Thursday’s Tale: Hop o’ My Thumb

anderson_hopthumb
Illustration by Anne Anderson from Anne Anderson's Old, Old Fairy Tales. Racine, Wisconsin: Whitman Publishing Company, 1935.

Image credit: SurLaLuneFairytales.com

“Hop o’ My Thumb” was first published by Charles Perrault in Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passé in 1697, but I couldn’t find a copy of that version on-line. The versions I read are from Anderson Lang’s Blue Fairy Book, first published in 1889, attributed to Perrault, and one provided by the California Digital Library. Once again, it’s surprising how many fairy tales echo each other. While you read the summary, think about what other stories it reminds you of.

Hop o’ My Thumb is the youngest of seven sons, all between the ages of 7 and 10, of a poor woodcutter and his wife. He is the youngest, weakest of the boys, and also the most quiet, so the others thought him a simpleton, but he was actually quite a clever boy. The parents are so poor that they realize they will not be able to feed their family so they agree, after much arguing on the mother’s part, to take the children out into the woods and leave them there. Yes, they will die, but at least the parents won’t have to watch them starve. Hop o’ My Thumb hears the adults’ whole conversation, so he gathers pebbles and while the next day the father leads them deep into the woods, the boy leaves behind a trail of pebbles that the kids follow back home. Luckily, just that day, the lord of the manor had sent the woodcutter some money, so the children were welcomed happily back into the house.

Eventually though the money runs out, so the father takes the boys even deeper into the woods to leave them. This time however, the birds eat the trail that Hop o’ My Thumb leaves, because he had to use breadcrumbs. The boys wander through the woods until they come to a house. Unfortunately, it is the house of an ogre and his family. Hop o’ My Thumb is clever though, and in the night when the ogre comes to kill the boys, Hop o’ My Thumb, by switching the boys’ caps with the ogre’s daughters’ crowns, tricks the ogre into killing his daughters instead. Then, of course, the boys run away in fear.

The next morning the ogre discovers what he did in the nighttime and puts on his “boots of seven leagues” to cover ground quickly and catch the boys. He almost catches them near the woodcutter’s home, but the children hide in a hollow rock. The ogre sits down to take a rest and falls asleep. When he is sure they are safe, Hop o’ My Thumb sends his brothers running home, while he himself steals the ogre’s boots and goes back to the ogre’s house. He convinces the distraught ogress that her husband is in danger so she gives him all their money to buy his freedom. Hop o’ My Thumb takes the money home and his family is overjoyed.

In the meantime, the ogre woke up. “When he awoke, and found his boots gone, and his limbs so stiff that he could not move, he made a hideous noise, which aroused all the wild beasts of the forest, and they all flew at him in great fury, and gored him to death.” Takes care of that problem, doesn’t it?

Hop o’ My Thumb then presents himself with all his riches to the King to pay his respects. The King decides to make him a forester and later one of his advisors. Another version has Hop o’ My Thumb using the boots and becoming a messenger for the king. Either way, Hop o’ My Thumb and his whole family get a happy ending.

So the first part definitely reminds me of “Hansel and Gretel”, but here it’s the father who want to abandon the children while the mother makes a feeble argument against it, just to eventually give in. These fairytale parents always amaze me, but I guess maybe there’s something to be said for extreme poverty leading you to make choices you wouldn’t otherwise make. After all, when they had money, they were happy to have their children with them. Also, just based on the name and the size of the hero, it’s similar to “Thumbling”, although Hop o’ My Thumb was much more competent than poor Thumbling.

The most interesting part, for me though, is that the youngest, most under-valued son is the one who kills the ogre and gets the treasure. It’s a standard in fairy tales that the youngest is the hero, maybe giving hope to all those who society tends to look down on. It reminds me of one of my favorite stories, “Boots Who Ate a Match with the Troll”. In that story, it is once again the youngest son who defeats the monster, using cunning and intelligence rather than brute strength.

You can read the story for yourself at SurLaLune or at openlibrary.org, which even has illustrations.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.

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