggane, Coyote Tricks the Giant and, my personal favourite, Momotaro the Peach Boy. It’s a story from Japan, which features dumplings as well as giants.
A giant also features in my next book. He’s mean, he’s gifted and he’s indestructible – but that’s all I can say about him right now, apart that he’s also based on a mate of mine at the gym. Watch this space if you want to bump into him some time in the future…
Meanwhile, have yourself a giant Christmas, one and all!
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