Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Once there was a poor peasant who would sit at the hearth poking the fire every evening, while his wife sat nearby spinning. Once he said, "It is sad that we have no children. It is so quiet here, while it is so loud and cheerful in other houses."

"Yes," answered the wife with a sigh, and said, "I would be satisfied even if there were just one, and even if it were ever so small -- no larger than a thumb. We would still love it."

And then it happened that the wife took ill, and seven months later she gave birth to a child. All of his parts were perfectly formed, but he was no larger than a thumb.

Then they said, "Yes, he is what we asked for. He will be our dear child."

And because of his size they named him Thumbthick. They gave him good things to eat, but the child still did not grow any larger, remaining just as he had been in his first hour. But he had an intelligent look in his eyes, and he soon proved to be a clever and quick little thing, succeeding in everything that he undertook.

One day while the peasant was making preparations to go into the forest to cut wood, he said to himself, "I wish that I had someone to follow me up with the wagon."

"Oh, father," shouted Thumbthick, "I'll take care of that. The wagon will be in the forest whenever you say."

The man laughed and said, "How can that be? You are much too small to guide the horse with the reigns."

"That doesn't matter, father. If mother will hitch up the horse, I'll sit in his ear and tell him which way to go."

"Well," said the father, "we can try it once."

When the time came, the mother hitched the horse to the wagon and set Thumbthick in his ear. The little one shouted which way the horse was to go, "Gee! Haw! Giddap! Whoa!" Everything went as it should, and they followed the right trail into the forest.

Now it happened that just as they were rounding a bend, with the little one shouting, "Haw! Haw!," two strange men came by.

"What is that?" said the one. "There is a wagon with a driver calling to the horse, but there is no one to be seen!"

"That can't be," said the other. "Let's follow the cart and see where it stops."

The wagon continued on into the forest to the place where the wood was being cut.

When Thumbthick saw his father, he called out, "See, father, I'm here with the wagon. Lift me down."

The father held the horse with his left arm, and with his right arm lifted his little son down from the ear, who then cheerfully sat down on a piece of straw.

When the two strangers saw Thumbthick, they were so amazed that they didn't know what to say.

The one took the other one aside and said, "Listen, that little fellow could be our fortune, if we could just get him to a big city where there is money. Let's buy him."

They went to the peasant and said, "Sell us the little man. He'll be well off with us."

"No," answered the father. "My pride and joy is not for sale at any price."

However, when Thumbthick heard what was going on, he climbed up the crease in his father's jacket and onto his shoulder, then said into his ear, "Father, let me go. I'll come right back to you." So, for a pretty piece of money, the father let the two men have him.

"Where do you want to sit?" they asked him.

"Oh, put me on the brim of your hat so I can walk back and forth like on a balcony and observe the scenery."

They did as he asked, and as soon as Thumbthick had taken leave from his father, they set forth with him.

They walked on until evening, and as it was getting dark the little one said, "Put me down. I have to do it."

"Just do it up there," said the man whose head he was sitting on. "It doesn't matter to me. The birds let things drop on me from time to time too."

"No," said Thumbthick. "I know what's proper. Lift me down right now."

The man took off his hat and set the little one in a field next to the path. He jumped and crawled back and forth between the clods, and then slipped down a mousehole that he found.

"Good evening, gentlemen," he called out, "you no longer have me!"

They ran up and poked sticks into the opening, but it was wasted effort. Thumbthick crawled further and further back until it was pitch dark. Full of anger, but with empty purses, the two men made their way home.

When Thumbthick saw that they had gone, he crawled from the underground passageway.

"It is dangerous to walk across this field in the dark," he said. "I could easily break my neck and a leg!" Fortunately he came upon an empty snail shell. "Praise God! Here is a safe place to spend the night!" and he crawled inside.

A little later, just as he was about to fall asleep, he heard two men passing by.

One said to the other, "How are we going to get that rich priest's gold and silver?"

"I could tell you how," interrupted Thumbthick.

"What was that!" cried out the one thief, frightened, "I heard someone talking."

They stopped and listened, and Thumbthick spoke up again, "Take me along, and I'll help you."

"Where are you?"

"Just look here on the ground, and you'll see where the voice is coming from," he answered.

The thieves finally found him and picked him up.

"You little rascal, how can you help us?" they said.

"Look," he answered, "I'll crawl between the iron bars into the priest's storeroom and reach out to you everything that you want."

"Well," they said, "let's see what you can do."

They went to the rectory, and Thumbthick crept into the storeroom, then shouted out with all his might, "Do you want everything that's here?"

The frightened thieves said, "Speak softly, and don't wake anyone up."

Thumbthick, pretending that he didn't understand them, yelled out, "What do you want? Do you want everything that's here?"

The cook, who was sleeping in the next room, sat up in bed and listened.

The frightened thieves, who had run a little way off, gathered their courage, thinking that the little fellow was teasing them, and came back and whispered to him, "Be serious now, and reach something out to us."

Then Thumbthick again shouted as loudly as he could, "I'll give you everything. Just reach your hands inside."

The maid, who was listening carefully, heard this very clearly, jumped out of bed, and staggered in through the door. The thieves took off as though they were running from a fire, while the maid went to light a candle, because she could not see a thing. She came back with a light, but Thumbthick made his way out into the barn without being seen. The maid, after having searched in every corner without finding anything, finally went back to bed, thinking that she had been dreaming with open eyes and ears.

Thumbthick climbed about in the hay and found a good place to sleep. He wanted to rest until morning and then return to his parents, but what happened to him instead? Yes, there is so much suffering and need in the world! As usual, the maid got up at dawn to feed the cattle. First off she went to the barn and gathered up an armful of hay, and precisely that bundle of hay where Thumbthick was lying fast asleep. He was sleeping so soundly, that he was not aware of anything, and he did not wake up until he was in the mouth of the cow that had eaten him with the hay.

"Oh, God," he cried, "how did I fall into the fulling mill?" [A mill where wool was beaten and boiled as a part of the felt-making process]

But soon he discovered where he was. He took care to not be crushed by her teeth, but he could not escape sliding down into her stomach.

"They forgot the windows," he said. "The sun does not shine here at all. I wish that I had a light."

He did not like these quarters at all. The worst thing was that more and more fresh hay was coming in at the door, and there was less and less space for him.

Finally he shouted out with fear and as loudly as he could, "Don't bring me anything more to eat! Don't bring me anything more to eat!"

The maid was just milking the cow when she heard someone talking without seeing anyone. It was the same voice that she had heard in the night, and it so frightened her, that she fell off her stool and spilled the milk.

She ran with great haste to her master, and said, "Oh God, father, the cow is talking."

The priest answered the maid, "You are crazy!" and then went to the barn to see for himself what was the matter.

He had scarcely set his foot inside when Thumbthick shouted anew, "Don't bring me anything more to eat! Don't bring me anything more to eat!"

The terrified priest thought that it must be an evil spirit, and ordered that the cow be killed.

So the cow was slaughtered. The stomach with Thumbthick inside was thrown onto the manure pile. Thumbthick attempted to free himself, but it was not easy. Finally he succeeded in making a little room for himself, but just as he was about to stick his little head out, a wolf came by and downed the entire stomach with a single hungry gulp.

Thumbthick did not lose his courage. "Perhaps," he thought, "I can talk to the wolf," and he called to him from inside his paunch, "Wolf, I know where you can get a great feast."

"Where?" said the wolf.

"In thus and such a house. You can get in through the drain hole, and there you will find cakes and bacon, and sausage, as much as you can eat."

And he exactly described his father's house. The wolf did not have to be told twice. That night he squeezed his way through the drain hole into the storage room, and ate to his heart's content. When he was full, he wanted to leave, but he had become so fat that he could not get back out the same way. Thumbthick had counted on this, and now he began to make a mighty noise from within the wolf's body. He stormed and shouted as loudly as he could.

"Be quiet!" said the wolf. "You'll wake the people up."

"So what?" answered the little one. "You've eaten your fill, and now I want to have a good time too!"

And he began anew to scream with all his strength. This woke up his father and mother. They ran to the storage room and peered in through a crack. When they saw that a wolf was inside, they were horrified. The man fetched an ax and the woman a scythe.

"Stay behind me," said the man, as they stepped into the room. "I'll hit him first, but if that doesn't kill him, you cut him to pieces."

Then Thumbthick heard his father's voice and called out, "Father dear, here I am. I'm inside the wolf!"

The father spoke with joy, "Praise God! Our dearest child has found his way back!"

He told his wife to put the scythe away, in order not to injure him. Then he struck the wolf a blow to the head, and he fell down dead. They found a knife and scissors, cut open his belly, and pulled out their dear child.

"Oh," said the father, "we were so worried about you!"

"Yes, father, I've seen a lot of the world now, and thank God that once again I can get a breath of fresh air."

"Where all have you been?"

"Oh, father, I was in a mousehole, in a cow's belly, and in a wolf's paunch, and now I am going to stay here with you."

"And we will never again sell you, not for all the riches in the world."

Then they hugged and kissed their dear Thumbthick, gave him something to eat and drink, and had new clothes made for him, for his old ones had been ruined on his trip.

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Revised October 13, 2019.