Hansel and Gretel by Jessie Wilcox Smith

Household Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm translated by Margaret Hunt

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by John Hassall

Grimm's Household Tales with the
Author's Notes
translated by Margaret Hunt

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Thumbling as Journeyman

A CERTAIN tailor had a son, who happened to be small, and no bigger than a Thumb, and on this account he was always called Thumbling. He had, however, some courage in him, and said to his father, "Father, I must and will go out into the world." "That's right, my son," said the old man, and took a long darning-needle and made a knob of sealing-wax on it at the candle, "and there is a sword for thee to take with thee on the way." Then the little tailor wanted to have one more meal with them, and hopped into the kitchen to see what his lady mother had cooked for the last time. It was, however, just dished up, and the dish stood on the hearth. Then he said, "Mother, what is there to eat to-day?" "See for thyself," said his mother. So Thumbling jumped on to the hearth, and peeped into the dish, but as he stretched his neck in too far the steam from the food caught hold of him, and carried him up the chimney. He rode about in the air on the steam for a while, until at length he sank down to the ground again. Now the little tailor was outside in the wide world, and he travelled about, and went to a master in his craft, but the food was not good enough for him. "Mistress, if you give us no better food," said Thumbling, "I will go away, and early to-morrow morning I will write with chalk on the door of your house, 'Too many potatoes, too little meat! Farewell, Mr. Potato-King.'" "What wouldst thou have forsooth, grasshopper?" said the mistress, and grew angry, and seized a dishcloth, and was just going to strike him; but my little tailor crept nimbly under a thimble, peeped out from beneath it, and put his tongue out at the mistress. She took up the thimble, and wanted to get hold of him, but little Thumbling hopped into the cloth, and while the mistress was opening it out and looking for him, he got into a crevice in the table. "Ho, ho, lady mistress," cried he, and thrust his head out, and when she began to strike him he leapt down into the drawer. At last, however, she caught him and drove him out of the house.

The little tailor journeyed on and came to a great forest, and there he fell in with a band of robbers who had a design to steal the King's treasure. When they saw the little tailor, they thought, "A little fellow like that can creep through a key-hole and serve as picklock to us." "Hollo," cried one of them, "thou giant Goliath, wilt thou go to the treasure-chamber with us? Thou canst slip thyself in and throw out the money." Thumbling reflected a while, and at length he said, "yes," and went with them to the treasure-chamber. Then he looked at the doors above and below, to see if there was any crack in them. It was not long before he espied one which was broad enough to let him in. He was therefore about to get in at once, but one of the two sentries who stood before the door, observed him, and said to the other, "What an ugly spider is creeping there; I will kill it." "Let the poor creature alone," said the other; "it has done thee no harm." Then Thumbling got safely through the crevice into the treasure-chamber, opened the window beneath which the robbers were standing, and threw out to them one thaler after another. When the little tailor was in the full swing of his work, he heard the King coming to inspect his treasure-chamber, and crept hastily into a hiding-place. The King noticed that several solid thalers were missing, but could not conceive who could have stolen them, for locks and bolts were in good condition, and all seemed well guarded. Then he went away again, and said to the sentries, "Be on the watch, some one is after the money." When therefore Thumbling recommenced his labours, they heard the money moving, and a sound of klink, klink, klink. They ran swiftly in to seize the thief, but the little tailor, who heard them coming, was still swifter, and leapt into a corner and covered himself with a thaler, so that nothing could be seen of him, and at the same time he mocked the sentries and cried, "Here am I!" The sentries ran thither, but as they got there, he had already hopped into another corner under a thaler, and was crying, "Ho, ho, here am I!" The watchmen sprang there in haste, but Thumbling had long ago got into a third corner, and was crying, "Ho, ho, here am I!" And thus he made fools of them, and drove them so long round about the treasure-chamber that they were weary and went away. Then by degrees he threw all the thalers out, dispatching the last with all his might, then hopped nimbly upon it, and flew down with it through the window. The robbers paid him great compliments. "Thou art a valiant hero," said they; "wilt thou be our captain?"

Thumbling, however, declined, and said he wanted to see the world first. They now divided the booty, but the little tailor only asked for a kreuzer because he could not carry more.

Then he once more buckled on his sword, bade the robbers goodbye, and took to the road. First, he went to work with some masters, but he had no liking for that, and at last he hired himself as man-servant in an inn. The maids, however, could not endure him, for he saw all they did secretly, without their seeing him, and he told their master and mistress what they had taken off the plates, and carried away out of the cellar, for themselves. Then said they, "Wait, and we will pay thee off!" and arranged with each other to play him a trick. Soon afterwards when one of the maids was mowing in the garden, and saw Thumbling jumping about and creeping up and down the plants, she mowed him up quickly with the grass, tied all in a great cloth, and secretly threw it to the cows. Now amongst them there was a great black one, who swallowed him down without hurting him. Down below, however, it pleased him ill, for it was quite dark, neither was any candle burning. When the cow was being milked he cried,

"Strip, strap, strull,
Will the pail soon be full?"

But the noise of the milking prevented his being understood. After this the master of the house came into the cow-byre and said, "That cow shall be killed to-morrow." Then Thumbling was so alarmed that he cried out in a clear voice, "Let me out first, for I am shut up inside her." The master heard that quite well, but did not know from whence the voice came. "Where art thou?" asked he. "In the black one," answered Thumbling, but the master did not understand what that meant, and went out.

Next morning the cow was killed. Happily Thumbling did not meet with one blow at the cutting up and chopping; he got among the sausage-meat. And when the butcher came in and began his work, he cried out with all his might, "Don't chop too deep, don't chop too deep, I am amongst it." No one heard this because of the noise of the chopping-knife. Now poor Thumbling was in trouble, but trouble sharpens the wits, and he sprang out so adroitly between the blows that none of them touched him, and he escaped with a whole skin. But still he could not get away, there was nothing for it but to let himself be thrust into a black-pudding with the bits of bacon. His quarters there were rather confined, and besides that he was hung up in the chimney to be smoked, and there time did hang terribly heavy on his hands.

At length in winter he was taken down again, as the black-pudding had to be set before a guest. When the hostess was cutting it in slices, he took care not to stretch out his head too far lest a bit of it should be cut off; at last he saw his opportunity, cleared a passage for himself, and jumped out.

The little tailor, however, would not stay any longer in a house where he fared so ill, so at once set out on his journey again. But his liberty did not last long. In the open country he met with a fox who snapped him up in a fit of absence. "Hollo, Mr. Fox," cried the little tailor, "it is I who am sticking in your throat, set me at liberty again." "Thou art right," answered the fox. "Thou art next to nothing for me, but if thou wilt promise me the fowls in thy father's yard I will let thee go." "With all my heart," replied Thumbling. "Thou shalt have all the cocks and hens, that I promise thee." Then the fox let him go again, and himself carried him home. When the father once more saw his dear son, he willingly gave the fox all the fowls which he had. "For this I likewise bring thee a handsome bit of money," said Thumbling, and gave his father the kreuzer which he earned on his travels.

"But why did the fox get the poor chickens to eat?" "Oh, you goose, your father would surely love his child far more than the fowls in the yard!"

Next Tale:
Fitcher's Bird

Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. Household Tales. Margaret Hunt, translator. London: George Bell, 1884, 1892. 2 volumes.


From stories current in the districts of the Maine, Hesse, and Paderborn, which reciprocally complete each other. A continuation or special combination of the detached stories, which belong to this group, contains the story of Thumbling (No. 37), see Pröhle's Kindermärchen No. 30. Bechstein, p. 131. The Thumbling in Carol Stahl's stories also belong to this group. Compare in the Tabart Collection, The Life and Adventures of Torn Thumb, 3 37-52 (see further on). A Danish story similar in substance is given by Nyerup (Morskabsläsning, pp. 238, 239), Svend Tommling, a being not larger than a thumb, wishes to marry a woman three ells and three quarters high. He comes into the world with a hat on his head and sword at his side, drives the plough, and is caught by a landed proprietor who keeps him in his snuff-box; he springs out and falls on a little pig, which becomes his riding-horse. The Greeks have similar stories of little Thumbs. It is related of Philytas, a poet of Cos, that he wore lead in the soles of his shoes to prevent his being carried away by the wind; of Archestratus, that when he was captured by the enemy, and placed in the scales, he only weighed as much as an obolus. Comp. Athenaeus, 12, 77, in Schweighäuser, 4. 551, 552. Aelian, Var. 9. 14; the Grecian Anthology also (2. 350. LXV. Jacob's Tempe, 2, 7) furnishes us with a contribution--

Plötzlich erhoben yam leisesten Hauch des lispelnden Westwinds [1],
stieg jüngst, leichter als Spren, Markos zum Aether hinauf.
Und er hätte die Luft mit rauschender Eile durchsegelt,
hätte der Spinne Geweb nicht ihm die Füsse verstrickt,
Als er nun hier fünf Tag und Nächte gehangen, ergriff er
einen der Fäden und stieg langsam zur Erde herab."

The following, too, are also stories which belong to this group. A certain man was so thin of body that he could jump through the eye of a needle. Another crept nimbly on to the spider's web, which was hanging in the air, and danced skilfully upon it until a spider came, which spun a thread round his neck and throttled him with it. A third was able to pierce a sun-mote with his head, and pass his whole body through it. A fourth was in the habit of riding on an ant, but the ant threw him off and trampled him to death with one foot. A fifth was on one occasion blowing up the fire, and, as in our story, flew up the chimney with the smoke. A sixth was lying by the side of a sleeping man, and as the latter breathed rather heavily, was blown out of the window. Finally a seventh was so small that he dared not go near any one for tear of being drawn in to his nose with the air when he breathed.

In Eucharius Eyering's Sprichwörter, 1601, a spider relates,

"Einsmals fieng ich em Schneider stolz [2],
der war so schwer als Lautenholz,
der mit eim Schebhut in die Wett
vom Himmel rab her fallen thet.
Er wär auch wohl darinnen blieben,
niemand hat in heraus getrieben;
fiel in mein Garn, drin hangen blieb,
nicht raus kunt komn, war mir nicht lieb,
dass auch der Schebhut ohngefehr
neun Tag ehe rabher kam dann er."

In an Austrian popular book, we have Hansel, who is as tall as thumb, with a beard of an ell in length (Linz, 1815). Modern as this version is, there are still some genuine features in it. He hides himself with his father and mother in the hollow tooth of a whale (see later the Servian story of The Bear's Son), and is found there. He terrifies a gambler, who is exclaiming," May the Devil take me," by hopping out of the chimney on to the seat by the fire all covered with soot, and crying, "Here am I." He sets a plate of peas at night before the door of the innkeeper's daughter's lover, which make him fall with a great noise. When she wants to revenge herself for it, and strews the thorns of some briars about her room for him to walk on, he sees them, picks them up, and puts them in her bed. He has himself placed in a horse's ear, and gives out that it is a horse that speaks; then he escapes by springing into a cheese full of holes, and is thrown out of the window with it.

1: Suddenly raised by the softest breath of the murmuring west wind, Markos, lighter than chaff, mounted not long ago together. And he would have sailed through the air with intoxicating swiftness, if his feet had not caught in a spider's web. When he had hung in it for five days and nights, he seized one of the threads and slowly descended to earth.

2: Once did I catch a tailor proud,
Heavy he was as elder-wood,
From Heaven above he'd run a race,
With an old straw hat to this place,
In Heaven he might have stayed no doubt,
For no one wished to turn him out.
He fell in my web, hung in a knot,
Could not get out. I liked it not
That e'en the straw hat, safe and sound
Nine days ere him came to the ground.

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