Gateway to the Classics: Fairy Stories and Fables by James Baldwin
Fairy Stories and Fables by  James Baldwin

The Story of Tom Thumb

More than a thousand years ago there lived in England a man named Merlin. He knew so many wonderful things and was so very, very wise that people called him a wizard.

Once on a time he was traveling across the country dressed as a poor beggar. In the evening he stopped at a farmhouse and asked if he might stay there all night; for he had walked far and was tired, and there were no inns in England at that time.

The farmer gave him a hearty welcome and led him into the house; and the farmer's wife brought him some milk in a wooden bowl and some brown bread on a platter.

Merlin was much pleased with their kindness, and he spent the night with them very happily. Everything about the house was neat and cozy, and there was no lack of anything that was needed; and yet the farmer and his wife were both downcast and sad.

In the morning he asked them what it was that made them seem so unhappy in the midst of such plenty. They told him that they were sad because they had no children.

"Ah me!" said the poor woman, with tears in her eyes, "I would be the happiest woman in the world if I had a son. Why, if the boy were no bigger than my husband's thumb, I would be satisfied."

Merlin laughed at the thought of a boy no bigger than a man's thumb; and when he had eaten a breakfast of bread and milk, he bade the kind people good-bye and went his way.

Some years after that, he stopped at the same farmhouse again. He found everybody very happy this time; for the farmer's wife had a son, and he was not a bit bigger than his father's thumb. And they told Merlin many strange things about the little fellow.

One day when the mother was looking at the tiny babe and thinking how pretty he was, the queen of the fairies came flitting in at the window and kissed him and gave him the name of Tom Thumb. Then seven other fairies came dancing in, and dressed him as she told them to do:—

Of an acorn cup they made his crown;

His coat was woven of thistle's down;

His shirt of spider's web was spun;

His trousers were of feathers done;

His shoes were made of mouse's skin,

Tanned with the downy hair within.


Tom never grew any larger than his father's thumb; but as he got older he learned many funny tricks and was as cunning a little fellow as you ever saw. One day when his mother was making a batter pudding Tom climbed up on the edge of the bowl to see how it was done. When his mother began to stir it she gave the bowl such a jar that he slipped off and fell, head over ears, into the batter.


His mother's eyes were not very good, and she did not see him. She kept on stirring and stirring, while the poor little fellow floundered about in the batter of milk and eggs and was half drowned. When she had finished the stirring, the good woman put the pudding in a pot and set it over the fire to cook.

Tom's mouth was so full of the batter that he could not cry out; but when the pudding began to get hot he kicked and floundered about at a great rate. His mother had never seen a pudding act in that way before, and she was frightened.

"My! my!" she cried, "I do believe that the pudding is bewitched." And before it was half done she took the pot off the fire and set it outside the door, "I'll see how it looks when it gets cold," she said.

Just at that time a poor beggar came to the gate and asked for something to eat.

"You are welcome to this pudding, if you want it," said the woman.

The beggar lifted it from the pot and put it into his basket and went away. He had not gone far when Tom got the batter out of his mouth and began to cry. This so frightened the beggar that he dropped his basket and ran down the road as fast as he could go.

What a sorry-looking fellow Tom was when he crept out of the pudding! He climbed out of the basket and looked around. Then he walked home and told his mother all about it. Of course she was sorry to see him in such a plight, but she was glad that the fairies had not let him drown in the batter. She put him into a teacup and gave him a bath, and then laid him in bed.

Not long after this, Tom's mother went to milk her cow in the meadow, and she took him along with her. It was a very windy day, and, to keep the little fellow from being blown away, she tied him to a thistle with a piece of fine thread. The cow saw his acorn-cup hat, and thought that it would be a dainty morsel. So she picked poor Tom and the thistle up at a mouthful. Tom was very much afraid of her big teeth, and when she began to chew, he cried out as loud as he could: "Mother, mother!"

"Where are you Tommy, my dear Tommy?" said his mother.

"Here, mother," he said, "here I am, in the red cow's mouth."

His mother began to cry and wring her hands; and the cow was so frightened at the strange noise in her throat that she opened her mouth, and Tom jumped out. His mother caught him in her apron and ran home with him.

Not long after this, Tom's father made him a whip of barley straw, and it was funny to see him drive the cattle with it. One day, as he was driving the cows from the field, his foot slipped, and he rolled into a deep furrow. A raven which happened to see him, picked him up, and flew with him to the sea and dropped him in. Ah, what would have become of poor Tom then, if it had not been for his friends the fairies?

He had hardly touched the water when a big fish swallowed him and swam away. But the fish was soon caught by a fisherman, who sold it to the servants of King Arthur. When they cut the fish open in order to cook it, they were surprised to find the tiny lad; and Tom was glad to see the sun again, I tell you.

They carried him to the King, who laughed to see so little a fellow, and said: "He shall be my dwarf, and make sport for the Knights of the Round Table." And Tom was so cunning and so full of funny tricks that everybody loved him.

When the King rode out on horseback, he often took Tom along with him; and if it rained, the little fellow would creep into the King's pocket, where he sometimes went to sleep.

One day the King asked Tom about his father and mother, and wanted to know whether they were as small as he was, and whether they were well off. Tom told him that they were as tall as other people, but that they were not very rich. Then the King gave him leave to go and see them, and said that he might take with him as much money as he could carry. This made the little fellow dance for joy, and he began at once to get ready for his journey.

He bought a very little purse, and the King gave him a silver threepenny piece to put into it. It was all that he could do to lift it upon his back, and it made a heavy load for him. Then he set out to travel across the fields to his father's house. It was not very far, but it took him two days and two nights to make the journey; and the silver was so heavy that he had to rest a hundred times by the roadside. He was almost tired to death when his mother ran out to the gate to meet him.

Tom's parents were very glad to see him. They made a bed for him in the sugar bowl, and feasted him for three days on a hazel nut. When the time came for him to go back to King Arthur, it had rained so much that he could not travel. So his mother made a little parasol of thin paper and tied him to it; then she opened the window and gave him a puff with her mouth, and the wind carried him safe over hill and dale to the King's palace. Of course King Arthur and all the Knights of the Round Table were glad to have their little dwarf back again.

The suit of clothes which the fairies had made for Tom was now pretty well worn out, and so the King gave orders that he should have another. He was also knighted under the name of Sir Thomas Thumb; and the liveliest mouse in the King's stables was given to him for a steed. You would have laughed to see the little fellow then.

Of butterflies' wings his shirt was made,

His boots of a chicken's skin;

And by fairies learned in the tailor's trade

His coat and trousers both were made,

And lined without and within.—

For a sword, a needle hung by his side;

A dapper mouse he used to ride.—

Thus strutted Tom in stately pride.

It was certainly very funny to see Tom dressed in this way, and mounted on the mouse.

One day the queen of the fairies came to pay Tom a visit, and she was so much pleased with him that she carried him to fairyland, and kept him there a good many years. She kept him there so long, indeed, that King Arthur and all his Knights had grown old and died before she thought of letting him go back. At last she gave him leave to visit his native land again; and, dressed in a suit of green, he went flying back to the palace where he had lived so happily. But nobody knew him, and people flocked from all parts of the country to look at him. The new King asked him who he was. Tom answered:—

"My name is Tom Thumb,

From the fairies I've come.

When King Arthur shone,

This place was my home.

In me he delighted,

By him I was knighted.

Did you never hear of Sir Thomas Thumb?"

The King was very much pleased with him, and ordered a little chair to be made, so that Tom could sit upon his table; and he built for him a palace of gold a span high, with a door an inch wide, and fitted it up for him to live in. He also gave him a coach, drawn by six small mice.

The Queen was angry because the King had spent so much money for Sir Thomas, and she made up her mind to drive him away. So she told the King that the tiny Knight had been saucy to her.

The King sent for Tom in great haste, and Tom was so badly frightened that he hid himself in a snail shell and stayed there till he was almost starved.

One day he saw a large butterfly on the ground, near the shell. He ran out quickly, and leaped upon its back; it took wing, and carried him high up into the air; it flew with him from tree to tree, and from field to field; and at last it brought him back to the King's palace, and tipped him off its back into a watering pot.

Poor Tom was almost drowned, but he managed to creep out and climb upon the doorstep to dry himself. In a little while the servants found him and picked him up.

When the Queen saw him she was in a great rage, and said that his head should be cut off; and they put him into a mousetrap to be kept there until they could tell the King about him.

A cat that was passing by saw something stir in the trap, and thought that it was a mouse. She pounced upon the trap and rolled it about till the wires were broken, and Sir Thomas stepped out in his suit of green.

Just then the King came in, and he was not half so angry with him as Tom had feared; and soon the little fellow was as great a pet in the palace as ever.

But poor Tom did not live long to enjoy his good fortune. One day, as he was walking in the garden, a big spider ran after him. Tom drew his sword, and fought like a hero; but the breath of the spider was full of poison, and Tom could not fight long.

He fell dead on the ground where he had stood,

And the spider sucked every drop of his blood.

The King and his Knights were so sorry for the loss of their little pet that they wore mourning for sixty days afterwards; and they buried him under a rose tree, and raised a fine white marble monument over his grave. The following lines were written on the monument:—

Here lies Tom Thumb, King Arthur's Knight,

Who died by a cruel spider's bite.

He was well known in Arthur's court,

For gallant deeds and merry sport;

He rode in many a 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!

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: The Milkmaid and Her Pail  |  Next: The Fox Who Lost His Tail
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.