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Tom Thumb has been a popular character in English myths and legends for centuries (you can read the full story at the bottom of the page!) and isn’t the only thumb-sized character to have made it into popular culture across the world. Indeed the Brothers Grimm came up with Thumbling and the successive Thumbling as Journeyman (also known as Thumbling’s Travels) and as many of the same situations come up, it’s thought there could be strong overlaps of the Tom Thumb story and that, except for the King Arthur bits, the original legend might be the same.
Then in world culture we find other heroic characters the size of a thum with Hop o’My Thumb in France, Thumbikin in Norway, Little Chick pea in Italy, the Turkish have Hasan the Heroic Mouse Child, Japan has Little One Inch and Vietnam has Little Finger of the Watermelon Patch.
The name Tom Thumb has inspired numerous other stories, books, movies. comic and even trains.
General Tom Thumb was the stage name of one Charles Stratton. He was born in 1838 there was born in Massachusetts, USA, a baby of a healthy weight of 9 pounds. But after the first 6 months of his life he failed to grow any further though his body did begin to mature normally.
His parents were totally freaked out about it until a circus pioneer by the name of P.T Barnum came along and turned their son into one of the most famous circus acts in history. He taught Stratton how to dance, sing and impersonate famous people and at the tender age of 5, Tom Thumb hit the road and toured America, doing comic routines, singing and impersonating characters such as Cupid and Napoleon.
Tom Thumb travelled the world, meeting the future king of England, Edward the seventh and getting attacked by his poodle, which must have been like an assault from a grizzly to a normal person.
General Tom Thumb eventually began to grow a little, reaching 2 feet 9 inches on his 18th birthday and 3 feet by the time of his death at the age of 45. He married another midget, became very rich and made his final show in England in 1878.
General Tom Thumb died of a stroke in 1883 and his funeral was attended by over 10,000 people. He was buried in Mountain Grove Cemetary in Bridgeport next to the grave of his spouse whose headstone reads only, ‘His Wife’.
Tom Thumb made his first appearance in literature with Henry Fielding’s The History of Tom Thumb the Great which was eventually titled The Author’s Farce and was later dramatized in a play called Tom Thumb the Great by playwrights Eliza Haywood and William Hatchett.
Chuck Jones released a short animated film in 1940 called Tom Thumb in Trouble, following on from the work of Ub Iwerks.
Then in 1958, a live musical version of tom thumb was made by George Pal starring Russ Tamblyn. The title was kept in lower case to make the point that the lead character was rather small.
A more interesting modern version with distinctively dark undertones was made in 1993 called The Secret Adventure of Tom Thumb featuring cool stop motion automation.
Lastly in 2002 the two smallest people in the history of literature where brought together in The Adventures of Tom Thumb and Thumbelina. Elijah Wood narrated the part of Tom.
Tom Thumb Elsewhere
The Tom Thumb Locomotive was a pioneering bit of railroad invention in 1830 between Baltimore and Ohio.
The Story of Tom Thumb in English Folklore
Whilst there have been various versions of the Tom Thumb story over the ages, the basic synopsis of the tale for children is the following:
Back in the times of King Arthur, lived a poor and infertile couple who longed for a son but remained as barren as they were poor. They invite a passing old beggar (a common theme in folklore) to take shelter in their humble home and lo and behold he turns out to be Merilin traveling in disguise. When he hears of their desire to have a son, even if was no bigger than a thumb, Merlin does a bit of magic that brings about the birth of the legendary but rather small, Tom Thumb. He’s a popular fellow and even the local fairy queen blesses him.
The young Tom Thumb is quite clumsy though and his mischievous nature means that he’s forever meet with mishaps, like the time he falls into the pudding mix made by his mother, who subsequently comes to the conclusion that her cake is under an enchantment when it starts to move…
Being very small, Tom Thumb keeps getting eaten by various creatures, including a large red cow and by a giant (a raven picks him up and takes him to the castle), Tom thrashes about so much in the giant’s stomach though that he gets thrown back up into the sea. Then a fish eats him. Of course, the fish gets caught by the royal fishermen and before the fish can be cooked up for King Arthur’s dinner, Tom escapes through the guts and gives the cook a heart attack.
After his somewhat unorthodox introduction to royal court, Tom Thumb wins the favour of King Arthur and is made the court dwarf and an honorary knight. He then entertains everyone by riding a mouse as his steed and fighting battles with a tiny pin as a lance.
He takes a trip to fairyland there to pay his respects to the fairy queen but upon his return he finds that Arthur is dead and Tom’s status at court is under threat. He’s patronised once more by the new King Thunston and receives a carriage pulled around by 6 white mice.
Turns out that Thunston pays more attention to Tom Thumb than his wife though and she tries him on charges of being ‘saucy’, a great medieval crime. Tom makes his escape on a butterfly but is apprehended and put in the curious jail of a mousetrap. A rather helpful and curious cat frees him but before he can win back royal favour, he gets bitten by a poisonous spider – the final resting place of Tom Thumb is beneath a marble monument.