Once upon a time...
there was a poor widow who lived with her son Jack in a little house. Their wealth consisted solely of a milking cow. When the cow had grown too old, the mother sent Jack to sell it.
On his way to the market, the boy met a stranger.
"I will give you five magic beans for your cow," the stranger offered. Jack was unsure and hesitated for a while but then, enticed by the idea of such an extraordinary deal, he decided to accept. When he returned home, his mother was furious and reprimanded him sternly:
"You fool! What have you done? We needed the money to buy a calf. Now we don't have anything and we are even poorer." Jack felt guilty and sad.
"Only a fool would exchange a cow for five beans," his mother fumed.
Then, at the height of her exasperation, she threw the five beans out of the window and sent Jack to bed with no dinner.
The morning after, when he stepped outside, Jack saw an amazing sight. A gigantic beanstalk, reaching far into the clouds, had grown overnight.
"The beans must have really been magic," Jack thought happily. Being very curious, the boy climbed the plant and once he reached the top of the stalk he found himself over the clouds.
While looking around in amazement, Jack saw a huge castle of Grey stone.
"I wonder who lives there," he thought. Jack was very surprised to see a path leading to the castle. He cautiously stepped on the clouds and, when he saw that they held him up, he walked to the castle. As he stood in front of the huge gate, his curiosity increased. He knocked several times on the gigantic door, but no one came to open it. Jack noticed that the door wasn't locked. With great effort, he was able to push it until it creaked open.
"What are you doing here?" a thundering voice asked. The biggest woman he had ever seen was scowling at him. Jack could only mutter:
"I am lost. May I have something to eat? I am very hungry." The woman, who did not have children, looked at him a little more kindly: "Come in, quick. I will give you a bowl of milk. But be careful because my husband, the ogre, eats children. If you hear him coming, hide at once."
Jack was shaking with fear but, nonetheless, he went inside. The milk the woman gave him was very good and Jack had almost finished drinking it when they heard a tremendous noise. The ogre was home.
"Fee fl fo fum! I smell the blood of an Englishman!" the ogre shouted.
"Hide, quick!" the woman whispered, pushing Jack into the oven.
"Do I smell a child in this room?" the ogre asked suspiciously, sniffling and looking all around.
"A child?" the woman repeated. "You see and hear children everywhere. That's all you ever think about. Sit down and I'll make your dinner." The ogre, still grumbling, filled a jug of wine and drank it all with his dinner.
After having counted again and again all the gold pieces of his treasure, the ogre fell asleep with his feet propped up on the table. After a little while, his thundering snoring echoed throughout the castle. The ogre's wife went to prepare the ogre's bed and Jack, who had sneaked out of the oven, saw the gold pieces on the table and filled a little bag full of them.
"I hope he won't see me, otherwise he'll eat me whole, Jack thought while shivering with fear. Jack's heart was beating faster, not just faster because he feared the ogre but because he was very excited. Thanks to all the gold coins, he and his mother would be rich. Jack ran down the path over the clouds.
Jack arrived at the top of the giant beanstalk and began to descend as quickly as possible, hanging on the leaves and the branches. When he finally reached the ground, he found his mother waiting for him. The poor woman had been worried sick since his disappearance.
She had been frightened by the giant beanstalk. When she saw Jack come down and then triumphantly hold up the bag full of gold, she burst out crying:
"Where have you been, my son? Do you want me to die worrying? What kind of plant is this? What . . ." Jack cheerfully interrupted her, emptying the contents of the bag before her.
"You see, I did the right thing exchanging that cow for the magic beans. Now I'll tell you the whole story . . ."
And Jack told his mother everything that had happened in detail. In the days that followed, the widow's humble house was made into a comfortable home. The gold pieces were spent to buy a lot of things Jack and his mother never had before. Mother and son were very happy. But as time went by, so did the money. When the last gold piece had been spent, Jack decided to go back to the castle above the clouds. This time the boy went inside through the kitchen and hid once again in the oven. Shortly after, the ogre came in and began to sniff about.
"I smell children," he said to his wife. But since she had seen no one come in, she didn't pay any attention to him.
After dinner, the ogre placed a hen on the table. The hen laid golden eggs. Jack saw the miraculous hen from a crack in the oven door. He waited for the ogre to fall asleep, jumped out of the oven, snatched the hen and ran out of the castle. The hen's squawking, however, woke up the ogre.
"Thief! Thief!" he shouted. But Jack was already far away. Once again, he found his mother anxiously waiting for him at the foot of the beanstalk.
"Is that all you stole? A hen?" she asked Jack, disappointed. But Jack ran, happy, to the courtyard.
"Just wait," he said to his mother. As a matter of fact, a little while later the hen laid a golden egg and continued to lay such an egg every single day after that.
By now, Jack and his mother were very wealthy. Their house was completely rebuilt. Teams of carpenters replaced the roof, added new rooms and elegant marble columns. Then they bought paintings, tapestries, Persian rugs, mirrors and many other beautiful furnishings. Their miserable shack was transformed into a luxurious home.
Jack and his mother had not forgotten their previous years of poverty and deprivation. So they chose to welcome any traveler who needed food or shelter. But wealth doesn't always bring happiness. Jack's mother suddenly fell ill or so it seemed. But not one of the many doctors who visited her could discover what her illness was. The woman was sad, ate less and less and showed no interest in life. She rarely smiled, and then only when Jack was near to her. Her son tried to cheer her up, but nothing could save the mother from her slow but inevitable decline. Even a circus's famous clown, who had been invited especially for her entertainment, received only a sad greeting.
Jack was desperate and didn't know what to do. All the hen's gold was not enough to make his mother well again. So he had another idea.
"What if I went back to the ogre's castle? Maybe there I could find the answer," he thought. He shivered with fear thinking about the giant's huge hands and mouth, but the hope of helping his mother encouraged him to face the danger again. One evening he gathered all his courage and climbed once more the giant beanstalk. This time he entered the castle through an open window. He sneaked in the darkness to the kitchen and hid inside a huge pot until the following day. After dinner the ogre went to get his magic harp, an instrument that sang and played marvelous music. While listening to the harp's sweet melody, the ogre fell asleep. In his hiding place, Jack was captivated by the harp's song as well. When he finally heard the ogre snore loudly, he lifted the pot's lid and saw the extraordinary instrument: a golden harp.
He quickly climbed on the table and ran away with the harp in his hands. The instrument woke up the ogre screaming:
"Master, master! Wake up! A thief is taking me away!" The ogre woke up suddenly, was disorientated for a couple of seconds but then realized what was happening and began chasing Jack. The boy ran as fast as he could and the harp kept calling out.
"Shut up! Shut up! If you'll play for me, you'll be happier," Jack kept telling it breathlessly. He finally arrived to where the leafy top of the beanstalk poked through the clouds. Jack crept along the ground and slipped down the stalk quietly. The harp did not make a sound and the ogre didn't see Jack go down the plant. When Jack got down to earth he called to his mother,
"Look what I've brought you!" The harp began to play an enchanting melody and his mother smiled happily.
But up there in the clouds someone else had heard the harp's beautiful song and Jack soon realized with terror that the thick beanstalk was shaking under a very heavy weight. The ogre was coming down to earth!
"Hide the harp and bring me an axe! I must chop down the plant before the ogre gets here," Jack said to his mother. They could already see the ogre's huge boots when the plant and the ogre finally crashed to the ground. The ogre fell down a cliff nearby. The ogre's wife never found out what had happened to her husband and as time passed Jack no longer felt in danger.
The magical sound of the harp cured his mother's sadness and she was once again happy and cheerful. The hen kept on laying golden eggs. Jack's life had gone through a lot of changes since he had accepted the magic beans. But without his courage and his wit, he and his mother could never have found happiness.