The Sad Princess, academically referred to as “H341 Suitor test: making the princess laugh” is, by my unofficial estimate the second best known Jack tale, and the only well known tale that does not end with a dead giant somehow.
This folk tale is not peculiar to Jack. He is but one of many folk-tale protagonists inserted into this story, This tale may originate in Persia, and well-known versions of it are found in India, Russia and Germany. It likely came to Britain with the Saxons, as there is a Norwegian version starring Hans.
In many versions, Jack’s brothers try first, and fail, and Jack goes reluctantly or goes to the palace for different reasons and only succeeds by accidental slapstick.
The version in Beanstalk and Beyond is not as straightforward. You can find that plot in children’s books, but in his autobiography, Jack has other problems.
To be sure, there is a slapstick incident which causes the otherwise morose (a modern diagnosis would be depressed) princess to laugh out loud. That single incident, though , rewards Jack with nothing more than a temporary, tactical reprieve from his predicament.
Jack rarely names female characters unless he knows for a fact they are dead, or does not care about their fate. In the book, he uses the name Diana, though that is only a part of a long Roman name.
All my drafts use a different name. Diana was a compromise with the editor – and I do not remember why.
She is better known, within Jack’s world, as Bedwyr’s daughter. Bedwyr is the Celtic version of the Roman name Betavir, which became Bedevere by the time the French romance authors were done with it. He is a knight of the Round Table, and one of Arthur’s (or Artorius) longest serving knights.
My research summary, which does not specify sources as it is an internal document about fictional people, has this to say of Bedwyr:
Bedwyr is one of Arthur’s three original companions. He is a legendary horseman who specializes with the spear. His left hand, his shield hand, is missing three fingers. He wears a diadem of honor, and holds a seat at the Round Table.
His official Roman name is Betavir Petrarcius, but he answers to any reasonable attempt. His family estate is in the south of England in Glouchester. He has been charged with other estates throughout Wales, and around the vicinity of Lugalvalium. His brother is Lucan “the Butler” who commands the watch at Camelot.
Betavir distinguished himself battling with Arthur against rival warlords and the Giant of Mt. St. Michael. He is also good friends with Cauis (Kay).
Diana encounters a 12 year old Jack while she is in her late teens. They are both hiding from Bedwyr’s guards in an abandoned turret at his current seaside fortress. Jack is hiding from Bedwyr’s guards because he is trying to escape the castle, where he has been imprisoned for banditry. Diana hides from the guards because she is on suicide watch, and is supposedly confined to quarters.
She tells Jack,
“ My father has a wager out. He has offered my hand and my dowry to any prince who could make me happy. Several princes and bards have come and failed. … You succeeded for several seconds, but that moment has passed.”
Diana is Bedwyr’s oldest child, daughter by his first wife, who has died. This tragedy, and abuse at the hands of Bedwyr’s second wife exacerbate what is likely chronic depression anyway. That’s all my invention. The folk tales stop at sad, and do not, as a rule, elaborate as to why.
I have to say, I am pretty proud, just in terms of plot mechanics, at the means by which Jack wins Bedwyr’s wager, though not the Sad Princess; Jack has other priorities.
For the record, Diana’s fate at the end of the novel is not based on any particular folk-tale, but is actually part of an attempt to instill an actual plot arc across these otherwise loosely connected tales.