Friday, September 16, 2011

Tom Thumb

This is the Brothers Grimm story often confused with Andersen’s “Thumbelina.” In fact, that’s the main reason it’s taken me so long to feature it in this collection. I had to make sure it was distinct enough from the other story. As a matter of fact, the Brothers wrote two stories, one called, simply “Tom Thumb” and the other called “Tom Thumb’s Travels.” Basically, they are the same story, with some slight differences here and there.

It is a dangerous thing to say “I don’t care” when you want something. Making a wish is dangerous enough; you never know who might be listening. But to say you don’t care when you wish it is more dangerous still. It doesn’t happen often, mind, maybe once in a week in a month in a year or more. But now and then, someone makes a wish, and someone else hears them. And it all comes to pass…but maybe not the way you might think.

There was once upon a time a farmer and his wife who were very much in want of a child. For years they tried all sort of tricks and tonics and voodoo and whodoo and howdydoo with nothing to show for it. The farmer had all but given up, but his wife said, “No! I want a baby! Any baby will do. I wouldn’t care if he were odd, or misshapen. I wouldn’t care if he were no bigger than my thumb. As long as he’s mine, I would love him to bits.”

And, sure enough, ears pricked up and eyes winked and things were set in motion, and one morning, the farmer and his wife awoke, and went to the kitchen for breakfast, only to find, right in the center of their dining table, a tiny thing. So small a thing that they might not have seen it at all, but they did. It was a tiny bassinet. So small, the wood it was made of might have come from a stick or a twig. And in the bassinet, sleeping like an angel, was a baby. The smallest baby you ever saw, but a baby nonetheless. And the farmer and his wife rejoiced, for now they had the child they’d always wanted. They named him Tom, after his father, but since he was only the size of his mother’s thumb, they always called him “Tom Thumb.”

Now, as any parent will tell you, taking care of a baby isn’t easy. And if that baby happens to be the size of your thumb, well, that makes it even harder! But love can be a most powerful magic in and of itself, and it helped the farmer and his wife rise to each challenge and overcome it. And Tom Thumb grew…not much, of course. In fact, when he was sixteen years old, he was still not much bigger than his father’s thumb. But he had a lot of spirit, far more than you’d think would even fit in a boy that size. For one thing, he didn’t like to feel useless and, despite his size, was always a great help to his parents. He helped his mother clean house by getting into the hard to reach places, he kept household pests to a minimum by fighting them off with a needle for a sword, and when his father needed to go into town, he even drove his livestock by sitting inside their ears and shouting orders. Tom Thumb was a wonder, all right, and his parents were very proud of him.

One day, Tom Thumb and his father were traveling through the woods when they passed two rogues. The rogues were astonished at what they saw: A horse and cart traveling through the forest with the driver fast asleep at the reins. “How does he drive his horse so well in his sleep?” one asked the other. Then as the cart passed, they spied the tiny figure of Tom Thumb, commanding the horse from inside the animal's ear. “Look at that tiny little fellow! I bet he’s no bigger than my thumb!” A moment later, the two villains had a plan and they began to follow the cart closely as it went along its way. By and by, the horse stopped by the side of the road to rest and as soon as the cart had stopped, the rogues ran to the horse and snatched Tom Thumb out of its ear. Poor Tom Thumb was so small that his sleeping father didn’t hear him cry for help. But it was too late now, and the villains were well away.

“Do not be afraid, little one,” they told him. “We have a job for you. We are professional thieves, you see, and we are planning to rob the patrician’s house. But if you could slip in and pass the money out to us, it would be much easier. And, of course, you’ll get a full share in the take…well, full for someone your size. As much gold as you can carry, let’s say.” The two criminals laughed amongst themselves. Of course, Tom Thumb didn’t want to rob anyone, but he had an idea to teach these two a lesson, so he agreed.

They took Tom Thumb to the home of the wealthy patrician (and I suggest you Google the word if you don’t know it, cuz I’m not wasting time telling you about it now) that very night. “Okay, little man,” they whispered as they held him up to a crack in the windowpane, “it’s easy. The patrician keeps lots of gold in there. All you have to do is go in, pass it to us through the window, and no one will ever suspect. Sound good?”

“Yeah,” said Tom Thumb, softly, “no problem.” And he slid into the room through the crack in the window. He took a good look around the room and was delighted by what he saw: A big, brown hound dog tied up in a corner of the room, clearly there to protect the patrician’s gold. That was all Tom Thumb needed to see, then he shouted back to the robbers, “OKAY! I’M INSIDE! NOW I’LL GET THE GOLD AND GIVE IT TO YOU!!”

“Not so loud!” cried the rogues, but it was too late. The dog's keen ear picked up on Tom's very small shouting and he was awake and howling. A moment later a serving maid came in to quiet the dog and the two rogues, defeated, ran away never to be seen again…by the characters in this story, of course. I mean, other people saw them, they didn’t just go to a cave and stay there forever. And even if they had, they’d still see each other, so…sorry, I’m getting off subject, here.

The point is, they were gone and that was good. The bad part was that Tom Thumb was now hopelessly lost and far from home. Poor Tom Thumb was so busy teaching those crooks a lesson, he hadn’t thought about this. He slid out the crack in the window and wandered aimlessly for a while until he found a nice big pile of hay. He lay down on it and went to sleep at once.

The next morning, Tom Thumb awoke in the pile of hay to an alarming discovery. It seems that his aimless wandering, which had taken about two hours, had only taken him as far as the patrician’s stable. After a moment he realized he was bedding down in the cow’s breakfast! Before he could get away, the hay he was lying in was taken by the dairymaid and fed to the cow. Miraculously, Tom Thumb was able to avoid the teeth and keep from getting swallowed, but then he saw another handful of hay on its way to the cow’s mouth and he knew he would be swept into the cow’s stomach! So, in desperation, he cried out “No more hay! Please, no more hay!”

Now, Tom Thumb’s voice was as small as the rest of him, even when he was shouting. But being inside the cow’s mouth caused his voice to resonate and amplify so that it was quite easy for the dairymaid to hear. Of course, being unable to see Tom Thumb inside the cow’s mouth, she naturally assumed that the cow was talking to her and, under the circumstances, reacted quite reasonably: She fainted dead away. Luckily, she fainted right on top of the hay she was feeding to the cow, so she was not hurt. Neither was Tom Thumb, who climbed out of the cow’s mouth, thanked her for the assist, and went along his way. He had only a general idea of which direction his home was, based on the position of the sun in the sky, and he knew it would be a long walk, so on he went, wondering if he would every see his parents again.

After walking for some time, he looked up into the sky. The sun was right above his head. Midday. He had been walking for about six hours. He looked over his shoulder and saw…the stable. Distant, but still in sight. He guessed that, at this rate, he would see home again when he was about fifty-six years old. Depressed and hopeless, he sat on a pebble and sighed. Just then, a large red fox loped into view and, thinking Tom Thumb was a tasty morsel, snapped him up in his jaws and swallowed…or at least he tried to. But being so very small, Tom Thumb had gotten very good at not being eaten, and he put out his arms and legs and got himself stuck in the fox’s throat. The fox choked and spit him out, growled angrily at him, then turned to go along his way.

With lightning reflexes, Tom Thumb grabbed hold of the fox’s tail and pulled himself up onto his back. Now he was going down the road on foxback and, as luck would have it, he was even headed in the right direction. It was a minute or two later that Tom Thumb realized it was hardly a coincidence. He had seen this fox before; trying to kill his father’s chickens! This fox was headed straight for Tom Thumb’s house! When it arrived there, Tom, Sr. was outraged and took out his shotgun, but before he could fire, he heard a tiny familiar voice say, “No, father! Don’t shoot! It’s me!”

And that’s how Tom Thumb came back home.


If You Liked My Story, You Might Enjoy:
  • Tom Thumb (1958) Russ Tamblyn plays the title character in this lively, musical adaptation. Peter Sellers and Terry-Thomas also appear.

NEXT WEEK: "The Adventures of Brer Rabbit" 

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