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Thumbling’s Travels
Thumbling’s Travels Märchen

Thumbling’s Travels - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 12 min

A certain tailor had a son, who happened to be small, and no bigger than a Thumb, and on this account he was always called Thumbling. He had, however, some courage in him, and said to his father, „Father, I must and will go out into the world.“

Thumbling's Travels Fairy Tale

„That’s right, my son,“ said the old man, and took a long darning-needle and made a knob of sealing-wax on it at the candle, „and there is a sword for thee to take with thee on the way.“ Then the little tailor wanted to have one more meal with them, and hopped into the kitchen to see what his lady mother had cooked for the last time. It was, however, just dished up, and the dish stood on the hearth.

Then he said, „Mother, what is there to eat today?“ – „See for thyself,“ said his mother. So Thumbling jumped on to the hearth, and peeped into the dish, but as he stretched his neck in too far the steam from the food caught hold of him, and carried him up the chimney. He rode about in the air on the steam for a while, until at length he sank down to the ground again. Now the little tailor was outside in the wide world, and he travelled about, and went to a master in his craft, but the food was not good enough for him.

„Mistress, if you give us no better food,“ said Thumbling, „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.'“ – „What wouldst thou have forsooth, grasshopper?“, said the mistress, and grew angry, and seized a dishcloth, and was just going to strike him. But my little tailor crept nimbly under a thimble, peeped out from beneath it, and put his tongue out at the mistress.

Thumbling's Travels Fairy Tale

She took up the thimble, and wanted to get hold of him, but little Thumbling hopped into the cloth, and while the mistress was opening it out and looking for him, he got into a crevice in the table. „Ho, ho, lady mistress,“ cried he, and thrust his head out, and when she began to strike him he leapt down into the drawer. At last, however, she caught him and drove him out of the house. The little tailor journeyed on and came to a great forest, and there he fell in with a band of robbers who had a design to steal the King’s treasure.

When they saw the little tailor, they thought, „A little fellow like that can creep through a key-hole and serve as picklock to us.“ – „Hollo,“ cried one of them, „thou giant Goliath, wilt thou go to the treasure-chamber with us? Thou canst slip thyself in and throw out the money.“ Thumbling reflected a while, and at length he said, „yes,“ and went with them to the treasure-chamber. Then he looked at the doors above and below, to see if there was any crack in them.

Thumbling's Travels Fairy Tale

It was not long before he espied one which was broad enough to let him in. He was therefore about to get in at once, but one of the two sentries who stood before the door, observed him, and said to the other, „What an ugly spider is creeping there. I will kill it.“ – „Let the poor creature alone,“ said the other. „It has done thee no harm.“ Then Thumbling got safely through the crevice into the treasure-chamber, opened the window beneath which the robbers were standing, and threw out to them one thaler after another.

Thumbling's Travels Fairy TaleImage: Paul Hey (1867 – 1952)

When the little tailor was in the full swing of his work, he heard the King coming to inspect his treasure-chamber, and crept hastily into a hiding-place. The King noticed that several solid thalers were missing, but could not conceive who could have stolen them, for locks and bolts were in good condition, and all seemed well guarded. Then he went away again, and said to the sentries, „Be on the watch, some one is after the money.“

When therefore Thumbling recommenced his labours, they heard the money moving, and a sound of klink, klink, klink. They ran swiftly in to seize the thief, but the little tailor, who heard them coming, was still swifter, and leapt into a corner and covered himself with a thaler, so that nothing could be seen of him, and at the same time he mocked the sentries and cried, „Here am I !“

Thumbling's Travels Fairy Tale

The sentries ran thither, but as they got there, he had already hopped into another corner under a thaler, and was crying, „Ho, ho, here am I!“ The watchmen sprang there in haste, but Thumbling had long ago got into a third corner, and was crying, „Ho, ho, here am I!“ And thus he made fools of them, and drove them so long round about the treasure-chamber that they were weary and went away.

Then by degrees he threw all the thalers out, dispatching the last with all his might, then hopped nimbly upon it, and flew down with it through the window. The robbers paid him great compliments. „Thou art a valiant hero,“ said they. „Wilt thou be our captain?“ Thumbling, however, declined, and said he wanted to see the world first. They now divided the booty, but the little tailor only asked for a kreuzer because he could not carry more.

Then he once more buckled on his sword, bade the robbers goodbye, and took to the road. First, he went to work with some masters, but he had no liking for that, and at last he hired himself as man-servant in an inn. The maids, however, could not endure him, for he saw all they did secretly, without their seeing him, and he told their master and mistress what they had taken off the plates, and carried away out of the cellar, for themselves.

Then said they, „Wait, and we will pay thee off!“ and arranged with each other to play him a trick. Soon afterwards when one of the maids was mowing in the garden, and saw Thumbling jumping about and creeping up and down the plants, she mowed him up quickly with the grass, tied all in a great cloth, and secretly threw it to the cows. Now amongst them there was a great black one, who swallowed him down without hurting him.

Thumbling's Travels Fairy TaleImage: Paul Hey (1867 – 1952)

Down below, however, it pleased him ill, for it was quite dark, neither was any candle burning. When the cow was being milked he cried:

„Strip, strap, strull,
Will the pail soon be full?“

But the noise of the milking prevented his being understood. After this the master of the house came into the cow-byre and said, „That cow shall be killed to-morrow.“ Then Thumbling was so alarmed that he cried out in a clear voice, „Let me out first, for I am shut up inside her.“ The master heard that quite well, but did not know from whence the voice came. „Where art thou?“ asked he. „In the black one,“ answered Thumbling, but the master did not understand what that meant, and went out.

Next morning the cow was killed. Happily Thumbling did not meet with one blow at the cutting up and chopping. He got among the sausage-meat. And when the butcher came in and began his work, he cried out with all his might, „Don’t chop too deep, don’t chop too deep, I am amongst it.“ No one heard this because of the noise of the chopping-knife. Now poor Thumbling was in trouble, but trouble sharpens the wits, and he sprang out so adroitly between the blows that none of them touched him, and he escaped with a whole skin.

Thumbling's Travels Fairy Tale

But still he could not get away, there was nothing for it but to let himself be thrust into a black-pudding with the bits of bacon. His quarters there were rather confined, and besides that he was hung up in the chimney to be smoked, and there time did hang terribly heavy on his hands. At length in winter he was taken down again, as the black-pudding had to be set before a guest.

When the hostess was cutting it in slices, he took care not to stretch out his head too far lest a bit of it should be cut off; at last he saw his opportunity, cleared a passage for himself, and jumped out. The little tailor, however, would not stay any longer in a house where he fared so ill, so at once set out on his journey again. But his liberty did not last long. In the open country he met with a fox who snapped him up in a fit of absence. „Hollo, Mr. Fox,“ cried the little tailor, „it is I who am sticking in your throat, set me at liberty again.“

Thumbling's Travels Fairy Tale

„Thou art right,“ answered the fox. „Thou art next to nothing for me, but if thou wilt promise me the fowls in thy father’s yard I will let thee go.“ – „With all my heart,“ replied Thumbling. „Thou shalt have all the cocks and hens, that I promise thee.“ Then the fox let him go again, and himself carried him home. When the father once more saw his dear son, he willingly gave the fox all the fowls which he had. „For this I likewise bring thee a handsome bit of money,“ said Thumbling, and gave his father the kreuzer which he earned on his travels.

Thumbling's Travels Fairy Tale

„But why did the fox get the poor chickens to eat?“ – „Oh, you goose, your father would surely love his child far more than the fowls in the yard!“

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „Thumbling’s Travels“

„Thumbling’s Travels,“ also known as „The Adventures of Thumbling“ or „Thumbling as Journeyman,“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in their anthology „Grimm’s Fairy Tales.“ The story is distinct from another Grimm’s tale titled „Thumbling,“ although both involve a tiny protagonist. „Thumbling’s Travels“ follows the adventures of a diminutive character named Thumbling, who is born to a poor couple after they pray for a child, no matter how small.

Like many of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, „Thumbling’s Travels“ has its origins in the oral storytelling traditions of Germany and other parts of Europe. The story shares elements with other folktales and legends about tiny characters, such as „Tom Thumb“ from the English folklore and „Little Poucet“ from the French folklore. These stories often involve the small protagonist going on adventures, outsmarting adversaries, and using their size to their advantage. The tale of „Thumbling’s Travels“ touches on themes of courage, resourcefulness, and the importance of staying true to one’s values despite adversity. The story also highlights the idea that size does not determine one’s worth or capabilities, as the tiny Thumbling proves himself to be a hero through his intelligence and bravery.

The Grimm brothers were prominent German linguists, cultural researchers, and authors who collected and published numerous folk tales, many of which have become classics in Western literature. Their work aimed to preserve the oral tradition and folklore of German-speaking regions, which they considered an essential part of the nation’s cultural identity.

„Thumbling’s Travels“ is a story about a tiny tailor’s son named Thumbling, who, despite his small size, is full of courage and determination. He sets out on a journey to explore the world and encounters various challenges along the way. Throughout his adventures, Thumbling demonstrates his resourcefulness and wit, overcoming obstacles and navigating dangerous situations. The tale is one of several Grimm stories featuring a diminutive protagonist, with others including „Tom Thumb“ and „Thumbling the Dwarf and Thumbling the Giant.“

The story of „Thumbling’s Travels“ has similarities to other European folk tales featuring tiny characters who embark on journeys, such as the English fairy tale „Tom Thumb“ and the Danish story „Little Claus and Big Claus“ by Hans Christian Andersen. These stories often include themes of perseverance, self-discovery, and overcoming adversity, showcasing the protagonist’s intelligence and resourcefulness despite their small stature.

Interpretations to fairy tale“Thumbling’s Travels“

„Thumbling’s Travels“ offers several themes and interpretations that can be drawn from the story. Here are some key interpretations of this Brothers Grimm fairy tale:

Perseverance and resourcefulness: Despite his small size, Thumbling faces numerous challenges throughout his journey. He demonstrates great resourcefulness and perseverance, using his wit to escape dangerous situations. This can be seen as a reminder to readers that it is not the size or strength that matters but rather the ability to adapt and find solutions to problems.

Importance of self-discovery: Thumbling embarks on his journey to explore the world and discover his place in it. He refuses to be limited by his size and embraces the experiences and challenges that come his way. This theme emphasizes the importance of self-discovery, personal growth, and pushing beyond one’s limits.

The power of love and family: Thumbling’s father is willing to sacrifice his fowls for his son’s safe return, showing that the love and bond between family members surpass material possessions. The fox’s actions can also be seen as a test of the father’s love for his child. This theme highlights the importance of love, compassion, and family connections. The story begins with Thumbling’s parents wishing for a child, no matter how small, and ends with Thumbling’s eventual return home to his loving family. This theme underscores the significance of family bonds and the comfort and support that families can provide.

The consequences of deceit and dishonesty: Thumbling’s experiences with the mistress and the maids in the inn demonstrate the negative consequences of deceit and dishonesty. The maids‘ dishonesty led to their own misfortune, while Thumbling’s honesty in revealing their misdeeds allowed him to escape their retaliation unharmed.

Critique of societal norms and expectations: Thumbling does not fit the traditional mold of a hero due to his small size, yet he proves himself capable of extraordinary feats. This can be interpreted as a critique of societal norms and expectations, showing that appearances can be deceiving and that individuals should not be judged solely based on their physical attributes.

Size doesn’t determine worth: One of the main messages of the story is that physical size is not a determinant of a person’s worth or capabilities. Despite his small stature, Thumbling possesses intelligence, bravery, and resourcefulness that enable him to overcome various challenges and adversaries throughout his journey.

Cleverness and resourcefulness: Thumbling’s adventures showcase the importance of wit and resourcefulness in overcoming obstacles. He uses his unique size and intelligence to outsmart his opponents, such as the robbers who try to exploit him. This theme emphasizes the value of quick thinking and adaptability in difficult situations.

Inner strength and courage: Thumbling demonstrates that inner strength and courage can help individuals face challenges and adversity. Despite being small and often underestimated, he remains determined and never loses sight of his values. This theme encourages readers to recognize their own inner strength and persevere through hardships.

The power of determination: Thumbling’s journey is an example of how determination and persistence can lead to success. He sets out to make a living and, despite the challenges he faces, eventually finds his way home. This theme highlights the importance of setting goals and remaining committed to them.

Overall, „Thumbling’s Travels“ offers valuable lessons about determination, courage, resourcefulness, and the importance of family and moral values. The tale also serves as a reminder that size does not determine a person’s worth or abilities, and that anyone can be a hero, regardless of their stature.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „Thumbling’s Travels“

„Thumbling’s Travels“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, in their renowned book „Grimm’s Fairy Tales“ (originally „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“), first published in 1812. While „Thumbling’s Travels“ may not be as well-known or frequently adapted as some other Brothers Grimm fairy tales, it has inspired a number of creative works and adaptations over the years. Some specific examples include:

Films: „Tom Thumb“ (1958): This British musical film, loosely inspired by „Thumbling’s Travels“ as well as the English folktale „Tom Thumb,“ tells the story of a tiny boy who goes on a series of adventures. The film combines live-action with stop-motion animation and features several musical numbers. Thumbling’s story has been adapted into several films, including the 1958 French film „Le Petit Poucet“ and the 2001 German film „Tom Thumb“. These films often add new elements to the original story, such as musical numbers or comedic twists.

Television: „The World of David the Gnome“ (1985-1987): This Spanish animated television series, based on the book „The Secret Book of Gnomes“ by Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvliet, follows the adventures of a gnome named David and his wife Lisa. Although not a direct adaptation of „Thumbling’s Travels,“ the series shares thematic elements with the fairy tale, such as the idea of tiny, resourceful characters going on adventures and outsmarting their enemies. Thumbling has also appeared in several television shows, including the animated series „Tom Thumb and Thumbelina“ and the British series „The Adventures of Tom Thumb and Thumbelina“. These shows often expand on the original story and add new characters and plotlines.

Literature: The story of Thumbling has been adapted into children’s books by various authors, including Paul O. Zelinsky, Jan Brett, and Eric Carle. These books often feature colorful illustrations and simplified versions of the original story. Various children’s books and picture books have been published that retell or adapt „Thumbling’s Travels.“ These adaptations often simplify the story and provide colorful illustrations to engage young readers.

Theater: The story of Thumbling has been adapted for theater and puppet shows, often as part of a larger collection of fairy tales. These productions may focus on Thumbling’s adventures and the lessons he learns along the way, emphasizing the themes of resourcefulness, determination, and courage. Thumbling’s story has been adapted for the stage, with productions such as the 2002 musical „Tom Thumb the Great“ and the 2014 play „Little Thumb“.

Artwork and Illustrations: Over the years, several artists have created illustrations and artwork inspired by „Thumbling’s Travels,“ capturing key moments and characters from the story. These visual representations often emphasize the fantastical elements of the tale and the contrast between Thumbling’s small size and the larger world around him. Thumbling’s story has inspired numerous works of art, including paintings, sculptures, and illustrations. For example, the 19th-century artist Arthur Rackham created several illustrations of Thumbling’s adventures, which are still popular today.

The fairy tale „Thumbling’s Travels“ from the Brothers Grimm has been adapted into various forms over the years. Although „Thumbling’s Travels“ might not have as many adaptations as other Brothers Grimm fairy tales, its influence can still be seen in various forms of media. The story’s themes of resourcefulness, determination, and courage continue to resonate with audiences and inspire new adaptations and creative works. Overall, the story of Thumbling’s Travels continues to inspire new adaptations and interpretations, making it a beloved fairy tale that has stood the test of time.

Summary of the plot

„Thumbling’s Travels“ is a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm about a tiny tailor’s son named Thumbling, who decides to venture out into the world. His father gives him a needle as a sword, and as he is about to have his last meal at home, he accidentally gets carried up the chimney by steam. Thumbling then explores the world and faces various challenges, including working for a master craftsman and a mistress, who both mistreat him. He ultimately leaves both situations, finding refuge in the forest.

Thumbling then meets a band of robbers, who plan to steal the King’s treasure. They want Thumbling to help them as he can easily fit through small spaces. Thumbling agrees and helps the robbers steal thalers from the treasure chamber, while eluding the sentries by constantly moving around. The robbers are impressed and want Thumbling to be their leader, but he declines and continues on his journey.

Thumbling works as a manservant in an inn, but the maids dislike him because he exposes their thefts. They retaliate by tricking him into being swallowed by a cow. Inside the cow, Thumbling panics when he learns the cow will be slaughtered, but he manages to escape unharmed. He then finds himself trapped in a black pudding and hangs in the chimney for months until a guest orders the dish. Thumbling seizes the opportunity to escape and resumes his journey.

However, Thumbling soon gets caught by a fox, who agrees to release him in exchange for his father’s fowls. Thumbling agrees, and the fox returns him home. The father gladly gives the fowls to the fox, and Thumbling gives his father the money he earned on his travels. The tale ends with the moral that a father’s love for his child is greater than his love for material possessions.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 37
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 700
TranslationsDE, EN, EL, DA, ES, FR, PT, FI, HU, IT, JA, NL, PL, RO, RU, TR, TR, VI, ZH
Readability Index by Björnsson31.4
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index81.8
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level6.6
Gunning Fog Index8.6
Coleman–Liau Index7.9
SMOG Index7.3
Automated Readability Index7
Character Count8.680
Letter Count6.580
Sentence Count86
Word Count1.633
Average Words per Sentence18,99
Words with more than 6 letters203
Percentage of long words12.4%
Number of Syllables2.042
Average Syllables per Word1,25
Words with three Syllables44
Percentage Words with three Syllables2.7%
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