Nightbringer | The Arthurian Online Encyclopedia

Tom Thumb

The tiny, adventurous hero whose story appears in the History of Tomb Thumbe (1621), probably written by Richard Johnson. (Tom Thumb was well-known prior to this book; various references appear in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.) On the title page, Tom Thumb is called “King Arthur’s dwarfe”.

In the story, he is born when his father, Thomas of the Mountain, Arthur’s ploughman, sends his barren wife to seek Merlin’s help in conceiving a child – any child, “be hee no bigger then my very Thumbe”. Merlin translated Thomas’s request literally. Tom Thumb’s birth was attended by the Queen of the Fairies and her sprites. He grew to manhood in only four minutes. The fairy queen, who became his godmother, later bestowed upon him a hat which taught him all the world’s knowledge, a girdle which allowed him to change his form at will, a ring that turned him invisible, and a pair of shoes that almost instantly took him wherever he wanted to go.

Tom’s story is full of comical adventures, many of which involve being swallowed – accidentally or deliberately – by various creatures. In one such episode, he was swallowed by a giant, vomited into the ocean, and eaten by a fish, which was caught and served at Arthur’s table. Tom was discovered by Arthur, and he so entertained the king that he was appointed a courtier and endowed with great riches.

Tom Thumb is also the title character of two parodies by Henry Fielding: Tom Thumb and its revision, The Tragedy of Tragedies. Created by Merlin for Gaffar Thumb and his wife, Tom proved himself a noble giant-slayer, for which Arthur rewarded him by betrothing him to his daughter Huncamunca. For Huncamunca’s love, Tom had to contend with both Lord Grizzle, another suitor, and Queen Dollallolla, who loved Tom. He survived a murder attempt only to be eaten by a cow during his wedding procession. In the original version, his spirit arose but was slain by Grizzle.

Tom Thumb and The Tragedy of Tragedies | Henry Fielding, 1730