Tom Thumb

Last updated
Tom Thumb
Tom Thumb Adventures.jpg
Frontispiece, 4F
Folk tale
NameTom Thumb
Data
Aarne-Thompson grouping700
Country England
Published in English Fairy Tales
The Classic Fairy Tales
Related Hop o' My Thumb
Thumbelina
Thumbling
Thumbling as Journeyman

Tom Thumb (Welsh : Bawd Tom) is a character of English folklore. The History of Tom Thumb was published in 1621 and was the first fairy tale printed in English. Tom is no bigger than his father's thumb, and his adventures include being swallowed by a cow, tangling with giants, and becoming a favourite of King Arthur. The earliest allusions to Tom occur in various 16th-century works such as Reginald Scot's Discovery of Witchcraft (1584), where Tom is cited as one of the supernatural folk employed by servant maids to frighten children. Tattershall in Lincolnshire, England, reputedly has the home and grave of Tom Thumb. [1]

Contents

Aside from his own tales, Tom figures in Henry Fielding's 1730 play Tom Thumb , a companion piece to his The Author's Farce . It was expanded into a single 1731 piece titled The Tragedy of Tragedies, or the History of Tom Thumb the Great .

In the mid-18th century, books began to be published specifically for children (some with their authorship attributed to "Tommy Thumb"), and by the mid-19th century, Tom was a fixture of the nursery library. The tale took on moral overtones and some writers, such as Charlotte Mary Yonge, cleansed questionable passages. Dinah Mulock, however, refrained from scrubbing the tale of its vulgarities. Tom Thumb's story has been adapted into several films.

History

Grave of Tom Thumb in Tattershall, Lincolnshire. The grave of Tom Thumb in Tattershall.JPG
Grave of Tom Thumb in Tattershall, Lincolnshire.

Tom Thumb may have been a real person born around 1519, as there is a grave purporting to be his. It is set into the floor adjacent to the font of the main chapel in Holy Trinity Church at Tattershall, Lincolnshire, UK. The inscription reads: "T. THUMB, Aged 101 Died 1620". The grave measures just 16" (40 cm) in length.

The earliest surviving text is a 40-page booklet printed in London for Thomas Langley in 1621 entitled The History of Tom Thumbe, the Little, for his small stature surnamed, King Arthur's Dwarfe: whose Life and adventures containe many strange and wonderfull accidents, published for the delight of merry Time-spenders. The author is presumed to be Londoner Richard Johnson (15791659?) because his initials appear on the last page. The only known copy is in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York. [2]

Tom was already a traditional folk character when the booklet was printed, and it is likely that printed materials circulated prior to Johnson's. [3] It is not known how much Johnson contributed to Tom's character or his adventures. William Fulke referred to Tom in 1579 in Heskins Parleament Repealed, and Thomas Nashe referred to him in 1592 in his prose satire on the vices of the age Pierce Penniless, His Supplication to the Divell. Reginald Scot listed Tom in his Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) as one of the creatures used by servant maids to frighten children, along with witches, dwarfs, elves, fairies, giants, and other supernatural folk. [2]

Title page Coryat's Crudities Coryats Crudities.jpg
Title page Coryat's Crudities

Tom was mentioned by James Field in Coryat's Crudities (1611): "Tom Thumbe is dumbe, until the pudding creepe, in which he was intomb'd, then out doth peepe." The incident of the pudding was the most popular in connection with the character. It is alluded to in Ben Jonson's masque of the Fortunate Isles: "Thomas Thumb in a pudding fat, with Doctor Rat." [3]

Richard Johnson's History may have been in circulation as early as this date because the title page woodblock in the 1621 edition shows great wear. Johnson himself makes it clear in the preface that Tom was long known by "old and young... Bachelors and Maids... and Shepheard and the young Plow boy". [2]

The tale belongs to the swallow cycle. Tom is swallowed by a cow, a giant, a fish, and by a miller and a salmon in some extensions to Johnson's tale. In this respect, the tale shows little imaginative development. Tom is delivered from such predicaments rather crudely, but editors of later dates found ways to make his deliverance more seemly and he rarely passed beyond the mouth. [2]

Tom's tale was reprinted countless times in Britain, and was being sold in America as early as 1686. A metrical version was published in 1630 entitled Tom Thumbe, His Life and Death: Wherein is declared many Maruailous Acts of Manhood, full of wonder, and strange merriments: Which little Knight liued in King Arthurs time, and famous in the Court of Great Brittaine. The book was reprinted many times, and two more parts were added to the first around 1700. The three parts were reprinted many times. [3]

Frontispiece The Tragedy of Tragedies FrontispieceTragedyOfTragedies.png
Frontispiece The Tragedy of Tragedies

In 1711, William Wagstaffe published A Comment upon The History of Tom Thumbe. In 1730, English dramatist Henry Fielding used Tom Thumb as the central figure of a play by that name, which he rewrote in 1731 as the farce The Tragedy of Tragedies, or the History of Tom Thumb the Great. The play is filled with 18th-century political and literary satire and is intended as a parody of heroic tragedies. The title of "The Great" may be intended as a reference to politician Sir Robert Walpole who was often called "The Great."

Henry Fielding's tragedy Tom Thumb was the basis for an opera constructed by Kane O'Hara. Fielding's Tom is cast as a mighty warrior and a conqueror of giants, despite his stature, as well as the object of desire for many of the ladies at court. The plot is largely concerned with the various love triangles amongst the characters, who include Princess Huncamunca, giantess Glumdalca, and Queen Dollalolla (Arthur's wife in this version). Matters are complicated when Arthur awards Tom the hand of Huncamunca in marriage which results in Dollalolla and the jealous Grizzle seeking revenge. Eventually, Tom dies when swallowed by a cow, but his ghost returns. At the conclusion, Tom's ghost is killed by Grizzle and most of the cast kill each other in duels or take their own lives in grief.

Fielding's play was later adapted into a spoof on opera conventions called The Opera of Operas; or Tom Thumb the Great by playwrights Eliza Haywood and William Hatchett. This version includes a happy ending in which Tom is spat back out by the cow and the others are resurrected by Merlin's magic. This is considered to be a satirical comment on the unlikely and tacked-on nature of many happy endings in literature and drama.

Children's edition, 1888 Tom Thumb 1888.jpg
Children's edition, 1888

In the mid-18th century, books began appearing specifically for children, and Tom was cited as the author of titles such as Tommy Thumb's Song Book (1744) and Tommy Thumb's Little Story Book (c. 1760). In 1791, Joseph Ritson remarked that Tom's popularity was known far and wide: "Every city, town, village, shop, stall, man, woman, and child, in the kingdom, can bear witness to it." [2]

Tom's story was originally intended for adults, but it was relegated to the nursery by the mid-19th century. Vulgar episodes were sanitized, and moralizing colored the tale. In Charlotte Mary Yonge's 1856 adaptation, Tom resists his natural urges to play impish pranks, renounces his ties to Fairyland, and pronounces himself a Christian. As Mordred's rebellion wears on in the last days of Arthur's reign, Tom refuses to return to Fairyland, preferring to die as an honorable Christian. [4]

In 1863, Dinah Maria Craik Mulock refused to cleanse the tale's questionable passages and let the story speak for itself. She adds material, and Tom has adventures that again involve being swallowed by a miller and a salmon, being imprisoned in a mousetrap, angering King Thunston and his queen, and finally dying from the poisonous breath of a spider. Tom's tale has since been adapted to all sorts of children's books with new material added and existing material reworked, but his mischievous nature and his bravery remain undiminished. [4]

Plot

The Queen of the Fairies attends the birth of Tom Thumb Tom Thumb.JPG
The Queen of the Fairies attends the birth of Tom Thumb

Richard Johnson's The History of Tom Thumbe of 1621 tells that in the days of King Arthur, old Thomas of the Mountain, a plowman and a member of the King's Council, wants nothing more than a son, even if he is no bigger than his thumb. He sends his wife to consult with Merlin. In three months time, she gives birth to the diminutive Tom Thumb. The "Queene of Fayres" and her attendants act as midwives. She provides Tom with an oak leaf hat, a shirt of cobweb, a doublet of thistledown, stockings of apple rind, and shoes of mouse's skin.

Tom cheats at games with other boys and because of his many tricks, the boys will not associate with him. Tom retaliates by using magic to hang his mother's pots and glasses from a sunbeam. When his fellows try the same, their pots and glasses fall and are broken. Thereafter, Tom stays home under his mother's supervision. At Christmas, she makes puddings, but Tom falls into the batter and is boiled into one of them. When a tinker comes begging, Tom's mother inadvertently gives him the pudding containing her son. The tinker farts while crossing a stile, but Tom calls out about the farting and the frightened tinker drops the pudding. Tom eats himself free and returns home to tell his mother and father of his adventure.

His mother thereafter keeps a closer watch upon him. One day, he accompanies her to the field to milk the cows. He sits under a thistle, but a red cow swallows him. The cow is given a laxative and Tom passes from her in a "cow turd". He is taken home and cleaned. Another day, he accompanies his father for the seed sowing and rides in the horse's ear. Tom is set down in the field to play the scarecrow, but a raven carries him away. His parents search for him, but are unable to find him.

The raven drops Tom at the castle of a giant. The cruel giant swallows the tiny boy like a pill. Tom thrashes about so much in the giant's stomach that he is vomited into the sea. There, he is eaten once more by a fish which is caught for King Arthur's supper. The cook is astonished to see the little man emerge from the fish. Tom then becomes King Arthur's Dwarf.

Tom becomes a favorite at King Arthur's royal court, especially among the ladies. There is revelry; Tom joins the jousting and dances in the palm of a Maid of Honour. He goes home briefly to see his parents, taking some money from the treasury with the king's permission, then returns to court. The Queene of Fayres finds him asleep on a rose and leaves him several gifts: an enchanted hat of knowledge, a ring of invisibility, a shape-changing girdle, and shoes to take him anywhere in a moment.

Tom falls seriously ill when a lady blows her nose, but is cured by the physician to King Twaddell of the Pygmies. He takes a ride in his walnut shell coach and meets Garagantua. Each boasts of his many powers. When Garagantua threatens to harm Tom, he is cast under an enchantment and Tom hurries home to safety. King Arthur listens with amazement to Tom's many adventures.

Richard Johnson's 1621 narrative ends here, but he promised his readers a sequel that has never been found, if published at all. In 1630, a metrical version in three parts was published that continues Tom's adventures.

Later narratives

Other versions paint a different picture to Tom's end. Dinah Mulock continued the tale and noted that Tom exhausted himself with jousting but recovered in Fairyland. When he returned to Arthur's court, he accidentally landed in a bowl of the king's frumenty. Tom enrages the cook and is threatened with beheading. He seeks refuge in the mouth of a passing slack-jawed miller. Sensing tiny voices and movements within him, the man believes he is possessed. He yawns and Tom emerges, but the Miller is so angry he tosses Tom into a river where he is swallowed by a salmon. The fish is caught, taken to the King's kitchen, and Tom is found and kept in a mousetrap until King Arthur forgives him.

Tom Thumb rides a butterfly. Tom Thumb hitches a ride on a butterfly - Project Gutenberg eText 15661.jpg
Tom Thumb rides a butterfly.

The court goes hunting and Tom joins them upon his steed, a mouse. A cat catches the mouse and Tom is injured. He is carried to Fairyland where he recovers and dwells for several years. When he returns to court, King Thunston now reigns. Charmed by the little man, the king gives Tom a tiny coach pulled by six mice. This makes the queen jealous as she received no such gifts and she frames Tom with being insolent to her. Tom attempts to escape on a passing butterfly, but is caught and imprisoned in a mousetrap. He is freed by a curious cat and once more wins back the favor of King Thunston. Sadly, he does not live to enjoy it as he is killed by a spider's bite. Tom is laid to rest beneath rosebush and a marble monument is raised to his memory with the epitaph:

Here lies Tom Thumb, King Arthur’s knight,
Who died by a spider’s cruel bite.
He was well known in Arthur’s court,
Where he afforded gallant sport;
He rode at tilt and tournament,
And on a mouse a-hunting went;
Alive he fill’d the court with mirth
His death to sorrow soon gave birth.
Wipe, wipe your eyes, and shake your head
And cry, ‘Alas! Tom Thumb is dead.

Adaptations

Tom Thumb is the subject of several films.

Animated shorts

Live-action

Feature Animation

Literature

Similar tales and characters

There are many thumb-sized characters around the world: Le petit poucet (France), Der kleine Däumling (Germany), Little One Inch/Issun-bōshi (Japan), Thumbikin (Norway), Garbancito and Pulgarcito (Spain), Pollicino (Italy), Piñoncito (Chile), Липунюшка (Lipunyushka or No-Bigger-Than-A-Finger) (Russia), [6] Palčić (Serbia), Patufet (Catalonia), The Hazel-nut Child (Bukovina), Klein Duimpje and Pinkeltje (Netherlands), Hüvelyk Matyi (Hungary), Ko Ko Nga Latt Ma (Myanmar), দেড় আঙ্গুলে (Dēṛa āṅgulē) (Bengal), Sprīdītis (Latvia) and others. [7]

See also

Notes

  1. "Tom Thumb's grave, Tattershall church". Geograph.org.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Opie 1992 pp. 302
  3. 1 2 3 Halliwell 1860, p. 6
  4. 1 2 Bauer
  5. beano.com
  6. Sherman, Josepha (2008). Storytelling: An Encyclopedia of Mythology and Folklore. Sharpe Reference. pp. 332-333. ISBN   978-0-7656-8047-1
  7. MacDonald 1993, p.

Related Research Articles

King Arthur Legendary British leader of the late 5th and early 6th centuries

King Arthur was a legendary British leader who, according to medieval histories and romances, led the defence of Britain against Saxon invaders in the late 5th and early 6th centuries. The details of Arthur's story are mainly composed of folklore and literary invention, and modern historians generally agree that he is unhistorical. The sparse historical background of Arthur is gleaned from various sources, including the Annales Cambriae, the Historia Brittonum, and the writings of Gildas. Arthur's name also occurs in early poetic sources such as Y Gododdin.

Ogre Legendary monster featuring in mythology, folklore, and fiction

An ogre is a legendary monster usually depicted as a large, hideous, man-like being that eats ordinary human beings, especially infants and children. Ogres frequently feature in mythology, folklore, and fiction throughout the world. They appear in many classic works of literature, and are most often associated in fairy tales and legend with a taste for infants.

Culhwch and Olwen is a Welsh tale that survives in only two manuscripts about a hero connected with Arthur and his warriors: a complete version in the Red Book of Hergest, c. 1400, and a fragmented version in the White Book of Rhydderch, c. 1325. It is the longest of the surviving Welsh prose tales.

Jack the Giant Killer

"Jack the Giant Killer" is a Cornish fairy tale and legend about a young adult who slays a number of bad giants during King Arthur's reign. The tale is characterised by violence, gore and blood-letting. Giants are prominent in Cornish folklore, Breton mythology and Welsh Bardic lore. Some parallels to elements and incidents in Norse mythology have been detected in the tale, and the trappings of Jack's last adventure with the Giant Galigantus suggest parallels with French and Breton fairy tales such as Bluebeard. Jack's belt is similar to the belt in "The Valiant Little Tailor", and his magical sword, shoes, cap, and cloak are similar to those owned by Tom Thumb or those found in Welsh and Norse mythology.

Issun-bōshi

Issun-bōshi is the subject of a fairy tale from Japan. This story can be found in the old Japanese illustrated book Otogizōshi. Similar central figures and themes are known elsewhere in the world, as in the tradition of Tom Thumb in English folklore.

Tom a Lincoln is a romance by the English writer Richard Johnson, published in two parts in 1599 and 1607. The principal character, Tom, is a bastard son of King Arthur and a girl named Angelica. He is the father of two other important characters, the Black Knight and the Faerie Knight.

Welsh mythology Folk traditions developed in Wales and by the Celtic Britons elsewhere

Welsh mythology consists of both folk traditions developed in Wales, and traditions developed by the Celtic Britons elsewhere before the end of the first millennium. As in most of the predominantly oral societies Celtic mythology and history were recorded orally by specialists such as druids. This oral record has been lost or altered as a result of outside contact and invasion over the years. Much of this altered mythology and history is preserved in medieval Welsh manuscripts, which include the Red Book of Hergest, the White Book of Rhydderch, the Book of Aneirin and the Book of Taliesin. Other works connected to Welsh mythology include the ninth-century Latin historical compilation Historia Brittonum and Geoffrey of Monmouth's twelfth-century Latin chronicle Historia Regum Britanniae, as well as later folklore, such as the materials collected in The Welsh Fairy Book by William Jenkyn Thomas (1908).

Cam Clarke American voice actor

Cameron Arthur Clarke is an American voice actor known for his work in animation, video games and commercials. Among his notable roles are Leonardo and Rocksteady in the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series, Shotaro Kaneda in the 1989 original Streamline Pictures English dub of Akira, and Liquid Snake in the Metal Gear series. He often serves as a voice double for Matthew Broderick. He currently voices Fancy-Fancy and Hokey Wolf.

Thumbelina

Thumbelina is a literary fairy tale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen first published by C. A. Reitzel on 16 December 1835 in Copenhagen, Denmark, with "The Naughty Boy" and "The Travelling Companion" in the second instalment of Fairy Tales Told for Children. Thumbelina is about a tiny girl and her adventures with marriage-minded toads, moles, and cockchafers. She successfully avoids their intentions before falling in love with a flower-fairy prince just her size.

Hop-o-My-Thumb

Hop-o'-My-Thumb (Hop-on-My-Thumb), or Hop o' My Thumb, also known as Little Thumbling, Little Thumb, or Little Poucet, is one of the eight fairytales published by Charles Perrault in Histoires ou Contes du temps passé (1697), now world-renowned. It is Aarne-Thompson type 327B. The small boy defeats the ogre. This type of fairytale, in the French oral tradition, is often combined with motifs from the type 327A, similar to Hansel and Gretel; one such tale is The Lost Children.

<i>The Adventures of Tom Thumb and Thumbelina</i> 2002 animated film by Glenn Chaika

The Adventures of Tom Thumb and Thumbelina is a 2002 direct-to-video animated film directed by Glenn Chaika and starring Elijah Wood, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Peter Gallagher, and Jon Stewart. Produced by Miramax Films and Hyperion Animation, the film was distributed by Buena Vista Home Entertainment under the Miramax Home Entertainment label.

"Thumbling" and "Thumbling's Travels" are two German fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm in Grimm's fairy tales in 1819.

<i>The Twinkle Tales</i>

The Twinkle Tales is a 1905 series by L. Frank Baum, published under the pen name Laura Bancroft. The six stories were issued in separate booklets by Baum's publisher Reilly & Britton, with illustrations by Maginel Wright Enright. In 1911, the six eight-chapter stories were collected as Twinkle and Chubbins; Their Astonishing Adventures in Nature-Fairyland — which is a misnomer, since Chubbins appears in only two stories and few are set in "Nature-Fairyland". The book was followed by Policeman Bluejay, which was retitled Babes in Birdland for its second edition. Baum later wanted these Bancroft stories published under his own name, and his publisher put out a second edition of Babes in Birdland with Baum's name on it for the first time in 1917.

King Arthurs family Family

King Arthur's family grew throughout the centuries with King Arthur's legend. Many of the legendary members of this mythical king's family became leading characters of mythical tales in their own right.

The early plays of Henry Fielding mark the beginning of Fielding's literary career. His early plays span the time period from his first production in 1728 to the beginning of the Actor's Rebellion of 1733, a strife within the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane that divided the theatrical community and threatened to disrupt London stage performances. These plays introduce Fielding's take on politics, gender, and morality and serve as an early basis for how Fielding develops his ideas on these matters throughout his career.

<i>Tom Thumb</i> (play)

Tom Thumb is a play written by Henry Fielding as an addition to The Author's Farce. It was added on 24 April 1730 at Haymarket. It is a low tragedy about a character who is small in both size and status who is granted the hand of a princess in marriage. This infuriates the queen and a member of the court and the play chronicles their attempts to ruin the marriage.

<i>The Tragedy of Tragedies</i>

The Tragedy of Tragedies, also known as The Tragedy of Tragedies; or, The Life and Death of Tom Thumb the Great, is a play by Henry Fielding. It is an expanded and reworked version of one of his earlier plays, Tom Thumb, and tells the story of a character who is small in stature and status, yet is granted the hand of a princess in marriage; the infuriated queen and another member of the court subsequently attempt to destroy the marriage.

Erkenek is a character of Turkish / Turkic folklore. Erkenek is no bigger than a thumb. His adventures mostly include tangling with giants. Erkenek is a traditional folk character. In Azerbaijan folklore besides his name is Cırtdan. In Anatolia also known as Parmak Çocuk.

<i>Tom and Jerrys Giant Adventure</i>

Tom and Jerry's Giant Adventure is a 2013 animated fantasy comedy direct-to-video film starring Tom and Jerry, produced by Warner Bros. Animation. Tom and Jerry are the faithful servants of Jack, son of the founder of a struggling storybook amusement park that gets a much-needed boost thanks to some mysterious magical beans.

References

Further reading