Thumbelina, or Tommelise, was first published in 1835. An author may be inspired by many things, not all of them obvious. One theory is that the character of Thumbelina was inspired by a close friend of Hans Christian's Andersen's: Hanne Henriette Wulff, known to friends as Jette (1804 -1858).
Andersen considered the Wullfs close family friends. The oldest daughter of the family, Henriette was tiny, frail, and slightly hunchbacked. She became one of Andersen's most faithful penpals, and their letters are one of the main sources of information about his life. She also helped translate some of his work to English. They seem to have had a close platonic relationship, and Andersen would portray her in his autobiography as almost his muse. The theory that she inspired Thumbelina is seen in works such as Opie's Classic Fairy Tales (1974) and Houselander's Guilt (1951).
Many of Andersen's fairytales were inspired by older folklore, and there was a wealth of thumbling stories that he surely drew on for Thumbelina. Tom Thumb was famous, of course; there were also the Thumbling stories of the Brothers Grimm collection, and Danish variants such as Tommeliden or Svend Tomling. Thumbelina's opening sequence, with the lonely woman longing for a child, could be straight out of one of these tales.
There were plenty of other works containing tiny people which could have inspired Andersen. As listed by Diana and Jeffrey Frank, Andersen would have been familiar with Gulliver's Travels (1726), Micromégas by Voltaire (1752), and E.T.A. Hoffmann's works "Meister Floh" (1822) and "Prinzessin Brambilla" (1820).
The image of a tiny girl also appeared in Andersen's previous work and first real literary success, A Journey on Foot from Holmen's Canal to the East Point of Amager (1828).
According to the Franks, there is no evidence that Thumbelina was based on Henriette.
They do suggest, however, that the character of the learned but literally and metaphorically blind mole was inspired by Andersen's former teacher, Simon Meisling. Meisling was a short, overweight man who apparently did look somewhat like a mole. He repeatedly told Andersen that he would never make it as an author, calling him a stupid boy.
SurLaLune also compares Thumbelina's beautiful singing voice to that of Andersen's friend, the famous singer Jenny Lind. Andersen and Lind met in 1843.
In Hans Christian Andersen's Interest in Music, Gustav Hetsch and Theodore Baker assert that Lind inspired "The Nightingale," "The Angel," and "Beneath the Pillar."
Another biographer, Carole Rosen, suggested in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography that Lind inspired "The Ugly Duckling" and that her rebuffing of Andersen's affections influenced the icy-hearted Snow Queen. That last one is kind of a leap.
The tale that is most likely connected to Lind is "The Nightingale." The Franks mention that right after Andersen saw her perform and visited Tivoli Gardens, which had an "Asian fantasy motif," he started the Nightingale and made note of it in his diary. He finished the story in two days (pg 139). Afterwards, as Lind grew world-famous, she was known by the nickname "The Swedish Nightingale."
The Franks also say that Andersen's bleak tale "The Shadow" was aimed at a friend named Edvard Collin who had snubbed him years before (pg 16).
Andersen undoubtedly drew on his experiences and the people around him for inspiration. It's entirely possible that aspects of the mole were inspired by Simon Meisling, some part of Thumbelina by Henriette Wulff, or the sweet song of the Nightingale by Jenny Lind. However, a lot of that has to remain speculation.
As for more on Henriette Wulff: she loved travelling and the sea, visiting such places as Italy, the West Indies, and the United States. After her parents' death, she lived with her brother until he died of yellow fever. She returned to Denmark, but strongly considered emigrating permanently to America, where her brother was buried.
In 1858, she embarked for New York on the SS Austria. Twelve days after her departure, on September 13, there was an accident with fumigation equipment, and the ship's deck burst into flames. Passengers leaped into the sea to escape the roaring fire that engulfed the entire ship. Out of the 542 people aboard, 449 perished. Henriette was among the dead. In a poem dedicated to her, a grieving Andersen called her sister.
I have a few pages, including "The Little Folk," "List of Fairies," and "The Denham Tracts," related to fairy lore. They're a work in progress. I've found that sources are often hard to sort through. A small superstition from one area can easily bloat and transform into a supposedly famous Europe-wide tradition. Mistakes are repeated as fact until the real facts are forgotten.
For one example: hyter sprites are mentioned in a few encyclopedias as small fairies with sand-colored skin and green eyes, who are protective of children and, most notably, can transform into sand martins. The most well-known source for these was Katherine Briggs' Encyclopedia of Faeries (1973), based on an account by folklorist Ruth Tongue.
In 1984, Daniel Allen Rabuzzi wrote an article, “In Pursuit of Norfolk's Hyter Sprites," trying to chase down the original tradition. When he interviewed natives of Norfolk, he found no tradition of little werebird fairies. Instead, the phrase hyter, hikey or highty sprite was an idiom or nickname, most frequently used for a bogeyman ("Don't go out after dark or the hikey sprites will get you!") Everyone imagined them differently. One account described them as human-sized, batlike, threatening figures. Also, it turns out that although Ruth Tongue was a wonderful storyteller, she may have straight-up invented a lot of the stories she "collected."
A class of fae similar to hyter sprites are "pillywiggins," tiny spring flower fairies in English and Welsh folklore. They have wings and antennae like insects. Though protective of their garden habitats, they are peaceful creatures who (unlike most fairies) don't bother much with humans or pranks. They live in groups, ride on bees, and their queen is named Ariel.
At least, that's what you'd gather from the handful of books that mention them.
I should mention that many of these books are terrible at citations. Many of them don't cite anything, they just have one giant bibliography with no way to tell what came from where. Dubois's book is rife with misspellings, and Bane's with mistakes and misattributions.
It looks like Dubois and McCoy were both elaborating on the brief description of Fairies & Elves, with very fanciful entries of their own. I have not found any supporting evidence for McCoy's "Queen Ariel." Here, McCoy actually seems to have cribbed from Shakespeare's Tempest (1610).
McCoy's pillywiggins are bee-riding spring fairies, and her Queen Ariel "often rides bats, and is blonde and very seductive. She wears a thin, transparent garment of white, sleeps in a bed of cowslip, and can control the winds. She cannot speak, but communicates in beautiful song."
Compare The Tempest, where a spirit named Ariel sings,
Where the bee sucks, there suck I.
In a cowslip’s bell I lie.
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat’s back I do fly
After summer merrily.
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.
Still, later writers cited Dubois' and McCoy's work as folklore fact. Bane's encyclopedia of folklore and mythology has an entry on pillywiggins based on McCoy's description. Pillywiggin queen Ariel appears in the novels Buttercup Baby by Karen Fox (2001) and Alexander of Teagos by Paula Porter (2010).
In 1986, a UK-published My Little Pony comic featured pillywiggins as non-winged flower fairies. It was apparently written for Wayne and Claire of Hanham, Bristol.
There is an extensive article on pillywiggins on the French Wikipedia. But these are supposed to be English fairies - why is there more on them in French than in English? Even the talk page raises questions about this, besides pointing out that all sources are very recent and do not point to pillywiggins being a part of tradition.
The most recent edit, by Tsaag Valren on June 6, 2011 says,
"...after a week of research, seeing that I could find nothing more, I asked Pierre Dubois himself how he got his sources. He told me broadly that he wrote from popular English songs and discussions. As for the other works on the fairies, in general they repeat themselves: pillywiggin is the fairy of flowers, and not much more!"
Although they've gained a tiny foothold into literature, I have yet to find the word pillywiggin recorded in anything before the 1970s. This is in stark contrast to other British and Welsh fairies such as pixies and brownies, which were first described hundreds of years ago, and which have variations in many different places. There could certainly be an oral tradition of pillywiggins going way back, but in that area of the world, it seems unlikely that it would have escaped notice.
I can only track the name itself back to Arrowsmith's Field Guide to the Little People. It mentions pillywiggins briefly, in a list of other tiny fairies, and says they're from Dorset. My research into Dorset folklore has not yet discovered any mention of pillywiggins. Arrowsmith's bibliography lacks details, so it's hard to say where she found this information. She also mentions Ruth Tongue's hyter sprites, which as already noted, have a shaky basis in folklore.
However, there are plenty of traditions of fairies being related to oak trees and plants including bluebells, thyme and foxgloves. Oak trees have magical qualities in British lore, and there's an old poem with the line "Puck is busy in these oakes." Many other plants were named for fairies. Foxgloves in particular are often connected to fairies and witches. For instance, the Welsh ellyllon are “pigmy elves” who wear foxgloves on their hands.
The idea of miniature fairies goes at least as far back as the description of the one-inch-tall portunes in Gervase of Tilbury's Otia Imperiale, around the year 1210. Around 1595, A Midsummer Night's Dream gave us fairies who have power over nature, crawl into acorn cups and hang the dew in flowers. In 1835, Hans Christian Andersen's Thumbelina emerged from a flowerbud and later encountered flower spirits with fly's wings. In the first half of the 20th century, Cicely Mary Barker's illustrations and Queen Mary's interests truly popularized the idea of tiny, benevolent flower fairies.
As it happens, Pillywiggin does sound a lot like another fairy name: Pigwiggin or Pigwidgeon. You might recognize this word as the name of a pet owl in the Harry Potter series. It is a name for a tiny, insignificant creature. There are lots of different theories on its etymology, but Pigwiggin became famous as the name of a fairy knight in the 1627 poem Nymphidia. From there, pigwidgeon emerged as an obscure name for a miniature fairy or dwarf.
The English Parnassus (1657, Josua Poole) includes a list of Oberon and Mab's courtiers, including "Periwiggin, Periwinckle, Puck." This is based on Nymphidia with some misspellings. This textual error could be an important clue. Maybe pillywiggin, like periwiggin, is just a misspelling of Pigwiggin. From there, it was picked up by other researchers and took on a life of its own.
I will say that Pillywiggin is a fun name, and I don't really mind using it for the modern flower fairy. For the moment, my search has come to an end, but I will be keeping an eye out for further clues. If you have any insight on this subject, let me know!
In a lot of modern stories, iron is fairies' kryptonite. Their silver bullet. All the hero has to do is whip out a cast-iron skillet, and evil sprites cower.
It's often explained as iron having natural anti-magic qualities, or symbolizing the march of industrialization and the fading of magic. Or any other of a billion explanations.
For further confusion, it's not just iron. It's "cold" iron. The phrase can be baffling to modern readers, and for maximum confusion there actually is such a thing as cold-wrought iron. However, cold-wrought iron is newer than the phrase "cold iron," which in this case is poetic. "Cold steel" is the modern equivalent and simply means a weapon that to draws blood (Current Literature, 1891).
Where did this originate? It's just one of those folkways that can never be sourced to any one person, and always seems to have been "well, everyone knows it." However, you can trace it back through history to an xtent.
In Robert Herrick's "Another charme for stables" (1648), the reader is told to hang up metal hooks and shears to protect their horses from being ridden at night by witches.
In 1691, Robert Kirk wrote that "The Tramontanes, to this day, put bread, the Bible, or a piece of iron, in womens bed" to prevent newborn children from being stolen by fairies; and "they commonly report, that all uncouth, unknown Wights are terrifyed by nothing earthly so much as by cold Iron."
So the phrase and the tradition date back at least to the 1600's. The iron seems to be more popular than the bread as a popular way to repel fairies. I guess it's just not as exciting to send your hero into battle wielding a baguette.
The superstition of leaving iron in the bed to prevent fairies kidnapping expectant mothers continued over the centuries. Thus, the way to protect children from being replaced by changelings was usually to leave open scissors, a knife, fire tongs, or a similar object near their cradle.
Around 1850, in Northern mythology by Benjamin Thorpe, a story is related where a smith sees a troll kidnapping a pregnant woman. Since the smith is working at his forge, he uses a piece of red-hot iron to frighten off the troll.
In other stories in the same volume, trolls and huldra seem to have no trouble with iron. And, like, most people don't want to be chased with red-hot iron. That's not just a magical creature thing.
However, there is also a mention of a Danish tradition that "On the eve of Maundy Thursday the country folks cast axes and iron wedges on the sown fields, and fasten steel on all their doors, that the witches may not injure them."
In the Ozarks, there were many traditions surrounding iron nails. They could be nailed into someone's footprint - either to hurt an enemy, or a witch. They could be used to prevent disease, or they could be driven into a doorframe, which was particularly effective in protecting (again) pregnant women from evil. These practices were recorded around 1947.
So these superstitious practices surrounding iron are surprisingly long-lived. Right into the 20th century! On the other hand, they also go back further than I originally realized.
In Natural History, Book XXXIV, Chapter 44, Pliny the Elder mentioned that iron was used both in medicine and in preventative magic.
"Iron is employed in medicine for other purposes besides that of making incisions. For if a circle is traced with iron, or a pointed weapon is carried three times round them, it will preserve both infant and adult from all noxious influences: if nails, too, that have been extracted from a tomb, are driven into the threshold of a door, they will prevent night-mare."
There is much more about iron and magnets besides this, but this quote alone establishes a history for iron as having magical protective properties.
And that was around 79 AD!
So at first, it was simply that iron could protect and heal people. Actually, some of the superstitions in Pliny - like iron having healing properties, or the idea of driving nails into a door - were still pretty current in the Ozarks almost 1900 years later.
It's easy to see how it could go from "iron protects from evil" to "iron protects from sickness, evil spirits, witches, and fairies" which were all kind of interchangeable at that point. Many of the superstitions center around vulnerable groups, like pregnant women and small infants.
A Victorian theory is that the first iron found was from meteorites, which would give it an otherworldly and sacred meaning as something that had fallen from the heavens. However, that's speculation.
Iron is a hard and durable metal with the possibility of becoming magnetized. There are beliefs about it and evidence of it being used in amulets and charms for about as long as iron has existed. It was seen as pure or impure by different groups. There were quite a few superstitions surrounding blacksmiths, as well; blacksmiths having healing abilities or, in Scotland, being allowed to perform marriages; and there were gods who were smiths, like the Greek Hephaestus.
There are more esoteric explanations, like iron being seen as the lifeforce of the earth, or associated with lifeforce because blood smells like iron.
There are superstitions associated with every substance known to humankind. There are some negative superstitions associated with iron, too. This one just happens to be the most well-known.
Fairy tales are obsessed with hunger. There’s Thumbling, Jonah, Red Riding Hood, and Zeus's siblings, all gulped up only to emerge unharmed one way or another. In many stories, In stories from all over the world, parents threaten their children that some boogeyman will gobble them up if they don't behave.
In Hop o' my Thumb, the ogre hungers for the flesh of children. In Jack and the Beanstalk, the giant chants "I smell the blood of an Englishman . . . I'll grind his bones to break my bread." These man-eating giants hearken back to monsters such as Polyphemus in the Odyssey. Hansel and Gretel's witch is the same character. The evil queen desires to eat Snow White's heart. In Perrault's Sleeping Beauty, the second half features the heroine's mother-in-law attempting to eat her and her children cooked with sauce piquante.
And on the other hand there are stories where people are tricked into eating human flesh, especially the flesh of their loved ones - as in The Juniper Tree and some older versions of Red Riding Hood. In the Vietnamese story of Tấm and Cám and the Greek myth of Philomela, it's the hero tricking the villain into cannibalism.
There's one theory that the frequently-digested Thumbling is a story related to how children process the concept of pregnancy and childbirth.
This motif of being eaten and escaping appears in other tales, like Red Riding Hood and The Seven Kids.
Earlier theories suggested Red Riding Hood was a myth-like tale of rebirth, with the girl as the sun and the wolf as the night. That school of thought has now been largely discarded, and it's more popular to read it in sexual terms, perhaps as the devourer eating a lover in order to possess her completely. Hunger in fairytales is often a stand-in for sexual desires.
There are other factors behind the stories, though. I think it's partly ancestral fear, the fear of a bigger predator snatching you from your cave.
It could also be a way to face the taboo. In the 1997 article “Incest in Indo-European Folktales,” D.L. Ashliman points out that “many fairy tales owe their longevity to an ability to address tabooed subjects in a symbolic manner."
So, along with stories containing abuse or incest, there are stories like The Juniper Tree where people, even parental figures, turn to cannibalism.
Perhaps this is also where the heroes taking harsh revenge come from. In a story, you can dance the villain to death in red-hot iron shoes or send her hurtling down the street in a barrel lined with nails.
There are some beliefs that eating your enemy - usually in a ritualized ceremony - will give you his strength, courage or life force.
The Iroquois and Aztecs would do this with prisoners of war. The Sawi (Sawuy) people of New Guinea would give the victim's name, and thus his life force, to one of the villagers.
In Tanzania and other areas of Africa, some superstitions hold that albinos are magical and their bodyparts can be used in talismans or potions.
In Europe, human fat, flesh, blood and bones were consumed in medicines until around 1750.
Consuming the life force would be the goal of Snow White's evil queen, who seeks to eat her stepdaughter's heart and once again be the fairest in the land. Similarly, in Norse mythology, eating a dragon's heart gives Sigurd the power of prophecy.
Civilization vs. Barbarism
In The Irresistible Fairytale, Jack Zipes says, “Almost all cultures have cannibalistic ogres and giants or dragons and monsters that threaten a community. Almost all cultures have tales in which a protagonist goes on a quest to combat a ferocious savage. The quest or combat tale is undertaken in the name of civilization or humanity against the forces of voracity or uncontrolled appetite.” (page 8.)
In The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World, Zipes says something along the same lines: "Though each one of the Tom Thumb tales differs, they all focus on the same major concerns of The Odyssey as discussed by Adorno and Horkheimer: self-preservation and self-advancement through the use of reason to avoid being swallowed up by the appetite of unruly natural forces."
This describes the quests of Hop o' my Thumb, Jack, Gretel, and others. All three of these tales begin with families in extreme poverty, on the verge of starvation.
They begin with the hungry parents doing the unthinkable and abandoning their children in order to keep more food for themselves. Hunger thwarts the heroes again when birds eat their breadcrumb trail. Finally, they face a force trying to devour them. The tale reaches its happy ending when the heroes succeed, and in many cases even turn the monster's tools against them.
Italo Calvino called the story of "The Love for Three Oranges" uniquely Italian; variants are widespread across the world. There are lots of different familiar motifs here. The red-and-white maiden, the woman inside a plant, and the false bride.
Calvino himself published two versions of this story: the more classical "The Love of the Three Pomegranates" (from Abruzzi) and a more unusual variant, "The Little Shepherd" (from Liguria). A more accurate translation of the title would be "The Shepherd who never grew" (Il pastore che non cresceva mai). It was originally collected by P. E. Guarnerio in 1892.
A little shepherd boy plays a mean prank on a poultry dealer, who curses him "You shall get no bigger until you've found lovely Bargaglina of the three singing apples!" When her curse comes true, he sets out to find Bargaglina.
He encounters a little lady in a walnut shell and a little lady bathing in an eggshell, who bid him lift up their eyelids, and a man collecting fog in a bag. None know of Bargaglina or the singing apples, but they give him a stone, a comb, and a pocketful of fog. He meets a miller (who is a talking fox), who tells him to go to a house where he'll find a crystal cage, hung with bells and containing the singing apples. But he must watch out for an old woman who guards them and sleeps with her eyes open. Sure enough, he finds the house and is able to steal the cage. Awakened by the bells, the old woman sends squadrons of soldiers after him, but he throws back the stone, comb and fog, which turn into mountains and obstacles.
The shepherd, now safe, cuts an apple in half. He hears a voice telling him to be gentle. He eats half the apple and puts the other in his pocket. When he later reaches into his pocket for the rest of the apple, he finds instead a tiny, tiny lady.
"I'm lovely Bargaglina," she said, "and I like cake. Go get me a cake, I'm famished."
I really like Bargaglina, you guys.
He places her on the edge of a nearby well, and goes to get a cake. Meanwhile, a servant named Ugly Slave visits the well for water. Seeing the extraordinarily beautiful Bargaglina, she grows envious and angry, and throws her into the well.
The shepherd is heartbroken to find Bargaglina missing, but one day his mother draws water from the well and finds a fish in her bucket. They eat the fish and throw the bones out the window; from the bones grow a tree, which the shepherd cuts down for firewood. By this point his mother has died, but when he comes home from the pasture, he finds that someone has been doing the housework. One day he hides to see what's happening, and sees a resurrected Bargaglina emerge from the woodpile. She explains her transformation sequence, and the pair soon grow to normal size. They marry with a big feast, and "I was there, under the table. They threw me a bone, which hit me on the nose and stuck for good."
Why the character is named Bargaglina, I don't know. An article on biochemistry mentions this story and explains that Bargaglina is the "nickname of a young woman born and raised in Bargaglina" (Trapani 50). I think this refers to Bargagli, a city in Genoa. Its name may come from the name of the Bergalli people (mountaineers), which is from the Ligurian base bergo (mountain).
This is a pretty unique variant of "The Three Oranges" tale. The hero here is a peasant, rather than the usual prince. And yes, it's about apples rather than oranges.
The earliest known version of this story is "The Three Citrons" in the Pentamerone. At the time it was published, citrus fruits were frequently identified with the golden apples of the Garden of the Hesperides from Greek mythology.
Like the citron, the apples were guarded carefully and retrieving them was an arduous task. These fruits were associated with love and beauty, as in the myths of Aphrodite, Paris, and Helen, or Atalanta and Hippomenes.
Basile contrasts the sour yellow citron with the milk-white, strawberry-sweet maiden who emerges from it. There is a strong emphasis on her white and red color. She has “a whiteness beyond all imagination,” driven home further by her rivalry with a black woman, and later when she becomes a white dove.
Calvino mentions “forty other Italian versions” including nuts like "a walnut, a hazelnut, and a chestnut" or such fruits as “watermelons, lemons, oranges, apples, pomegranates, or melangole (which means in some places ‘oranges,’ in others ‘bitter oranges’)” (738).
Orange trees must be cultivated, which meant they came with a connotation of civilization. The fruit itself was associated with many pleasant things, being both beautiful and delicious, and “the maidens who come out of them share in the mystique of the fruit” (Goldberg 191).
In "The Little Shepherd," of course, the fruit are simply apples. (In "Tsarevitch Ivan, the Firebird and the Gray Wolf," the golden apples are also kept in a cage covered in bells.)
There is a running theme throughout "The Little Shepherd" of unusual eyelids. Both the old people with drooping eyelids and the monster who sleeps with its eyes open are common motifs; drooping eyelids or eyebrows indicate extreme old age. This scene is usually a chance for the hero to showcase his kindness to others. There are some Celtic or Slavic tales where monsters have eyelids that must be propped up. The “reversed eyes” of the old witch create a “topsy-turvy" effect at this dangerous portion of the tale (Goldberg 129-131).
The shepherd finds Bargaglina in the first apple he opens. This differs from many tales, where the prince finds a maiden in each fruit, and is supposed to have water ready when he opens them. However, when he opens the first fruit, a fairy emerges so beautiful that he forgets to give her water, and she either vanishes or dies in his arms. Only on the third fruit does he get it right, being next to a well. In some versions, the maidens ask for both bread and water.
In "The Little Shepherd," the need for water is gone. Bargaglina still requests food, but there is no urgency here.
After watering the fairy, the prince usually tells her to wait in a tree by the well while he goes to get proper clothing, tell his mother, fetch a carriage, or some other errand. (In the Pentamerone, the implication is that she's naked.) At this point, the tale takes a swift turn into "WHOA is this racist." A slave comes to fetch water from the well. She is identified as black, Moorish, a Saracen, or a gypsy. She is markedly hideous, and switches between stupid or cunning depending on what the story needs.
Usually, she mistakes the fairy's reflection in the well for her own and declares herself too pretty to serve; when she realizes the truth, she grows crafty. She may stab the citron-girl with a pin, causing her to become a bird, or push her into the well, causing her to become a fish. Then she takes the girl's place and pretends to have been transformed - and hey, the prince just saw a woman appear out of an orange, so there's not much room to be skeptical. So the prince goes home with the wrong bride.
"The Little Shepherd" gives no clues to the slave's appearance or nationality, referring to her only as Ugly Slave. Also, the well in The Little Shepherd feels like an orphaned remnant of the more well-known tale. There is no need for Bargaglina to have water. The slave does not mistake Bargaglina's reflection for her own. The well is only there so that she can throw Bargaglina in. After this, the slave departs from the tale, never to be heard from again. No false-bride narrative here.
Although the heroine was originally difficult to keep alive, she becomes impossible to permanently kill, and is finally reunited with the prince. (Or in this case, the shepherd.) The motif of the reincarnation/transformation cycle dates back to the oldest known fairytale, the ancient Egyptian “Two Brothers.”
These tales always seem to raise more questions than they answer. For instance, in "The Three Citrons," the wounded citron-girl becomes a dove, the dove dies, its feathers grow into a new tree, and the prince cuts open the citrons and sees the three fairies emerge all over again. Wouldn't you know it, the last girl is the same one he lost. As Martha Atelia Prince says, "where did the first two fairies come from? how did the princess get back into the citrus? and what happened to the enchanted pin?" (34)
I can follow that up with questions for "The Little Shepherd": why does Bargaglina need to hide in the woodpile? Where did she get her name? And what happened to the other two apples? Overall, though, it's a weird and fun little tale.
Other Variants of this tale
The person with a star, sun or moon on their face appears in several different tale types. However, depending on the tale, the details are a little baffling. What does having a star on your forehead even look like? Is it a literal star? Is it some kind of crown? Is it a birthmark shaped like a star?
The unusually-decorated girl appears in The Twelve Brothers (Germany), "The unnatural mother and the girl with a star on her forehead" (Mozambique), and The Maiden with the Rose on her Forehead (Portugual).
In some versions of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 850, "The Birthmarks of the Princess," she has birthmarks shaped like stars, suns, or moons.
Sometimes, in the tale of "The Kind and Unkind Girls," the star is a reward given to a generous young woman. Her selfish and greedy sister receives horns, a donkey's tail, or some other ugly object on her forehead. I read one where it was a sausage.
Examples of this variation include:
The last tale type that is well-known for the forehead-star is ATU type 707: The Three Golden Children. A woman gives birth to marvelous children, who have unusually shiny characteristics.
The star functions as a tangible sign of royalty and/or virtue. If a color is given, it is usually gold. Golden hair or skin can appear in similar roles, instantly marking someone as beautiful and extraordinary.
Most editions of the Tom Thumb fairytale end with the king erecting a monument in memory of the pint-sized hero.
Here lies Tom Thumb, King Arthur's knight,
Who died by a spider's cruel bite.
He was well known in Arthur's court,
Where he afforded gallant sport;
He rode a tilt and tournament,
And on a mouse a-hunting went.
Alive he filled the court with mirth;
His death to sorrow soon gave birth.
Wipe, wipe your eyes, and shake your head
And cry,--Alas! Tom Thumb is dead!
In fact, there is a real tomb for Tom Thumb.
There was once a blue flagstone serving as his tombstone at the Lincoln Cathedral. According to a 1819 edition of the Quarterly review, the tradition was that Tom Thumb died at Lincoln, and "the country folks never failed to marvel at [the blue flagstone] when they came to church on the Assize Sunday; but during some of the modern repairs which have been inflicted on that venerable building, the flag-stone was displaced and lost, to the great discomfiture of the holiday visitants." (The Quarterly Review, 1819, p101). Here is more on the renovations, although it has no mention of the flagstone.
What we do still have is a tombstone and a house for Tom Thumb, roughly twenty miles away, in Tattershall, Lincolnshire.
"T. Thumb, Aged 101, Died 1620." Is there really someone buried under this marker? Could he be connected to the fairytale?
The tombstone is located in the Holy Trinity Collegiate Church and can be found in the floor, near the font. The website of an affiliated church group notes that this Tom Thumb was "47 cm tall" or about 18.5 inches. An Atlas Obscura article cites rumors that he frequently visited London and was a favorite of the King.
The date of 1620 is intriguing, because it puts this local legend of Tom Thumb right about the same time we have our first surviving textual mentions of the name - the grave is marked 1620, and the earliest known printing of Tom Thumb was in 1621. (See the Tom Thumb Timeline.)
The grave is usually seen decorated with flowers and a poem. Here is an excellent shot from the Atlas Obscura article.
Elizabeth Ashworth's blog has another photo, with a closer look at the poem, as well as more history on the church. The poem, by Celia Wilson, doesn't have much information besides this is Tom Thumb's grave, he'd probably have a lot of stories to tell.
Then there is Tom Thumb's house, not far away. Most articles on the grave mention it as if it is the actual home of the buried T. Thumb. However, further research shows that it's not a house that anyone ever lived in. It's a decoration.
It is located on the ridge of Lodge House, in the Marketplace. The Lodge House is itself a building of historical interest. According to Historic England; "On the roof ridge is a ceramic [14th century] louvre in the form of a gabled house, known as 'Tom Thumb's House'."
On medieval buildings, a louvre or louver was a kind of turret or domed structure on the roof, which allowed in air and light but not rain.
The Tattershall and Tattershall Thorpe Village Site, available through Wayback, informs us that "The tiny house was thought to keep evil spirits out of the main building. Tom Thumbs house changed from one side of the Market Place when Mr Wright sold his shop."
Here's the Lodge House on Google Maps. Can you see Tom Thumb's house?
Try looking at this photo from the Village Site.
So: two traditions that Tom Thumb died somewhere around Lincoln. And one of them is dated around the same time as the first existing mentions of Tom Thumb.
If any of you readers go to Tattershall any time soon... you know what your homework is.
The Grimms published two tales that were very similar: Thumbling (Daumesdick) and Thumbling's Travels (Daumerling's Wanderschaft).
Although they're both commonly referred to as Thumbling, these are not the same character.
Thumbling's Travels, or Thumbling as Journeyman begins with Thumbling telling his father, a tailor, that he wants to go out into the world. He takes a darning needle for a sword. Before he can do anything else, he's blown up the chimney on the steam from a hot meal.
When he lands, he goes to become a tailor's apprentice, but is displeased with the food. He mocks the cook, telling her, "I will go away, and early to-morrow morning I will write with chalk on the door of your house, 'Too many potatoes, too little meat! Farewell, Mr. Potato-King.'" She does not react well.
Taking up his journey again, he joins a band of robbers and they rob the king's treasury. The impressed robbers want to make Thumbling their captain but he wants to see the world first. He goes on his way, taking only one kreuzer (a small silver coin) because it's all he can carry.
He takes a job as a manservant at an inn, but snitches on the maids when they steal food. A vengeful maid catches Thumbling in the garden and gives him to the cows with the grass clippings, causing him to be swallowed. When someone milks the cow, Thumbling calls, "Strip, strap, strull, will the pail soon be full?" They slaughter the cow, and Thumbling is sealed into a black-pudding or sausage and hung up all winter. He only escapes when someone cuts it open. Once outside, he is swallowed by a fox, and promises to let it eat the chickens in his father's yard if it will take him home. This happens, and Thumbling is reunited with his overjoyed father, who doesn't mind the fox eating his chickens now that he has his son back. The end.
The hero being a tailor suggests a connection to the story of the Brave Little Tailor. There are actually many songs and jokes about tailors being very small or thin. In Eucharius Eyering's Sprichwörter (1601), a tailor as light as elder-wood is blown into the air and gets caught in a spider's web. There is one folk song about a tailor falling into a soup bowl and being swallowed, and another about tailors feasting on a fried flea and drinking out of a thimble - for the second, see "Nine Tailors Held a Council" by William Davis Snodgrass.
SurLaLune's annotation of the Brave Little Tailor explains, "tailors were poor and not highly regarded by society because they were seen as weak men." Because of the Industrial Revolution and the decline of guilds, tailors were poor and travelled around. Townspeople saw these wanderers as shifty, lazy and dishonest.
As seen in this German list of idioms, there were sayings like "freezing like a tailor" for oversensitivity to cold, and "eating like a tailor" for not eating very much. The weakness of tailors was attributed to a lack of food and it was said they couldn't bear much in contrast to the strong appetite of the agricultural workers. The Schneider-Geiß-Spott or Schneider-Spottlied (tailor-mocking) was a specific type of German joke which originated as a crude sexual gag. These date back to at least 1408, when a Strasbourg council banned such a joke.
The Grimms' tailors, however, are courageous, clever tricksters. Cleverness is the most esteemed virtue in Grimm tales. Thumbling is called a journeyman, meaning he's completed his apprenticeship but is not a master tailor.
Like all the Grimms' stories, Thumbling's Travels changed in the telling. The first edition preserves the stories more exactly as they were first told. Later editions, after the stories became popular, soften unsavory elements and polish the plots. Wilhelm was the principal editor after their first edition, and revised the tales extensively to make them more dramatic and literary.
In The 1810 Grimm Manuscripts, Oliver Loo compares the Grimms' first edition from 1812 with an earlier surviving draft. There are some small differences, mostly literary embellishments and polishing. The original edition lacked the "Farewell, Mr. Potato King" and indeed any mention of potatoes. Jacob and Wilhelm heard the potato line from a maid, completely separately from the tale, and Jacob called it a “handwerksspaß” (workers jest). Jacob did not seem entirely pleased with the inclusion of a joke foreign to the original story. (pp. 212-219).
Some sources say the the source of Daumerling's Wanderschaft was Marie Hassenpflug, a frequent source of the Grimms', but in the index, the Grimms say that the story comes from "stories current in the districts of the Maine, Hesse, and Paderborn, which reciprocally complete each other." This implies they patched together quite a few stories, probably including Marie Hassenpflug's.
They add, "a continuation or special combination of the detached stories, which belong to this group, contains the story of Thumbling (No. 37)" - that is, Daumesdick.
Daumesdick is usually translated as Thumbling but might be better referred to as Thumbthick. It begins with a childless couple wishing for a baby, even if it's only the size of a thumb. The woman then falls pregnant and gives birth after seven months to a thumb-sized child.
Thumbthick never gets any larger, but is very clever. One day Thumbthick takes the horse and cart to his father who is cutting wood, and rides in the horse's ear, calling directions. Two men see the horse apparently by itself, and when they see Thumbthick, want to buy him so that they can exhibit him for money. Thumbthick tells his father to take their money, and goes off with the men, only to slip away from them. He then encounters two thieves and offers to help them rob the wealthy pastor. When they get to the pastor's house, however, Thumbthick makes such a racket that he wakes the people inside and the robbers flee.
Thumbthick intends to head home, but is swallowed by the pastor's cow. He cries out, "Am I in the fulling mill?" (In a fulling mill, wool is beaten and boiled to make felt.) People hear him yelling inside the cow's stomach. The pastor, believing the animal is possessed, has it slaughtered. The stomach is thrown on the midden (trash heap), where a wolf eats it before Thumbthick can escape. Thumbthick tricks the wolf into going to his house, promising it a feast, and directs it to the larder of its house. It gorges itself so much it can't get back out, and Thumbling screams for his parents, who kill the wolf. Thumbthick is reunited with his family and says that he will never leave them again.
This story was not in the first 1812 edition, and first appeared in the expanded and edited version in 1819. Thumbthick comes from Mühlheim on the Rhine, a town near Cologne. Although it is very similar to Daumerling's Wanderschaft, it has some strong variations and is closer to the most widespread Thumbling formula. It includes the wish for a child no matter how small. Thumbthick helps his father on the farm, drives a wagon or plow, sells himself and cheats the buyer, and frightens off robbers. You see these themes again and again, so perhaps it's fitting that it gets its own space in the Grimms' collection. The 1958 film "tom thumb" is an adaptation of this story.
The scene with the men wanting to exhibit him is interesting, because it has a hint of the life a person with dwarfism might have led at that time, performing for the public. This shows a change from the older English story of Tom Thumb, where the main character is a court dwarf performing for royalty.
I always used to imagine these two Grimm tales being connected, like Thumbthick somehow growing up to be Thumbling, but the two characters are very different. This is most clearly seen in their treatment of the robbers and of the fox/wolf.
Thumbling works so well with the robbers that they want to make him their captain, and in the end the fox that swallows him is rewarded for taking him home.
Thumbthick is more manipulative and opportunistic. He entices and then double-crosses the men who want to exhibit him, the thieves who want to use him, and the wolf that swallows him.
Both Thumblings are tricksters, but one plays tricks on wealthy kings and dishonest maids, and the other plays tricks on robbers and beasts.
Those strange, benevolent fairies who show up to give advice or magical artifacts. When did they start to appear in fairy tales? How many people have them? What are their powers? Where did they come from?
Let's start with the most well-known - Sleeping Beauty's and Cinderella's.
Fairies attend Sleeping Beauty's christening and give her gifts such as beauty and a sweet singing voice. An angry fairy, however, dispenses a curse.
The most famous is Cinderella's fairy godmother, who appears with magical clothing and a coach just when Cinderella needs them.
Both of these stories with their attendant fairies were first published by Charles Perrault in 1697. The older Sleeping Beauty story, Sun, Moon and Talia, had no fairies or magic. As for Cinderella, the Grimms' Aschenputtel had the heroine aided by the ghost of her dead mother. The Chinese Ye Xian has the ghost of a pet fish which was originally a guardian spirit sent by her deceased mother, and the Scottish Rashin-Coatie has a red calf.
There are plenty of tales where the hero is aided by a fairy or other magical creature, but Charles Perrault and probably also Madame D'Aulnoy popularized the fairy godmother. In 1697, they both put out books of fairytales in which such beings were heavily featured. D’Aulnoy wrote "Finette Cendron," "Princess Rosette," and "Princess Mayblossom," as well as “The Blue Bird” and “The White Doe,” where the villain has a fairy godmother.
The trope of the fairy godmother became more and more common during the era of literary French tales such as "Prince Fatal and Prince Fortune" or "Princess Camion" (1743), where they typically show up at births and give prophecies.
The relationship reflects a Catholic environment. In medieval times, the godparents served an important role in the child's life, including their religious education.
Although fairy godmothers didn't become a widespread thing until Perrault and D'Aulnoy, their roots do go back into legends and myth. In medieval romances, the "fays" frequently preside over births and give out gifts and prophecies.
Six fays arrive to bestow heroic qualities on the newborn Ogier the Dane. The final one, Morgain picks him as her future husband.
A similar scene, also with Morgain, appears in the Enfances Garin de Montglane.
In the 13th century Huon de Bordeaux, Oberon was cursed by a fairy at his christening.
In the stories of Merlin, a man named Dionas is the godson of the goddess Diane. Diane gives his daughter Niniane a destiny as a great sorceress.
In 1621, Tom Thumb has "the Queene of Fayres" as "his kind Midwife, & good Godmother." She helps at his birth, and throughout his life provides him with magical aid and tools - including fancy clothing and impractical footwear.
Marian Roalfe Cox collected 345 variants of Cinderella. In her collection, fairy godmothers appear in Peau d'ane (Perrault 1697), Finette Aschenbrodel (1845), the Russian Zamarashka (1860), Hubac's Peau d'Ane (1874), Baissac's Story of Peau d'Ane (1888), Catarina (1892), and The White Goat.
In the Basque tale of Ass'-Skin (1877), there is a human godmother who gives the heroine advice. In both "Marie Robe de Bois" and "Le Pays des Brides" (1892), the heroine has a "sorceress-godmother."
In "The Young Countess and the Water-Nymph" (1852), a water-nymph agrees to stand godmother to the child of her friend the countess.
In "Ditu Migniulellu" (1881), the word godmother is not used, but fairies do show up at the girl's birth to dispense gifts, and one returns to help her get to the ball.
In "Terra Camina" (1892), there is a christening and a godmother with magical powers. However, it's hard to tell whether she's a fairy or not.
The Estonian tale of Rebuliina (1895) describes the christening in detail. The godmother is mysterious and is never identified, but clearly has magical powers.
There are countless stories where fairies aid the heroine, but the ones I've mentioned are specifically godmothers or have a connection to the heroine beginning at her birth.
These magical godmothers are not like typical fairies, which are not creatures you would want around your newborn baby. Indeed, many types of fairies and spirits flee church bells and would never be seen at a christening. They're more likely to steal an infant than bless it, and babies aren't safe until they've been baptized.
In contrast, fairy godmothers are wise women, typically benevolent, focused only on furthering their godchild's lot in life. (They still have a capacity for evil, as seen with Oberon or Sleeping Beauty.)
When the Cinderella figure is aided by the ghost of her mother, it has a hint of ancestor-worship. In a different direction, I think there's a version where Buddha steps in.
Fairy godmothers, who preside over births and prophesy the newborn's fate, are descended from the Fates of mythology - like the Roman Parcae, Greek Mourae, and Norse Norns.
The Mourae appear shortly after Meleager's birth to prophesy his death.
The Prose Edda says that besides the three main norns Urd, Skuld and Verdandi, "there are yet more norns, namely those who come to every man when he is born, to shape his life".
There are other mythologies featuring similar figures. Pi-Hsia Yüan-Chün was a Chinese goddess of childbirth; she had two attendants, one of whom brought children and the other who gave them good eyesight. Latvian folklore tells of a birth goddess named Lauma, and fairies known as Laumė that foretell a newborn's future. The Albanian Fatit or Miren, butterfly-riding fairies, approach the cradle three days after the baby's birth to determine its fate.
The story of the fairy godmother puts these myths into a Christian context. It formalizes the relationship between the child and the spirit overseeing her birth, and brings them closer together, explaining why the fairy's so invested.
Going from the other direction, it plays up godparents. The godmother steps in for the deceased mother and provides guidance, but this approach turns her from a mere advice-giver into an incredibly powerful guardian.
I haven't found anything on fairy godfathers. Well, except Godfather Death, a very different kind of story, where a very different mythical being takes the role of godparent.
My next blog post will be up on Monday, but this YouTube video just popped up and I found it pretty relevant to my subject. Enjoy.
This website is based on my research into folklore.