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Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales: Tom Thumb

“There was once a poor countryman who used to sit in the chimney-corner all evening and poke the fire, while his wife sat at her spinning-wheel.”

Their son, Tom Thumb, is no bigger than his father’s – you guessed it – thumb, and finds himself in a variety of situations in this fairy tale.

Little Tom Thumb’s adventures begin when he directs his father’s horse to the area his father has chopped wood. Two men witness Tom Thumb’s “magic” and ask to purchase him from the countryman, who at first refuses. But strangely enough, Tom Thumb convinces his father to let him go.

When the two men stop to rest, Tom Thumb escapes by hiding in a mouse hole, but then overhears two thieves talking about their plan to rob the local parson. Tom Thumb tells them he can help, but when they get to the parsonage he is so loud asking the thieves exactly what to do that he wakes the house and the thieves run away. Tom Thumb spends the night in the barn on a bail of hay, which in the morning, is fed to a cow. Little Tom Thumb winds up in the animal’s stomach, and by talking loudly, convinces the farmer that the cow has been bewitched, and the farmer kills the cow and Tom Thumb escapes. ALMOST! A wolf comes along and eats the cow’s stomach (this fairy tale is not for the weak-stomached – pun very much intended) with Tom still inside. But he has an idea; Tom Thumb convinces the wolf to go to his father’s house by telling the animal there is a way to get inside the pantry where all the food is kept. This works, and Tom Thumb is reunited with his parents in the end. Besides the gastrointestinal factors, this story is light and whimsical. While Tom Thumb is mischievous, he is quite brave and clever, as evidenced in the way he gets himself out of trouble.

The German title of this fairy tale, as it was collected by the Grimm brothers, is Thumbling (or Daumsdick in the actual German). When it was translated into English, it took on the name of the Tom Thumb, and subsequent translations keep this English folklore name. The English character can be found in numerous fairy tales and stories, and is believed to have been based on a real person who was short in stature – there is even a grave marking in the UK that reads “T. THUMB.” The History of Tom Thumb is another Tom Thumb fairy tale, the first recorded English fairy tale (the earliest known copy of this particular tale is from 1621). After the English recording, Tom Thumb sort of took off in popularity. There are many stage adaptations, published analyses, song books, and other stories based on Tom Thumb; it seems he was quite an extraordinary character in the minds of some authors, commentators, and playwrights, although to me he seems quite underwhelming.

The next fairy tale, Tom Thumb’s Travels, is, from what I understand, not exactly related to Tom Thumb, but similarities are too clear to believe they are not somewhat related. Minor details are different, it seems, so perhaps the former is just a variation of a base story line that is relatable, though not meant to be connected, with the latter. I’ll be able to make a better opinionated judgment once I read the next story.

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