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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.

Folktales featuring Tom Thumb as the hero appear in print in the seventeenth century.

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

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 tournament 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

Richard Johnson wrote a version of the story entitled The History of Tom Thumbe in 1621. 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 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 cast as a mighty, although tiny, 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). Matters are complicated when Arthur awards Tom the hand of Huncamunca in marriage which results in Dollalolla and the jealous Grizzle to seek revenge. Eventually, Tom dies when swallowed by a cow, but his ghost returns to continue on. 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 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 (Francemarker) —Charles Perrault's Petit Poucet isn't quite the same character as Tom Thumb. Before Perrault, the French folklore calls Petit Poucet the more or less equivalent to Tom Thumb character—, Der kleine Däumling (Germanymarker), Little One Inch/Issun-bōshi (Japanmarker), Thumbikin (Norwaymarker), Pulgarcito (Spainmarker), Little Chick-Pea (Italymarker), Piñoncito (Chilemarker), Lipuniushka (Russiamarker), Palčić (Serbiamarker), Patufet (Catalunyamarker), The Hazel-nut Child (Bukowinaer), Kleinduimpje (The Netherlandsmarker), Hüvelyk Matyi (Hungarymarker), and others.

in other media

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, 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. [34595]

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 Universitymarker now in its 10th year founded by Jimmy Kuehnle and Kjell Hahn.

On his 1965 album, Highway 61 Revisited, singer/songwriter Bob Dylan released a song called Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues, although he does not mention the actual character of Tom Thumb in the lyrics.

See also


  1. Iona and Peter Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales p 30 ISBN 0-19-211550-6
  2. Iona and Peter Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales p 30 ISBN 0-19-211550-6
  3. MacDonald, Margaret Read. The Oryx Multicultural Folktale Series: Tom Thumb, Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press, 1993. ISBN 0-89774-728-3
  4. Gonzalez, Jackie. "Gallery Endorses Student Art," Truman State University Index. April 05, 2007

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