Fee, Fie, Foe, Fum…
Giants don’t get enough play. With the minor exception of Jack the Giant Slayer and some giant-related themes in the Thor movies, they are on the short list of mythical beasts who no longer get much attention. This is disappointing, since I think giants are really, really interesting (or can be). The sound of their heavy footsteps echoing through the dark of the forest, the feeling as every tremor it creates shakes your guts, their booming laughter echoing from the hillsides – that’s drama, people!
Giants are ancient concepts, originating in Indo-European myth – giant humanoids, often at odds with or related to the gods, but who nevertheless were victims of human vice. Giants eat big, play hard, drink oceans dry, and have a temper that makes the mountains quake. In Greek mythology, the Titans were the foes of the gods and one of their number, Atlas, held aloft the sky. In Norse mythology, the Giants were likewise foes of the gods, and were often warring with Asgard. In English folklore, giants were always trying to eat people and terrorizing the countryside. In all mythical instances, giants are taken down by heroes much smaller than themselves. David-and-Goliath is our go-to for the underdog story, and Goliath is literally portrayed as a giant in the Old Testament.
In most myth, giants can be considered symbolic of injustice and despotic rule. They are placed at odds with the ruling hierarchy (the gods) and in contest with them and, ultimately, they lose to the just and noble heroes that face them. When they fall, the world breathes a sigh of relief (once the earthquakes cease, at any rate). They were an exterior force exerting their influence on an unwilling populace. Today, similarly, the giant creatures our modern heroes face are usually alien in origin – Godzilla, Kaiju, or even in Jack the Giant Slayer or Thor, they are presented as beings from another world. The difference, most notably, is how deliberately inhuman these giants are made to appear. They are not really large people as much as they are really large things.
Today, however, I feel the symbolic potential for the anthropomorphic giant is greater than ever. We are, quite literally, being devoured by giants in our society. Granted, these individuals aren’t physically huge, but they are financially huge. We are left to barely make ends meet while a tiny proportion of our society eats and drinks and enjoys a disproportionate amount of the resources. We are being consumed, but are far too small to do anything about it by ourselves. Instead, we focus on staying out from beneath their heavy feet, eyes down, scouring the countryside for whatever scraps they happen to leave behind. That’s a recipe for a giant story, folks. All it needs is some little guy who is no longer willing to be stepped on to speak up and play the hero. There’s a lot of mileage there – everybody loves a good David and Goliath story. I, myself, have more than a few ideas.