A uniquely Cornish character, the most famous of all English giants. He was popularly disposed of by Jack the Giant-Killer, who, in Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur and earlier in Geoffrey’s Historia Regum Britanniae, fought the prototype of the later popular giant, whose home was on Saint Michael’s Mount, off Penzance, Cornwall.
Jack the Giant-Killer, who is English rather than Cornish, illustrates the popularisation of the tale as it spread from its origins in Cornwall to the rest of the country. He remains, uniquely, the only European hero to triumph over a giant by his own natural dexterity and wit rather than relying on force of arms. Later legends replace Jack the Giant-Killer as the killer of Cormoran with King Arthur.
Cormoran has become immortalised in the fairytale of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, for he is none other than the giant who lives in the wonderful land Jack stumbles across when he climbes the beanstalk that has magically appeared outside his house. Cormoran is, in this instance, possibly based on an earlier tradition, which would replace ‘Englishman’ with ‘Cornish-man’, said to have rejoiced in the familiar cry:
Fee, fi, fo, fum,
I smell the blood of an Englishman:
Be he alive, or be he dead,
I'll grind his bones to make my bread!
Identification has also been made between this giant and Gogmagog (Gog and Magog) through the variant Gourmaillon, which has been applied to both. If this is the case, then Jack the Giant-Killer would seem to be a commemoration of Corineus, the giant Trojan ally of Brutus, who was said to have flung Gogmagog into the sea at Plymouth, which is not too far distant from Saint Michael’s Mount.
Mont Saint Michel | The Legend of King Arthur