By William and Jacob Grimm
ONCE upon a time there lived a poor peasant, who used to sit every
evening by the hearth, poking the fire, while his wife spun. One night
he said, "How sad it is that we have no children; everything is so
quiet here, while in other houses it is so noisy and merry."
"Ah!" sighed his wife, "if we had but only one, and were he no bigger
than my thumb, I should still be content, and love him with all my
heart." A little while after the wife fell ill; and after seven months
a child was born, who, although he was perfectly formed in all his
limbs, was not actually bigger than one's thumb. So they said to one
another that it had happened just as they wished; and they called the
child "Thumbling." Every day they gave him all the food he could eat;
still he did not grow a bit, but remained exactly the height he was
when first born; he looked about him, however, very knowingly, and
showed himself to be a bold and clever fellow, who prospered in
everything he undertook.
One morning the peasant was making ready to go into the forest to fell
wood, and said, "Now I wish I had some one who could follow me with the
"Oh! father," exclaimed Thumbling, "I will bring the cart; don't you
trouble yourself; it shall be there at the right time."
The father laughed at this speech, and said, "How shall that be? You
are much too small to lead the horse by the bridle."
"That matters not, father. If mother will harness the horse, I can sit
in his car, and tell him which way to take."
"Well, we will try for once," said the father; and so, when the hour
came, the mother harnessed the horse, and placed Thumbling in its ear,
and told him how to guide it. Then he set out quite like a man, and
the cart went on the right road to the forest; and just as it turned a
corner, and Thumbling called out "Steady, steady," two strange men met
it; and one said to the other, "My goodness, what is this? Here comes
a cart, and the driver keeps calling to the horse; but I can see no
one." "That cannot be all right," said the other: "let us follow and
see where the cart stops."
The cart went on safely deep into the forest, and straight to the place
where the wood was cut. As soon as Thumbling saw his father, he called
to him, "Here, father; here I am, you see, with the cart; just take me
down." The peasant caught the bridle of the horse with his left hand,
and with his right took his little son out of its ear; and he sat
himself down merrily on a straw. When the two strangers saw the little
fellow, they knew not what to say for astonishment; and one of them
took his companion aside, and said, "This little fellow might make our
fortune if we could exhibit him in the towns. Let us buy him." They
went up to the peasant, and asked, "Will you sell your son? We will
treat him well." "No," replied the man; "he is my heart's delight, and
not to be bought for all the money in the world!" But Thumbling, when
he heard what was said, climbed up by his father's skirt, and set
himself on his shoulder, and whispered in his ear, "Let me go now, and
I will soon come back again." So his father gave him to the two men
for a fine piece of gold; and they asked him where he would sit. "Oh,"
replied he, "put me on the rim of your hat; and then I can walk round
and survey the country. I will not fall off." They did as he wished;
and when he had taken leave of his father, they set out. Just as it
was getting dark he asked to be lifted down; and, after some demur, the
man on whose hat he was, took him off and placed him on the ground. In
an instant Thumbling ran off, and crept into a mousehole, where they
could not see him. "Good evening, masters," said he, "you can go home
without me"; and with a quiet laugh he crept into his hole still
further. The two men poked their sticks into the hole, but all in
vain; for Thumbling only went down further; and when it had grown quite
dark they were obliged to return home full of vexation and with empty
As soon as Thumbling perceived that they were off, he crawled out of
his hiding place, and said, "How dangerous it is to walk in this field
in the dark: one might soon break one's head or legs;" and so saying he
looked around, and by great good luck saw an empty snail shell. "God
be praised," he exclaimed, "here I can sleep securely; and in he went.
Just as he was about to fall asleep he heard two men coming by, one of
whom said to the other, "How shall we manage to get at the parson's
gold and silver?"
"That I can tell you," interrupted Thumbling.
"What was that?" exclaimed the thief, frightened. "I heard some one
speak." They stood still and listened; and then Thumbling said, "Take
me with you, and I will help you."
"Where are you?" asked the thieves.
"Search on the ground, and mark where my voice comes from," replied he.
The thief looked about, and at last found him; and lifted him up in the
"What, will you help us, you little wight?" said they.
"Do you not see I can creep between the iron bars into the chamber of
the parson, and reach out to you whatever you require?"
"Very well; we will see what you can do," said the thief.
When they came to the house, Thumbling crept into the chamber, and
cried out with all his might, "Will you have all that is here?" The
thieves were terrified, and said, "Speak gently, or some one will
But Thumbling feigned not to understand, and exclaimed, louder still,
"Will you have all that is here?"
This awoke the cook, who slept in the room, and sitting up in her bed
she listened. The thieves, however, had run back a little way, quite
frightened; but taking courage again, and thinking the little fellow
wished to tease them, they came and whispered to him to make haste and
hand them out something. At this, Thumbling cried out still more
loudly, "I will give you it all, only put your hands in." The
listening maid heard this clearly, and springing out of bed, hurried
out at the door. The thieves ran off as if they were pursued by the
wild huntsman, but the maid, as she could see nothing, went to strike a
light. When she returned, Thumbling escaped without being seen into
the barn, and the maid, after she had looked round and searched in
every corner, without finding anything, went to bed again, believing
she had been dreaming with her eyes open. Meanwhile Thumbling had
crept in amongst the hay, and found a beautiful place to sleep, where
he intended to rest till daybreak, and then to go home to his parents.
Other things however, was he to experience, for there is much
tribulation and trouble going on in this world.
The maid got up at dawn of day to feed the cow. Her first walk was to
the barn, where she took an armful of hay, and just the bundle where
poor Thumbling lay asleep. He slept so soundly, however, that he was
not conscious, and only awoke when he was in the cow's mouth. "Ah,
goodness!" exclaimed he, "however came I into this mill?" but soon he
saw where he really was. Then he took care not to come between the
teeth, but presently slipped quite down the cow's throat. "There are
no windows in this room," said he to himself, "and no sunshine, and I
brought no light with me." Overhead his quarters seemed still worse,
and more than all, he felt his room growing narrower, as the cow
swallowed more hay. So he began to call out in terror as loudly as he
could, "Bring me no more food. I do not want any more food!" Just then
the maid was milking the cow, and when she heard the voice without
seeing anything, and knew it was the same she had listened to in the
night, she was so frightened that she slipped off her stool and
overturned the milk. In great haste she ran to her master, saying,
"Oh, Mr. Parson, the cow has been speaking."
"You are crazy," he replied; but still he went himself into The stable
to see what was the matter, and scarcely had he stepped in when
Thumbling began to shout out again, "Bring me no more food, bring me no
more food." This terrified the parson himself, and he thought an evil
spirit had entered into his cow, and so ordered her to be killed. As
soon as that was done, and they were dividing the carcass, a fresh
accident befell Thumbling, for a wolf, who was passing at the time,
made a snatch at the cow, and tore away the part where he was stuck
fast. However, he did not lose courage, but as soon as the wolf had
swallowed him, he called out from inside, "Oh, Mr. Wolf, I know of a
capital meal for you." "Where is it to be found?" asked the wolf
"In the house by the meadow; you must creep through the gutter, and
there you will find cakes, and bacon, and sausages, as many as you can
eat," replied Thumbling, describing exactly his father's house.
The wolf did not wait to be told twice, but in the night crept in, and
ate away in the larder, to his heart's content. When he had finished,
he tried to escape by the way he entered, but the hole was not large
enough. Thereupon Thumbling, who had reckoned on this, began to make a
tremendous noise inside the poor wolf, screaming and shouting as loud
as he could. "Will you be quiet?" said the wolf; "you will awake the
people." "Eh, what!" cried the little man, "since you have satisfied
yourself, it is my turn now to make merry;" and he set up a louder
howling than before. At last his father and mother awoke, and came to
the room and looked through the chinks of the door; and as soon as they
perceived the ravages the wolf had committed, they ran and brought the
man his ax and the woman the scythe. "Stop you behind," said the man,
as they entered the room; "if my blow does not kill him, you must give
him a cut with your weapon, and chop off his head if you can."
When Thumbling heard his father's voice, he called out, "Father dear, I
am here, in the wolf's body!" "Heaven be praised," said the man, full
of joy, "our dear child is found again;" and he bade his wife take away
the scythe, lest it should do any harm to his son. Then he raised his
ax, and gave the wolf such a blow on its head that it fell dead, and,
taking a knife, he cut it open and released the little fellow, his son.
"Ah," said his father, "what trouble we have had about you." "Yes,
father," replied Thumbling, "I have been traveling a great deal about
the world. Heaven be praised! I breathe fresh air again."
"Where have you been, my son?" he inquired.
"Once I was in a mouse's hole, once inside a cow, and lastly inside
that wolf; and now I will stop here with you," said Thumbling.
"Yes," said the old people, "we will not sell you again for all the
riches of the world;" and they embraced and kissed him with great
affection. Then they gave him plenty to eat and drink, and had new
clothes made for him, for his old ones were worn out with traveling.