He is small, easily overlooked and likes to play jokes with people. Until somebody is fed up with him and Thumbling’s travels end in the belly of a cow…
Thumbling’s Travels is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about a very small young tailor. He travels the world, jokes around with his mistress, robs the king with a band of robbers, is eaten by a cow and ends up in a black pudding. Finally a fox brings him safely home again.
Complete text Thumbling’s Travels
A very little son begins Thumbling’s travels
A certain tailor had a son who was very small, no bigger than a Thumb. That’s why he was always called Thumbling.
He had, however, some courage in him and said to his father, “Father, I must and will go out into the world.”
“That’s fine, my son,” said the old man. He took a long darning-needle and made a knob of sealing-wax on it at the candle. “Here is a sword for you to take with you on the way.”
The little tailor wanted to have one more meal with them and hopped into the kitchen to see what his mother had cooked for the last time. It was just dished up and the dish stood on the hearth. He said, “Mother, what is there to eat today?”
“See for yourself,” said his mother.
So Thumbling jumped on to the hearth and peeped into the dish. As he stretched his neck in too far the steam from the food caught hold of him and carried him up the chimney. He rode about in the air on the steam for a while, until at last he sank down to the ground again.
Thumbling plays a game with his mistress
Out into the wide world he traveled around. He went to a master in his craft, but the food was not good enough for him. “Mistress, if you give us no better food,” said Thumbling, “I will go away, and early to-morrow morning I will write with chalk on the door of your house, ‘Too many potatoes, too little meat! Farewell, Mr. Potato-King.’”
“What are you saying there, grasshopper?” said the mistress. She grew angry and seized a dishcloth. Just as she was going to strike him the little tailor crept nimbly under a thimble. He peeped out from beneath it and put his tongue out at the mistress. She took up the thimble, wanting to get hold of him, but little Thumbling hopped into the cloth. While the mistress was opening it out and looking for him, he got into a crevice in the table.
“Ho, ho, lady mistress,” cried he and thrust his head out. When she began to strike him he leapt down into the drawer. At last, however, she caught him and drove him out of the house.
Thumbling joins the robbers
The little tailor journeyed on and came to a great forest. There he fell in with a band of robbers who had a design to steal the king’s treasure. When they saw the little tailor, they thought, “A little fellow like that can creep through a keyhole and serve as a a lock picker to us.”
“Hey there,” one of them said, “you giant Goliath, will you go to the treasure chamber with us? You can slip yourself in and throw out the money.”
Thumbling thought about it for a while, and at last he said, “yes,” and went with them to the treasure chamber. He looked at the doors above and below, to see if there was any crack in them. It was not long before he spied one which was broad enough to let him in.
As he was about to get in at once, one of the two sentries who stood before the door saw him. He said to the other, “What an ugly spider is creeping there; I will kill it.”
“Let the poor creature alone,” said the other; “it has done you no harm.”
Thumbling got safely through the crevice into the treasure chamber, opened the window beneath which the robbers were standing, and threw out to them one coin (original: thaler) after another. When the little tailor was in the full swing of his work, he heard the king coming to inspect his treasure chamber, and crept hastily into a hiding place.
The king noticed that several solid gold coins were missing, but could not conceive who could had stolen them. The locks and bolts were in good condition and all seemed well guarded. He went away again and said to the sentries, “Be on the watch, someone is after the money.”
When Thumbling started working again, they heard the money moving: a sound of klink, klink, klink. They ran swiftly in to seize the thief, but the little tailor, who heard them coming, was still swifter. He leapt into a corner and covered himself with a coin, so that nothing could be seen of him. At the same time he mocked the sentries and shouted, “Here am I!”
The sentries ran to him, but as they got there, he had already hopped into another corner under a coin, shouting, “Ho, ho, here am I!”
The watchmen jumped there in haste, but Thumbling had long ago got into a third corner and was shouting, “Ho, ho, here am I!”
And so he made fools of them, driving them so long around in the treasure chamber that they were weary and went away. Then coin by coin he threw them all out, dispatching the last with all his might, then hopping nimbly upon it, flying down with it through the window.
The robbers paid him great compliments. “You are an amazing hero,” they said; “will you be our captain?”
Thumbling declined. He wanted to see the world first. They now divided the booty, but the little tailor only asked for a small coin because he could not carry more.
Thumbling works at an inn and is tricked by the maids
Once more he buckled his sword, said the robbers goodbye and took to the road. First, he went to work with some masters, but he had no liking for that. At last he hired himself as servant in an inn.
The maids could not endure him. He saw all they did secretly, without their seeing him, and he told their master and mistress what they had taken off the plates, and carried away out of the cellar for themselves.
They said, “Wait, and we will pay you back with your own coin!” and arranged with each other to trick him. Soon afterwards when one of the maids was mowing in the garden, she saw Thumbling jumping about and creeping up and down the plants. She mowed him up quickly with the grass, tied all in a great cloth, and secretly threw it to the cows.
Now among them there was a great black cow, who swallowed him down without hurting him. Down below he did not like it, because it was quite dark and there was not even a candle burning.
When the cow was being milked he called out,
“Strip, strap, strull,
Will the pail soon be full?”
The noise of the milking prevented his being understood. After this the master of the house came into the cow byre and said, “That cow shall be killed tomorrow.”
Thumbling was so alarmed that he cried out in a clear voice, “Let me out first, I am shut up inside her.”
The master heard that quite well, but did not know from where the voice came.
“Where are you?” he asked.
“In the black one,” Thumbling answered, but the master did not understand what that meant and went out.
Thumbling ends up in black pudding
Next morning the cow was killed. Happily Thumbling did not meet with one blow at the cutting up and chopping; he got among the leftover meat for sausages.
When the butcher came in and began his work, he cried out with all his might, “Don’t chop too deep, don’t chop too deep, I am here, I am here.”
No one heard this because of the noise of the chopping knife. Poor Thumbling was in trouble, but trouble sharpens the wits. He sprang out so swiftly between the blows that none of them touched him and escaped with his whole skin intact.
Still he could not get away, there was nothing for it but to let himself be thrust into a black pudding with the bits of bacon. His quarters in there were rather confined, and besides that he was hung up in the chimney to be smoked. Time did hang terribly heavy on his hands.
At last in winter he was taken down again. The black pudding had to be set before a guest. When the hostess was cutting it in slices, he took care not to stretch out his head too far lest a bit of it should be cut off. At last he saw his opportunity, cleared a passage for himself, and jumped out.
The little tailor would not stay any longer in a house where things had been so bad for him. Once again he set out on his journey.
Thumbling is caught by a fox
His liberty did not last long. In the open country he met with a fox who snapped him up in a moment when he was not looking around.
“Hey, Mr. Fox,” the little tailor cried, “it is me who is sticking in your throat, set me free again.”
“You are right,” answered the fox. “You are next to nothing for me. But if you wilt promise me the fowls in your father’s yard I will let you go.”
“With all my heart,” Thumbling replied. “You shall have all the roosters and hens, I promise you.”
Then the fox let him go again. He carried himself home. When his father once more saw his dear son, he willingly gave the fox all the fowls which he had.
“For this I bring you a handsome bit of money,” Thumbling said, and he gave his father the little coin which he earned on his travels.
“But why did the fox get the poor chickens to eat?”
“Oh, you goose, your father would surely love his child far more than the fowls in the yard!”
Tips for Telling Thumbling’s Travels
- This story is an episodic story. You could easily take out the episode of Thumbling robbing the king’s treasury and still have a complete story. Recognizing episodes allows you to shorten or lengthen your telling depending on your audience.
- The name Thumbling suggests he is as big as a thumb. The story makes clear though that he is more like 1cm tall. Show in the beginning of your telling with your fingers how tall he is.
- Thumbling has a trickster energy in this story. He likes to make fun of people and trick them (the mistress, the sentries, the maids). You will need to feel this twinkling in your own eyes when telling this story.
All Questions Answered
The tale was published by the Brothers Grimm in the first edition of their Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Their sources are stories told in the districts of the Maine, Hesse, and Paderborn, which they combined.
The Brothers Grimm included it in the first edition (1812) of their Grimm’s Fairy Tales. However stories like these have been told for many years before they were written down.
Thumbling means a very tiny person, the size of a thumb or smaller.
It is also known as ‘Thumbling as Journeyman’ or ‘The Wandering of Thumbling, the Tailor’s Son’