The legend of giants explained

On the coast of Northern Ireland, you'll find a breathtaking collection of more than 40,000 basalt pillars known as Giant's Causeway. According to Eleanor Killough of the National Trust, the scientific explanation for this is that about 60 million years ago, giant volcanic eruptions created that breathtaking formation. The slightly less scientific explanation for Giant's Causeway is, well, that a giant caused it.

Local folklore holds that an Irish giant named Finn McCool lost his cool with a Scottish giant named Benandonner who had been threatening Ireland. McCoolbegan chucking chunks of earth into the water to create a path for him to walk over to Benandonner, and show him who was boss. McCool immediately regretted his decision upon realizing that Benandonner was "terrifyingly massive," even for a giant. Not wanting to get pounded into ground haggis by the colossal Scot, McCool had his wife dress him as a baby to trick Benandonner into believing that whoever sired that giant was unfathomably large.

Unsurprisingly, locals are partial to the version of events that involves disguising a giant as a baby. But what makes this story particularly interesting is that unlike many other legends, both the hero and the villain of the story were giants. As noted in Folk Heroes and Heroines around the World, mythical giants are typically stupid, ferocious bullies. It's basically been that way since the beginning.

A world of giant meanies

As the Encyclopedia Britannica describes, the word "giant" comes from the Gigantes of Greek mythology. Gigantes were the ferocious offspring of Earth and Uranus. That's right: Earth made love to Uranus. Their crappy kids had snake-like legs and human torsos, and terrible manners because their parents obviously didn't raise them right. They ended up battling the mythical Olympians in a conflict called the Gigantomachy. The Olympic hero of the story was the archer Heracles, who basically won the gold medal in murdering Gigantes.

You don't have to look very hard for other prominent examples of giants playing the role of nasty antagonist. Of course, there's the story of David and Goliath. Norse mythology has a line of giants that began with the extremely bizarre Aurgelmir. Per the Encyclopedia Britannica, the father of all Norse giants had a male and female growing under his arm and legs that spawned a six-headed son. Aurgelmir and the other giants were vanquished by the god Odin and his brothers.

Interestingly, Finn McCool of Giant's Causeway fame was a smaller giant than the villain he outsmarts. Heck, even the lovable Andre the Giant played the villain in his most famous WrestleMania match. It almost seems like intuitive storytelling. You don't stand on an anthill and act like you climbed Everest. Huge victories require huge obstacles.