From John Le Carre's Smiley's People

They stood side by side in an avenue of beeches and the Superintendent was taller by a head: a young giant of a man, prematurely grizzled, a little pompous perhaps, but with a giant’s gentleness that made him naturally befriending.

Does "with a giant’s gentleness that made him naturally befriending" here allude to Oscar Wilde's The Selfish Giant?

2 Answers 2


No, Le Carré does not allude to Wilde here.

  1. “Gentle giant” is a common English phrase meaning “a person who is physically large and powerful, but (unexpectedly) gentle in nature or character” (OED), and does not, by itself, refer to any specific giant in fact or fiction.

  2. Friendly giants are a common trope in folk-literature. Stith Thompson categorizes the trope as follows:

    F531.5.1. Giant friendly to man. Broderius § 24. — Irish myth: *Cross; U.S.: Baughman; Icelandic: Arnason Legends of Iceland (London, 1864) I 148, *Boberg; Norse: Feilberg Jul II 56; Tirol: Zingerle (1891) Nos. 40. 172, 183, 186, 199, 200, 220.

    Stith Thompson (1956). Motif-Index of Folk-Literature, volume 3, p. 151. Indiana University Press.

    Thompson gives many variants of the trope, including, F531.5.5 Giants repay loan with large interest; F531.5.7. Giants marry human beings; F531.5.8.3. Giants Christianized; G530. Ogre’s relative aids hero; H1233.4.2. Quest accomplished with aid of giantess; N812. Giant or ogre as helper.

    When a trope is common like this, we need a specific resemblance before we can conclude that a putative reference is intentional.

  3. The giant in Wilde’s story is not “naturally befriending”—rather, he is naturally selfish and needs to learn friendliness in the course of the story.

  4. Wilde’s story is a Christian allegory which would be out of place in the thoroughly secular and cynical world of Smiley’s People.


No, it alludes to the general concept of the gentle giant, a person or animal who is so big and imposing in appearance that they don't need to behave in an assertive manner.

  • Your answer also makes sense. But Gareth's answer was more comprehensive and sorry I can only pick one as the best answer. Thanks anyway. Mar 5 at 15:12

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