A girl who grew in a tulip, an epic adventure of good and evil, and a flower fairy finale.
This is Hans Christian Andersen‘s classic fairy tale ‘Thumbelina’. The story of a tiny girl who sleeps in a walnut. When she is stolen away by an ugly toad she begins her adventure across the lands. She meets many creatures, some good, some bad that take advantage of her sweet nature. Finally she is rescued by a beautiful swallow who will help her find her destined happiness.
This classic fairy tale has been continuously in print in different editions since its first publication in 1835, with many, many, different artists illustrating the story over the years. Pook Press has collected the best of this art into an illustrated Thumbelina volume.
A Hans Christian Andersen Tale
There was once a woman who wished for a tiny little child, but she did not know where she could get one. So she went to an old witch and said:
“I do so long for a little child! Can you not tell me where I can get one?”
“Oh! that can easily be managed,” said the witch. “Here is a barley-corn for you; it is not the kind that grows in the country man’s field, or that the chickens get to eat. Set that in a flower-pot, and you shall see what you shall see.”
“Thank you,” said the woman; and she gave the witch a shilling, went home, and planted the barley-corn, and immediately there grew up a big handsome flower, which looked like a tulip; but the leaves were tightly closed, as though it was still a bud.
“That is a beautiful flower,” said the woman; and she kissed its pretty yellow and red leaves. But just as she kissed it the flower opened with a pop. It was a real tulip, one could see that; but in the middle of the flower upon the green velvet stamens there sat a little tiny girl, so fine and graceful, and scarcely half a thumb’s length in height, and therefore she was called Thumbelina.
A neat polished walnut-shell served Thumbelina for a cradle, blue violet-leaves were her mattresses, with a rose-leaf for a coverlet. There she slept at night, but in the daytime she played upon the table, where the woman had put a plate with a wreath of flowers round it, whose stalks stood in water; on the water was floating a large tulip-leaf, and on this Thumbelina could sit, and sail from one side of the plate to the other, and she had two white horsehairs to row with. That was pretty indeed! She could also sing, and, oh, so delicately and sweetly that the like had never been heard before.
Once, as she lay at night in her pretty bed, there came an old toad hopping through the window, in which one pane was broken. The toad was very ugly, big, and damp; it hopped right down on to the table, where Thumbelina lay sleeping under the red rose-leaf.
“That would be a lovely wife for my son,” said the toad; and she picked up the walnut-shell in which Thumbelina lay asleep and hopped with it through the window down into the garden.
There there ran a great broad brook; but the margin was swampy and soft, and here the toad dwelt with her son. Ugh! he was ever so ugly and foul, and looked just like his mother. “Koaks, koaks! brekke-ke-keks!” That was all he could say when he saw the graceful little maiden in the walnut-shell.
“Don’t speak so loud, or she will wake up,” said the old toad. “She might run away from us, for she is as light as swansdown. We will put her out in the brook upon one of the broad water-lily leaves. That will be just like an island for her, she is so small and light!
Then she can’t run away while we put the best room under the marsh in order, where you are to live and keep house together.”
Out in the brook there grew a great many water-lilies with broad green leaves, which looked as if they were floating on the water. The leaf which was farthest out was also the largest of all, and to that the old toad swam out and laid the walnut-shell upon it with Thumbelina. The poor little mite woke very early in the morning, and when she saw where she was she began to cry most bitterly, for there was water on all sides of the big green leaf, and she could not get to the land at all. The old toad sat down in the marsh, decking out her room with rushes and yellow water-weeds—it was to be made very pretty for the new daughter-in-law; then she swam out, with her ugly son, to the leaf where Thumbelina was standing. They had come to fetch her pretty bed, to put it in the bridal chamber before she went in there herself. The old toad bowed low before her in the water, and said:
“See, here is my son; he will be your husband, and you will live so happily together in the marsh.”
“Koaks, koaks! brekke-ke-keks!” That was all her son could say.
Then they took the delicate little bed and swam away with it; but Thumbelina sat all alone upon the green leaf and cried, for she did not want to live at the nasty toad’s, and have her ugly son for a husband. The little fishes swimming in the water below had seen the toad, and they had heard what she said; and so they lifted up their heads out of the water, for they wanted to see the little girl. As soon as they saw her they thought she was so pretty that they felt very sorry she should have to go down to the ugly toad. No, that must never be! They all collected in the water round the green stalk which held the leaf on which she stood, and with their teeth they gnawed through the stalk, and so the leaf floated down the stream.
And away went Thumbelina with it, far away where the toad could not get at her.
Thumbelina sailed by many towns, and the little birds that sat in the bushes saw her, and sang, “What a lovely little maiden!” The leaf swam away with her, farther and farther; so Thumbelina travelled to foreign lands.
A sweet little white butterfly kept fluttering round her, and at last settled on the leaf. He had taken a fancy to Thumbelina, and she was very glad too, for now the toad could not reach them; and it was so beautiful where she was sailing—the sun shone upon the water, that glittered like shining gold. She took her sash and bound one end of it to the butterfly, and the other end of the ribbon she fastened to the leaf. It now glided on much faster, and she with it, for she stood upon the leaf.
Just then there came a big cockchafer flying past, and saw her, and in a moment he seized her slender waist in his claws, and flew with her up into a tree. The green leaf went swimming down the stream, and the butterfly with it, for he was fastened to the leaf and could not get away.
Mercy! how frightened poor little Thumbelina was when the cockchafer flew with her up into the tree! But most of all she was sorry for the pretty white butterfly she had bound fast to the leaf, for if he could not free himself he would starve. The big cockchafer, however, did not trouble himself at all about this.
He sat down with her upon the biggest green leaf of the tree, gave her the sweet part of the flowers to eat, and declared that she was very pretty, though she was not at all like a cockchafer. Afterwards all the other cockchafers who lived in the tree came to pay a visit. They looked at Thumbelina, and the young lady cockchafers turned up their feelers and said:
“Why, she has no more than two legs!—that is most ungainly.”
“She has not any feelers!” said they.
“Her waist is quite slender—fie! she looks like a human creature—how ugly she is!” said all the lady cockchafers.
And yet Thumbelina was very beautiful! Even the cockchafer who had carried her off saw that; but when all the others said she was ugly he believed it at last, and would not have her at all—she might go where she liked. Then they flew down with her off the tree, and set her upon a daisy, and she cried, because she was so ugly that the cockchafers would have nothing to say to her; and yet she was the loveliest little being one could imagine, and as tender and fair as the most beautiful rose-leaf.
The whole summer through poor Thumbelina lived quite alone in the great wood. She plaited herself a bed out of blades of grass, and hung it up under a large burdock leaf, so that she was protected from the rain. She sucked the honey out of the flowers for food, and drank the dew that stood every morning upon the leaves. Thus the summer and the autumn passed away, but then came the winter, the cold, long winter. All the birds who had sung so sweetly to her flew away; trees and flowers shed their leaves; the great burdock under which she had lived shrivelled up, and there was nothing left of it but a yellow withered stalk; and she was dreadfully cold, for her clothes were torn, and she herself was so frail and small—poor Thumbelina!—she was nearly frozen. It began to snow, and every snowflake that fell upon her was like a whole shovelful thrown upon one of us, for we are big, and she was only an inch long. Then she wrapped herself up in a dry leaf, but that would not keep her warm, and she shivered with cold.
Just outside the wood she came to a great cornfield, but the corn was gone long ago, only the naked dry stubble stood up out of the frozen ground. This was just like a great forest for her to struggle through. Oh, how she shivered with cold! Then she came to the door of a field-mouse. This was a little hole under the stubble. There the field-mouse lived, warm and comfortable, and had a whole roomful of corn, and a fine kitchen and larder. Poor Thumbelina stood at the door just like a poor beggar girl, and begged for a little bit of barley-corn, for she had not had the smallest morsel to eat for two days.
“You poor little creature,” said the field-mouse—for really she was a good old field-mouse—“come into my warm room and have some food with me!”
As she was pleased with Thumbelina, she said, “If you like you may stay with me through the winter, but you must keep my room clean and neat, and tell me stories, for I am very fond of them.”
And Thumbelina did as the kind old field-mouse bade her, and had a very good time of it.
“Now we shall soon have a visitor,” said the field-mouse. “My neighbour is in the habit of visiting me once a week. He is even better off than I am; has large rooms, and goes about in such a beautiful black velvety fur. If you could only get him for a husband you would be well provided for, but he cannot see. You must tell him all the prettiest stories you know.”
But Thumbelina did not care about this; she thought nothing of the neighbour, for he was a mole. He came and paid a visit in his black velvet coat. The field-mouse told her how rich and how wise he was, and how his house was more than twenty times larger than hers, that he had learning, but that he did not like the sun and beautiful flowers, and sneered at them, for he had never seen them.
Thumbelina had to sing, and she sang both Cockchafer, fly, fly away! and The Monk goes to the Field. Then the mole fell in love with her, because of her beautiful voice, but he said nothing, for he was a prudent man.
A short time before he had dug a long passage through the earth from his own house to theirs; and Thumbelina and the field-mouse had leave to walk there as much as they wished. But he begged them not to be afraid of the dead bird which was lying in the passage. It was a whole bird, with wings and a beak. It must have died only a short time before, when the winter began, and was now buried just where the mole had made his passage.
The mole took a piece of decayed touchwood in his mouth, for that glimmers like fire in the dark, and then he went first and lighted them through the long dark passage. When they came where the dead bird lay the mole thrust up his broad nose against the ceiling and pushed the earth up, so that a great hole was made, through which the daylight could shine down. In the middle of the floor lay a dead swallow, his beautiful wings pressed close against his sides, and his head and feet drawn back under his feathers; the poor bird had certainly died of cold. Thumbelina was very sorry for this, for she was very fond of all the little birds, who had sung and twittered so prettily for her through the summer ; but the mole gave him a push with his crooked legs, and said, “Now he won’t pipe any more. It must be miserable to be born a little bird! I’m thankful that none of my children can be that! Such a bird has nothing but his ‘tweet-weet,’ and has to starve in the winter!”
“Yes, you may well say that, as a clever man,” observed the field-mouse. “Of what use is all this ‘tweet-weet’ to a bird when the winter comes? He must starve and freeze. But they say that’s very grand!”
Thumbelina said nothing; but when the two others had their backs turned she bent down, put the feathers aside which covered his head, and kissed him upon his closed eyes.
“Perhaps it was he who sang so prettily for me in the summer,” she thought. “How much pleasure he gave me, the dear, beautiful bird!”
The mole now stopped up the hole through which the daylight shone, and showed the ladies home. But at night Thumbelina could not sleep at all; so she got up out of her bed, and plaited a large beautiful carpet of hay, and took it and spread it over the dead bird, and laid some soft cotton-wool which she had found in the field-mouse’s room at the bird’s sides, so that he might lie warm on the cold ground.
“Farewell, you pretty little bird!” said she. “Farewell! And thanks for your beautiful song in the summer, when all the trees were green, and the sun shone warmly upon us.” And then she laid her head on the bird’s breast; but the next moment she was startled to hear something beating inside the bird. It was the bird’s heart. The bird was not dead; he was only lying there torpid, and now he had been warmed, and came to life again.
In autumn all the swallows fly away to warm countries, but if one happens to be left behind it becomes so cold that it falls down as if dead, and lies where it fell, and then the cold snow covers it over. Thumbelina trembled all over, she was so startled; for the bird was big, big compared with her, who was only an inch in height. But she took courage, laid the cotton-wool closer round the poor bird, and brought a leaf of mint that she had used as her own coverlet, and laid it over the bird’s head.
The next night she stole out to him again, and now he was alive, but so weak that he could only open his eyes for a moment and look at Thumbelina, who stood before him with a bit of decayed wood in her hand, for she had no other light.
“I thank you, you pretty little child,” said the sick swallow to her. “I feel so beautifully warm! Soon I shall get my strength back again, and I shall be able to fly again, out in the warm sunshine.”
“Oh,” she said, “it is so cold outside. It snows and freezes. Stay in your warm bed, and I will nurse you.”
Then she brought the swallow water in the petal of a flower, and he drank it, and told her how he had torn one of his wings in a thorn bush, and so had not been able to fly as fast as the other swallows, which had sped far, far away to warm countries. So at last he had fallen to the ground, but he could remember nothing more, and did not know at all how he had come where she had found him.
The whole winter he remained there, and Thumbelina took care of him and grew very fond of him. Neither the field-mouse nor the mole heard anything about it, for they did not like the poor swallow. As soon as the spring came and the sun warmed the earth the swallow bade Thumbelina farewell, and she opened the hole which the mole had made in the ground above. The sun shone in upon them brightly, and the swallow asked if Thumbelina would go away with him; she could sit upon his back, and they would fly away far into the green forest. But Thumbelina knew that the old field-mouse would be grieved if she left her like this.
“No, I cannot!” said Thumbelina.
“Farewell, farewell, you good, pretty girl!” said the swallow; and he flew out into the sunshine. Thumbelina looked after him, and the tears came into her eyes, for she had become so fond of the poor swallow.
“Tweet-weet! tweet-weet!” sang the bird, and flew into the green forest. Thumbelina felt very sad. She was not allowed to go out into the warm sunshine. The corn which was sown in the field over the house of the field-mouse had grown high into the air; it was quite a thick wood for the poor little girl, who was only an inch in height.
“You must get your outfit ready to be married this summer,” said the field-mouse to her, for their neighbour, the tiresome mole in the black velvet coat, had proposed for her. “You must have both woollen and linen! You shall have things to wear, and to lie upon too, when you are the Mole’s wife!”
Thumbelina had to spin, and the mole hired four spiders to weave for her day and night. Every evening the mole paid her a visit; and he was always saying that when the summer should end the sun would not shine nearly so hot, for that now it burned the earth almost as hard as stone. Yes, when the summer was over then he would keep his wedding day with Thumbelina. But she was not glad at all, for she did not like the tiresome mole. Every morning when the sun rose, and every evening when it went down, she stole out of the door, and when the wind blew the corn aside, so that she could see the blue sky, she thought how bright and beautiful it was out here, and wished heartily to see her dear swallow again. But he did not come back any more; he must have flown far away into the beautiful green forest. “When autumn came Thumbelina had all her outfit ready.
“In four weeks you shall have your wedding!” said the field-mouse to her.
But Thumbelina cried, and said she would not have the tiresome mole.
“Stuff and nonsense!” said the field-mouse. “Don’t be obstinate, or I’ll bite you with my white tooth. He is a very fine man to marry. The Queen herself has not such a black velvet fur, and his kitchen and cellar are full. Be thankful to get him!”
So the wedding was to take place. The mole had already come to fetch Thumbelina; she was to live with him deep under the ground, and never to come out into the warm sunshine, for he did not like it. The poor little child was very sorrowful; she had now to say farewell to the beautiful sun, which at least she had been allowed by the field-mouse to see from the threshold of the door.
“Farewell, thou bright sun!” she said, and stretched up her arms to it, as she walked a little way from the field-mouse’s house, for now the corn had been reaped, and only the dry stubble stood in the fields. “Farewell, farewell!” said she, and she threw her little arms round a small red flower close by her. “Give my love to the dear swallow from me, if you see him again.”
“Tweet-weet! tweet-weet!” A voice suddenly sounded over her head. She looked up; it was the swallow, who was just flying by. As soon as he saw Thumbelina he was very glad; and she told him how unwilling she was to have the ugly mole for her husband, and that she would have to live deep under the earth, where the sun never shone. She could not help crying about it.
“The cold winter is coming now,” said the swallow; “I am going to fly far away to warm countries. Will you come with me? You can sit upon my back. Tie yourself on with your sash, and we will fly away from the ugly mole and his dark room, far away over the mountains to warm countries where the sun shines brighter than here, where it is always summer, and there are lovely flowers. Only fly with me, you dear little Thumbelina, you who saved my life when I lay frozen in the dark, earthy passage.”
“Yes, I will go with you!” said Thumbelina, and she seated herself on the bird’s back, with her feet on his outspread wing, and tied her sash fast to one of his strongest feathers. Then the swallow flew high up into the air over forest and sea, high up over the great mountains, where the snow always lies; and Thumbelina froze in the cold air, but then she crept under the bird’s warm feathers, and only stuck out her little head to see all the beauty beneath her.
At last they reached the warm countries. There the sun shone much brighter than here, the sky seemed twice as high, on the hedges grew the most beautiful blue and green grapes, lemons and oranges hung in the woods, the air was fragrant with myrtles and balsams, and on the roads the loveliest children ran about, playing with the large gay butterflies. But the swallow flew still farther, and it became more and more beautiful. Under the magnificent green trees by the blue lake stood a palace of dazzling white marble, of the olden time. Vines wound themselves round the lofty pillars, and at the top were many swallows’ nests, in one of which lived the swallow who carried Thumbelina.
“That is my house,” said the swallow; “but if you will choose for yourself one of the lovely flowers that are growing there I will put you into it, and you shall be as happy as you could wish.”
“That would be delightful,” said she, and clapped her little hands.
A great white marble pillar lay there which had fallen to the ground and broken into three pieces; but between these grew the most beautiful big white flowers. The swallow flew down with Thumbelina, and sat her upon one of the broad leaves. But what was her surprise! There sat a little man in the middle of the flower, as white and transparent as if he had been made of glass; he had the loveliest gold crown on his head, and beautiful bright wings on his shoulders; he himself was no bigger than Thumbelina. He was the angel of the flower. In each of the flowers dwelt such a little man or woman, but this one was king over them all.
“Heavens! how beautiful he is!” whispered Thumbelina to the swallow.
The little prince was very much frightened at the swallow; for it was quite a giant bird to him, who was so small and delicate. But when he saw Thumbelina he was delighted; she was the prettiest maiden he had ever seen. Therefore he took his golden crown off his head and put it on hers, asked her name, and if she would be his wife, and then she should be queen of all the flowers. Yes, this was truly a different kind of man to the toad’s son or the mole with the black velvet fur. So she said “Yes” to the charming Prince.
And from every flower came a lady or a gentleman, so pretty to behold that it was a delight; each one brought Thumbelina a present. But the best of all was a pair of beautiful wings from a great white butterfly; these were fastened to Thumbelina’s back, and then she too could fly from flower to flower. Then there was much rejoicing; and the swallow sat above them in his nest, and sang to them as well as he could; but in his heart he was sad, for he was so fond of Thumbelina that he would have liked never to part from her.
“You shall not be called Thumbelina,” said the Flower Angel to her; “it is an ugly name, and you are so pretty. We will call you Maia!”
“Farewell, farewell!” said the swallow; and he flew away again from the warm countries, back to Denmark. There he had a little nest over the window where the man lives who can tell fairy tales. To him he sang, “Tweet-weet! tweet-weet!” and from him we have the whole story.