Tom Thumb

Tom Thumb

Tom Thumb is a traditional hero in English folklore who is no bigger than his father's thumb.

Various allusions to Tom Thumb are included in sixteenth century works; in his "Discovery of Witchcraft", Reginald Scot includes "Tom Thumbe" in a list of folkloric creatures such as witches and satyrs that nursemaids told their charges about until the children were frightened of their own shadows. [Iona and Peter Opie, "The Classic Fairy Tales" p 30 ISBN 0-19-211550-6]

Folktales featuring Tom Thumb as the hero appear in print in the seventeenth century. [Iona and Peter Opie, "The Classic Fairy Tales" p 30 ISBN 0-19-211550-6]

Aside from the folk tale, Tom Thumb figures in Henry Fielding's "The Tragedy of Tragedies, or the History of Tom Thumb the Great," which became, when printed, "The Author's Farce" (1731).

The name is often applied people or objects of small stature.


In the days of King Arthur, a poor, childless couple allow an old beggar (secretly the magician Merlin) to take refreshment in their home. The couple longs for a son and would be content even if he was no bigger than a thumb. Amused by this notion, Merlin casts a spell which resulted in the birth of the diminutive Tom Thumb. The tiny child is blessed by the fairy queen.

Young Tom is full of mischief and frequently accident-prone. On one occasion, he falls into a bowl and is inadvertently baked into a pudding by his mother (who believes the dish to be bewitched when it starts to move). On another, he is nearly eaten by a large red cow while climbing a thistle.

One day, a raven snatches Tom up and drops him 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, this time by a fish, which is caught for King Arthur's supper. The cook is astonished to see the little man emerge from the gutted fish.

Tom becomes a favourite at court and is made Arthur's court dwarf and an honorary knight of the Round Table. He amuses the king and queen with tricks and dances at tournaments and goes hunting with the king atop a tiny mouse steed. After accidentally spilling a bowl of the king's frumenty, Tom enrages the cook and is charged with high treason. 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. Eventually, Tom emerges and wins back the king's favour.

After a visit to Fairyland, Tom returns to find Arthur and most of his court have died in the interim. He takes a position in the court of the new king Thunston. 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 "saucy" 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 favour of his king. Sadly, he does not live to enjoy it as he is killed by a venomous spider bite. Tom is laid to rest beneath a marble monument.

Fielding's version

In 1731, English dramatist Henry Fielding used Tom Thumb as the central figure of a play called "The Tragedy of Tragedies, or the History of Tom Thumb the Great". A farcical take on the legend, 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 the politician Sir Robert Walpole, himself often called "The Great."

Fielding's Tom is humorously cast as a mighty warrior and conqueror of giants, as well as the object of desire for many of the ladies at court. The plot is largely concerned with the various love triangles between the characters, who include the Princess Huncamunca, the giantess Glumdalca, and Queen Dollalolla (Arthur's wife in this version). At the conclusion, Tom is swallowed by a great red cow and most of the cast kill each other in duels or take their own lives in grief.

Fielding's play was later adapted into "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.

Other versions

Tiny thumb-sized heroes are a common theme in world folklore. The most famous examples are Hans Christian Andersen's "Thumbelina" and the Brothers Grimm's "Thumbling" and its sequel "Thumbling as Journeyman" (or "Thumbling's Travels"). These later stories may be an earlier version of "Tom Thumb" as they contain many similar situations (minus the Arthurian elements).

Other cultures have their own thumb-sized characters, such as Le petit poucet (France), Little One Inch/Issun-bōshi (Japan), Thumbikin (Norway), Little Chick-Pea (Italy), Piñoncito (Chile), Lipuniushka (Russia), Palčić (Serbia), Patufet (Catalunya), The Hazel-nut Child (Bukowinaer), Kleinduimpje (The Netherlands), and others. [MacDonald, Margaret Read. "The Oryx Multicultural Folktale Series: Tom Thumb", Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press, 1993. ISBN 0-89774-728-3]


Tom Thumb is the subject of many short animated films, including a 1936 version directed by Ub Iwerks and a 1940 version by Chuck Jones called "Tom Thumb in Trouble".

In 1958, George Pal directed a live action musical version of "tom thumb" (rendered in lowercase to denote the character's small size) starring Russ Tamblyn.

In 1958, although not released in the U.S. until 1967 in a dubbed version, a Mexican version of "Tom Thumb" (originally titled Pulg Arcito) was made. This version was based loosely on Charles Perrault's "Little Tom Thumb". A darker, modernized version called "The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb" was released in 1993. It made use of stop motion animation.

The 2002 direct-to-DVD animated movie, "The Adventures of Tom Thumb and Thumbelina" brought together the two most famous tiny people of literature. Tom was voiced by Elijah Wood.

Tom appears in the webcomic "Everafter" — the story of fairy tale creatures gone mad. In contrast to the traditional Tom Thumb, this adaptation is very tall. []

Tom Thumb is featured in "Shrek 2" as a guest in Princess Fiona and Prince Charming's wedding.

Tom Thumb Gallery is the name of a student run alternative mobile art space at Truman State University now in its 10th year founded by Jimmy Kuehnle and Kjell Hahn.Gonzalez, Jackie. [ "Gallery Endorses Student Art,"] "Truman State University Index." April 05, 2007]


External links

* [ The History Of Tom Thumb; to which are added the stories of The Cat And The Mouse and Fire! Fire! Burn stick!] ; editor Henry Altemus, Project Gutenberg edition.
* [ Full text of Tom Thumb from "The Fairy Book"]

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