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Calineczka VP ubt.jpeg
Illustration by Vilhelm Pedersen,
Andersen's first illustrator
AuthorHans Christian Andersen
Original title"Tommelise"
TranslatorMary Howitt
Genre(s)Literary fairy tale
Published inFairy Tales Told for Children. First Collection. Second Booklet. 1835. (Eventyr, fortalte for Børn. Første Samling. Andet Hefte. 1835.)
Publication typeFairy tale collection
PublisherC. A. Reitzel
Media typePrint
Publication date16 December 1835
Published in English1846
Preceded by"Little Ida's Flowers"
Followed by"The Naughty Boy"

"Thumbelina" /ˌθʌmbəˈlnə/ (Danish: Tommelise) is a literary fairy tale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen first published by C. A. Reitzel on 16 December 1835 in Copenhagen, Denmark, with "The Naughty Boy" and "The Traveling Companion" in the second installment of Fairy Tales Told for Children. "Thumbelina" is about a tiny girl and her adventures with appearance- and marriage-minded toads, moles, and cockchafers. She successfully avoids their intentions before falling in love with a flower-fairy prince just her size.

"Thumbelina" is chiefly Andersen's invention, though he did take inspiration from tales of miniature people such as "Tom Thumb". "Thumbelina" was published as one of a series of seven fairy tales in 1835 which were not well received by the Danish critics who disliked their informal style and their lack of morals. One critic, however, applauded "Thumbelina".[1] The earliest English translation of "Thumbelina" is dated 1846. The tale has been adapted to various media including television drama and animated film.

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Animals have such an easy life Tia! No school, no rules, no homework! What do they have to worry about? Everybody has their troubles Tofu. Let me tell you the story of Thumbelina. Once upon a time a woman lived by herself in a far away village She was very lonely after her husband had died She always wanted to have a child but alas, she didn’t have any. One day she went to her friend who was a witch The witch gave her a grain of barley and told her to go back home and plant it The woman did as she was told The next morning a beautiful plant had grown from the seed It had a lovely flower that looked like a tulip The woman had never seen a flower like that and was mesmerized by its beauty She gently kissed one of its petals As she did that the flower blossomed open. Inside it was a beautiful little girl no bigger than the size of the woman’s thumb The woman instantly fell in love with her and called her Thumbelina Thumbelina took away the woman’s loneliness In the day she would tell her stories and talk to her Sometimes she would make Thumbelina a boat out of a tulip petal which she could row in a plate full of water At night Thumbelina would sleep in a bed out of a walnut shell with a blanket made of a rose petal One night as she was sleeping, a frog came to her window and saw her He thought to himself, what a beautiful girl! She will make a lovely bride for my son And so he grabbed Thumbelina and hopped away to his home When his son saw his bride-to-be, he was very happy. She is beautiful father. I will marry her But before that I want to build her a beautiful house. Okay, son I will put her on the water lily in the middle of the pond till then This way, she will not be able to escape And so the frog put Thumbelina in the middle of the pond on a water lily leaf. Thumbelina tried to escape from her new home but when she couldn’t, she broke down crying Two minnows were sitting under the same leaf and they heard her cry They asked her about her troubles and when she told them, they decided to help her They nibbled away the lily stem Soon it broke and floated away with Thumbelina. Just when Thumbelina thought she was free a beetle came down and took her away to his home He called over his friends to introduce them to his pretty prisoner But the beetle’s friends told him that she was too different than them and she didn’t belong with them. I agree. I think I should let her go And so he dropped her in the long grass and flower Thumbelina was very happy that she was free from her captors However, she still did not know where her home was. She spent many days in the grass and between the flowers She would eat the pollen of the flowers and drink the dew from the their leaves One day as she was walking she stumbled upon a small house made of mud It had a strange round entrance She went up to it and knocked on the door. A mouse opened the door Oh, hello there! Isn’t it could out there for you today? come in please Thank you so much Once Thumbelina was settled comfortably in the mouse’s house he asked her about who she was Thumbelina told him her entire story Do not worry. You can stay here as long as you like So, Thumbelina started staying in her new found home To make herself useful in the house she would cook for the mouse and tell him stories After a few days the mouse said he had invited a guest over He is the richest mouse in all the land. He is a very good friend of mine That night, the mouse’s friend came over for dinner They all talked and had a very good time During the course of dinner, the friend fell in love with Thumbelina and declared that he would marry her Thumbelina had no choice but to go along with what was happening When the friend offered to show her his home, she agreed to visit his house And the three of them set off together On the way, they entered a tunnel There they found an injured swallow lying on the ground The mouse’s friend kicked it and rudely said Serves her right! What is she doing in the tunnels? He should have stayed in the air Thumbelina was shocked to see that someone could treat another like this Unseen by the mice she ran away from there Once she was sure that the mice had left she came back and attended to the swallow. She took great care of her till she was fit to fly again It became spring by the time the swallow could fly again she told Thumbelina I have to go join my family and friends They have flown away to a warmer place I can not stay here. Come with me But Thumbelina had had enough adventure and did not want to go anywhere else And so the swallow flew away A few months had passed when the love-struck friend of the mouse found Thumbelina again Oh my beloved! I have been looking for you everywhere Now I have found you and must marry you. Thumbelina knew there was no way out of it for her So she asked him if she could spend one last day out in the open air before she was confined to living the rest of her life underground with him As she roamed the open fields for one last time she heard a familiar voice Come, come away with me where your spirit will always be free. Thumbelina saw her old friend who had returned for her This time around she agreed and hopped on the back of the swallow and they took off They flew over land and water and fields of green When they reached the land of the flowers the swallow landed Thumbelina on a beautiful flower petal. This is the kingdom of the flowers. And that is their King Thumbelina saw a handsome young King with beautiful wings He was surrounded by lovely flowers As soon as she saw him, she knew she wanted to call this place home Her presence attracted the Kings attention he too fell in love with her immediately Will you marry me? Yes! As happiness spread across her face she grew a beautiful pair of wings and became the Flower Queen Oh wow, Tia! I don’t know what I would do, if I would land in such a strange world I think I am happy where I am



In the first English translation of 1847 by Mary Howitt, the tale opens with a beggar woman giving a peasant's wife a barleycorn in exchange for food. After the barleycorn is planted and sprouts, a tiny girl, Thumbelina (Tommelise), emerges from its flower. One night, Thumbelina, asleep in her walnut-shell cradle, is carried off by a toad who wants her as a bride for her son. With the help of friendly fish and a butterfly, Thumbelina escapes the toad and her son, and drifts on a lily pad until captured by a stag beetle who later discards her when his friends reject her company.

Thumbelina tries to protect herself from the elements, but when winter comes, she is in desperate straits. She is finally given shelter by an old field mouse and tends her dwelling in gratitude. The mouse suggests Thumbelina marry her neighbor, a mole, but Thumbelina finds the prospect of being married to such a creature repulsive because he spends all his days underground and never sees the sun or sky. The field mouse keeps pushing Thumbelina into the marriage, saying the mole is a good match for her, and does not listen to her protests.

At the last minute, Thumbelina escapes the situation by fleeing to a far land with a swallow she nursed back to health during the winter. In a sunny field of flowers, Thumbelina meets a tiny flower-fairy prince just her size and to her liking, and they wed. She receives a pair of wings to accompany her husband on his travels from flower to flower, and a new name, Maia.

In Hans Christian Andersen's version of the story, a bluebird had been viewing Thumbelina's story since the beginning and had been in love with her since. In the end, the bird is heartbroken once Thumbelina marries the flower-fairy prince, and flies off eventually arriving at a small house. There, he tells Thumbelina's story to a man who is implied to be Andersen himself, who chronicles the story in a book.[2]


Hans Christian Andersen was born in Odense, Denmark on 2 April 1805 to Hans Andersen, a shoemaker, and Anne Marie Andersdatter.[3] An only child, Andersen shared a love of literature with his father, who read him The Arabian Nights and the fables of Jean de la Fontaine. Together, they constructed panoramas, pop-up pictures and toy theatres, and took long jaunts into the countryside.[4]

Andersen in 1836
Andersen in 1836

Andersen's father died in 1816,[5] and from then on, Andersen was left to his own devices. In order to escape his poor, illiterate mother, he promoted his artistic inclinations and courted the cultured middle class of Odense, singing and reciting in their drawing-rooms. On 4 September 1819, the fourteen-year-old Andersen left Odense for Copenhagen with the few savings he had acquired from his performances, a letter of reference to the ballerina Madame Schall, and youthful dreams and intentions of becoming a poet or an actor.[6]

After three years of rejections and disappointments, he finally found a patron in Jonas Collin, the director of the Royal Theatre, who, believing in the boy's potential, secured funds from the king to send Andersen to a grammar school in Slagelse, a provincial town in west Zealand, with the expectation that the boy would continue his education at Copenhagen University at the appropriate time.

At Slagelse, Andersen fell under the tutelage of Simon Meisling, a short, stout, balding thirty-five-year-old classicist and translator of Virgil's Aeneid. Andersen was not the quickest student in the class and was given generous doses of Meisling's contempt.[7] "You're a stupid boy who will never make it", Meisling told him.[8] Meisling is believed to be the model for the learned mole in "Thumbelina".[9]

Fairy tale and folklorists Iona and Peter Opie have proposed the tale as a "distant tribute" to Andersen's confidante, Henriette Wulff, the small, frail, hunchbacked daughter of the Danish translator of Shakespeare who loved Andersen as Thumbelina loves the swallow;[10] however, no written evidence exists to support the theory.[9]

Sources and inspiration

"Thumbelina" is essentially Andersen's invention but takes inspiration from the traditional tale of "Tom Thumb" (both tales begin with a childless woman consulting a supernatural being about acquiring a child). Other inspirations were the six-inch Lilliputians in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Voltaire's short story "Micromégas" with its cast of huge and miniature peoples, and E. T. A. Hoffmann's hallucinatory, erotic tale "Meister Floh", in which a tiny lady a span in height torments the hero. A tiny girl figures in Andersen‘s prose fantasy "A Journey on Foot from Holmen's Canal to the East Point of Amager" (1828),[9][11] and a literary image similar to Andersen's tiny being inside a flower is found in E. T. A. Hoffmann's "Princess Brambilla” (1821).[12]

Publication and critical reception

Andersen published two installments of his first collection of Fairy Tales Told for Children in 1835, the first in May and the second in December. "Thumbelina" was first published in the December installment by C. A. Reitzel on 16 December 1835 in Copenhagen. "Thumbelina" was the first tale in the booklet which included two other tales: "The Naughty Boy" and "The Traveling Companion". The story was republished in collected editions of Andersen's works in 1850 and 1862.[13]

The first reviews of the seven tales of 1835 did not appear until 1836 and the Danish critics were not enthusiastic. The informal, chatty style of the tales and their lack of morals were considered inappropriate in children's literature. One critic however acknowledged "Thumbelina" to be "the most delightful fairy tale you could wish for".[14]

The critics offered Andersen no further encouragement. One literary journal never mentioned the tales at all while another advised Andersen not to waste his time writing fairy tales. One critic stated that Andersen "lacked the usual form of that kind of poetry [...] and would not study models". Andersen felt he was working against their preconceived notions of what a fairy tale should be, and returned to novel-writing, believing it was his true calling.[15] The critical reaction to the 1835 tales was so harsh that he waited an entire year before publishing "The Little Mermaid" and "The Emperor's New Clothes" in the third and final installment of Fairy Tales Told for Children.

English translations

Mary Howitt, c. 1888
Mary Howitt, c. 1888

In 1861, Alfred Wehnert translated the tale into English in Andersen's Tales for Children under the title Little Thumb.[16] Mary Howitt published the story as "Tommelise" in Wonderful Stories for Children in 1846. However, she did not approve of the opening scene with the witch, and, instead, had the childless woman provide bread and milk to a hungry beggar woman who then rewarded her hostess with a barleycorn.[10] Charles Boner also translated the tale in 1846 as "Little Ellie" while Madame de Chatelain dubbed the child 'Little Totty' in her 1852 translation. The editor of The Child's Own Book (1853) called the child throughout, 'Little Maja'.

H. W. Dulcken was probably the translator responsible for the name, 'Thumbelina'. His widely published volumes of Andersen's tales appeared in 1864 and 1866.[10] Mrs. H.B. Paulli translated the name as 'Little Tiny' in the late-nineteenth century.[17]

In the twentieth century, Erik Christian Haugaard translated the name as 'Inchelina' in 1974,[18] and Jeffrey and Diane Crone Frank translated the name as 'Thumbelisa' in 2005. Modern English translations of "Thumbelina" are found in the six-volume complete edition of Andersen's tales from the 1940s by Jean Hersholt, and Erik Christian Haugaard's translation of the complete tales in 1974.[19]


For fairy tale researchers and folklorists Iona and Peter Opie, "Thumbelina" is an adventure story from the feminine point of view with its moral being people are happiest with their own kind. They point out that Thumbelina is a passive character, the victim of circumstances whereas her male counterpart Tom Thumb (one of the tale's inspirations) is an active character, makes himself felt, and exerts himself.[10]

Folklorist Maria Tatar sees “Thumbelina” as a runaway bride story and notes that it has been viewed as an allegory about arranged marriages, and a fable about being true to one's heart that upholds the traditional notion that the love of a prince is to be valued above all else. She points out that in Hindu belief, a thumb-sized being known as the innermost self or soul dwells in the heart of all beings, human or animal, and that the concept may have migrated to European folklore and taken form as Tom Thumb and Thumbelina, both of whom seek transfiguration and redemption. She detects parallels between Andersen's tale and the Greek myth of Demeter and her daughter, Persephone, and, notwithstanding the pagan associations and allusions in the tale, notes that "Thumbelina" repeatedly refers to Christ‘s suffering and resurrection, and the Christian concept of salvation.[20]

Andersen biographer Jackie Wullschlager indicates that “Thumbelina” was the first of Andersen's tales to dramatize the sufferings of one who is different, and, as a result of being different, becomes the object of mockery. It was also the first of Andersen's tales to incorporate the swallow as the symbol of the poetic soul and Andersen's identification with the swallow as a migratory bird whose pattern of life his own traveling days were beginning to resemble.[21]

Roger Sale believes Andersen expressed his feelings of social and sexual inferiority by creating characters that are inferior to their beloveds. The Little Mermaid, for example, has no soul while her human beloved has a soul as his birthright. In “Thumbelina”, Andersen suggests the toad, the beetle, and the mole are Thumbelina's inferiors and should remain in their places rather than wanting their superior. Sale indicates they are not inferior to Thumbelina but simply different. He suggests that Andersen may have done some damage to the animal world when he colored his animal characters with his own feelings of inferiority.[22]

Jacqueline Banerjee views the tale as a failure story. “Not surprisingly,“ she writes, “”Thumbelina“ is now often read as a story of specifically female empowerment.“[23] Susie Stephens believes Thumbelina herself is a grotesque, and observes that “the grotesque in children’s literature is [...] a necessary and beneficial component that enhances the psychological welfare of the young reader“. Children are attracted to the cathartic qualities of the grotesque, she suggests.[24] Sidney Rosenblatt in his essay "Thumbelina and the Development of Female Sexuality" believes the tale may be analyzed, from the perspective of Freudian psychoanalysis, as the story of female masturbation. Thumbelina herself, he posits, could symbolize the clitoris, her rose petal coverlet the labia, the white butterfly "the budding genitals", and the mole and the prince the anal and vaginal openings respectively.[25]



The earliest animated version of the tale is a silent, black-and-white release by director Herbert M. Dawley in 1924.[26] Lotte Reiniger released a 10-minute cinematic adaptation in 1954 featuring her "silhouette" puppets.[27]

In 1964 Soyuzmultfilm released Dyuymovochka, a half-hour Russian adaptation of the fairy tale directed by Leonid Amalrik.[28] Although the screenplay by Nikolai Erdman stayed faithful to the story, it was noted for satirical characters and dialogues (many of them turned into catchphrases).[29]

In 1983, a Japanese version was released called Oyayubihime (Princess Thumb);[30] 世界名作童話 おやゆび姫 (Sekai Meisaku Dōwa Oyayubi-hime; World Classic Fairytale Princess Thumb), a Toei Animation anime movie, with character designs by Tezuka Osamu from 1978. In 1992, The Golden Films released of Thumbelina (1992),[31] and Tom Thumb Meets Thumbelina afterwards. A Japanese animated series adapted the plot, and made it into a movie, Thumbelina: A Magical Story (1992), released in 1993.[32]

In 1994, Warner Brothers released the animated film Thumbelina (1994),[33] directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, with Jodi Benson as the voice of Thumbelina.

The 2002 direct-to-DVD animated movie, The Adventures of Tom Thumb and Thumbelina, brought together the two most famous tiny people of literature, with Thumbelina voiced by Jennifer Love Hewitt.[34]

The 2009 direct-to-DVD animated movie, Barbie Presents Thumbelina, where Barbie tells the story of the Twillerbees, with Thumbelina as the main character.[35] in a modern-day tale. She meets Makena, the daughter of a wealthy couple, who became the Twillerbees' only hope for saving their home (which was being torn down due to a building construction by Makena's parents). At the end, Barbie waves at Thumbelina and her friends before the Twillerbees magically make a plant grow in the sight of a little girl, revealing it is a true story.

In 2015, a modernized version of Thumbelina appears in the Disney Junior series, Goldie and Bear. In the episode Thumbelina's Wild Ride,[36] Thumbelina (voiced by Debby Ryan with her singing voice provided by Shannon Chan-Kent) is hired to babysit for Goldie and Bear. The two friends are initially put off by her small stature, thinking she's almost helpless. When she tries getting the kids a snack, she falls down the kitchen sink and slides into the river behind the house. Goldie and Bear try to save her, but soon see that Thumbelina is resourceful, agile, and can lift several times her own weight. She saves herself from the river and even rescues the kids when they fall in trying to save her. The kids take an instant liking to Thumbelina and can't wait for the next time she babysits.

Live action

On June 11, 1985, a television dramatization of the tale was broadcast as the 12th episode of the anthology series Faerie Tale Theatre. The production starred Carrie Fisher.[37]

A version of the tale was filmed in 1970 as an advertisement for "Pirates World", a now-defunct Florida theme park. Directed by Barry Mahon and with Shay Garner in the title role, this version was reused in its entirety as filler material for "Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny", a rival to such films as "Plan 9 from Outer Space" and "Manos: the Hands of Fate" for the title of most inept film ever made.[38]


  1. ^ Wullschlager 2002, p. 165
  2. ^ Opie 1992, pp. 221–9
  3. ^ Wullschlager 2002, p. 9
  4. ^ Wullschlager 2002, p. 13
  5. ^ Wullschlager 2002, pp. 25–26
  6. ^ Wullschlager 2002, pp. 32–33
  7. ^ Wullschlager 2002, pp. 60–61
  8. ^ Frank 2005, p. 77
  9. ^ a b c Frank 2005, p. 76
  10. ^ a b c d Opie 1974, p. 219
  11. ^ Wullschlager 2000, p. 162
  12. ^ Frank 2005, pp. 75–76
  13. ^ "Hans Christian Andersen: Thumbelina". Hans Christian Andersen Center. Retrieved 2009-08-22.
  14. ^ Wullschlager 2002, p. 165
  15. ^ Andersen 2000, p. 335
  16. ^ Andersen, Hans Christian (1861). Andersen's Tales for Children. Bell and Daldy.
  17. ^ Eastman, p. 258
  18. ^ Haugaard 1983, p. 29
  19. ^ Classe 2000, p. 42
  20. ^ Tatar 2008, pp. 193–194, 205
  21. ^ Wullschlager 2000, p. 163
  22. ^ Sale 1978, pp. 65–68
  23. ^ Banerjee, Jacqueline (2008). "The Power of "Faerie": Hans Christian Andersen as a Children's Writer". The Victorian Web: Literature, History, & Culture in the Age of Victoria. Retrieved 2009-08-22.
  24. ^ Stephens, Susie. "The Grotesque in Children's Literature". Retrieved 2009-08-22.
  25. ^ Siegel 1998, pp. 123,126
  26. ^ "Thumbelina (1924)". IMDb. 27 September 1924.
  27. ^ boblipton (13 October 2013). "Däumlienchen (1954)". IMDb.
  28. ^ TheLittleSongbird (19 October 2013). "Dyuymovochka (1964)". IMDb.
  29. ^ Petr Bagrov. Swine-herd and Stableman. From Hans Christian to Christian Hans article from Seance № 25/26, 2005 ISSN 0136-0108 (in Russian)
  30. ^ "H.C. Andersens eventyrlige verden: Tommelise (Video 2005) - IMDb". IMDb. 29 March 2005.
  31. ^ TheLittleSongbird (8 June 1992). "Thumbelina (Video 1992)". IMDb.
  32. ^ Clements, Jonathan; Helen McCarthy (2001-09-01). The Anime Encyclopedia: A Guide to Japanese Animation Since 1917 (1st ed.). Berkeley, California: Stone Bridge Press. p. 399. ISBN 1-880656-64-7. OCLC 47255331.
  33. ^ MissyBaby (30 March 1994). "Thumbelina (1994)". IMDb.
  34. ^ The Adventures of Tom Thumb & Thumbelina, Internet Movie Database. Accessed Oct. 24, 2011.
  35. ^ "Barbie Thumbelina". Retrieved 2014-01-17.
  36. ^ "Thumbulina's Wild Ride/Big Bad House Guest". 10 December 2015 – via
  37. ^ "DVD Verdict Review - Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: The Complete Collection". Archived from the original on 2011-06-17.
  38. ^ emasterslake (15 January 2011). "Thumbelina (1970)". IMDb.


  • Andersen, Hans Christian (1983) [1974]. The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories. Erik Christian Haugaard (trans.). New York, NY: Anchor Books. ISBN 0-385-18951-6.
  • Andersen, Hans Christian (2000) [1871]. The Fairy Tale of My Life. New York, NY: Cooper Square Press. ISBN 0-8154-1105-7.
  • Classe, O. (ed.) (2000). Encyclopedia of Literary Translation into English; v.2. Chicago, IL: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers. ISBN 1-884964-36-2.
  • Eastman, Mary Huse (ed.). Index to Fairy Tales, Myths and Legends. BiblioLife, LLC.
  • Frank, Diane Crone; Jeffrey Frank (2005). The Stories of Hans Christian Andersen. Durham, NC and London, UK: Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8223-3693-6.
  • Loesser, Susan (2000) [1993]. A Most Remarkable Fella: Frank Loesser and the Guys and Dolls in his Life: A Portrait by his Daughter. New York, NY: Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 0-634-00927-3.
  • Opie, Iona; Peter Opie (1974). The Classic Fairy Tales. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-211559-6.
  • Sale, Roger (1978). Fairy Tales and After: From Snow White to E.B. White. New Haven, CT: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-29157-3.
  • Siegel, Elaine V. (ed.) (1992). Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Women. New York, NY: Brunner/Mazel, Inc. ISBN 0-87630-655-5.
  • Wullschlager, Jackie (2002). Hans Christian Andersen: The Life of a Storyteller. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-91747-9.

External links

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