In Summary: Molly Whuppie and the Giant
Updated: Sep 1, 2022
A lesser-known fairytale, the tale of Molly Whuppie originates from the British Isles, with versions of the story found in England, Scotland and Ireland. The English version tells of Molly Whuppie, the Scottish of Moal a Chliobain, and the Irish of a similar heroine, the unfortunately named Smallhead.
The legend has similarities to other fairytales, in particular Jack and the Beanstalk as the heroine is also given shelter by a giant’s wife, steals three items from the giant, and narrowly escapes with her life.
“Woe worth you, Molly Whuppie! never you come again”
― Joseph Jacobs
Once there was a family with far too many children and too little food. The mother and father knew that they could not go on like this forever, and so one day the father took his three youngest children, all girls, deep into the forest and abandoned them there. The youngest of these children was named Molly Whuppie.
Lost in the woods and either unable or unwilling to return to the parents who abandoned them, the three sisters wandered, eventually coming to a house. The elder two sisters were unwilling to approach, fearing that whoever lived inside would hurt them. However, Molly Whuppie insisted on knocking.
The door was opened by a kind woman who would have liked to help the girls, but was afraid that her giant husband would kill them when he returned home. The girls begged for food and promised to leave before the giant returned. The woman eventually agreed, letting the girls in, and bringing them food. No sooner had they sat to eat it than the giant returned home.
The giant immediately noticed the three girls, but before he could do anything his wife told him off, telling him that they were only three young girls like the giant’s own three daughters, and that he would not touch them. The giant agreed and even insisted that the girls should stay the night and sleep in the bed with his own daughters. He was adamant on gifting the three sisters with necklaces made of braided straw, so that they could match the golden chains his daughters wore.
Molly Whuppie was suspicious of the giant’s motives, and his kindness. She was especially suspicious of the necklaces that the giant had given them. Waiting until everyone had fallen asleep, Molly Whuppie switched the straw necklaces for the golden chains. In the middle of the night, the giant awoke and came over to the bed. Fumbling in the dark, he felt for the different necklaces. Finding three made of straw, he beat their wearers to death – unaware that he was killing his own children. Happy with a job well done, the giant returned to his bed.
Molly Whuppie waited until the giant was asleep and woke her sisters, the three of them fleeing the house. The giant woke and gave chase. The sisters needed to cross a great river to escape the giant, and Molly Whuppie plucked a single hair from her head which transformed into a bridge the girls could cross. The bridge was far too thin for the giant, who was stuck on the other side. The girls escaped the giant and ran until they come across a great castle.
Not one to learn her lesson about knocking on strange doors, Molly Whuppie knocked and was greeted by the king. Curious, the king invited them in in exchange for their story. Molly Whuppie was the one to tell the tale, and the king was impressed by her bravery and cunning. He told her that he had three sons. If she was able to steal the sword of the giant, the king would marry his eldest son to her eldest sister. Molly Whuppie agreed.
Molly Whuppie snuck into the home of the giant, hiding beneath his bed and waiting for the giant to fall asleep. Then she grabbed the sword and rans. The giant woke and gave chase, but Molly Whuppie was faster than him, fleeing over the one-hair bridge. The giant cursed after her, hoping she never returned but Molly laughed and told him that she would return two more times. Then she returned to the king. The king was impressed with the sword, and told Molly Whuppie that if she could steal the giant’s money purse then he would marry Molly Whuppie’s middle sister to his middle son. Molly Whuppie agreed.
She snuck into the home of the giant, hiding beneath his bed and waiting for the giant to fall asleep. Then she grabbed the purse and ran. The giant woke and gave chase, but Molly Whuppie was faster than him, fleeing over the one hair bridge. The giant cursed after her, hoping she never returned but Molly laughed and told him that she would return one more time. The king was impressed again, and told Molly Whuppie that if she could steal the ring from the giant’s finger, he would marry her to his youngest son. Molly Whuppie agreed.
Once again, she snuck into the home of the giant, hiding beneath his bed and waiting for the giant to fall asleep. This time when she grabbed the ring the giant woke and caught her. The giant was very angry, blaming her for the deaths of his daughters, as well as the theft of his property. He asked her what she would do to someone who had committed these crimes against her.
Thinking quickly, Molly Whuppie said that she would put the offender in a sack with a dog, a cat, a pair of scissors and a needle and thread. She would then leave the sack there, go into the woods and find a large branch. She would then return and beat the offender to death. Clearly liking the plan, the giant decides that this is how he will deal with Molly Whuppie.
Once he was gone, Molly Whuppie starts talking to his wife, exclaiming about the wonderful things that she could see inside the sack. Eventually the woman was so curious that she begged to be allowed inside. Molly Whuppie cut her way out of the sack, helped the wife inside, and sewed the sack shut again.
Eventually the giant came back and beat the wife to death – a rather unpleasant end for someone who had been nothing but kind to Molly Whuppie, and only had the bad fortune of being married to a giant. The barking of the dog and meowing of the cat was so loud that the giant was unable to hear his wife’s voice. He did, however, see Molly Whuppie running way.
For the fourth and final time, the giant gave chase. Once again Molly Whuppie fled across the bridge to safety. This time she told the giant that he would never see her again. Free of the giant, Molly Whuppie returned to the king, she and her sisters married his sons, and they all lived happily ever after. Except, of course, the giant.