Giant proportions

Here’s a random thought for graduate work in some discipline that probably doesn’t exist (some combination of art history, literature, sociology, psychology, folklore, maybe comparative religions, but hey, let’s just say History because that’s what I did my undergraduate degree in because I couldn’t pick any single one of the above (or because I think most of those fields are flawed or have too many limiting assumptions to be fields of serious study)).

Many if not most cultures have stories and artistic depictions of giants. Most of the depictions of giants I can think of have humans coming up to right below the knee. Is that true? Are the sizes of the giants in proportion to average human height constant over time and cuture? If they vary does that tell us something about the culture or time? Where do giants come from? Is it because we all viscerally remember being children and having to navigate a world of terrifying giants, whose strange rules you need to learn to survive?

4 thoughts on “Giant proportions”

  1. My sense is that giants are twice as big rather than four times as big as the tallest men; that is, from their point of view we are halflings. Treebeard is about 14 feet tall, for example; some Ents are taller, some shorter.

  2. I think Ents, while physically big and sort of humanoid, because of their sense of time are more treelike and therefore members of the imaginary anthropomorphic plant kingdom.

    But your ratios are interesting; I think of Jack of Beanstalk fame to be 1/4 his giant’s height, but David to be of about 1/2 Goliath’s height.

    The visual artifacts I’m thinking of required more time and Google image searching than I felt (and feel) up to tonight.

  3. Well, Jack’s a boy, so it makes sense that he is 1/3 to 1/4 the height of the giant. As for Goliath, sources other than the Hebrew Bible such as the Septuagint, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Jewish historian Josephus, give his height as “four cubits and a span” (6 foot 9) rather than “six cubits and a span” (9 foot 9). That’s a much more plausible, non-pathological height, but still huge, especially for those days.

  4. Geez. Way to rip on entire fields of study–to dismiss the life’s work of huge numbers of people in one fell swoop. I’ve found literature to be a plenty serious field of study, Mister, and I find art history to be a pretty interesting and completely valid field of study, too.

    As for the size of giants, it may have something to do with the level of detail an illustration can include in the confines of a book page. We want to be able to recognize the human child as a human child and the giant as a giant. In some stories I’ve seen, the giant is shown as a foot and part of a leg–the child recognizes the giant as a tree at first, perhaps.

    This also makes me think of depictions of Santa Claus. They’ve changed over time. The image of Santa in a red suit is first attributed to Thomas Nast in 1892. The red suit became increasingly more ubiquitous, but Santa was still frequently depicted in green, purple, blue, or brown robes up until the early 1930s when the red suit seems to have taken over after its use in Coca-Cola ads. How has the Jolly Green Giant of Green Giant veggie fame affected the standard image of “the giant?”

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