Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Outsize humanoids are rooted in ancient Myth. Earth's first Elder-Race inhabitants are often identified as giants: e.g., the Titans, the giant-father Ymir in Nordic Mythology, the Bible's "There were giants in the earth in those days" (Genesis vi), Gog and Magog, and the root races of Theosophy. Early giants have affinities with earth Elementals (see Trolls): Atlas supports the Earth, Antaeus drew strength from contact with it. Traditionally, giants are somewhat brutish and hostile, often with a taste for human flesh: Polyphemus the Cyclops; Blunderbore, killed by Jack the Giant Killer and tricked by the Brave Little Tailor; Galapas, killed by Arthur; Giant Despair of Doubting Castle in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress; George MacDonald's unnamed giant in "The Giant's Heart" (1863); the Nordic frost and fire giants in L Sprague de Camp's and Fletcher Pratt's "The Roaring Trumpet" (1940); the giants of Harfang in C S Lewis's The Silver Chair (1953); the ogre Throop of the Three Heads in Jack Vance's Lyonesse III: Madouc (1989); and many more. (Some magical taxonomies differentiate between giants and ogres.) But there is a separate tradition of the giant whose size reflects heroic stature: Brân the Blessed who wades across the Irish Sea in the Second Branch of the Mabinogion, Finn Mac Cool and Paul Bunyan. Jonathan Swift's giants of Brobdingnag in Gulliver's Travels (1726) are more neutral and humanlike, thus sharpening the Satire; Gargantua in François Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532-1564) takes a different satirical line of wild exaggeration. Revisionist Fantasy treatments, challenging the cliché of the giant as mindlessly wicked and merely there to be killed, appear in: Oscar Wilde's "The Selfish Giant" (1888), whose lapse into kindness is rewarded by Christ; A A Milne's "A Matter-of-Fact Fairy Tale" (1912); Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth (1961), whose Gelatinous Giant represents indecision and fear of new ideas; J G Ballard's "The Drowned Giant" (1964), where the move from wonder to exploitation of the huge carcase savagely illustrates Thinning; John Gordon's The Giant Under the Snow (1968), whose hidden giant is a Green Man; Raymond Briggs's Jim and the Beanstalk (1970); Roald Dahl's The BFG (1972); Piers Anthony's A Spell for Chameleon (1977), whose unseen giant (see Invisibility) is ultimately heroic; and Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun (1980-1983), where the practical problem of (nonmagical) giants' size-weight ratio is met by having them live underwater. [DRL]

further reading: The Hamish Hamilton Book of Giants (anth 1968) ed William Mayne; Giants (graph 1979) by Sarah Teale, graphics devised David Larkin; Isaac Asimov's Magical Worlds of Fantasy #5: Giants (anth 1985) ed Isaac Asimov, Martin H Greenberg and Charles G Waugh.

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.