The Wives of Tom Thumb
A fair amount of thumbling tales mention marriage. However, I had thought that Tom Thumb was doomed to die young and childless. Most renditions of his story end this way, which is honestly a bit of a downer. However, it turns out a few authors have seen fit to set Tom up with a lady friend.
Princess Huncamunca in the play Tom Thumb by Henry Fielding (1730). The play would later be edited and expanded as The Tragedy of Tragedies, but the central idea was the satire and a huge, tangled love dodecahedron. Like most of the cast, Tom has multiple love interests; in his case, these are King Arthur’s wife Dollalolla, Arthur’s daughter Huncamunca, and the giantess queen Glumdalca. In 1733, it was re-adapted as The Opera of Operas; or Tom Thumb the Great, by Eliza Haywood and William Hatchett. This focused more on parodying opera tropes, so the the ridiculously tragic deaths are reversed and Tom marries Huncamunca.
Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca were the names of Beatrix Potter’s pet mice and the stars of The Tale of Two Bad Mice.
Grumbo’s daughter, in “Tom Thumb's folio, or, A new penny play-thing for little giants,” printed in 1791. This version dispensed plenty of details. Tom’s father was Theophilus Thumb and the family was from Northumberland (ha.ha.ha.). Tom was born in 1618 on the day of a solar eclipse (July 21?). In this story Tom defeats Grumbo, king of the giants, and becomes a major political force in the kingdom. (This is very different from the typical story where he functions solely as a knight and a sort of clown whose duties seem to boil down to performing for the king - he doesn't actually do much other than make a good appearance.) He marries Grumbo’s daughter, an unnamed giantess. They have twin boys named Gog and Magog, “nine hundred times” as big as Tom.
Princess Poppet in “Harlequin and Tom Thumb, or Gog and Magog and Mother Goose’s Golden Goslings,” a pantomime performed in 1853. Here, Tom rescues King Arthur’s daughter Princess Poppet from the giant Grumbo. Arthur is reluctant to bless the marriage, but Mother Goose shows up and there’s a harlequinade and Tom and Poppet get married. Apparently the pantomime was fun, if somewhat incomprehensible to some critics.
An unnamed bride in Extraordinary Nursery Rhymes and Tales: New Yet Old (1876) features retellings of fairy tales and nursery rhymes in verse. Here, with help from King Arthur and the fairies, Tom Thumb begins looking for a proper wife. At first he can’t find a girl of proper size, and then he meets twenty little fairylike beauties and can’t choose between them. However, he eventually ends up with one and is perfectly happy (the other girls serve as bridesmaids). His new wife has six babies per year, alternating between daughters and sons, and they need help from Arthur and Guinevere to feed them all.
Queen Smilinda in The Lilliputian Magazine; or, Children's Repository (1770s) contains a story called "The Lilliputian History," detailing the life of a King Tom Thumb of Lilliputia. The story is original, but begins with King Thumb visiting the court of King Arthur in a clear nod to the British tale. Smilinda is the princess of a country called Yarthonia. They have a son, born in 1514, whose name is not given.
The most common names in Tom Thumb weddings were Lillie Putian (with many variations) and Jennie June.
Native American Thumblings
Since the amount of thumbling tales available from Europe and even Africa and Asia has been so overwhelming, I’ve been looking into American Indian tales, which are more sparse in the tiny hero department. I actually have found a thumbling tale type there, which I think is from the Ojibwa people or other nearby nations. There’s Boy-Man or the Little Spirit and the similar character Dais-Imid. Then there’s a whole wealth of suncatcher tales. Here the tiny character may show up as Chakabech (Wyandot), Chapewee (Dogrib) or Tcikabis (Cree or Innu). He lives with his sister, gets mad at the Sun for shrinking his coat and traps the Sun as a result, and then some variety of mouse frees it, shrinking down to its current size as a result.
(This connection between tiny characters and the sun also shows up in the Burmese “How Master Thumb Conquered the Sun.” Also, in Tom Thumb’s Folio, published circa 1825, Tom’s small size is attributed to an eclipse. The connection to solar myth is something I’d like to look into further.)
However – and this is important – in the Native American tales, the tiny character isn’t really thumb-sized. He’s almost always described as the size of a baby. This means a story based within the realm of possibility – i.e., the story’s less fantastical and the hero could conceivably be a real person with dwarfism.
Boy-Man is the one American Indian story most often connected to Tom Thumb. I tracked it back to Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, famous as one of the first female Native American writers. However, the first version I read was by Mary Hazelton Wade. Schoolcraft’s ending feels abrupt, but then so do many oral folktales; Wade’s version, which came later, is almost identical but then provides a moralistic happy ending which feels out of place. I was really confused for a little while there.
This is why my most recent find is something I’m a little wary of. I found a Dakota version of the suncatcher tale called “The Little First Man and the Little First Woman,” retold by William M. Cary, which gives me a new Thumbelina character. Here, unlike all the other American Indian stories I’ve found of the same tale type, the characters are tiny.
There’s a significant amount of text devoted to describing just how tiny they are. They feast on tiny berries, hunt grasshoppers, etc. It’s imaginative and fanciful, in the style of European (particularly English) thumbling and fairy literature. It just doesn’t feel that much like the typical baby-sized hero of the suncatcher tale, whose size sometimes becomes an afterthought. So on the one hand, I may have finally found an American Indian Thumbelina; on the other hand, I have to track down this story’s history.
Also posted on tumblr.
Researching folktales and fairies, with a focus on common tale types.