The little Thumbling is sold to two men for an exposition. He escapes them, but it is not so easy as he thought to get home again!
Thumbling is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about a boy the size of a thumb. He sits in the ear of a horse and tells it how to find his father, is sold for exposition, escapes, tricks two thieves and is eaten by a cow and a wolf. Finally he is freed by his parents and safely home again.
Complete text Thumbling
The little Thumbling is born
Once a poor peasant sat in the evening by the hearth and poked the fire. His wife sat and span. He said, “How sad that we have no children! With us all is so quiet and in other houses it is noisy and lively.”
“Yes,” the wife replied and sighed, “even if we had only one, and it were quite small, and only as big as a thumb, I would be quite satisfied. 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. It was perfect in all its limbs, but no longer than a thumb. They said, “It is as we wished it to be. It shall be our dear child.”
Because of its size, they called it Thumbling. They gave it more than enough food, but the child did not grow taller. It remained as it had been at 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.
Thumbling brings the cart to his father
One day the peasant was getting ready to go into the forest to cut wood, when he said to himself, “How I wish that there was somebody who could bring the cart to me!”
“Oh father,” said Thumbling, “I will soon bring the cart, rely on that. It shall be in the forest when you need it.”
The man smiled and said, “How can that be done, you are far too small to lead the horse by the reins?”
“That doesn’t matter, 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!”
It went quite properly as if with its master and the cart went the right way into the forest. Just as he was turning a corner, and Thumbling was shouting, “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, exactly to the place where the wood had been cut. When Thumbling saw his father, he shouted 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 happily on a straw.
Thumbling is sold to two men
When the two strange men saw him, they did not know what to say, so astonished were they. One of them took the other aside and said, “Look, 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 father and said, “Sell us the little man. We shall treat him well.”
“No,” replied the father, “he is the apple of my eye. All the money in the world cannot buy him from me.”
Thumbling had heard of the bargain and had crept up the folds of his father’s coat. He climbed on his shoulder and whispered in his ear, “Father do give me away, I will come back soon.”
And so his father sold him to the two men for a handsome bit of money.
“Where will you sit?” they said to him.
“Oh just put me on the rim of your hat. There I can walk backwards and forwards and look at the country, without falling down.”
They did as he wished. When Thumbling had said goodbye to his father, they went away with him.
They walked until it was dusk and then the little fellow said, “Do take me down, I want to come down.”
The man took his hat off and put the little fellow on the ground by the wayside. He leapt and crept about a little between the sods. Suddenly he slipped into a mouse-hole which he had sought out.
“Good evening, gentlemen, just go home without me,” he cried to them and mocked them. They ran to him and stuck their sticks into the mouse-hole, but it was all for nothing. Thumbling crept still farther in the hole. 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,” he said; “easy to break a neck or a leg!”
Fortunately he knocked against an empty shell of a snail. “Thank God!” he said. “In that I can pass the night in safety,” and got into it.
Thumbling is picked up by two thieves
Not long afterwards, when he was just going to sleep, he heard two men go by. One of them said, “How shall we get the rich pastor’s silver and gold?”
“I could tell you that,” Thumbling shouted, interrupting them.
“What was that?” said one of the thieves in fright, “I heard someone speaking.”
They stood still, listening. Thumbling spoke again, and said, “Take me with you and I’ll help you.”
“But where are you?”
“Just look on the ground, and listen where my voice comes from,” he replied.
At last the thieves found him and lifted him up. “Little imp, how are you going to help us?”
“I will creep into the pastor’s room through the iron bars and will hand you whatever you want to have.”
The thieves try to rob the pastor
“Come,” they said, “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, “Do speak softly, so as not to wake anyone!”
However Thumbling 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, sat up in bed and listened. The thieves 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.”
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, jumped out of bed and rushed to the door. The thieves took flight, and ran as if the Wild Huntsmen were behind them.
As the maid could not see anything, she went to strike a light. When she came back, Thumbling, unperceived, sneaked away to the granary. The maid, after she had examined every corner and found nothing, lay down in her bed again. She believed that, after all, she had only been dreaming with open eyes and ears.
Thumbling is eaten by a cow
Thumbling had climbed up among the hay and found a beautiful place to sleep in. He intended to rest until day and then go home again to his parents. But he had other things to go through. Truly, there is much affliction and misery in this world!
When 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. Precisely that very one in which poor Thumbling was lying asleep. He 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!” he cried, “how have I got into the fulling mill?” but he soon discovered where he was. Then it was necessary to be careful not to let himself go between the teeth and be dismembered, but he was nevertheless forced to slip down into the stomach with the hay.
“In this little room the windows are forgotten,” he said, “and no sun shines in, neither will a candle be brought.” His quarters were especially unpleasing to him, and the worst was, more and more hay was always coming in by the door. The space grew less and less.
At last 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 someone 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,” the pastor replied, but he went himself to the byre to see what was there. Hardly had he set his foot inside when Thumbling again cried, “Bring me no more fodder, bring me no more fodder.”
The pastor himself was alarmed and thought that an evil spirit had gone into the cow. He ordered her to be killed. She was killed, but the stomach, in which Thumbling was, was thrown outside.
Thumbling is eaten by a wolf
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 arrived and swallowed the whole stomach in one gulp.
Thumbling did not lose courage. “Perhaps,” he thought, “the wolf will listen to what I have got to say,” and he called to him from out of his stomach, “Dear wolf, I know of a magnificent feast for you.”
“Where is it to be had?” the wolf said.
“In such and such a house. You must creep into it through the kitchen-sink, and you will find cakes, bacon and sausages. As much of them as you can eat.”
He described to him exactly his father’s house. The wolf did not need to be told 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. He raged and screamed as loud as he could. “Will you be quiet,” the wolf said, “you will wake up the people!”
“So what,” replied the little fellow, “you have eaten your fill, and I will feast also.”
Father and mother rescue Thumbling
Once more he began to scream with all his strength. At last his father and mother were aroused, ran to the room and looked in through the opening in the door. When they saw that a wolf was inside, they ran away. The husband fetched his axe, the wife the scythe.
“Stay behind,” said the man when they entered the room. “When I have given him a blow, if he is not killed by it, thou must cut him down and hew his body to pieces.”
Thumbling heard his parents voices and cried, “Dear father, I am here; I am in the wolf’s body.”
Full of joy the father called out, “Thank God, our dear child has found us again.”
He ordered the woman to take away her scythe, to avoid hurting Thumbling. After that he raised his arm and struck the wolf such a blow on his head that he fell down dead. They got knives and scissors and cut his body open and drew the little fellow forth.
“Ah,” said his 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 stomach, and then in a wolf’s; 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.
Tips for Telling Thumbling
- This fairy tale is easily cut up in different episodes. The bigger story line is whether Thumbling will get home again. In the episodes he tricks or escapes different characters. Choose which episodes you want to tell.
- How does a little guy look towards the world around him? What changes? How can you tell this story in such a way that we experience the world from his eyes? Prepare yourself by imagining that you are such a little guy and look in the different scenes of the story.
- There is a lot of talking in this story, it is not all needed. To make clear to your listeners who is speaking, it feels natural to look up when Thumbling is saying something, because he is such a little fellow. Don’t look up as a trick though, become Thumbling for a little moment inside.
All Questions Answered
The tale was published by the Brothers Grimm in the second edition of their Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Sources unclear.
The Brothers Grimm included it in the second edition (1819) of their Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
Thumbling is also known as ‘Tom Thumb’, a similar character in English stories.
More useful information
Fairy tales with a cook
Fairy tales with a cow
Fairy tales with a horse
- Faithful John
- Sleeping Beauty
- The Dog and the Sparrow
- The Fox and the Horse
- The Golden Bird
- The Riddle
Fairy tales with a maid
Fairy tales with a pastor
Fairy tales with a thief
Fairy tales with a wolf
- Little Red Riding Hood
- Old Sultan
- The Fox and His Cousin
- The Wedding of Mrs. Fox
- The Wolf and the Fox
- The Wolf and the Man
- The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats
- The Wonderful Musician
Photo credits: William Krause on Unsplash
The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales on this website are based on the authentic translation of Margaret Hunt. They were edited and reformatted for pleasant reading and telling by Storyteller Rudolf Roos.
See the complete list of The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales (link to internationalstoryteller.com).