A very long time ago, before our grandmother’s time, or our great-grandmother’s, or our grandmothers’ with a very long string of greats prefixed, there were no pumpkins; people had never eaten a pumpkin-pie, or even stewed pumpkin; and that was the time when the Pumpkin Giant flourished.
Although a children’s story, The Pumpkin Giant is plenty dark, even with its happy ending (no spoilers here!).
This text is from a collection of updated tales and legends of the season called The Topaz Story Book: Stories and Legends of Autumn, Hallowe’en, and Thanksgiving, which is available, along with additional season-specific tomes, at Project Gutenberg. One note: illustrator Maxfield Parrish created the frontispiece for the book and the others in the series.
There have been a great many giants who have flourished since the world began, and, although a select few of them have been good giants, the majority of them have been so bad that their crimes even more than their size have gone to make them notorious. But the Pumpkin Giant was an uncommonly bad one, and his general appearance and his behavior were such as to make one shudder to an extent that you would hardly believe possible. The convulsive shivering caused by the mere mention of his name, and, in some cases where the people were unusually sensitive, by the mere thought of him even, more resembled the blue ague than anything else; indeed was known by the name of “the Giant’s Shakes.”
The Pumpkin Giant was very tall; he probably would have overtopped most of the giants you have ever heard of. I don’t suppose the Giant who lived on the Bean-stalk whom Jack visited was anything to compare with him; nor that it would have been a possible thing for the Pumpkin Giant, had he received an invitation to spend an afternoon with the Bean-stalk Giant, to accept, on account of his inability to enter the Bean-stalk Giant’s door, no matter how much he stooped.
The Pumpkin Giant had a very large, yellow head, which was also smooth and shiny. His eyes were big and round, and glowed like coals of fire; and you would almost have thought that his head was lit up inside with candles. Indeed there was a rumor to that effect amongst the common people, but that was all nonsense, of course; no one of the more enlightened class credited it for an instant. His mouth, which stretched half around his head, was furnished with rows of pointed teeth, and he was never known to hold it any other way than wide open.
The Pumpkin Giant lived in a castle, as a matter of course; it is not fashionable for a giant to live in any other kind of a dwelling—why, nothing would be more tame and uninteresting than a giant in a two-story white house with green blinds and a picket fence, or even a brown-stone front, if he could get into either of them, which he could not.
The Giant’s castle was situated on a mountain, as it ought to have been, and there was also the usual courtyard before it, and the customary moat, which was full of bones! All I have got to say about these bones is, they were not mutton bones. A great many details of this story must be left to the imagination of the reader; they are too harrowing to relate. A much tenderer regard for the feelings of the audience will be shown in this than in most giant stories; we will even go so far as to state in advance, that the story has a good end, thereby enabling readers to peruse it comfortably without unpleasant suspense.
The Pumpkin Giant was fonder of little boys and girls than anything else in the world; but he was somewhat fonder of little boys, and more particularly of fat little boys.
The fear and horror of this Giant extended over the whole country. Even the King on his throne was so severely afflicted with the Giant’s Shakes that he had been obliged to have the throne propped, for fear it should topple over in some unusually violent fit. There was good reason why the King shook; his only daughter, the Princess Ariadne Diana, was probably the fattest princess in the whole world at that date. So fat was she that she had never walked a step in the dozen years of her life, being totally unable to progress over the earth by any method except rolling. And a really beautiful sight it was, too, to see the Princess Ariadne Diana, in her cloth-of-gold rolling-suit, faced with green velvet and edged with ermine, with her glittering crown on her head, trundling along the avenues of the royal gardens, which had been furnished with strips of rich carpeting for her express accommodation.
But gratifying as it would have been to the King, her sire, under other circumstances, to have had such an unusually interesting daughter, it now only served to fill his heart with the greatest anxiety on her account. The Princess was never allowed to leave the palace without a body-guard of fifty knights, the very flower of the King’s troops, with lances in rest, but in spite of all this precaution, the King shook.
Meanwhile amongst the ordinary people who could not procure an escort of fifty armed knights for the plump among their children, the ravages of the Pumpkin Giant were frightful. It was apprehended at one time that there would be very few fat little girls, and no fat little boys at all, left in the kingdom. And what made matters worse, at that time the Giant commenced taking a tonic to increase his appetite.
Finally the King, in desperation, issued a proclamation that he would knight any one, be he noble or common, who should cut off the head of the Pumpkin Giant. This was the King’s usual method of rewarding any noble deed in his kingdom. It was a cheap method, and besides everybody liked to be a knight.
When the King issued his proclamation every man in the kingdom who was not already a knight, straightway tried to contrive ways and means to kill the Pumpkin Giant. But there was one obstacle which seemed insurmountable: they were afraid, and all of them had the Giant’s Shakes so badly, that they could not possibly have held a knife steady enough to cut off the Giant’s head, even if they had dared to go near enough for that purpose.
There was one man who lived not far from the terrible Giant’s castle, a poor man, his only worldly wealth consisting in a large potato-field and a cottage in front of it. But he had a boy of twelve, an only son, who rivaled the Princess Ariadne Diana in point of fatness. He was unable to have a body-guard for his son; so the amount of terror which the inhabitants of that humble cottage suffered day and night was heart-rending. The poor mother had been unable to leave her bed for two years, on account of the Giant’s Shakes; her husband barely got a living from the potato-field; half the time he and his wife had hardly enough to eat, as it naturally took the larger part of the potatoes to satisfy the fat little boy, their son, and their situation was truly pitiable.
The fat boy’s name was Aeneas, his father’s name was Patroclus, and his mother’s Daphne. It was all the fashion in those days to have classical names. And as that was a fashion as easily adopted by the poor as the rich, everybody had them. They were just like Jim and Tommy and May in these days. Why, the Princess’s name, Ariadne Diana, was nothing more nor less than Ann Eliza with us.
One morning Patroclus and Aeneas were out in the field digging potatoes, for new potatoes were just in the market. The Early Rose potato had not been discovered in those days; but there was another potato, perhaps equally good, which attained to a similar degree of celebrity. It was called the Young Plantagenet, and reached a very large size indeed, much larger than the Early Rose does in our time.
Well, Patroclus and Aeneas had just dug perhaps a bushel of Young Plantagenet potatoes. It was slow work with them, for Patroclus had the Giant’s Shakes badly that morning, and of course Aeneas was not very swift. He rolled about among the potato-hills after the manner of the Princess Ariadne Diana; but he did not present as imposing an appearance as she, in his homespun farmer’s frock.
All at once the earth trembled violently. Patroclus and Aeneas looked up and saw the Pumpkin Giant coming with his mouth wide open. “Get behind me, O my darling son!” cried Patroclus.
Aeneas obeyed, but it was of no use; for you could see his cheeks each side his father’s waistcoat.
Patroclus was not ordinarily a brave man, but he was brave in an emergency; and as that is the only time when there is the slightest need of bravery, it was just as well.
The Pumpkin Giant strode along faster and faster, opening his mouth wider and wider, until they could fairly hear it crack at the corners.
Then Patroclus picked up an enormous Young Plantagenet and threw it plump into the Pumpkin Giant’s mouth. The Giant choked and gasped, and choked and gasped, and finally tumbled down and died.
Patroclus and Aeneas, while the Giant was choking, had run to the house and locked themselves in; then they looked out of the window; when they saw the Giant tumble down and lie quite still, they knew he must be dead. Then Daphne was immediately cured of the Giant’s Shakes, and got out of bed for the first time in two years. Patroclus sharpened the carving-knife on the kitchen stove, and they all went out into the potato-field.
They cautiously approached the prostrate Giant, for fear he might be shamming, and might suddenly spring up at them and Aeneas. But no, he did not move at all; he was quite dead. And, all taking turns, they hacked off his head with the carving-knife. Then Aeneas had it to play with, which was quite appropriate, and a good instance of the sarcasm of destiny.
The King was notified of the death of the Pumpkin Giant, and was greatly rejoiced thereby. His Giant’s Shakes ceased, the props were removed from the throne, and the Princess Ariadne Diana was allowed to go out without her body-guard of fifty knights, much to her delight, for she found them a great hindrance to the enjoyment of her daily outings.
It was a great cross, not to say an embarrassment, when she was gleefully rolling in pursuit of a charming red and gold butterfly, to find herself suddenly stopped short by an armed knight with his lance in rest.
But the King, though his gratitude for the noble deed knew no bounds, omitted to give the promised reward and knight Patroclus.
I hardly know how it happened—I don’t think it was anything intentional. Patroclus felt rather hurt about it, and Daphne would have liked to be a lady, but Aeneas did not care in the least. He had the Giant’s head to play with and that was reward enough for him. There was not a boy in the neighborhood but envied him his possession of such a unique plaything; and when they would stand looking over the wall of the potato-field with longing eyes, and he was flying over the ground with the head, his happiness knew no bounds; and Aeneas played so much with the Giant’s head that finally late in the fall it got broken and scattered all over the field.
Next spring all over Patroclus’s potato-field grew running vines, and in the fall Giant’s heads. There they were all over the field, hundreds of them! Then there was consternation indeed! The natural conclusion to be arrived at when the people saw the yellow Giant’s heads making their appearance above the ground was, that the rest of the Giants were coming.
“There was one Pumpkin Giant before,” said they; “now there will be a whole army of them. If it was dreadful then what will it be in the future? If one Pumpkin Giant gave us the Shakes so badly, what will a whole army of them do?”
But when some time had elapsed and nothing more of the Giants appeared above the surface of the potato-field, and as moreover the heads had not yet displayed any sign of opening their mouths, the people began to feel a little easier, and the general excitement subsided somewhat, although the King had ordered out Ariadne Diana’s body-guard again.
Now Aeneas had been born with a propensity for putting everything into his mouth and tasting it; there was scarcely anything in his vicinity which could by any possibility be tasted, which he had not eaten a bit of. This propensity was so alarming in his babyhood, that Daphne purchased a book of antidotes; and if it had not been for her admirable good judgment in doing so, this story would probably never have been told; for no human baby could possibly have survived the heterogeneous diet which Aeneas had indulged in. There was scarcely one of the antidotes which had not been resorted to from time to time.
Aeneas had become acquainted with the peculiar flavor of almost everything in his immediate vicinity except the Giant’s heads; and he naturally enough cast longing eyes at them. Night and day he wondered what a Giant’s head could taste like, till finally one day when Patroclus was away he stole out into the potato-field, cut a bit out of one of the Giant’s heads and ate it. He was almost afraid to, but he reflected that his mother could give him an antidote; so he ventured. It tasted very sweet and nice; he liked it so much that he cut off another piece and ate that, then another and another, until he had eaten two-thirds of a Giant’s head. Then he thought it was about time for him to go in and tell his mother and take an antidote, though he did not feel ill at all yet.
“Mother,” said he, rolling slowly into the cottage, “I have eaten two-thirds of a Giant’s head, and I guess you had better give me an antidote.”
“O, my precious son!” cried Daphne, “how could you?” She looked in her book of antidotes, but could not find one antidote for a Giant’s head.
“O Aeneas, my dear, dear son!” groaned Daphne, “there is no antidote for Giant’s head! What shall we do?”
Then she sat down and wept, and Aeneas wept, too, as loud as he possibly could. And he apparently had excellent reason to; for it did not seem possible that a boy could eat two-thirds of a Giant’s head and survive it without an antidote. Patroclus came home, and they told him, and he sat down and lamented with them. All day they sat weeping and watching Aeneas, expecting every moment to see him die. But he did not die; on the contrary he had never felt so well in his life.
Finally at sunset Aeneas looked up and laughed. “I am not going to die,” said he; “I never felt so well; you had better stop crying. And I am going out to get some more of that Giant’s head; I am hungry.”
“Don’t, don’t!” cried his father and mother; but he went; for he generally took his own way, very like most only sons. He came back with a whole Giant’s head in his arms.
“See here, father and mother,” cried he; “we’ll all have some of this; it evidently is not poison, and it is good—a great deal better than potatoes!”
Patroclus and Daphne hesitated, but they were hungry, too. Since the crop of Giant’s heads had sprung up in their field instead of potatoes, they had been hungry most of the time; so they tasted.
“It is good,” said Daphne; “but I think it would be better cooked.” So she put some in a kettle of water over the fire, and let it boil awhile; then she dished it up, and they all ate it. It was delicious. It tasted more like stewed pumpkin than anything else; in fact it was stewed pumpkin.
Daphne was inventive; and something of a genius; and next day she concocted another dish out of the Giant’s heads. She boiled them, and sifted them, and mixed them with eggs and sugar and milk and spice; then she lined some plates with puff paste, filled them with the mixture, and set them in the oven to bake.
The result was unparalleled; nothing half so exquisite had ever been tasted. They were all in ecstasies, Aeneas in particular. They gathered all the Giant’s heads and stored them in the cellar. Daphne baked pies of them every day, and nothing could surpass the felicity of the whole family.
One morning the King had been out hunting, and happened to ride by the cottage of Patroclus with a train of his knights. Daphne was baking pies as usual, and the kitchen door and window were both open, for the room was so warm; so the delicious odor of the pies perfumed the whole air about the cottage.
“What is it smells so utterly lovely?” exclaimed the King, sniffing in a rapture.
He sent his page in to see.
“The housewife is baking Giant’s head pies,” said the page, returning.
“What?” thundered the King. “Bring out one to me!”
So the page brought out a pie to him, and after all his knights had tasted to be sure it was not poison, and the King had watched them sharply for a few moments to be sure they were not killed, he tasted too.
Then he beamed. It was a new sensation, and a new sensation is a great boon to a king.
“I never tasted anything so altogether super-fine, so utterly magnificent in my life,” cried the King; “stewed peacocks’ tongues from the Baltic are not to be compared with it! Call out the housewife immediately!”
So Daphne came out trembling, and Patroclus and Aeneas also.
“What a charming lad!” exclaimed the King, as his glance fell upon Aeneas. “Now tell me about these wonderful pies, and I will reward you as becomes a monarch!”
Then Patroclus fell on his knees and related the whole history of the Giant’s head pies from the beginning.
The King actually blushed. “And I forgot to knight you, oh, noble and brave man, and to make a lady of your admirable wife!”
Then the King leaned gracefully down from his saddle, and struck Patroclus with his jeweled sword and knighted him on the spot.
The whole family went to live at the royal palace. The roses in the royal gardens were uprooted, and Giant’s heads (or pumpkins, as they came to be called) were sown in their stead; all the royal parks also were turned into pumpkin-fields.
Patroclus was in constant attendance on the King, and used to stand all day in his antechamber. Daphne had a position of great responsibility, for she superintended the baking of the pumpkin pies, and Aeneas finally married the Princess Ariadne Diana.
They were wedded in great state by fifty archbishops; and all the newspapers united in stating that they were the most charming and well-matched young couple that had ever been united in the kingdom.
The stone entrance of the Pumpkin Giant’s Castle was securely fastened, and upon it was engraved an inscription composed by the first poet in the kingdom, for which the King made him laureate, and gave him the liberal pension of fifty pumpkin pies per year.
The following is the inscription in full:
“Here dwelt the Pumpkin Giant once.
He’s dead the nation doth rejoice,
For, while he was alive, he lived
By e——g dear, fat, little boys.”
The inscription is said to remain to this day; if you were to go there you would probably see it.