The Pumpkin Giant by Mary E. Wilkins
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
There have been a great many giants who have
flourished since the world begun, 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
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 Ćneas, 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
One morning Patroclus and Ćneas 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 Ćneas 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 Ćneas 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
All at once the earth trembled violently. Patroclus
and Ćneas looked up and saw the Pumpkin Giant coming
with his mouth wide open. "Get behind me, O, my darling
son!" cried Patroclus.
Ćneas 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
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.
HE PICKED UP AN ENORMOUS YOUNG PLANTAGENET AND THREW IT
Patroclus and Ćneas while the Giant was choking, had
run to the house and locked themselves in; then they
looked out of the kitchen 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
They cautiously approached the prostrate Giant, for
fear he might be shamming, and might suddenly spring up
at them and—Ćneas. 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 Ćneas 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
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 Ćneas
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 Ćneas
played so much with the Giant's head that finally late
in the fall it got broken and scattered all over the
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
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 Ćneas 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 Ćneas had indulged in. There was scarcely one of
the antidotes which had not been resorted to from time
Ćneas 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 Ćneas, 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 Ćneas 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 Ćneas, 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 Ćneas 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
"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, Ćneas 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
"What?" thundered the King. "Bring out one to me!"
THEN THE KING KNIGHTED HIM ON THE SPOT.
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 superfine, 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 Ćneas
"What a charming lad!" exclaimed the King as his
glance fell upon Ćneas. "Now tell me about these
wonderful pies, and I will reward you as becomes a
Then Patroclus fell on his knees and related the
whole history of the Giant's head pies from the
The King actually blushed. "And I forgot to knight
you, oh noble and brave man, and to make a lady of your
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 ante-chamber. Daphne had a
position of great responsibility, for she superintended
the baking of the pumpkin pies, and Ćneas 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.