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  • Writer's pictureJohn Lombard

Inspirations - The Beans of Production

This story had an interesting genesis... I did some on-location research in Melbourne! I took a holiday that included a trip to the video game convention PAX, and hit up some local coffee shops to absorb appropriate hipster colour.

The verdict: St Ali is a Melbourne institution, but it lived up to the hype - it's basically the archetype of the Melbourne coffee shop, with faux-industrial trappings coupled with quality coffee and food. Blended Beard and Brother Buda Budan were also great experiences.

Coffee culture is fascinating, because caffeine is an addictive, mind-altering drug that most of the world's population is on... apparently 90% of the people in the world consume it every day. Wild to think that if we all stopped taking caffeine at once, it could completely change everything from shop hours to politics and business. So coffee beans are truly magic beans... and hence the link to Jack and the Beanstalk.

Jack and the Beanstalk is interesting from an ethical point of view... our boy Jack steals stuff, betrays his host, and murders a dude, and it's fine? He's the hero? Some of the versions even try to justify it by saying that the giant stole Jack's family's stuff and he's just taking it back... sure, if that helps you sleep at night.

But if Jack is starving and the giant hordes all this wealth, is he really doing the wrong thing by applying a little unilateral socialist redistribution? Is it wrong for peasants to protect their right to existence by taking what they need from overfed and useless aristocrats?

On top of that, Jack and the Beanstalk is a very old story - while the modern version dates to 1734, some version of The Boy Steals Ogre's Treasure has been in circulation for over 5,000 years. For me, the primal truth of this story is that it's not wrong for the truly desperate to protect themselves.

So for this story, I was fusing the vibe of two songs from musicals - Giants in the Sky from Into the Woods, and What keeps a man alive? from the Beggar's Opera - a blend of wonder at the world of giants, and how morality collapses in questions of survival.

Incidentally, in 2001 the Jim Henson Company released the TV movie Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story, which flips the script to reveal that Jack betrayed a benevolent and kind giant, in a satire of colonialism. Here, there is no question that Jack was the villain - and movie is pretty charming too!

So with the link between magic beans and Australian coffee culture, we get my idea of Jack and the Beanstalk in a Melbourne coffee shop, with a theme of colonial interactions between big and small countries. I liked the idea of coffee just thoroughly wrecking an entire world, from humble beginnings through monarchy, theocracy and maoist revolution. Just imagine that the coffee is far more addictive for the elves, like heroin.

The main character is lightly based on a dear friend, who would be fully capable of giving elves coffee beans in return for trinkets with total innocence. Initally I wanted this to be an uproarious comedy, but I had to turn it down... it just felt right to emphasise the simple wonder of the interactions, and to couple that with the straightforward, plain language of the ordinary, down-to-earth person telling the story. After the linguistic tergiversations of the French Revolution story, maybe we have all earned something a bit plainer in style...

There was also a bit of hubris in this story... since I was on holiday, I planned to do two stories in one month. Alas... turns out that being on holiday I was busier than normal! So ironically I was quite pinched for time getting this one done. Despite that, I'm reasonably satisfied with how it turned out, even though it veered away from my original conception of a ridiculous comedy.

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