The story of Thumbling, as told by the Grimm brothers, is a tale of a couple that very much wanted a child and said that they wouldn’t even mind if he was no larger than a thumb. Six months later the wife gives birth to a thumb sized child and names him Thumbling. There are several stories of thumb sized (or smaller!) children in fairy tales. The most famous in recent times being Thumbelina, written by Hans Christian Anderson and animated into a movie in 1994. Another would be the story of Tom Thumb, the first written fairy tale in England, published in 1621, with mentions in other works that predate that by another century at least. His multiple and colorful adventures are as famous as his ties to the Arthurian legend. The Grimm’s version is not as well known even though there are sources that claim their version predates them all.

In the Grimm version of the tale, a boy the size of a thumb is born and the parents swear to love him always. As he grows (in maturity, but alas not very much in stature) he decides he wants to help his father with his work. He tells him that he will bring a work cart with horse to his father in the woods where he is cutting up firewood. The boy has his mother bridle the horse and then climbs into the horse’s ear where he sits and whispers to the horse telling him where to go. On the way to his father two men see a horse and cart but no man guiding it and hear a voice that seems to come from no where talking to the horse. They follow the cart and find the father in the woods helping his son out of the horse’s ear. The men are amazed and ask if they can buy Thumbling as they think they can get a lot of money showing off a child like that at a fair. The father refuses but Thumbling gets him to change his mind. They pay for the boy and he travels with them until nightfall and then run and hides from them down a mouse hole where they cannot follow. Eventually the men must give up and go home, denying them their chance to turn the boy into a freak show for money.

Thumbling finds a place to sleep for the night inside the shell of a snail and that’s when he hears two robbers walking by talking about their plans to rob the pastor’s house. He comes out to them and offers to help since he was small enough to slip inside and hand out whatever they wanted. They take him to the pastor’s house and let him in a window and he starts to shout asking them what of the things inside they wanted. He shouts louder and louder and eventually a maid of the house stirs and the robbers run away, denying them of their chance to use the boy as an accomplice to rob a rich man’s house.

Thumbling sneaked away and hid in the granary to pass the rest of the night. Unfortunately in the morning the cow was let in and ate the hay Thumbling was laying in, and Thumbling with it! He starts to shout again urging them to feed the cow no more as it was crushing him inside of the cow’s stomach. The maid became frightened and fetched the pastor who determined the cow was possessed and needed to be killed. Just as Thumbling was about to work his way out of the stomach a wolf ran up and ate the part of the cow Thumbling was in and ran away again, with Thumbling now inside the wolf. The small boy did not panic but instead urged the wolf to go to a place he knew where there was lots of food and no one to guard it. He tricked the wolf into going right back to Thumbling’s home where his parents heard his cries and killed the wolf, freeing Thumbling. Thus Thumbling was reunited with his family and was safe once more.

In stories of thumb sized children they are forced, by their diminutive stature, to face bigger problems than a child of normal size. Yet they succeed in their endeavors, often against mounting odds. These are classic tales of the underdog, an extreme take on David and Goliath, and in this tale there is a little bit of the story of Jonah thrown in as well. These stories show that, when it comes to facing brute strength and evil intentions, your biggest strengths are your wit and cleverness, your ability to think on your feet, and to not panic when things go terribly wrong. They show that goodness and good intentions will win out even in a case of impossibly stacked odds and seemingly insurmountable circumstances. In fairy tales like these size does not matter, literally.

One Response to Thumbling

  1. Tif
    8:31 pm on January 12th, 2011

    Love the moral . . . size does not matter! Good one! 🙂

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