Rumpelstiltskin by George Halkett

Tom Tit Tot: An Essay on Savage Philosophy in Folk-Tale by Edward Clodd

Rumpelstiltskin by Helen Stratton

Tom Tit Tot:
An Essay on Savage Philosophy in Folk-Tale
by Edward Clodd

Table of Contents



The Story of Tom Tit Tot

Variations of Tom Tit Tot

On the Diffusion of Stories

Incidental Features of Stories

Barbaric Ideas About Names

Magic Through Tangible Things

Magic Through Intangible Things


Words of Power

The Name and the Soul


The Annotated Rumpelstiltskin

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On the Diffusion of Stories

HERE we may interpose a brief example from the Welsh group, as bearing on the origin of the alliterative name 'Tom Tit Tot.'

A farmer's wife at Llanlestin often lent her gradell and padell (the flat iron on which the dough is put for baking, and the pan which is put over it) to a fairy, who, on returning the articles, always brought a loaf of bread in acknowledgment. One day she begged the loan of a troell-bach, or spinning-wheel, whereupon the woman asked her name, which the fairy refused to tell. So she was tracked and watched at her spinning, when she was heard singing to the whirr of the wheel--

'Little does she know
That Trwtyn-Tratyn
Is my name.'

In an Irish variant, to which reference occurs in Taylor's translation of Grimm's Rumpelstiltskin, the fairy sings--

'Little does my lady wot
That my name is Trit a Trot.' [a]

As 'Trwtyn-Tratyn' is not Welsh, there remains for the curious the search after the original source and mode of transmission of the Suffolk tale. That question is obviously bound up with the general subject of the origin and migration of stories, a question to which no answer is likely to be forthcoming in the absence of documents. In some quarters high hopes were indulged that the ingathering of the variants of one group of stories, and the framing of charts of its geographical distribution, would enable us to trace the parent type to its original home. Cinderella' was chosen, and by the application of great labour, illumined by scholarship, Miss Roalfe Cox prepared three hundred and forty-five abstracts of as many versions of that familiar ale, adding tables of areas in which they are found. The result of all the toil and talent thus employed was to leave the question exactly where we found it. In Mr. Andrew Lang's words: 'There is not a sign of her birth-country on Cinderella; not a mark to show that she came from India, or Babylonia, or Egypt, or any other old cradle of civilisation.'

That a large number of stories have originated in definite centres, and have been carried from place to place, 'goes without saying.' Racial intercourse was already active in the later Neolithic age, and East gave to West of its intellectual, as well as of its material, products. 'Folk-tales might well be scattered abroad in the same manner by merchantmen gossiping over their Khan fires, by Sidonian mariners chatting in the sounding loggia of an Homeric house, by the slave dragged from his home and passed from owner to owner across Africa or Europe, by the wife who, according to primitive law, had to be chosen from an alien clan.' [b] There is weight, also, in Mr. Hindes Groome's arguments on behalf of those ubiquitous nomads, the gypsies, who, especially in past times, had every facility for diffusing their stories among all conditions of men. [c] On the other hand, the fundamental idea at the core of certain stories is explained by the fact that at corresponding levels of culture the human mind accounts for the same things in much the same way. Ideas are universal; incidents are local. For example, the conceptions of a united heaven and earth forced asunder by some defiant hero so that light may be given to the children of men, and of a sky-piercing tree whereby heaven can be reached, have given rise to myths and folk-tales 'from China to Peru.'

All that we can say by way of approach to the solution of a question whose settlement would throw light on intercourse between peoples, is that where coincidences in stories extend to minute detail, a common origin may be assumed, but that where only a like idea is present as the chief motif without correspondences in incidental details, independent origin is probable. Strabosays that 'in the childhood of the world men, like children, had to be taught by tales';[d] and, certainly, their invention is the monopoly of no one race.


[a] See Note to Gouzenbach's, Sicilianische Marchen, p. 81.
Return to place in essay.

[b] Introduction by Andrew Lang to Mrs. Margaret Hunt's translation of Grimm's Kinder- und Hausmärchen, p. xiv.
Return to place in essay.

[c] National Review, July 1888. 'Gypsy Folk.Tales: A Missing Link.'
Return to place in essay.

[d] I. 2, 8.
Return to place in essay.

Clodd, Edward. Tom Tit Tot: An Essay on Savage Philosophy in Folk-Tale. London: Duckworth and Co. 1898.

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