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  • Jo-Anne Blanco

The Giants of Cornwall: Cormoran and Cormelian

Cormoran by Arthur Rackham

There are two Giants in Cornish folklore known as Cormoran. The first is the name of the Giant in the fairy tale “Jack the Giant Killer.” The hero Jack is the same hero who appears in many English tales – the most famous being “Jack and the Beanstalk.” In the Cornish story, Jack is a clever, quick-witted farmer’s son who uses his smarts to best and kill Giants. Cormoran (in Cornish his name Kow Mor An means Giant of the Sea) is the first Giant Jack encounters, a terror of the countryside who devours farmers’ livestock. Jack tricks Cormoran by luring him into falling to his death in a huge trapping pit, after which Jack is rewarded with Cormoran’s wealth and a commemorative sword and belt from King Arthur.

The second Cormoran is the name of the Giant who built and lived at St Michael’s Mount with his wife. It is rare for a female Giant of Cornish folklore to be named but Cormoran’s wife, Cormelian, is one of the few to receive a name. Cormoran and Cormelian were the Giants of the Mount, originally known as Carrek Los Yn Cos, “The White Rock in the Wood”, so called because at that time that part of the southwest coast was covered with forest. Cormoran wished to build his home in the sea just off the coast of the dense wood, raising it far above the trees, so that he would be protected and be able to keep watch on the surrounding countryside. Carefully selecting cubic-shaped white granite rocks from hills both nearby and distant for the purpose, Cormoran and Cormelian worked together to carry and pile the rocks one on top of the other. It was hard work and the rocks were heavy even for the Giants; it appears it was Cormelian who bore the heaviest rocks, carrying them in her apron.

Cormoran eventually grew weary from the work, lay down on the beach, and fell sleep. But Cormelian, undaunted, saw that a mass of greenstone rock lay nearer to the pile that was becoming the White Rock and was more accessible. So, while Cormoran was sleeping, Cormelian broke off a huge part of the mass of the greenstone rock, gathered it in her apron, and hurried towards the White Rock with it, planning to add it to the pile before Cormoran woke up. Cormelian reached the artificial hill and began breaking up the greenstone rock, continuing to build the island. But Cormoran awoke and saw that she was using green rocks instead of white ones. Furious, he rebuked her and gave her a kick, which loosened her apron strings and sent the remaining green rocks scattering across the sea from the White Rock island to the shore. One especially large chunk of greenstone fell from Cormelian’s apron onto the beach, where it could not be dislodged and remains to this day.

The scattered green rocks now form the causeway to the island, half of which is built with white rocks and the other half with green rocks. When Cormelian died, the large green rock to the right of the causeway became her monument and later, with the advent of Christianity, a small chapel was built upon it, whereupon it was given the name of Chapel Rock.

Cormoran and Cormelian appear as characters in the Fata Morgana Series. Morgan encounters them in Books II, III and IV.

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