Emily Wilde's Encyclopaedia of Faeries, by Heather Fawcett, is a recently published fantasy romance which plays with many fairy and folktale tropes. The main character is a socially awkward Cambridge professor and "dryadologist" - in this world, faeries are real and well-known, with a thriving field of study surrounding them. Written in diary format, it follows Emily's field research in the remote northern village of Hrafnsvik, where she intends to make her name with an groundbreaking study of some little-known fairy folk. Things soon get complicated as she deals with dangerous fae curses, the local humans, and a handsome academic rival.
The book gets off to a slow start, but once it got going, I enjoyed it a lot. The interplay between Emily and Bambleby is hilarious and eventually turns into a compelling romance.
I loved how authentic the rich, dark “fairy tale” mood felt. While original with its own interpretations of folklore creatures, the story feels based in a well-rounded understanding of folklore. For instance, Fawcett infuses a changeling story with more plot significance, elaborating on why the faerie child was left. Emily Wilde's world isn't just a mix of mythical creatures running around, but an element of fairy tale. There are familiar themes and motifs, and this is something acknowledged in the story; Emily holds an unorthodox belief that faeries and the events around them follow the rules and logic of stories in a way that’s alien to humans. There’s also a sense of fairies being inherently local to specific countries and climates. This folkloresque tone is one that I don't always find in modern fantasy; Holly Black's fairy books tend to capture it well.
I was amused by the book's scholars and researchers of Faerie, with Emily’s frequent footnotes giving hints into their academic papers, conferences, and drama. In this world, fairies are all real, so there is a whole branch of science blending naturalists with folklorists. I was reminded strongly of rivalries and controversial theories in the real-world folklore field. The dashing, flamboyant Wendell Bambleby has gotten into trouble for falsifying data in his studies - something not too far off from reality in some cases.
One thing that stands out to me is how the characters classify creatures under specific names, such as “brownie” for helpful house spirits and “kelpie” for water horses. This is a real approach among folklorists and it has flaws, since these words are rooted in specific traditions and were never meant to be used as generic labels. This is not a big deal in fiction and I’ve used words in this way myself, but it bears mentioning.
If you liked Holly Black's Folk of the Air and Spiderwick Chronicles series, or Naomi Novik's Spinning Silver, then this is one to check out.
7 Favorite Mermaid Books
Over the past year or so, I’ve been on the hunt for mermaid fiction. I’ve been through a lot of lists, and here's my own list of some favorites so far. There are many, many, MANY books on mermaids out there. The books here are ones that particularly stood out as both enjoyable and memorable for me this year.
Brine and Bone by Kate Stradling (2018): a retelling of The Little Mermaid. Stradling does something I've seen in a few other places by telling the story from the perspective of the other maiden - the human girl who steals the prince's heart. In this version, Magdalena is the prince's childhood friend and the girl he always really loved.
What this book does a little differently is that it treats mermaids as fae. This connection often gets lost in modern fiction, but old stories of mermaids and fairies really do overlap a lot. The "little mermaid" is eerie and alien, and the human characters are rightfully fearful of her. But Magdalena surprisingly finds some common ground with the mermaid. My only complaint is that it's pretty short and and I would have liked to see it go even more in depth.
Mermaid’s Song by Alida van Gores (1989): In an underwater society torn between two races, the mogs and the oppressed merra, a merra-maid named Elan learns to use her magic and competes for the coveted post of guardian to the Sea-Dragons. The competition will decide the fate of the entire ocean.
If you want to read an adult fantasy with a committed treatment of an underwater mermaid world, this is for you. Magic is kept fairly low-key, so the oceanic society feels refreshingly practical, with little details reinforcing that this is not our world - for instance, nobody sleeps in beds, and instead they essentially tie themselves to things. The entire story takes place underwater, which is surprisingly rare for a mermaid book! That said, there were a few uncomfortable themes that kept me from completely enjoying it. For instance, rather than the characters fighting for true equality, the merra are the rightful ruling class and the mogs need to get back to being subservient laborers.
All the Murmuring Bones by A. G. Slatter (2021): Mirin O’Malley is one of the last descendants of a formerly prosperous family, whose wealth came from regular human sacrifices to the merfolk. When Mirin’s grandmother plots to marry her off to her creepy cousin and start up the sacrifices again, she runs away to search for her missing parents.
Mermaids, rusalki, selkies and other mythical water creatures are more of a backdrop here, ominous figures who haunt Mirin. However, the main plot is interspersed with short, folktale-esque stories that I really enjoyed. I also liked the themes of healing and making amends, and was thoroughly rooting for Mirin by the end.
Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant (2017): A marine research ship heads out into the ocean to investigate a mysterious disaster and prove whether or not it was caused by mermaids, as rumor has claimed. Turns out the mermaids are all too real - and the research expedition is about to turn into a bloodbath.
Despite an underwhelming ending, this B-movie horror in book form is compulsively readable. I just really loved the plot of scientists discovering mermaids. Grant’s faux-scientific patter about mermaids with mimicking abilities and bioluminescent tentacle-hair feels believable, at least to me as someone who knows nothing about marine biology. If that sounds like something you'd enjoy, then this and its prequel, Rolling in the Deep, are both worth a read.
The Moon and the Sun by Vonda McIntyre (1997): A dark, dense, intricate historical fantasy where a captured mermaid is brought to the court of the Sun King, Louis XIV. (The mermaids or sea people here have two leg-like tails.) Naive young noblewoman Marie-Josephe learns to understand the "sea monster's" musical speech, sparking an ethical dilemma and a mission to free the imprisoned sea woman.
The novel is very much about personhood, touching on misogyny, slavery and treatment of people with disabilities, extending through the image of the sea woman whom authorities are ready to discount as a mindless animal that can be killed and eaten. There’s some good “mermaid” worldbuilding sprinkled in, too; the novel is an expansion of McIntyre's short story, “The Natural History and Extinction of the People of the Sea.” It can be hard to follow at times; there's a huge cast and everyone in the French court has multiple names and titles.
(This book got an absolute travesty of a film adaptation, and I’m still mad about it. JUSTICE FOR COUNT LUCIEN!)
Emerge by Tobie Easton (2016): Another Little Mermaid retelling - sort of. In this universe, unbeknownst to humans, The Little Mermaid was based on a true story and the heroine’s actions left the undersea world of merfolk in turmoil. In modern times, a mermaid named Lia Nautilus lives in disguise as a human, shielded from the war going on in the deep. When she learns that her human crush is in danger, she turns to forbidden siren magic to save him.
This cheesy, fluffy teen romance, the first of a series, was a surprise favorite for me. I was initially put off by the cartoony worldbuilding and puns (in one early eyerolly moment, a hot guy is called a “total foxfish”). But Easton commits to it and clearly put a lot of thought into a world with shapeshifting mermaids, underwater architecture, and magic. Lia’s plight is compelling, and I found myself enjoying the trilogy even more as it went on.
A Comb of Wishes by Lisa Stringfellow (2022): Kela, a young girl grieving her mother’s death, finds a mermaid’s comb. The mermaid offers her a wish in exchange for its return, and there’s only one real option for Kela: for her mother to be alive again. But there’s a steep price for wishes, and when the comb is stolen before Kela can return it, things quickly start to go wrong.
This middle-grade novel was a joy to read. Stringfellow blends the Caribbean setting with touches of mermaid stories from around the world (from "The Little Mermaid" to "The Old Man of Cury" and "The Soul Cages"). Mermaids are more of a mystical force here than in most of the other books on this list, but this book is firing on all cylinders with lyrical writing and a compelling, emotional plot.
Some of these books I honestly didn't expect to like so much - I originally ignored Emerge because of the punniness, A Comb of Wishes because it was a kids' book, All the Murmuring Bones because it sounded like the mermaids were barely in it. It was exciting to be able to add them to the list. Looking at this list, I realize that most of them are set primarily on land or have human main characters; this is a common theme. Writing an underwater setting can be a challenge because it rules out so much of society and technology that we take for granted.
I'll continue to read mermaid books as I find them - because I like mermaids, but it's also fun to observe the popular image of these beings from folk and fairy tales. The Little Mermaid is a very popular subject for retellings.
If you have a favorite mermaid book, drop it in the comments!
I recently read Liesl Shurtliff’s series of fairytale retellings for children. The books retell, in order, Rumpelstiltskin (Rump), Jack and the Beanstalk (Jack), Red Riding Hood (Red), and Snow White (Grump). However, they bring in elements of multiple other fairytales. So for instance, Red Riding Hood’s grandmother is Rose Red from the less-retold tale of “Snow White and Rose Red.” All four books take place in the same fantasy world, with interconnected characters.
My personal favorites were Red – particularly the friendship between Red and Goldilocks - and Grump, with its worldbuilding of a dwarf society. Another interesting element was how we see the point of view swap of Rumpelstiltskin – first in Rump from the title character in Rump, then in Jack from the queen who bargained with him, who is rather foolish but also manages to be sympathetic.
I was also delighted by just how many stories Shurtliff combined to create Jack, and how creatively and seamlessly it came together. It borrows from “Tom Thumb” and “Thumbelina,” and maybe I'm reading into it but I even recognized a touch of “Thumbling the Giant” with the Tom Thumb character being kidnapped by a giant.
Shurtliff is great at setting up endearing characters and readable stories. I felt the character of Jack was hardest to get invested in. Shurtliff was clearly going for a depiction of a troublesome young boy, but he was a little too obnoxious and dumb for me to really enjoy his point of view.
Also, this is more personal, but one of my pet peeves is when fairytale retellings focus on the Disney renditions. Grump has several nods to Disney's 1937 animated film – most notably including Grumpy the dwarf. However, Shurtliff shows off plenty of knowledge of the original tales, such as the apple being half red and half white as in the Grimm story. And I liked the story enough to forgive the Disney references.
Overall, these books are simple, quick reads that I found to be enjoyable and creative adaptations. A great series for middle-grade readers.
Ever heard of the theory that Shakespeare was a hoax? The idea is that William Shakespeare of Stratford - the man the plays were originally attributed to - didn't actually write them. In a twisting and secretive conspiracy, the books were actually penned by Francis Bacon. Or Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. Or Christopher Marlowe. Or one of a whole slew of other people (including possibly Queen Elizabeth herself). Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?, by James Shapiro, is a book concerned not just with the truth behind the matter, but with with why the conspiracy theories began and why they’ve gone almost mainstream.
The book begins by examining how Shakespeare's image developed over the centuries after his death. First he became a revered, even deified figure, built up into a perfect literary genius. But when researchers finally dug up the first long-desired scraps of information on his personal life, the real Shakespeare was disappointingly mundane. The legal and monetary records that survived made him look like a moneygrubbing Shylock type. This Shakespeare did not fit the mold that had been constructed for him.
Eventually, people began to suggest that Shakespeare was a hoax. The real author (and there would be many suggestions for the real author) was someone erudite, learned, well-traveled, and high-born (because, of course, some middle-class businessman wouldn’t have the noble breeding necessary to produce such works of pure artistry). Shapiro focuses on the two most popular candidates, Francis Bacon and Edward de Vere. Over the course of the book, he goes into the motives of the theorists and their followers (including such figures as Mark Twain, Helen Keller and Sigmund Freud). For instance, the writer who popularized Edward de Vere as a potential Real Shakespeare, believed that democracy should be demolished in favor of monarchy.
The last section of the book deals with what we do know about William Shakespeare of Stratford. There is surviving contemporary evidence that has surfaced over the centuries. Details lend interesting context to how Shakespeare worked. Those supposedly penny-penching business records may actually have been his wife, since as a married woman her business would all be under her husband's name. Shakespeare wrote many parts for specific actors. And during a late part of his career, he was frequently cowriting with other playwrights. This was particularly fascinating for me because Shakespeare left such an enduring influence in how British fairies evolved in the popular imagination – Oberon, Titania, Puck, and Mab are all here to stay, but we are still guessing at some of the particulars of where he got names (Mab, for instance).
Shapiro's writing is accessible and engaging, and paints a vivid picture of Shakespeare and the fans and critics who followed.
Steel Drivin' Man: John Henry - The Untold Story of an American Legend, by Scott Reynolds Nelson, recounts an effort to research the story behind the traditional song.
I came across this when I found the children's edition, Ain't Nothing But a Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry, at my library. It was told in an immediate first-person narrative, and I found it a great work for younger readers. It teaches kids how to do historical research and investigate folklore. After looking through it, I knew I had to read the full edition.
I thoroughly enjoyed both versions, although I leaned more towards the one for adult readers, which was longer and more in-depth. It's filled with resources, looks at different versions of the John Henry song and its evolution, and visits to the area where the song would have originated.
Nelson ultimately comes up with a theory for the origin of the song, and a candidate for a historical John Henry. Not everyone will agree with the theory, but I found Nelson's process fascinating and the theory fairly convincing. More than anything, the moment where the pieces fall into place is fantastic. A lot of effort went into this book and it shows. I recommend both versions to anyone interested in researching folklore.
Cuckoo Song begins with a girl waking up in bed after a mysterious injury. Her memories are foggy, her own family seems unfamiliar . . . and she feels voraciously hungry, no matter how much she eats.
This children's book is set in the 1920s not long after the first World War, and centers around Triss, a young girl from a well-to-do but deeply dysfunctional family. Ever since the death of her older brother in the war, the family has been unhealthily divided and deeply miserable. And now there is something wrong with Triss.
Ready for spoilers? This is a changeling story. Dark psychological horror. It's eerie, bizarre, and nightmarish, with some really beautiful prose. Many of the characters, not just Pen, are not what they seem at first. The slowly evolving friendship between Triss and her little sister Pen, for instance, was one of my favorite parts. Another character that will stay in my head for a long time is a kindly tailor, whose determination to save a lost child brings out one of the most unnerving threats in the book.
The fairies in this book are bonkers. They are creepy dark fairies, but they are also modern in a way, intertwining with the technology and aesthetics of the 1920s. You can use a telephone to call the otherworld. In one scene, a child is sucked into a silent black-and-white film. Scissors actively seek to kill anything fairylike. This is the kind of book where a girl unhinges her jaw to swallow a china doll whole. It's exactly as weird as it sounds, and it works.
Overall, the mood is very dark, but there was one scene towards the end of the book, in a crowded restaurant, that legitimately made me laugh out loud.
I particularly love that the changeling in the book is not a fairy child replacement. I have read so many changeling fantasies where the hero turns out to be a long-lost fairy prince or princess. This changeling story is inspired by tales where the replacement is a carved piece of wood, meant to pose as a corpse and fool people into believing their loved one is dead.
What would it be like to learn that you're not who you believe you are? And not even an enchanted Chosen One - nothing but a decoy? That's one plot idea I've been wishing I could read, and here it's played to its fullest extent.
Personally, I am adding this to my list of favorite books. I actually stumbled on the Wikipedia summary to begin with and was kind of baffled, but when I sat down to read the book, I finished it in one sitting and thoroughly enjoyed it. If you're looking for a dark and utterly original changeling tale, featuring a sweet friendship between siblings, check this one out.
You can read an interview with author Frances Hardinge on her inspirations here.
I recently saw someone cite A Basket of Wishes as an example of a romance novel cover, and it reminded me of something I noticed a while ago. And yes, this is another post on pillywiggins.
Among other appearances, these flower fairies showed up in a spate of romance novels through the 1990s and a little bit into the 2000s. First was A Basket of Wishes by Rebecca Paisley (1995). Then Twin Beds by Regan Forest (1996), A Little Something Extra by Pam McCutcheon (1996), Stronger than Magic by Heather Cullman (1997), Scottish Magic: Four Spellbinding Tales of Magic and Timeless Love (1998), A Dangerous Magic (1999), and Buttercup Baby by Karen Fox (2001).
A Basket of Wishes and Buttercup Baby, the first and last in this list, share a number of similarities.
Beyond the rather by-the-numbers plot setup, one of the most striking similarities is the fairy heroine whose tears are gemstones. The idea of tears becoming jewels has its own Aarne-Thompson motif number, D475.4.5. It appears in the Grimms' tale "The Goose Girl at the Well." In the Palestinian story of "Lolabe," the heroine weeps pearls and coral. This trope is often associated with mermaids. "Mermaid tears" is an alternate name for sea glass. There's a Scottish legend - recorded in 1896 when adapted into a poem - that a mermaid's tears became the distinctive pebbles on the shore of Iona. In Chinese legend, mermaids weep pearls; this idea was recorded going pretty far back, for instance by fourth-century scholar Zhang Hua in his Record of Diverse Matters.
Rebecca Paisley is the first person to apply this motif to pillywiggins. Karen Fox is the second. So far as I know, they remain the only two authors to do so.
As far as differences, they do take place in different time periods. Buttercup Baby is about the pregnancy and slice-of-life fluff. A Basket of Wishes, on the other hand, tends more towards high fantasy and some drama with Splendor’s realm being in danger.
Paisley's writing has a number of folklore references. Her pillywiggins (who are synonymous with fairies) live under a mound and tie elf knots in horses' manes. They are incredibly lightweight, like Indian tales of a princess who weighs as much as five flowers. They have no shadows, like Jewish demons and Indian bhoots or bhutas. Most intriguingly, Splendor reveals that her powers are not always limitless. She can't just vanish maladies like a stutter, an unsightly birthmark, or baldness, but must transfer them to someone else - which she does, giving those attributes to the book's antagonists. This harkens to the fairytale known in the Aarne-Thompson system as Type 503. In a common variation, two hunchbacks visit the fairies. One pleases the fairies and they reward him by removing his hunch. The second man is rude and greedy, and the fairies add the first man's hunch to his own.
Karen Fox, on the other hand, builds a world based on old English literature: A Midsummer Night's Dream and 17th-century ballads about Robin Goodfellow. She uses “pillywiggins” as a singular noun (which is not uncommon as a variant spelling). Unlike Paisley's version, Fox's pillywiggins are not a name for fairykind as a whole, but a specific subspecies.
Fox's use of Ariel as the pillywiggin queen points to Edain McCoy's Witch's Guide to Faery Folk (1994). McCoy was the first to give Ariel as the name of a queen of pillywiggins, and Fox is far from the only author to have followed suit. McCoy's book has been subtly but deeply influential, with large portions posted online by 1996. A now-defunct quiz titled "What type of female fairy are you?", online around 2002, advises the user that "Most of the information used in this quiz was taken (in some cases verbatim) from A Witches' Guide to Faery Folk by Edain McCoy." Pillywiggins are one possible result on the quiz.
The new mythology of pillywiggins has been spread mainly through the Internet through sites like this. Creators in the 80's, 90's and early 2000's, like McCoy, Paisley and Fox, used them as basic winged flower fairies. Later authors played with this. In 2011, Julia Jarman made Pillywiggins a singular fairy who stands out from her glittery peers as bold and boyish. The pillywiggens of Marik Berghs’ Fae Wars novels (2013) are “fierce hunters” who ride on birds. Even in these fiercer examples, though, there remains a focus on their minuscule size and "cuteness." Jarman's heroine receives doll clothes. Berghs' pillywiggens speak in chirps and eat crumbs.
The attraction of the pillywiggin lies partly in its ability to put a name to the modern archetype of the cute, winged flower fairy. In the first known appearance of pillywiggins, they were listed as a type of flower fairy. However, when it now appears in modern Internet parlance, pillywiggin is the name for the flower fairy category.
Despite their similarities, Paisley's and Fox's works both show slightly different takes on pillywiggins. Nearly every author seems to have their own unique approach, while still subtly building up a new piece of folklore. At this point, I feel that if a pre-1970s source for flower-fairy pillywiggins ever shows up, it will be completely unrecognizable compared to the newly evolved myth.
Other posts in this series
Strange Terrain, by Barbara Rieti
I've been on a fairy research track recently, mainly going through my "Little Folk" page and trying to fact-check and add citations. That's going to be a long process.
On the way, I came across the book Strange Terrain: The Fairy World in Newfoundland, by Barbara Rieti. It took a while to get a copy through Interlibrary Loan, but I really enjoyed it.
It's Rieti's research, and a lot of the text is from recordings of interviews she had with locals. It's a great look into the folklore of Newfoundland, with meticulous sources and connections to previously recorded folklore.
There are also some interesting points about how folklore starts. It's easy to think of traditional stories as being hundreds of years old, off in some forgotten time, but Rieti mentions some real people, community figures whose oddities passed into local legends. Some of these cases were very recent.
In one case, Rieti was tracking down the source of a tale about a little girl named Lucy Harris who had been stolen away by fairies. To her shock, it turned out that the little girl was not only still alive, but only in her sixties, and rather offended by people bothering her about the story. In reality, she had been lost in the woods for more than a week, unable to move due to hypothermia, and eating snow to survive. Her legs had to be amputated. Rieti calls it "the most embarrassing episode in my fieldwork" but it is really enlightening. She also quotes some of the contemporary news articles, where miscommunications and misquotes are rampant, contributing to the spread of the local legend.
If you're interested in Newfoundland folklore or just how academic research is conducted, check out this book. It was hard for me to find a copy, but it was worth the hassle.
The Greatest Showman is a shiny, sugar-coated musical version of P. T. Barnum’s rise to fame.
I’ve written a couple of times about Charles Stratton, who used the stage name General Tom Thumb. Although there's been a documentary about him and he's been depicted in a few plays or movies about Barnum, this is the first time I've seen his story told onscreen.
Stratton is played by Sam Humphrey, who has skeletal dysplasia and actually stands 4’2”. (The real Stratton was a little over two feet tall when he began performing as a child, and eventually reached 3.25 feet.) Also, Humphrey’s voice is much higher in interviews. In the movie, he’s been dubbed with a different, deeper voice. I did think his face bore a pretty good resemblance to the real Stratton's and I liked his performance overall.
(EDIT: Thanks, Elizabeth, for the heads up - James Babson was the voice of Tom Thumb. I also found more information on how the movie was made. To make Humphrey look shorter, he knelt or was filmed with his legs out of frame, and his legs were digitally edited in scenes where they were visible.)
I had a feeling that his role might be little more than a cameo. The movie is about Barnum, not Stratton, after all. However, it turns out that General Tom Thumb is instrumental to the plot at a couple of points.
P. T. Barnum lives in poverty with his wife and two children until he comes up with the idea of opening his own museum. While at the bank seeking a loan, Barnum notices Charles, a sharp-tongued young man only two feet tall. (Here, he’s twenty-two years old, but in real life he was only four when he met Barnum.) Barnum then goes home and notices his daughter’s picture book about Tom Thumb, which gives him the rest of his inspiration. Instead of a museum full of wax figures and stuffed animals, he needs something living. Out to the street he goes, posting advertisements for human “oddities." He also pays a visit to the Stratton home, where he wins Charles over.
Out of the crowd of performers, Charles Stratton and the bearded lady Lettie Lutz have the most lines and the most screen time. (There’s also Zendaya as an acrobat who falls in love with Zac Efron.) The group quickly bonds and comes to see each other as family, as well as rediscover their self-worth and confidence. I would have liked to see more of their performances, but it’s mainly people dancing around with an occasional CGI lion or elephant thrown in.
In reality, when Barnum took five-year-old Stratton on tour through England, his shows consisted of acting, singing, telling jokes, and doing impressions. (Again - five years old.) After a lot of work, Barnum managed to get them an audience with Queen Victoria. This allowed them to come back to America and start advertising with more gusto than ever.
The movie has a brief, creative adaptation of this. After the circus finds success in America, Zac Efron’s character obtains the invitation offscreen, and the whole circus family just bops over the Atlantic to visit the queen. When they have their audience, Queen Victoria specifically mentions having heard of General Tom Thumb. In turn, he manages to make her laugh with an irreverent comment. The visit is a success, and while at court, Barnum meets the opera singer Jenny Lind. This launches the movie into its next act.
I’d recommend this movie if you’re looking for a fun family film with lots of singing and dancing. My mom went with me to the theater and she loved it. Personally I liked the actors and the music. It’s not historically accurate and doesn’t try to be, but I don’t mind that. From the trailers, I expected that it would gloss over the reality in favor of feel-good follow-your-dreams be-yourself Hollywood glitter. It met my expectations there.
I do mind that it wipes away anything uncomfortable. Rather than exploitation, Barnum’s work is “a celebration of humanity.” Plus, other than lying to get a loan from the bank, Barnum doesn’t do much hoaxing. We see him exaggerating things, such as putting an already tall man on stilts, but we never see him fabricate anything. There are no Fiji mermaids here. There's certainly no Joice Heth (an elderly slave woman whom Barnum advertised as George Washington's 160-year-old "mammy"). So when Barnum talks about wanting to do something ‘real’ for once, or embraces his title as the Prince of Humbug, it’s a little confusing. His performers may be exaggerated, but they’re still genuine.
I would love to see something that delves more into the historical events and lets Barnum be his real, problematic self. I’d especially love to see a movie devoted to Charles Stratton or his wife Lavinia Warren.
In a Nutshell
Tom Thumb and Thumbelina are closely associated in pop culture, for obvious reasons. They've starred together in two direct-to-video movies. They appear as a couple in Shrek 2. I've also found mistaken statements that General Tom Thumb's wife used the stage name Thumbelina.
It's interesting to see how these crossovers treat the characters. The Adventures of Tom Thumb and Thumbelina was basically just a retelling of Thumbelina; despite getting first billing, Tom was barely the deuteragonist and bore no resemblance whatsoever to his original fairytale. Tom Thumb Meets Thumbelina seems like it took inspiration from both fairytales, but otherwise just kind of . . . does its own thing.
In a Nutshell, by Susan Price, is a fairly short book published in 1983. It can be a little hard to find in libraries. The main characters, Thumb and Thumbling, are a pair of tiny fairies who anger King Oberon. As punishment, he takes away their powers and gives them to human families. However, the tiny man and woman decide to find each other and get back to Fairyland - which is a tall order for a couple of people only two inches tall.
It's one of the most interesting mashup of thumbling tales I've read.
Though Thumb is (like Tom Thumb) based in England, and his parents use that name once, his adventures of riding in a horse's ear and being used to fetch stolen goods for robbers are all Thumbling. Thumbling, given to a lonely woman in Denmark, is Thumbelina, and the quest and conclusion are strongly based on The Young Giant.
The characters are unlikeable. They're supposed to be unlikeable, as fairies are played up as uncompassionate creatures, but it's still hard to get invested when they act as callous as they do. They only start to come around and grow into better people near the end. One touch I liked was how much we see the danger of their lives; Price does a pretty good job of making it feel like they are constantly threatened. Even their adopted parents could easily harm them, and overpower them by far.
I don't think this book is going to be remembered as a classic or anything like that, but it was an interesting read, and I have it on my bookshelf now.
Researching folktales and fairies, with a focus on common tale types.