Several lists of Thumbling variants include Boy-Man. However, when I first started looking it up, I didn't have much to go on. (I didn't even know what nation it came from.) The only thing it really had in common with the other Thumblings was that the hero got swallowed by a fish. Boy-Man was small, but baby-sized, not thumb-sized - a feature that made the story slightly less fantastical and miniaturized.
But as I researched, I realized that it was part of a widespread narrative. Just not necessarily the Thumbling narrative. It's its own story! About a little baby-sized man who fights giants and is associated with the solar system!
This family of stories is all Anishinaabe. Anishinaabe is an Algonquian nation in the Lake Superior region. They are also known as Ojibway or Chippewa, and are related to the Ottawa and Potawatomi.
I listed these stories on the Thumbling Encyclopedia as I found them, but I think they deserve an article of their own.
Girl and boy alone: A little boy and his sister live alone on the shore of a lake.
Dwarf hero: Boy-Man remains infant-sized, but is brave and strong.
The Frozen Lake/Battle with a Giant: His sister warns him to be careful on the frozen lake, but makes him a ball. He runs out onto the lake, bouncing his ball, and finds four identical giants spearing fish. He grabs a fish and runs away.
The next day, he drops his ball into the ice hole and asks the men to retrieve it. Instead they make fun of him and push it under the ice. In response, Boy-Man shoves them all in and retrieves his ball. (In Pa-ha-sa-pah, he’s strong enough to break one guy’s arm.)
After he’s gone, the men get out, but decide to hunt him down. Their mother warns them not to, since he’s a manito with powers. They go off anyway.
His sister sees them coming and is terrified, but Boy-Man just eats his lunch. When he turns his dish over, the doorway is blocked by a stone. The men make a hole in the stone, but he shoots each one of them as they look through.
In Schoolcraft’s version and in Pa-ha-sa-pah he cuts them smaller, so that men will never be giants again, only their present size. In Wade’s version, he sends the men (who may or may not be dead) perpetually wandering in the four directions, north, south, east and west.
Bow from sister. In spring, he has his sister make him a bow and arrows (Pa-ha-sa-pah) and goes out into the lake (against her advice).
Swallowed by a Fish: He calls a huge trout to swallow him. It does so, and he calls out to his sister to fetch him a moccasin. She throws it out tied to a string, and manages to reel the fish in after Boy-Man instructs it to eat the moccasin. His sister cuts him out.
Commentary: This tale is also called "The Little Spirit" or "The Little Monedo."
Wade adds a section where Boy-Man lights the house with fireflies at his sister’s request.
Pa-ha-sa-pah places the story at Spearfish Creek in the Black Hills. It mentions that his people have never seen a dwarf before and look down on him. Some call him a “puk-wud-jinine, or fair[y] of the hills,” but he is human. However, Boy-Man has power and unusual strength because the gods took pity on him and blessed him.
There's an unrelated character named Boy-Man in Sioux legend.
Wa-Dais-Ais-Imid, or He of the Little Shell (Ojibwa)
Girl and boy alone: Sister and younger brother are only survivors of an unknown disaster.
Dwarf hero: grows very slowly. “He had now arrived at the years of manhood, but he still remained a perfect infant in size.”
Depending on version, he’s known as Wa-Dais-Ais-Imid or the shorter version, Dais-Imid. This is because his sister gives him a magic shell to wear around his neck. Interestingly, Dais-Imid has the power to become invisible, and when visible wears a kind of halo.
Bow from sister. He begins with shooting tom-tits and squirrels, and slowly becomes a great hunter.
The Frozen Lake/Battle with a Giant: While hunting, he approaches a frozen lake and finds a giant killing beavers. Dais-Imid cuts the tail off one of the beavers (the author justifies this because the beaver dam belongs to “the little shell-man and his sister.” This happens a second and third time; however, the giant can’t catch Dais-Imid, because he has the power to become invisible.
The angry giant, revealed to be Manabozho, tries to fight him, but Dais-Imid makes a fool of him by pretending to hide inside the giant’s nostril or in other places.
Manabozho’s appearance here as a dull-witted giant is odd. In other places, Manabozho or Nanabozho is a benevolent shapeshifting Anishinaabe/Ojibwa hero. Dais-Imid takes Manabozho’s usual place as the trickster.
Heavenly Bodies: Upon returning home, Dais-Imid tells his sister that they must separate. She will become the Morning Star, and he will live in the mountains and be called ‘Puck-Ininee, or the Little Wild Man of the Mountains.’ This is a clear relation to the pukwudgies or pukwujininees of Ojibwe/Algonquin lore, but the spelling here is reminiscent of the English Puck.
Dais-Imid explores briefly to meet other manitos. One giant throws him into a kettle to boil him, but he bails out the water and escapes. Returning to his sister, he tells her that there is a manito “at each of the four corners of the earth.” There is also a Great Being in the sky, and a wicked one deep down in the earth. (A very Christian cosmology.) The siblings are apparently separating to escape this evil being; I don’t know why. It’s unclear whether the evil being is the same as the giant who tried to boil Dais-Imid, and was described as a cousin of Manabozho.
The four winds will blow his sister to her place in the sky. Dais-Imid runs up a mountain with his ball-stick, singing a song to the winds
Little Brother Snares the Sun (Anishinaabe).
Retold by Richard L. Dieterle.
Girl and boy alone: In the beginning, men are weak and are hunted to near-extinction by the animals. The only survivors are a girl and her younger brother.
Dwarf hero: The sister has to take care of her brother, who is still no bigger than a newborn.
Bow from sister. She gives him her bow and arrows and tells him to shoot a snowbird. He misses three times before getting a hit, and finally shoots ten snowbirds.
The Shrunken Coat: His sister makes a coat for him out of their skins.
Little Brother goes out into the wilderness (looking for other humans), but while he sleeps, the sun’s heat shrinks his coat.
The Magic Rope: He fasts for twenty days and tells his sister to make a strong rope that can snare the sun. His sister gives him an ordinary rope, which he rejects as not strong enough; then a snare of deer sinew, then a rope of her own braided hair, and then one of “secret things” that Little Brother uses to make a magical rope.
He travels to the beginning of the sun’s path and lays his snare. When the sun is trapped, darkness falls over the earth.
The Great Mouse/Council of the Animals: The animals hold a council. The dormouse, a huge man-eater, gnaws the sun free but becomes tiny in the process. As a result of all this, humans will now have power over the animals.
Commentary: Dieterle suggests special connection between Little Brother and snowbird – Little Brother is creature of the snow, and is diametrically opposed to the sun.
This tale has been identified as a Hočąk [Winnebago] myth from Michigan, but is actually Anishinaabe and seems to have first been recorded with Schoolcraft's Myth of Hiawatha. There are multiple instances of this tale recorded.
So Boy-Man, Dais-Imid, and Little Brother Captures the Sun are three tales from the same family, as seen by the common motifs.
The dwarf hero lives in isolation with a sister who gives him a bow and arrow for him to go out hunting.
Boy-Man and Dais-Imid share an adventure on a frozen lake and a battle with giants whom they trick.
Dais-Imid makes a journey to the sky and has a connection with the stars, while Little Brother travels to the beginning of the sun’s path.
So is there a story that marries all of these motifs into one narrative?
The answer to that question is YES. THERE MOST ABSOLUTELY IS.
The Tale of Tshakapesh
Oral Innu poetry.
Girl and boy alone: A man and woman out collecting birch bark are killed by a monster called Katshituashku. Their unborn child survives, since the creature doesn’t eat the woman’s womb, and their young daughter eventually finds the baby.
Dwarf hero: Tshakapesh begins the story as an infant. He is usually depicted as a dwarf or young boy.
Bow from sister/Trees for arrows: She makes him a tiny bow, which he breaks, and gradually makes him bigger and stronger bows until he’s using an entire tree.
Vengeance for Parents: Against his sister’s advice, he goes to hunt Katshituashku. He kills him and finds in his stomach his father’s hair. If he had found the bones, he could have brought him back to life, but with just the hair, all he can do is make it into tree moss.
He takes his sister some bear meat. When she eats it, her jaw locks into place. Tshakapesh pries her mouth open and says that from now on, people’s mouths will be three fingers wide. (How big were they before?!)
Swallowed by a fish: He later has a dream that he was swallowed by a trout. When he doesn’t return from hunting, the sister remembers the dream and goes out fishing. Tshakapesh, inside the trout, tells it to take the hook. The sister catches fish after fish and cuts them open, until she finds the one with Tshakapesh inside.
The Frozen Lake: He returns to hunting, but his sister warns him about some people who are out on the frozen lake, hunting a giant beaver. They try to get others to grab the beaver as a prank, since anyone who tries will be pulled into the water. Tshakapesh promises to stay away and immediately goes out to find them. When they try to get him to pull the beaver through a hole in the ice, Tshakapesh succeeds—twice. They try to claim his two beavers when he’s about to leave, but stop because it’s Tshakapesh, who succeeds at everything he does.
Battle with a Giant: Disobeying his sister once again, Tshakapesh approaches the home of Atshenashkueu, the giant cannibal’s wife, and her two daughters. He puts snowbird feathers in his hair, and the daughters mistake him for a jay at first. They decide to help him, and warn him not to eat the food (human meat) that their mother will offer him at dinner. They want to marry him. The mother challenges Tshakapesh to a wrestling contest, but he makes himself so heavy that she can’t move him. He kills her instead and takes the girls home and marries one of them.
Time to disobey his sister again! She tells him to stay away from the mishtapeuat, who are playing ball with a bear’s head. Tshakapesh approaches, spots the most skilled player, and decides to take him home to marry his sister. So of course he does.
While hunting with his new brother-in-law, he has another sister-banned adventure where he gets boiled in a cauldron but survives. When he climbs out, he strips off his protective covering and also all the hair on his body, announcing that from now on people will only have hair on the top of their heads.
Tree grows to sky/The Magic Rope/Council of the Animals: He climbs a white spruce by blowing on it to make it taller, and winds up in a place where he lays a snare. The Sun is accidentally trapped in this snare. Tshakapesh tries to disarm the trap by throwing a squirrel at it, but it burns up. A mouse also burns up, but a water shrew succeeds.
Heavenly Bodies: He decides to bring his whole family to live in this sky place. They all climb up the tree before he blows on it and returns it to its normal size. They all live on stars; Tshakapesh lives on the moon and his sister on the Morning Star.
From this one (long) narrative, you can pick out all three stories - Boy-Man, Dais-Imid, and Little Brother!
Tshakapesh is a figure similar to Manabozho, which makes it even more interesting that Dais-Imid fights Manabozho. There are elements of a just-so story – the size of human mouths, humans being hairless. (So before Tshakapesh, people were covered in hair and had larger mouths . . . read, more animal-like.)
I found more short stories that are really episodes from the long version.
When Tcikabis trapped the Sun (Atikamekw) has a Tree Grows to Sky; a variant of The Shrunken Coat where Tcikabis falls asleep in the sky and the Sun burns him; The Magic Rope via a magic net; and a Council of the Animals, where the turtle, rabbit and squirrel are too big to get close, but the mouse succeeds.
Tshakapesh and the Elephant Monster (Innu) tells the origin story where an elephant kills his parents, his sister makes him a bow and arrow (graduating from little ones to whole trees), and he avenges his parents but decides not to bring them back to life.
Chakabech is a Wyandot version recorded by Paul le Jeune. Chakabech's parents are killed by a bear and by the Great Hare, but a woman adopts him as her little brother and gives him his name. He's a Dwarf Hero no bigger than a baby but uses trees for arrows. After avenging his parents, he blows on a tree until it reaches the sky, and then climbs it into a beautiful country. He takes his sister to live up there (Heavenly Bodies). When he’s hunting, his snares manage to catch the sun (The Magic Net). The story wraps up with The Great Mouse/Council of the Animals: He finds a little mouse and blows on it until it becomes big enough to free the sun.
In the Dogrib story of Chapewee, the hero seems to be a Noah-esque figure recreating the Earth. He creates a fir-tree so tall it reaches the sky, goes hunting in the sky with a snare made from his sister’s hair, and the sun gets trapped. Chapewee sends up animals to free the sun, but they are all burnt to ashes. A ground mole succeeds by burrowing underground, but it loses its eyes in the process.
The hero is the typical trickster figure. The giant tree reaching to another realm is a motif shared with Jack and the Beanstalk. Dais-Imid and Little Brother don't feature the tree, per se, but do have similar journeys to the land of the sky.
The tale of the animal rescuing the sun is also widespread across the world. It even feels similar to the myth of Prometheus. It’s interesting that in this one, it’s the hero who’s holding the sun captive. However, it's not unheard of. Sometimes the culprit is a culture hero, like the Winnebago character Hare. Maybe theres a correlation between the small size of these animals and the small size of the dwarf hero.
In a tale from the Bungee Indians from Lake Winnipeg, it's the god Weese-ke-jak (Wisakedjak) who catches the sun in an enormous trap to light the earth. The sun’s heat threatens to burn everything, so they compromise. The beaver chews the trap open and is rewarded with its current appearance.
Some stories have the element of eternal night, and others don't.
I'm looking up Aarne-Thompson motifs to find other parallels, but that can be slow going.
This website is based on my research into folklore.