Retold by Joseph Jacobs
ONCE upon a time there was a Wood-cutter and his wife who had seven
children, all boys. The eldest was only ten years old. They were very
poor, and their seven children were a great burden, since not one of
them was able to earn his living.
What troubled them still more was the fact that the youngest was not
only very delicate, but silent, which they took for stupidity, but
which was really a mark of his good sense. He was very small, and when
he was born he was scarcely bigger than one's thumb, which caused him
to be called little "Hop-o'-My-Thumb." This poor child was the
scapegoat of the house, and was blamed for everything. He was,
however, sharper and wiser than all his brothers, and though he spoke
little, he listened a great deal.
At last there came a bad year, and so great a famine, that the poor
people resolved to rid themselves of their children. One evening, when
the children were all in bed, and the Wood-cutter with a sorrowful
heart, was sitting by the fire with his wife, he said to her: "You know
that we can no longer support our children. I cannot let them die of
hunger before my eyes, and I am resolved to take them to the wood to-
morrow, and lose them. It will be easy to do this, for, while they
amuse themselves tying my sticks, we have only to slip away without
their seeing us.
"Ah!" cried his Wife, "would you then destroy your children?" In vain
did her husband set forth to her their great poverty: she would not
consent. She was poor, she said. But she was their mother. At last,
having considered what a grief it would be to her to have them die of
hunger before her eyes, she agreed to her husband's plan, and went,
weeping, to bed.
Hop-o'-My-Thumb had listened to all that they had said, for having
heard them, from his bed, talking of family matters, he had risen
softly and slipped under his father's stool, in order to hear without
being seen. He then went back to bed, but lay awake the rest of the
night, thinking what he should do. He rose early and went to a brook,
where he filled his pocket with little white pebbles, and then returned
to the house.
Soon after, they all set off, but Hop-o'-My-Thumb did not tell his
brothers anything of what he knew. They went into a forest, so thick
that they could not see each other at a distance of ten paces. The
Wood-cutter began to fell a tree, while the children gathered sticks to
make up into bundles. The father and mother, seeing them thus
employed, slipped away unnoticed, and then fled rapidly, by a little
When the children found they were alone, they began to scream and cry
with all their strength. Hop-o'-My-Thumb let them cry, knowing well
how to get home; for, while walking, he had dropped along the path the
little white pebbles which he had in his pockets.
He therefore said to them, "Fear not, brothers, my father and mother
have left us here, but I will lead you to the house only follow me."
They obeyed at once, and he led them home along the same path by which
they had come into the forest at first. They did not dare to go into
the house, but placed themselves near the door, in order to hear what
their father and mother were saying.
Now it had so happened that, just as the Woodcutter and his Wife
reached home, the lord of the village had sent them ten crowns, which
he had long owed them, and which they had never hoped to obtain. This
gave them new life, for the poor creatures were almost dead from
The Wood-cutter immediately sent his Wife to the butcher's, where, as
it was long since they had eaten anything, she bought three times as
much meat as was needed for the supper of two people.
When they were seated at table, the Wife said, "Alas! where now are
our poor children? They would make good cheer with what we have left.
But it is you who wished to lose them. I always said we should repent
it. What are they doing now in the forest? Alas! alas! perhaps the
wolves have already eaten them! You were most cruel thus to lose your
The Wood-cutter at last grew impatient, for she repeated more than
twenty times that they would repent what they had done, and that she
had told him so. He threatened to beat her if she was not silent. The
Wood-cutter did not do this because he was less sorry than his Wife,
but because her reproaches angered him. His Wife now shed tears, and
cried out, "Alas! where are my children, my poor children?"
She said this so loud that the children, who were at the door, heard
her, and all cried out together, "Here we are! here we are!"
She ran quickly to open the door, and said, as she embraced them, "How
overjoyed I am to see you again, my darling children! you must be very
tired and very hungry; and you, Peter, how muddy you are! come, let me
brush you." Peter was her eldest son, whom she loved more than all the
The children then sat down at the table, and ate with an appetite which
delighted their father and mother, to whom they described, all speaking
at once, how frightened they had been in the forest.
These good people were filled with joy to have their children with them
again, and this joy lasted as long as the ten crowns held out. But
when the money was spent, they fell back into their former misery, and
resolved to lose them once more; and in order not to fail again, they
determined to take them much further into the forest than the first
They could not, however, speak of this so secretly but that they were
overheard by Hop-o'-My-Thumb, who laid his plans to escape as before.
Although he got up early in order to go out and pick up some little
stones, he could not succeed in his purpose, for he found the door of
the house shut and double-bolted. He was wondering what he should do,
when, his mother having given them each a bit of bread for breakfast,
he thought that he might use his bread instead of pebbles by dropping
crumbs along the paths as they walked. He therefore slipped the bread
into his pocket.
Their father and mother led them this time into the thickest and
darkest part of the forest, and, as soon as they were there, ran away
and left them.
Hop-o'-My-Thumb was not much troubled, because he believed he could
easily find his way by means of the bread which he had scattered as he
passed along. What was his surprise when he could not find a single
crumb: the birds had come and eaten it all.
Now was their lot indeed wretched; the more they wandered about, the
deeper they buried themselves in the forest. Night came, and a great
wind arose which frightened them terribly. They thought they heard on
all sides the howling of hungry wolves coming to eat them up. They did
not dare to speak, or even turn their heads. Rain began to fall, which
wet them to the skin. They slipped at every step, and, if they fell,
got up so covered with mud that they could hardly move their hands.
Finally, Hop-o'-My-Thumb climbed to the top of a tree, to see if he
could not discover something. Having looked on all sides, he at last
saw a little gleam of light, like that from a candle, but it was very
far off, beyond the forest. He got down from the tree: but when he was
on the ground he no longer saw anything, which troubled him greatly.
However, having walked for some time with his brothers in the direction
where he had seen the light, he again saw it as they came out of the
wood. At last they reached the house where the candle was, though not
without many alarms, for they lost sight of it whenever they descended
unto a hollow place.
They knocked at the door, which was opened to them by a woman. She
asked them what they wanted. Hop-o'-My-Thumb replied that they were
poor children who had lost themselves in the forest, and who asked, for
charity's sake, a place to sleep.
The woman, seeing how bitter they were, began to weep, and said to
them, "Alas! my poor children, whence do you come? Do you not know
that this is the house of an Ogre, who eats little children?"
"Alas, madam," said Hop-o'-My-Thumb, who like his brothers was shaking
with fear, "what shall we do? The wolves of the forest will certainly
devour us to-night, if you will not give us shelter. This being the
case, we had rather be eaten by the Ogre, and he, perhaps, will take
pity on us, if you will beg him to do so."
The Ogre's wife, who thought she might be able to conceal them from her
husband till the next morning, let them come in, and placed them near a
good fire, where a whole sheep was roasting for the Ogre's supper.
When they had begun to get warm, they heard three or four heavy knocks
at the door. It was the Ogre. His wife hastily hid the children under
the bed, and then opened the door.
The Ogre asked first if supper was ready, and the wine drawn; and then
sat down at the table. The mutton was nearly raw, but he liked it all
the better on that account.
He then began to sniff about, saying that he smelled fresh meat.
"It must be this calf which I have just been dressing that you smell,"
said the wife.
"I smell fresh meat, I tell you again," said the Ogre, looking fiercely
at his wife; "and there is something more of which I do not know."
Saying these words, he rose from the table and went straight to the
bed, where he found the poor children.
"Ah!" said he, "this, then, is the way you wish to deceive me, wicked
woman. I know not what prevents me from eating you, too. Here is
game, which comes to me very conveniently to treat three Ogres of my
acquaintance, who are coming to visit me about this time."
He then drew the little boys from under the bed, one after another.
The poor children threw themselves on their knees begging for pardon.
But they had to do with the most cruel of all the Ogres, who, far from
having pity, devoured them already with his eyes, and said to his wife
that they would be delicious morsels fried, when she had made a good
sauce for them.
He took out a great knife, and, approaching the poor children, began to
sharpen it on a long stone, which he held in his left hand. He then
seized one of them, when his wife said to him, "Why do you begin at
this time of night? Shall you not have time to-morrow?"
"Be silent," replied the Ogre; "they will be more tender if I kill them
"But you have already so much meat on hand," replied his wife. "Here
are a calf, two sheep, and half a pig."
"You are right," said the Ogre; "give them a good supper, that they may
not grow thin, and put them to bed."
The good woman was overcome with joy, and brought them their supper at
once; but they were too frightened to eat.
As for the Ogre, he set himself to drinking, delighted to have
something with which to regale his friends. He drank a dozen cups more
than usual, which went to his head, and obliged him to go early to bed.
Now this Ogre had seven daughters, who were still only children. These
little Ogresses all had beautiful complexions, for they ate fresh meat
like their father. They had little round gray eyes, crooked noses, and
great mouths filled with long teeth, very sharp and far apart. They
were not yet very wicked, but they promised well, for they already bit
little children whenever they got the chance. They had been put to bed
early, and were all seven in one bed, each having a golden crown on her
There was in the same room anther bed of the same size. Here it was
that the Ogre's wife put the seven little boy's, after which she went
to bed in her own chamber.
Hop-o'-My-Thumb, who had remarked that the Ogre's daughters had golden
crowns on their heads, was afraid that the Ogre might regret not having
killed him and his brothers that evening. So he rose about the middle
of the night, and, taking his nightcap and those of his brothers, he
went very softly and placed them on the heads of the Ogre's seven
daughters, after having removed their golden crowns. He then put the
crowns on his brothers' heads and on his own, so that the Ogre might
mistake them for his daughters, and his daughters for the boys whom he
wished to kill.
The plan succeeded as he had expected. The Ogre, having awakened about
midnight, was sorry that he had put off till next day what he might
have done that evening. He jumped quickly out of bed, and, taking his
great knife, "Let us see," said he, "how our little friends are getting
He went on tiptoe to the room of his daughters, and approached the bed
where the little boys were all asleep, except Hop-o'-My-Thumb, who was
terribly frightened when he felt the Ogre's hand touching his head, as
he had already touched his brothers'. But when the Ogre felt the
golden crowns, he said, "Indeed, I was near making a nice piece of work
of it. I see that I drank too much in the evening."
He then went to the bed of his daughters, where he felt the boys'
little nightcaps. "Ah! here they are," said he, "the fine fellows! I
must go boldly to work. Saying these words, and without hesitating, he
cut the throats of his seven daughters. Very well pleased with his
expedition, he went back to bed. As soon as Hop-o'-My-Thumb heard the
Ogre snoring, he awakened his brothers, and told them to dress
themselves quickly and follow him. They went softly down unto the
garden, and leaped over the walls. They hurried away, and ran almost
all night, without knowing whither they went.
The Ogre, when he woke up, said to his wife, "Go upstairs and dress
those little fellows who were here last night.''
The Ogress was very much astonished at the kindness of her husband, not
suspecting for a moment the way in which he meant that she should dress
them. Believing that he simply wished her to put on their clothes, she
went upstairs, where she was amazed to see her seven daughters with
their throats cut. She was so overcome that she immediately fainted.
The Ogre, thinking his wife was too slow, went upstairs to assist her.
He was no less astonished than his wife when the frightful sight met
"Ah! what have I done here?" he cried; "but those little wretches
shall pay for this, and at once."
He then threw a bucket of water into his wife's face, and, having
revived her, said, "Give me quickly my seven-league boots, that I may
go after those boys and catch them."
He then started out into the country at once, and, having rushed about
in all directions, came at last to the road where the poor children
were walking, and then not more than a hundred steps from their
father's house. They saw the Ogre striding from mountain to mountain,
and crossing rivers as if they were little brooks.
Hop-o'-My-Thumb, who saw a hollow rock near the place where they were,
hid himself and his six brothers there, and watched carefully what
became of their enemy. The Ogre, who was very tired with his long and
fruitless journey, wished to rest himself, and sat down, by chance, on
the very rock where the little boys were hidden.
As he was overcome with fatigue, he soon fell asleep, and began to
snore so frightfully that the poor children were as much frightened as
when he held his knife ready to cut their throats. Hop-o'-My-Thumb was
less afraid, and told his brothers to run into the house while the Ogre
slept, and not to worry about him. They followed his counsel, and
quickly reached the house.
Hop-o'-My-Thumb then approached the Ogre, softly drew off his boots,
and put them on himself. The boots were very long and very large; but,
as they were fairy boots, they had the gift of becoming larger or
smaller, according to the size of the wearer's leg. In fact, they
fitted Hop-o'-My-Thumb as if they had been made for him.
He then went straight to the Ogre's house, where he found his wife
weeping over her daughters.
"Your husband," said Hop-o'-My-Thumb, "is in great danger, for he has
been taken by a band of robbers, who will kill him if he does not give
them all his gold and silver. Just when they held their knives to his
throat he perceived me, and besought me to come and tell you of the
state in which he was, and to direct you to give me all that he has,
without retaining anything, since otherwise they would slay him without
mercy. As time passed, he wished that I should take his seven-league
boots, as you see, in order to make haste, and also that you might not
think me an impostor."
The good woman, very much frightened, gave him all she had; for this
Ogre was a good husband, although he did eat little children.
Hop-o'-My-Thumb, being then loaded with all the Ogre's treasures,
returned to his father's house, where he was welcomed with great joy
and where they all lived happily ever after.