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Grimms Fairy Tales and German Folklore
There was once a poor peasant who sat in the evening by the
hearth and poked the fire, and his wife sat and spun. Then
said he, how sad it is that we have no children. With us all
is so quiet, and in other houses it is noisy and lively.
Yes, replied the wife, and sighed, even if we had only one,
and it were quite small, and only as big as a thumb, I should be
quite satisfied, and we would still love it with all our hearts.
Now it so happened that the woman fell ill, and after seven
months gave birth to a child, that was perfect in all its limbs,
but no longer than a thumb. Then said they, it is as we wished
it to be, and it shall be our dear child. And because of its
size, they called it thumbling. Though they did not let it want
for food, the child did not grow taller, but remained as it had
been at the first. Nevertheless it looked sensibly out of its
eyes, and soon showed itself to be a wise and nimble creature,
for everything it did turned out well.
One day the peasant was getting ready to go into the forest to
cut wood, when he said as if to himself, how I wish that there
was someone who would bring the cart to me. Oh father, cried
thumbling, I will soon bring the cart, rely on that. It shall
be in the forest at the appointed time. The man smiled and
said, how can that be done, you are far too small to lead the
horse by the reins. That's of no consequence, father, if my
mother will only harness it, I shall sit in the horse's ear
and call out to him how he is to go. Well, answered the man,
for once we will try it.
When the time came, the mother harnessed the horse, and placed
thumbling in its ear, and then the little creature cried, gee
up, gee up.
Then it went quite properly as if with its master, and the cart
went the right way into the forest. It so happened that just
as he was turning a corner, and the little one was crying, gee
up, two strange men came towards him. My word, said one of them,
what is this. There is a cart coming, and a driver is calling to
the horse and still he is not to be seen. That can't be right,
said the other, we will follow the cart and see where it stops. The
cart, however, drove right into the forest, and exactly to the
place where the wood had been cut. When thumbling saw his
father, he cried to him, do you see, father, here I am with the
cart, now take me down. The father got hold of the horse with
his left hand and with the right took his little son out of the
ear. Thumbling sat down quite merrily on a straw, but when the
two strange men
saw him, they did not know what to say for
astonishment. Then one of them took the other aside and said,
listen, the little fellow would make our fortune if we exhibited
him in a large town, for money. We will buy him. They went to
the peasant and said, sell us the little man. He shall be well
treated with us. No, replied the father, he is the apple of my
eye, and all the money in the world cannot buy him from me.
Thumbling, however, when he heard of the bargain, had crept up
the folds of his father's coat, placed himself on his shoulder,
and whispered in his ear, father do give me away, I will soon
come back again. Then the father parted with him to the two
men for a handsome sum of money. Where will you sit, they
said to him. Oh just set me on the rim of your hat, and then I
can walk backwards and forwards and look at the country, and
still not fall down. They did as he wished, and when thumbling
had taken leave of his father, they went away with him. They
walked until it was dusk, and then the little fellow said,
do take me down, it is necessary. Just stay up there, said the
man on whose hat he sat, it makes no difference to me. The birds
sometimes let things fall on me. No, said thumbling, I
know what's manners, take me quickly down. The man took his hat
off, and put the little fellow on the ground by the wayside, and
he leapt and crept about a little between the sods, and then he
suddenly slipped into a mousehole which he had sought out.
Good evening, gentlemen, just go home without me, he cried to
them, and mocked them. They ran thither and stuck their sticks
into the mousehole, but it was all in vain. Thumbling crept
still farther in, and as it soon became quite
dark, they were forced to go home with their vexation and
their empty purses.
When thumbling saw that they were gone, he crept back out of the
subterranean passage. It is so dangerous to walk on the ground
in the dark, said he, how easily a neck or a leg is broken.
Fortunately he stumbled against an empty snail-shell. Thank God,
said he, in that I can pass the night in safety. And got into it.
Not long afterwards, when he was just going to sleep, he heard two
men go by, and one of them was saying, how shall we set about
getting hold of the rich pastor's silver and gold. I could tell
you that, cried thumbling, interrupting them. What was that, said
one of the thieves in fright, I heard someone speaking. They stood
still listening, and thumbling spoke again, and said, take
me with you, and I'll help you.
But where are you. Just look on the ground, and observe from
whence my voice comes, he replied. There the thieves at length
found him, and lifted him up. You little imp, how will you help
us, they said. Listen, said he, I will creep into the pastor's
room through the iron bars, and will reach out to you whatever
you want to have. Come then, they said, and we will see what you
can do. When they got to the pastor's house, thumbling crept into
the room, but instantly cried out with all his might, do you want
to have everything that is here. The thieves were alarmed, and
said, but do speak softly, so as not to waken any one. Thumbling
however, behaved as if he had not understood this, and cried
again, what do you want. Do you want to have everything that is
here. The cook, who slept in the next room, heard this and sat up
in bed, and listened. The thieves, however, had in their fright
run some distance away, but at last they took courage, and
thought, the little rascal wants to mock us. They came back and
whispered to him, come be serious, and reach something out to us.
Then thumbling again cried as loudly as he could, I really will
give you everything, just put your hands in. The maid who was
listening, heard this quite distinctly, and jumped out of bed
and rushed to the door. The thieves took flight, and ran as if
the wild huntsman
were behind them, but as the maid could not see
anything, she went to strike a light. When she came to the
place with it, thumbling, unperceived, betook himself to the
granary, and the maid after she had examined every corner and
found nothing, lay down in her bed again, and believed that,
after all, she had only been dreaming with open eyes and ears.
Thumbling had climbed up among the hay and found a beautiful
place to sleep in. There he intended to rest until day, and
then go home again to his parents. But there were other things in
store for him. Truly, there is much worry and affliction in
this world. When the day dawned, the maid arose from her bed to
feed the cows. Her first walk was into the barn, where she laid
hold of an armful of hay, and precisely that very one in which
poor thumbling was lying asleep. He, however, was sleeping so
soundly that he was aware of nothing, and did not awake until he
was in the mouth of the cow, who had picked him up with the hay.
Ah, heavens, cried he, how have I got into the fulling mill. But
he soon discovered where he was. Then he had to take care not to
let himself go between the teeth and be dismembered, but he was
subsequently forced to slip down into the stomach with the hay.
In this little room the windows are forgotten, said he, and no
sun shines in, neither will a candle be brought. His quarters
were especially unpleasing to him, and the worst was that more
and more hay was always coming in by the door, and the space grew
less and less. When at length in his anguish, he cried as
loud as he could, bring me no more fodder, bring me no more
fodder. The maid was just milking the cow, and when she heard
some one speaking, and saw no one, and perceived that it was the
same voice that she had heard in the night, she was so
terrified that she slipped off her stool, and spilt the milk.
She ran in great haste to her master, and said, oh heavens,
pastor, the cow has been speaking. You are mad, replied the
pastor, but he went himself to the byre to see what was there.
Hardly, however had he set his foot inside when thumbling again
cried, bring me no more fodder, bring me no more fodder. Then
the pastor himself was alarmed, and thought that an evil
spirit had gone into the cow, and ordered her to be killed. She was
killed, but the stomach, in which thumbling was, was thrown on
the dunghill. Thumbling had great difficulty in working his
way out. However, he succeeded so far as to get some room, but
just as he was going to thrust his head out, a new misfortune
occurred. A hungry wolf ran thither, and swallowed the whole
stomach at one gulp. Thumbling did not lose courage. Perhaps,
thought he, the wolf will listen to what I have got to say. And
he called to him from out of his belly, dear wolf, I know of a
magnificent feast for you.
Where is it to be had, said the wolf.
In such and such a house. You must creep into it through the
kitchen-sink, and will find cakes, and bacon, and sausages, and
as much of them as you can eat. And he described to him exactly
his father's house. The wolf did not require to be told this
twice, squeezed himself in at night through the sink, and ate to
his heart's content in the larder. When he had eaten his fill,
he wanted to go out again, but he had become so big that he could
not go out by the same way. Thumbling had reckoned on this, and
now began to make a violent noise in the wolf's body, and raged
and screamed as loudly as he could. Will you be quiet, said the
wolf, you will waken up the people. What do I care, replied the
little fellow, you have eaten your fill, and I will make merry
likewise. And began once more to scream with all his strength.
At last his father and mother were aroused by it, and ran to the
room and looked in through the opening in the door. When they
saw that a wolf was inside, they ran away, and teh husband
fetched his axe, and the wife the scythe. Stay behind, said the
man, when they entered the room. When I have given the blow, if
he is not killed by it, you must cut him down and hew his body
to pieces. Then thumbling heard his parents, voices and cried,
dear father, I am here, I am in the wolf's body. Said the father,
full of joy, thank God, our dear child has found us again. And
woman take away her scythe, that thumbling might not be hurt
with it. After that he raised his arm, and struck the wolf
such a blow on his head that he fell down
dead, and then they got knives and scissors and cut his body open
and drew the little fellow forth.
Ah, said the father, what sorrow we have gone through for your
sake. Yes father, I have gone about the world a great deal.
Thank heaven, I breathe fresh air again. Where have you been,
then. Ah, father, I have been in a mouse's hole, in a cow's
belly, and then in a wolf's paunch. Now I will stay with you.
And we will not sell you again, no not for all the riches in
the world, said his parents, and they embraced and kissed their
dear thumbling. They gave him to eat and to drink, and had
some new clothes made for him, for his own had been spoiled
on his journey.