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Thumbling and Thumbling's Travels
Folk tale
NameThumbling and Thumbling's Travels
Aarne–Thompson groupingATU 700 ("Tom Thumb")
Country Germany
Published in Grimm's Fairy Tales

"Thumbling" and "Thumbling's Travels" (also known as "Thumbling as Journeyman") are two German fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm in Grimm's fairy tales in 1819 (KHM 37 and 45). [1]


The two stories do not feature the same character. The original German names for the two characters are "Daumsdick" (Literally, "Thumb-thick") for the former, and "Daumerling" for the latter. They are related to the English Tom Thumb, whose title the Grimms' stories often share when translated into English.

Both tales are categorized as Aarne-Thompson type 700 ("Tom Thumb"). The tale "Thumbling also contains an episode of type 41 ("Overeating in the Pantry"). [2]



In the first story, "Thumbling", [3] a poor childless peasant couple wishes for a child "no matter how small" aloud. Seven months later the wife has a small child "no longer than a thumb" which they call "Thumbling" and who becomes a "wise and nimble creature." Thumbling as he grows wishes to help his father in the chores so one day asks if he can lead their horse to where his father is working by sitting in the horse's ear and giving it directions. As Thumbling performs this chore, two strange men notice the horse being led by a loud voice, and when they find out the voice belongs to a person sitting in the horse's ear, ask the peasant if they can buy Thumbling to "make a fortune" in exhibiting the little man. Thumbling convinces the peasant to take the money and leaves with the men by sitting on the brim of one of the men's hats. Then after a while Thumbling tricks the men into letting him down and he goes to hide in a mouse hole.

Later in the night Thumbling tries to sleep in a snail shell but is awakened by the sound of robbers plotting to rob a pastor's house. Thumbling yells out to them to take him along and he will help them rob it, by going into the house and handing things out to them. The robbers agree to carry him to the pastor and Thumbling makes much noise in the house pretending to help the robbers steal. Thumbling wakes people up by yelling things like "What do you want? Do you want everything...?" making the robbery very obvious. A maid wakes up and scares off the robbers but does not see Thumbling. Thumbling gets a good night sleep in the hay. However, in the morning the maid feeds the hay that he was sleeping in to the cow. Thumbling begins to yell from the cow's stomach but the pastor thinks that an "evil spirit" had entered the cow, and has it killed. The cow's stomach is thrown into a dung heap, and before Thumbling climbs all the way out of the stomach, a wolf eats it. Thumbling, now inside of the wolf's stomach, persuades the wolf to take him home to his parents' on pretense of eating everything there. His parents kill the wolf to get Thumbling out and promise never to sell him again, not for "all the riches in the world." They give him food, drink and new clothes.

Thumbling's Travels

In the second story, "Thumbling's Travels" (alternately translated as "Thumbling as Journeyman" [4] ), there are similarities and differences. In this version he is a thumb-sized son of a tailor, and sometimes called a little tailor. Thumbling sets out into the world to seek his fortune. Before his departure, he is given a darning needle sword by his father and a final meal by his mother. The steam from the cooking pot carries Thumbling up the chimney and away from home. The little man goes to the house of a master craftsman, seeking to apprentice with him, but is displeased by the food there. He taunts the mistress of the house, who proceeds to chase him about the tabletop with a dishcloth seeking to strike or catch him like an insect. She eventually drives him from the house.

In the forest, Thumbling is found by a band of robbers, who recruit him help them rob the king's treasure chamber. Sneaking past the sentries, Thumbling begins to toss coins from the chamber window to the robbers. This perplexes the king and guards, as they cannot find the hidden thief but are certain they are being robbed. Thumbling mocks them as they chase the invisible intruder about the treasure chamber. He eventually rides down with the last of the coins and escapes. The robbers offer to make him their captain but he declines.

Thumbling next hires himself out as a servant at an inn but quickly annoys the maids, for he secretly watches them and reports back to the innkeeper when they steal from the food cellar. To get revenge, a maid mows him up with a patch of grass and feeds it to the cows. Thumbling is (like in the other version of the story) devoured by a cow and befuddles the innkeeper when his voice emanates from within it. The cow is slaughtered and though Thumbling tries to escape from its innards, he ends up being cooked into a black pudding with the meat. The pudding is eventually cut into slices by the mistress of the house and Thumbling once again barely escapes with his life.

Resuming his journey, Thumbling is next snapped up by a fox in the woods but manages to get himself caught in its craw. Thumbling convinces the fox to release him and rides the animal back to his father's house, done exploring the world. His father is so pleased to see him, he allows the fox to eat the chickens in the henhouse, for "he would surely love his child more than the fowls in the yard."

Textual information

The original KHM 37 "Von der Serviette, dem Kanonenhütlein und dem Horn" (first edition, 1812) was replaced by "Daumesdick" in the 2nd edition (1819). [5] [6] KHM 45 was originally titled "Des Schneiders Daumerling Wanderschaft" ("The Wandering of Thumbling, the Tailor's Son"), [7] [lower-alpha 1] but shortened to "Daumerlings Wanderschaft" in the 4th edition (1940). [9] [10]



KHM 37 Daumesdick ("Thumbling") and KHM 45 Daumerlings Wanderschaft ("Thumbling's Travels") are both categorized as tale type ATU 700, under the general title "Tom Thumb" type tales. [5] [9] [11] The Grimms also noted that the two belonged to the "same class of fables". [12]

Tom Thumb character

Edgar Taylor who translated Daumesdick as "Tom Thumb" in 1823, [13] pointed out that the character is paralleled in English folklore by Tom Thumb as well as Tam Lin. [8]

Medical aspects

Thumberling was born after only 7 months since his mother fell ill, but his premature birth notwithstanding, it has been pointed out that there was a German superstition that 7-month gestation resulted in the birth of a child with more vigor, as described under the entry "Sieben monatlich" (Seven Monthly) in Johann Heinrich Zedler's 18th century Great Universal Lexicon. [14]

Mythological parallel

Taylor (1823) commented that in (a version of) the German tale "Des Schneiders Daumerling Wanderschaft" ("The Travels of the Tailor's Thumbling"), the protagonist's first venture is into "the recesses of a glove". This, he points out, is reminiscent of the Norse deity Thor's experience of lodging in the giant Skrýmir's glove. [8] A more recent scholar (Spooner, 1976) has also noted: "Another person who slept like that in the thumb of a great glove, was Tom Thumb, who got the nickname 'Thumb', and in Grimm's tales, Daum, Daumling, Daumesdick, or even Dumling", again making the connection to Skrýmir's glove. [15]

The term Däumling in German refers to the thumb-piece of a glove in the sartorial or glove-making profession, as has been pointed out in this connection. [16]

Explanatory notes

  1. "The Travels of the Tailor's Thumbling" as given by Edgar Taylor in his notes (1823), [8] might be a closer rendering.

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  1. 1 2 Ashliman, D. L. "37. Thumbthick". Folklore and Mythology Electronic Texts.
  2. Ashliman, D. L. (2020). "Grimm Brothers' Children's and Household Tales (Grimms' Fairy Tales)". University of Pittsburgh.
  3. Hunt tr. (1884) "37. Thumbling", pp. 153–160, 387.
  4. Hunt tr. (1884) "45. Thumbling as Journeyman". pp. 174–177, 292–394.
  5. 1 2 Uther, Hans-Jörg (2013). Handbuch zu den "Kinder- und Hausmärchen" der Brüder Grimm: Entstehung - Wirkung - Interpretation (2 ed.). Walter de Gruyter. pp. 90–92. ISBN   978-3-110-31763-3.
  6. Crane (1917), p. 358.
  7. Zipes tr. (2014), "The Wandering of Thumbling, the Tailor's Son" pp. 143–146.
  8. 1 2 3 E. Taylor tr. (1823), pp. 222–223.
  9. 1 2 3 Uther, Hans-Jörg (2013). Handbuch zu den "Kinder- und Hausmärchen" der Brüder Grimm: Entstehung - Wirkung - Interpretation (2 ed.). Walter de Gruyter. p. 106. ISBN   978-3-110-31763-3.
  10. Crane (1917), p. 372.
  11. The ATU general title is "Däumling" [9] (German) and "Tom Thumb" in English. [1]
  12. Hunt tr. (1884), 1: 387.
  13. E. Taylor tr. (1823) "Tom Thumb", pp. 57–68.
  14. Schmiesing (2014), p. 152.
  15. Spooner, B. C. (1976), "Jack and Tom in 'Drolls' and Chapbooks", Folklore, 87 (1): 106, JSTOR   1259505
  16. Murray, John Clark (1874). The Ballads and Songs of Scotland: In View of Their Influence on the Character of the People. London: Macmillan and Company. p.  36.


Further reading