Giants

This is actually just a person in a tunnel, but imagine that it’s Polyphemus, blocking your way out of his cave.

How creepy, on a scale of 1 to 10, do you find the idea of giants?

I must confess, I was never particularly bothered by them. They have never struck me as uncanny. Just extra-large people, right? This might be partly because of portrayals like Disney’s, where the giants(s) are not too malevolent and certainly not too bright.

And the Iron Giant, and Gulliver when he was in Lilliput. In all of these cases, the fact of a person being huge creates some interesting logistical problems, but it certainly isn’t horror in the same category as anything unnatural, undead, or even as really depraved human evil.

All that to say, if I had set about, unguided, to pick a force of evil for my story, giants would not be the first place I would have gone.

Nevertheless, giants ended up in my first novel because they are featured in Genesis.

[The] story is told succinctly in Genesis 6:1 – 4, one of the most enigmatic and misinterpreted passages in the Bible. Here is how it reads in the oldest surviving copy … the Greek Septuagint:

“And it came to pass when men began to be numerous upon the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God having seen the daughters of men that they were beautiful, took to themselves wives of all whom they chose. … Now the giants were upon the earth in those days; and after that when the sons of God were wont to go in to the daughters of men, they bore children to them, those were the giants of old, men of renown.”

[In this book], we will proceed upon the premise that this passage tells of a time in the remote past when heavenly beings entered the abode of humans, and through our women were able to spawn a race of half-breed children, giants that all cultures throughout the world remember as powerful and often wicked, ruthless demigods.

Douglas Van Dorn, Giants: sons of the gods, pp. 2 – 3, emphasis in the original

In other words, that there were once, in actual history, giants that were half human, and that could in some sense be called demigods.

In the rest of the book, Van Dorn looks in detail at this passage and others, and answers arguments about whether this passage, and other passages that seem to assume the same background, should be interpreted to be talking about literal giants or about the people of God versus humans who had rejected God. He also delves into Hebrew terms for other demonic and paranormal creatures, terms that often get rendered as various animals in modern translations.

I am not going to get into the exegetical discussion in this post. But I am going to touch on how Van Dorn’s thesis – that this stuff actually happened, way back in the mists of human history – is backed up by what is usually called mythology.

It is a really strange fact that every culture has stories about giants, gods, and various other supernatural creatures (including chimeras, but that’s another topic). This fact does not strike us as strange – at least, it didn’t me – precisely because these stories are so old and so universal. We just accept it as a given that human “legends” and “myths” deal with threatening creatures that we do not see today. We don’t look for an explanation of why this should be. I am sure that Jung could give you a psychological explanation for the universality of giant stories. Jordan Peterson could give you a Jungian, evolutionary explanation.

And certainly, the idea of a giant as a large and threatening presence is deeply embedded in the human mind. But why? How did this idea get there? Why aren’t our symbols of evil just bears and saber-toothed tigers, if those were the only threats our ancestors were dealing with?

If you go to Bali, you can see sculptures of an ugly, bearded giant being attacked by an eagle as he attempts to carry off a beautiful girl with an elaborate crown and hair that falls to her ankles. This is an illustration of a scene from the Ramayana, an ancient Indian epic that, in the millennia since it entered Indonesia, has there acquired its own flavor. In the Indonesian version, the beautiful girl is Sinta, bride of the prince Rama. The giant (raksasa) captures her through deception, carries her off, and is able to fly to get her back to his castle. The heroic eagle (garuda) attacks him in the air. This is a favorite scene for sculptors and illustrators, who still exist in great numbers in Bali and are insanely talented. The story is also told in shadow-puppet plays and operas.

In Borneo, where I had the privilege to live for a few years, they have their own local legends. One common theme in these is that you should not marry outside your clan, because if you marry a girl from an unknown people, she might turn out not to be human. In one story, a young man marries a foreign girl. When she goes down to the river to bathe, he goes to spy on her and is shocked to see her take off her head.

One area, where we lived for about a year, had a large local mountain with a distinctive jagged top. As the story went, this mountain once reached the clouds. A giant used to climb down it in order to eat the people down below. Then a female hero used a machete to hack off the top of the mountain. The giant, now trapped in the clouds, looks down upon the people but cannot eat them anymore. It drools, and the drops of drool become the bloodsucking leeches that live in the jungle on the slopes of the mountain. Still trying to eat the people, you see.

These few stories from island southeast Asia illustrate features that show up associated with giants again and again: kidnapping/rape, and eating people. (I mean, that is virtually all the giants and demigods do in the Greek myths, for example.) I mention these stories from Bali and Borneo to show just what a wide geographical area the human consensus on giant behavior seems to cover.

Given all this, giants are starting to look more like what we in our house would call a “horror creature.” To review: based on Genesis and numerous myths worldwide, the giants:

  • are not fully human, but are some sort of human/supernatural hybrid
  • are nevertheless fully physical and present in actual history
  • seem to like kidnapping human women
  • seem to like eating people
  • are smart enough to practice deception

Ok, now this is starting to get scary. If we accept that these myths are historical memories, then all of a sudden, hearing giant stories is sort of like hearing about atrocities committed by people during the Holocaust, or the Communist takeover of Cambodia, or any other of humanity’s many periods of pure, unrestrained, depraved evil. But it’s scary in another way too. Given the purported origin of these giants, it’s like hearing about a successful genetic experiment, or like finding out that demon possession is real.

I’ve always kind of longed to live in the really ancient ages of the world. But, the more I learn, the more relieved I am to be living in modern times. We slam the door to the giants shut behind us, and lean against it, panting.

13 thoughts on “Giants

  1. Em @ The Geeky Jock

    My giant memory is watching the Big Friendly Giant on CBC mornings – it was brilliant! Your version — eating people and deceptive — is definitely creepier!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Em @ The Geeky Jock

        Ah! The BFG was a Canadian TV show – I don’t think it had anything to do with the Roald Dahl book! It was … kinda Mr Rogers-esque. It was a brilliant show!

        But, yes! There’s also the BFG RD-style! I’ve never actually read that book. Maybe this is a hint 🤔

        Liked by 1 person

      2. So … there is ANOTHER BFG in CANADA? Wow, how cool! The world seems to be just bristling with friendly giants.

        The Roald Dahl book would be a quick read and the BFG star of it is a linguistic genius who speaks in funny malapropisms.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Em @ The Geeky Jock

        Ha ha! I’m glad that we have friendly giants to counterbalance the person-eating ones 🙂

        Sold! I’ll steal my sister’s Roald Dahl collection when I visit her this weekend. (That didn’t take a lot of convincing!)

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Then my work here is done.

        Must say, I didn’t expect that the result of a post about giants actually being people-eating rapist horror creatures would end up motivating someone to go read a children’s classic … but book discussions go where they will.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Benjamin Ledford

    Interesting about the difference in modern depictions of giants. When did that change happen, I wonder? Jack and the Beanstalk and Pilgrim’s Progress would share the “Horror Creature” depiction of giants, right down to the eating people part.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right, exactly! The reason “Jack the Giant killer” was a folk hero in medieval England was that giants were still conceived of as a threat to everyone in the neighborhood.

      I don’t know when this started changing. Looks to me like it was very recent.

      Like

  3. Pingback: Giants II – Out of Babel

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s