The Original Story of “Jack and the Beanstalk” Was Emphatically Not for Children

If, like me, you once tried to plant jelly beans in your backyard in the hopes that they would create either a magical jelly bean tree or summon a giant talking bunny, because if it worked in fairy tales it would of course work in an ordinary backyard in Indiana, you are doubtless familiar with the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, a tale of almost but not quite getting cheated by a con man and then having to deal with the massive repercussions.

You might, however, be a little less familiar with some of the older versions of the tale—and just how Jack initially got those magic beans.

The story first appeared in print in 1734, during the reign of George II of England, when readers could shill out a shilling to buy a book called Round about our Coal Fire: Or, Christmas Entertainments, one of several self-described “Entertaining ...