for the Hop o’ My Thumb fairy tale are below. Sources have been cited in parenthetical
references, but I have not linked them directly to their full citations
which appear on the Hop o’ My Thumb Bibliography page. I have provided links back to the Annotated Hop o’ My Thumb to facilitate referencing between the notes and the tale.
Special thanks to Anne Markel, a freelance writer & amateur folklorist, for providing the annotations to this tale.
1. Hop O' My Thumb/Little Thumb: Although the title "petit poucet" translates more literally to "little thumb," the name Hop O' My Thumb seems to have entered the English translation accidentally, perhaps through some translator who may have confused it with the story "Tom Thumb" (Philip and Simborowski, p. 145). According to the OED, the phrase, an abbreviation of "hop on my thumb" made its first appearance in the English language in 1530, making it far older than the actual tale (OED p. 784). Philip states that "eight-two versions of this story have been collected form oral storytellers in France " (Philip and Simborowski, pg. 145).
2. Fagot-makers: In some versions of the stories, they are woodcutters; in either event, subsistence workers. Return to place in story.
3. The eldest was but ten years old, and the youngest only seven: The presence of several sets of twins in the family would have been highly significant. In some cultures, twins are regarded as "regrettable accidents of nature" (Biedermann, p. 359) but may as well be an auspicious omen: Beidermann goes on to say that "A pair of male twins was sometimes viewed as a divine recognition of great piety" (ibid., p 359). Return to place in story.
4. Seven children (sons): Besides the number three, seven is one of the most magically-charged numbers occurring in folklore and mythology. The number has numerous astronomical associations (the seven planets, the seven days of the moon phase) and various religious overtones (the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, the seven emblems of the Buddha); in addition, it is significant in that "In Arabic and other folklore customs, seven had protective power, associated particularly with childbirth" (Tressider, p. 434). Return to place in story.
5. Always in the wrong: The motif of youngest child as simpleton is a common one in fairy tales. His (or her) eventual triumph over difficulties can be read as the triumph of the human personality in its quest for maturation and integration; prior to that, "On the simplest and most direct level, fairy tales in which the hero is the youngest and most inept offer the child the consolation and hope for the future he needs most" (Bettelheim, p. 104). Return to place in story.
6. Thou seest plainly that we are not able to keep our children: In his analysis of the story Hansel and Gretel, Bettelheim points out that " the folk fairy tale conveys and important, though unpleasant, truth: poverty and deprivation do not improve man's character, but rather make him prone to embark on evil deeds" (Bettelheim, p.159). Return to place in story.
7. Lose them in the wood: The forest, often "inhabited by mysterious, usually threatening creatures" is a symbol of "all the dangers with which young people must deal if they are to survive their rites of passage and become mature, responsible adults" (Biedermann, p.141). Return to place in story.
8. She at last consented: This is a reversal of the motif, found, for instance, in Hansel and Gretel in which it is the mother-later the stepmother-who convinces her husband to abandon the children. Return to place in story.
9. Cry: Bettelheim writes that "There is no greater threat in life than that we will be deserted, left all alone" (Bettelheim p. 145). By continuing to let his brothers cry, Little Thumb is once again letting his muteness stand in place of his cleverness; thus far, all of his work has been internal. The challenges that come after this point are-even more terrifyingly-contained in the external, harder-to-control world. Return to place in story.
10. I will lead you home again: Although he is the most maligned of the children, Little Thumb is the only one of the brothers who takes any action toward saving themselves. Return to place in story.
11. Wolves: When they appear in fairy tales, wolves are nearly always menacing. Here, the imaginary wolves area accused of the same crime the actual ogre will try to perpetrate later-that of eating the children whole. Return to place in story.
12. Who love wives to speak well, but who think those very importunate who are continually doing so: The humor of this passage aside, this exchange may also illustrate the parents' failings as adults-their inability to care for their children, to collect on old debts, to achieve a balanced marital state. Little Thumb's eventual success in the story also helps to elevate his parents' own station in life, and presumably, contributes to the enhancement of their own maturity. Return to place in story.
13. Come in and let me clean thee: In the early part of the story, its elements-the two trips to the woods, the white pebbles, the bread crumbs eaten by birds-are exactly as occur in Hansel and Gretel. Here, as in that story, "The children's successful return home does not solve anything" (Bettelheim, p. 160). The family are still poor, Little Thumb has yet to gain his parent's favor, and so they must be brought back into the wood to face their challenges again. Return to place in story.
14. Carroty: Redheads have a long history of symbolism attached to their hair color, most generally in the category of "demonic associations" (Tresidder, p. 220). Return to place in story.
15. Lose them again: That the scenario is repeated could be read as the child's need to master not only the internal world, but also the external-as much scarier place sometimes, with circumstances and events beyond one's control. Return to place in story.
16. The birds had come and had eaten it up, every bit: In some fairy tales birds function as helpers, are aligned with divine powers (Freiberg, p 23), or grant special powers to those who understand their language (Bettelheim, p. 31). Here, to the misfortune of Little Thumb and his brothers, they function solely as the embodiment of indifferent, external nature. Return to place in story.
17. Terribly high wind: Wind in this passage is not only an atmospheric device, lending a depth of detail to the narrative which is otherwise lacking in most places, but can also be understood as an ill-omened presence, for winds "are not merely currents of air but also supernatural manifestations of divine intentions" (Bettelheim, p. 382). Return to place in story.
18. Top of a tree: The association of trees with worldly knowledge is an old one, predating even the Biblical era. The benefits (knowledge) that Little Thumb's climb bring unfold only slowly, as at first his glimpse of the light in the forest seems to bring him and his brothers much deeper into danger. Return to place in story.
19. The woman began to weep: Nothing about the wife's appearance or demeanor suggests that she is monstrous herself. On the contrary, her kindness may reflect the loving aspect of the boys' own parents, in contrast with their "ogre-ish" side-the side that would abandon them in the forest. Return to place in story.
20. Ogre: The word itself was coined by Perrault (OED, p 1205). That the presence of an ogre in the story is no more remarkable to the boys than the presence of poverty or breadcrumbs-in other words, the coexistence of the mundane with the fantastic-is an example of the principle of one-dimensionality of fairy tales (see Luthi, The European Folktale: Form and Function, for a discussion of this structure). Return to place in story.
21. Hid them under the bed: According to Stith Thompson, there are "a large number of instances where the hero is helped by the ogre's wife or child (Thompson, p. 343). Return to place in story.
23. They would be delicate eating: The fear of being devoured is surely one of a child's most exaggerated fears. By besting the ogre (or the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk, or the witch in Hansel and Gretel) the young hero learns that his worst fears will not, in fact, come true. Return to place in story.
24. They could not eat a bit: While the boys' lack of appetite is understandable, there is also an ancient and common prohibition in folklore, myth and legend against partaking of food while in the supernatural world. Return to place in story.
25. Suck their blood: This detailed description of the ogre young is in sharp contrast to the rest of the tale, in which the appearance of the characters is minimally noted, if at all. Perhaps the daughters' general unsavoryness, along with their nascent vampirism, is offered as a way to lessen the horror of Little Thumb's assigning them to slaughter. Return to place in story.
26. Taking his brothers' bonnets and his own: In the Thompson Motif-Index of Folk Literature, this is K1611, substituted caps cause ogre to kill his own children, of the type, "Deceiver Fall Into Own Trap." Return to place in story.
27. Not dreaming after what manner she should dress them: The French verb habiller can mean, as in English, to put on clothing or to clean and truss, making this a rare instance in which a pun or double entendre translates successfully across two languages (Larousse, p. 490). Return to place in story.
28. Boots of seven leagues: The magical objects that appear in fairy tales often have a specific, and limited, function: here, they allow the wearer to cross vast distances quickly, which is an advantage to the ogre in catching up with the boys, but they are of no assistance to him beyond that and do not, for instance, aid him in locating the children once he has caught up to them. Return to place in story.
29. Greatly fatigued the wearer: However, no such difficulties seem to trouble Little Thumb once he has gained possession of the boots. Return to place in story.
30. Not so frightened as his brothers: At this point in the tale, Little Thumb's transformation from simple-seeming to clever and competent is complete. Whereas at the beginning of the story he had to think through the night to devise a plan to save himself and his brothers, here he is able to think on his feet and concocts the scheme which will free them from the ogre's threats and garner him his fortune, as well. Return to place in story.
32. You see I have them on: There is a parallel here between Little Thumb's earlier deception using the daughters' crowns and this one, using another article of clothing. Return to place in story.
33. There are many people who do not agree in this circumstance: This tale seems to contain its own alternate endings. Perhaps this is for the benefit of the listener: if we think Little Thumb gained his wealth through deception we might merely think him clever; if he can be shown to have used the purloined boots for the benefit of the whole community, we will think him both clever and deserving, when he returns with great wealth. Return to place in story.
34. Messenger: Note that the once puny and speechless child has grown into a military worker who makes his fortune in the business of language-messages-and how successfully his personality has matured and developed. Return to place in story.
35. Made his court to perfection: Bruno Bettelheim states that "No child believes that one day he will become ruler over a kingdom other than the realm of his own life." We leave Little Thumb as he has gained this mastery-and happiness-within that realm, showing how successfully he has integrated the trials and the lessons offered by his story. Return to place in story.
Special thanks to Anne Markel, a freelance writer & amateur folklorist, for providing the annotations to this tale.