The story of Tom Thumb is one of the first recorded English Tales. He has been a popular character in the English myths and legends for centuries. His story was originally printed in 1621 by Richard Johnson.
Tom Thumb’s Birth
Back in days of King Arthur’s reign, Old Thomas and his wife had desires to give birth to a son but remained as infertile as a desert. Thomas of the mountain was a plowman and a member of the King’s council. He sent his wife to Merlin for consultation.
Merlin was the greatest magician to be recorded in English literature, and also was King Arthur’s favorite magician. Merlin heard of their desire to have a child, even if he was as small as a thumb. The thought of a child no bigger than a thumb amused and interested Merlin. He performed the magic that brought about the birth of the popular but small Tom Thumb.
The midwives at birth were the Queen of Fairies and her servants. She kissed him on the forehead and made him her godson. She provided the newborn babe with some essential items for his little size which includes; an oak leaf hat, a shirt of cobweb, stockings of apple rind, and shoes of mouse’s skin. A poem was dedicated to his birth gifts based on this notion.
“An oak leaf he had for his crown;
His shirt of the web by spiders pun;
With jacket wove of thistle’s don;
His trousers were feathers of done;
His stockings, of apple rind, they tie
With lash from his mother’s eye;
His shoes were made of mouse’s skin,
Tanned with the downy hair within.”
Tom Thumb’s story had different versions to it. Majorly, his tales centered on a series of unfortunate incidents that befell him because of his very tiny stature which included, being swallowed by different animals and struggling in the belly of a giant.
In Dinah Mulock’s version of the story, Truthfully Tom never grew larger than his father’s thumb.
Tom as a growing Lad was cunning and mischievous by nature. He always indulged in one mishap or the other. When playing with other boys near his age he always cheated, and because of this everyone avoided playing with him. Tom retaliated by being tricky. Using magic he hung his mother’s glasses and pots from a sunbeam. When his playmates tried the same act, the wares fell and broke to shards. After the incident, he was at home under his mother’s close supervision.
One of his mischievous attributes was depicted on a day he had lost all of his cherry-stones, he usually creeps into the bags of his playfellows, fill his pockets and gets out unnoticed, and he would later join them in the game as if nothing happened. On another day, he went to steal as usual. The owner of the bag caught him. To punish him, the owner closed the strings of the bags around Tom’s neck then he gave the bag a good shake. This caused severe pain and injuries on Tom, out of anguish Tom screamed that he will never steal again.
Tom and the Pudding
Tom can be seen as a clumsy character. On Christmas, his Mother was preparing cakes, Tom was anxious to see how the pudding was made. He climbed to the edge of the bowl but lost footing and slipped. He fell into the batter head-on. His mother who never noticed him stirred him deeper to the bottom of the pudding and put him on fire to bake. Tom could have cried out but the batter filled his mouth, ears, and nostrils. On feeling the heat he kicked and shook the pot but his mother never thought it was her son, she thought the pudding was enchanted. When a Tinker came over, Tom’s mother unknowingly gave him the pudding that contained her son.
The Tinker who had continued with his journey gave a loud fart and Tom complained about the farting while he was still in the batter, the frightened tinker dropped the pudding. Tom ate the pudding till he was free, he then went home to tell his parents his unbelievable story. His mother pitied, cleaned him up and put him in a teacup under more strict observation.
Tom and the Cow
Another unfortunate event occurred soon after. He accompanied his mother to the field to milk the cows. The wind got very strong, for fear of being carried by the wind she tied him to a thistle with a thread. A cow got attracted by Tom’s oak-leaf hat and took him and the thistle in a mouthful. Tom raised an alarm from the throat of the cow which got his mother’s attention. To save Tom, the cow needed to purge. It was given a laxative which made Tom to be passed out together with its dung. They took him home and cleaned up.
Tom and the Giant Raven
Tom escorted his father for the Seed sowing. While his father rode on a horse’s back, he rode in a horse’s ear. Tom was set down to play but a giant raven grabbed him with its beak and carried him away. His parents searched for him but their actions were unsuccessful.
Tom and the Giant
The raven released Tom at a castle that belonged to a giant. The wicked giant engulfed Tom in his mouth and swallowed. Tom squealed and trashed about a lot that it troubled the giant’s stomach which made him throw up into the river. A fish swallowed him immediately he fell into the sea, but the fish got caught by King Arthur’s hook. The king took the fish home, gave it to the cook to make supper out of it. The cook cut the fish open only to be astonished by her discovery, A little Man! Tom was very happy for his freedom, they carried him to the king and he made him his personal dwarf.
Tom in King Arthur’s Court
Tom grew to become the king’s favorite. Everyone in the King’s court also liked having him around for his Tricks and gambles. Not only did he amuse the king, but he also amused the Knights of the Round Table. The king often took him along when he went horse riding and if it happened to rain, he will slip into the King’s waistcoat pocket, where he was sheltered and warmed.
One day King Arthur queried him about his parents to know if they were also miniature versions of humans and to also know if they were well to do. Tom answered him truthfully, he told the King that his parents were as tall as anybody but that they were living in poverty. On hearing this, the King carried Tom to his room of wealth and persuaded him to take as much money as he could carry to his parents. This made Tom so happy. Tom immediately got a purse, which was made out of a Water bubble. He then placed only three silver penny pieces in it but he could not successfully carry it on his small back.
On Tom’s journey home he faced difficulties carrying the bag, with magic he placed the treasure in his mind. Though he didn’t meet any unfortunate incidents he got tired easily. He rested himself more than a hundred times before after two days and two nights he finally reached home safely.
Tom was exhausted to death that when he reached home he couldn’t reach the doorstep. His mother had to run out to carry him into the house.
Tom having had ragged clothes from his perilous encounters was by the King’s kindness, dressed in a Knight’s outfit and given a mouse as his ride.
It was a sight to behold seeing Tom in his knightly dress and riding a mouse as he went hunting with his majesty.
The king was charmed with this attention on Tom that he ordered for a chair to be made in honor of “Knight Tom”. He made Tom sit on his table and also gave him a small palace of gold to live in.
The Queen was greatly angered for the honors bestowed on Tom and she was also jealous that the king was giving undivided attention to Tom that she swore to ruin him. She went to the King and accused Tom of being insolent to her. The king summoned Tom to court hastily, but Tom knew the grievous implications of when a monarch got angry. He then decided to hide.
He hid inside an empty snail shell. He laid there for a very long time and was almost dead from starvation. He tried to peep only for him to see a beautiful butterfly on the ground he jumped on it sitting astride. The butterfly flew him around until it returned him to the King’s court. The king’s men tried to catch him but at last, he fell from the butterfly into a filled watering pot and almost got himself drowned.
The Queen saw Tom and feigned anger and ordered him to be beheaded. He was ordered to be put inside a mouse trap until the day of his execution.
To Tom’s luck, a cat detected something alive in the trap, he gnawed and tore at it until the wires broke and Tom became a free man.
After the cat freed Tom, he went back to the King’s court. The King received Tom into his kind favors, but who would have thought that it would never last?
A giant spider attacked Tom, he tried fighting it off but the spider’s venomous breath overcame him. He fell dead to the floor. The spider drained him of all the blood in his body that not a single drop was left.
King Arthur on hearing this news got really sorrowful, after all, they have lost their favorite companion. In his memory, they built a marble monument over his grave with a mournful poem.
Here lies Tom Thumb, King Arthur’s Knight,
Who died by a spider’s cruel bite
He was well known in Arthur’s court
Where he afforded gallant sport,
He rode a tilt and 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!
In Richard Johnson’s 1621 end of Tom’s tale, Tom got very sick when a lady blew her nose. He was resuscitated by the physician of King Twaddell of the Pygmies. After his recovery, he took a ride in walnut shell coach and meets Garagantua.
They became insecure of themselves and both gloated of their strong magical powers. Tom cast a spell on Garagantua and he walked safely home afterward. This was how Richard Johnson ended his story of Tom Thumb.
In Dinah Mulocks version of Tom’s story, Tom got himself exhausted from jousting but he regained himself in a strange fairy kingdom. He returned to the King’s court and accidentally fell into a bowl of King Arthur’s meal. This got the cook very angry and she threatened to get him executed. Tom hid in the mouth of a slack-jawed miller. The man noticed human voices and movements within him. He coughed and Tom was coughed out. The miller angered by this tossed Tom into the river where he got swallowed by a Salmon. The fish was caught and taken to the king where he was kept in a mouse trap until the king forgave him for being in his supposed meal.
The sequel transcends to the point the King Arthur took him to a hunting expedition on a mouse as his ride. A cat pursued the mouse Tom rode on and he got severely wounded. He was carried to a fairyland where he regained health. When he returned to court, King Thunston was the new king. King Thunston was amazed and charmed by the little man that he gifted him which made the queen jealous. Just like the first version, a spider also bit Tom. He died and the same poem was written on his grave.
Jason is the editor-in-chief of ArthurLegends.com and the primary author of the Arthurian Shared Universe. He has a deep love of British history and mythology, especially relating to Celtic and Arthurian traditions (obviously). He spends most of his days in made-up worlds.