Wednesday, June 11, 2008

tom thumb

perhaps because i’m english by birth, i am intrigued and curious about english folk history, folklore, folk tales, folk music. it’s a sort of reclaiming of my heritage and then simultaneously, an unpacking of how i arrived in my current state.

i got to thinking about tom thumb for some reason and i wondered about how odd a story it is. really when you think about most folk tales and nursery rhymes, you can’t help but be struck by how really odd they are and how in learning about them at an early age you suspend a lot of your critical disbelief as the story just unfolds and seems to make sense to your young and innocent ears.
tom thumb appeared in literature in the sixteen hundreds. reginald scot (who is best known as one of the few men who took on the church as it undertook the repression of women through its lumping the earthwise among them as witches) mentioned “tom thumbe” as one of many little unpleasant creatures whose purpose seems largely to have been to frighten little children. indeed it wasn’t until the 1730’s that henry fielding who is better known for his other “tom” book - tom jones (which you can read here) as well as for founding the bow street runners (i wrote about these guys a while back as part of an introduction to an online game the bbc is running by the same name that i highly recommend for fans of victorian crime stories) wrote about a cute little guy named tom thumb.

the tom thumb that most of us are familiar is the one that hans christian anderson wrote about as ”thumbling”. in thumbling, a poor childless peasant couple wishes out loud for a child "no matter how small". sure enough, the wife has a small child "no longer than a thumb" which they call "thumbling" and who becomes a "wise and nimble creature." thumbling goes on to battle bad people and endure all manner of trials and tribulations. the brother’s grimm had a kick at tom thumb producing this lovely little story. the english version has much more of an arthurian flavour to it . . . .

but the real point of this is that i came across a really cute cartoon from 1936 crafted by walt disney’s closest friend (a guy who hailed from friesland so he’s already in my good books!) named ubbe ert iwwerks. iwwerks crafted many wonderful animated films and this is one of his finest examples - tom thumb . . .


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