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The Fairy Tales of Joseph Jacobs


Return to European Folk and Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs

A WOMAN was once stringing beans in her kitchen, and she thought to herself:

"Oh, why have I not got a little baby boy; if I had only one as big as one of these beans or as big as my thumb I should be content. How I would love it, and dress it, and talk to it."

As she was speaking thus to herself and finishing off the beans, suddenly she thought they all turned into little baby boys, jumping and writhing about. She was so startled and afraid that she shook out her apron, in which they all lay, into a big bowl of water with which she was going to wash the beans. And then she hid her head in her apron so as not to see what happened; and after a while she looked out from under her apron and looked at the bowl, and there were all the little boys floating and drowned, except one little boy at the top. And she took pity on him and drew him out of the bowl; then she showed him to her husband when he came home.

"We have always wanted a boy," she said to him, "even if it were not bigger than our thumbs, and here we have him."

So they took him and dressed him up in a little doll's dress and made much of him; and he learnt to talk, but he never grew any bigger than their thumbs; and so they called him Thumbkin.

One day the man had to go down into the field, and he said to his wife:

"My dear, I am going to get ready the horse and cart, and then I am going down to the field to reap, and just at eleven o'clock I want you to drive the cart down for me."

"Isn't that just like a man?" said his wife. "I suppose you'll want your dinner at twelve, and how do you expect me to get it ready if I have to drive your horse and cart down to the field and then have to trudge back on my ten toes and get your dinner ready? What do you think I am made of?"

"Well, it has to be done," said the man, "even if dinner has to be late."

So they commenced quarrelling, till Thumbkin called out:

"Leave it to me, Father; leave it to me."

"Why, what can you do?" asked the man.

"Well," said Thumbkin, "if mother will only put me in Dobbin's ear, I can guide him down to the field as well as she could."

At first they laughed, but then they thought they would try. So the man went off to the field, and at eleven o'clock the woman put Thumbkin into the horse's right ear; and he immediately called out, Gee!"

And the horse began to move. And as it went on towards the field Thumbkin kept calling out:

"Right! Left! Left! Right!" and so on till they got near the field.

Now it happened that two men were coming that way, and they saw a horse and cart coming to wards them, with nobody on it, and yet the horse was picking his way and turning the corners just as if somebody was guiding him. So they followed the horse and cart till they got to the field, when they saw the man take Thumbkin out of the horse's ear and stroke him and thank him. They looked at one another and said:

"That lad is a wonder; if we could exhibit him we would make our fortunes."

So the men went up to the man and said:

"Will you sell that lad?"

But the man said:

"No, not for a fortune; he's the light of our life."

But Thumbkin, who was seated on the man's shoulder, whispered to him:

"Sell me and I'll soon get back."

So the man after a time agreed to sell Thumbkin for a great deal of money, and the men took him away with them.

"How shall we carry him?" said they.

But Thumbkin called out:

"Put me on the rim of your hat and I shall be able to see the country."

And that is what they did.

After a time as it got dusk the men sat down by the wayside to eat their supper. And the man took off his hat and put it on the ground, when Thumbkin jumped off and hid himself in the crevice of a tree.

When they had finished their supper the men looked about to find Thumbkin, but he was not there. And after a while they had to give up the search and go away without him.

When they had gone three robbers came and sat down near the three where Thumbkin was and began to speak of their plans to rob the Squire's house.

"The only way," said one, "would be to break down the door of the pantry which they always lock at night."

"But," said another, "that'll make so much noise it will wake up the whole house."

"Then one of us," said the first robber, "will have to creep in through the window and unlock the door."

"But the window is too small," said the third robber; "none of us could get through it."

"But I can," called out Thumbkin.

"What is that? Who was that?" called out the robbers, who commenced thinking of running away. And then Thumbkin called out again:

"Do not be afraid, I'll not hurt you, and I can help you get into the Squire's pantry."

Then he came out of the hole in the tree, and the robbers were surprised to see how small he was. So they took him up with them to the Squire's house, and when they got there they lifted him up and put him through the window and told him to look out for the silver.

"I've found it! I've found it!" he called out at the top of his shrill voice.

"Not so loud; not so loud," said they.

"What shall I hand out first, the spoons or the ladles?" he shouted out again.

But this time the butler heard him and came down with his blunderbuss, and the robbers ran off. So when the butler opened the door Thumbkin crept out and went to the stable, and laid down to steep in a nice cozy bed of hay in the manger.

But in the morning the cows came into the stable, and one of them walked up to the manger. And what do you think she did? She swallowed the hay with little Thumbkin in it, and took him right down into her tummy.

Shortly afterwards the cows were driven out to the milking place, and the milkmaid commenced to milk the cow which had swallowed Thumbkin. And when he heard the milk rattling into the pail he called out:

"Let me out! Let me out! Let me out!"

The milkmaid was so startled to hear a voice coming from the cow that she upset the milking pail and rushed to her master, and said:

"The cow's bewitched! The cow's bewitched! She's talking through her tummy."

The farmer came and looked at the cow, and when he heard Thumbkin speaking out of her tummy he thought the milkmaid was quite right, and gave orders for the cow to be slaughtered.

And when she was cut up by the butcher he didn't want the paunch-that is the stomach- so he threw it out into the yard. And a wolf coming by swallowed the paunch and Thumbkin with it.

When he found himself again in the wolf's stomach he called out as before:

"Let me out! Let me out! Let me out!"

But the wolf said to him:

"What'll you do for me if I let you out?"

"I know a place where you can get as many chickens as you like, and if you let me out I'll show you the way."

"No, no, my fine master," said the wolf; "you can tell me where it is, and if I find you are right then I'll let you out."

So Thumbkin told him a way to his father's farm, and guided him to a hole in the larder just big enough for the wolf to get through. When he got through there were two fine fat ducks and a noble goose hung up ready for the Sunday dinner. So Mr. Wolf set to work and ate the ducks and the goose while Thumbkin kept calling out:

"Don't want any duck or geese. Let me out! Let me out!"

And when the wolf would not he called out:

"Father! Father! Mother! Mother!"

And his father and mother heard him, and they came rushing towards the larder. Then the wolf tried to get through the hole he had come through before, but he had eaten so much that he stuck there, and the farmer and his wife came up and killed him.

Then they began to cut the wolf open and Thumbkin called out:

"Be careful! Be careful! I'm here, and you'll cut me up." And he had to dodge the knife as it was coming through the wolf.

But at last the paunch of the wolf was slit open, and Thumbkin jumped out and went to his mother. And she cleansed him and dressed him in new clothes, and they sat down to supper as happy as could be. But at last the paunch of the wolf was slit open, and Thumbkin jumped out and went to his mother. And she cleansed him and dressed him in new clothes, and they sat down to supper as happy as could be.

Jacobs' Notes and References

I have followed, for the most part, Bolte's reconstruction, which practically consists of a combination of Grimm, 37 and 45. But in combining the two I have found it necessary to omit sections D and E of Bolte's formula which form the beginning of Grimm, 45, "Thumbkin as Journeyman.”

The notion of a baby the size of a doll might be regarded as "universally human"; even the Greeks knew of manikins no bigger than their thumbs and weighing not more than an obolus (Athenasus, xii., 77); there is an epigram of the same subject in the Greek Anthology, ii., 350. But the particular adventures of Thumbkin are so consistently identical throughout Europe, especially with regard to the adventures in the cow's stomach, that it is impossible to consider the stories as independent. Cosquin, 53, has more difficulty than usual in finding real parallels in the Orient. In England, of course, Thumbkin is known as Tom Thumb (see English Fairy Tales}. In the days when mythological explanations of folk-tales were popular, Gaston Paris, in a special monograph ("Petit Poucet, " Paris 1875) tried to prove that Tom Thumb was a stellar hero because his French name was given to the smallest star in the Great Bear. But it is more likely that the name came from the tale than the tale from the star.

According to Gaston Paris, the chief variants known to him were Teutonic and Slav. Those of the Roumanians, Albanians, and Greeks were drived from the Slavs. He concludes that the French form must have been borrowed from the Germans, and declares that it is not found in Italy or Spain, but Cosquin, ii., gives Basque and Catalan variants, as well as a Portuguese one, and Crane gives a Tuscan variant, 242, with other occurrences in Italy in note 3, p. 372. This only shows the danger of deciding questions of origin on an imperfect induction.

The opening is not found in Grimm; I have taken it from Andrews for which an excellent parallel is given in Crane, lxxvii., "Little Chick-pea." A similar beginning occurs in Hahn, 56, "Pepper-corn."

Jacobs, Joseph, ed. European Folk and Fairy Tales. New York: G. P Putnam's Sons, 1916.

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Page created 4/15/05; Last updated 10/22/07