Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Thumbelina, Doorway to the Wee World

There is a reason Thumbelina, as well as Tom Thumb, are among the most loved of fairy tales. They take us into the wee world where we can explore what it is like to float on a leaf and fly on the back of a songbird. 
Thumbelina wool illustration
Thumbelina by Claudia Marie Felt

Life in the teeny, tiny world is fascinating, hence the trend of fairy gardens. Just walk into your garden and imagine life as Thumbelina -- a flower bed becomes a jungle, small rocks are boulders, and the butterflies . . . 

I think small children especially relate to Thumbelina, because they do live in a world where they feel little among adults. 

Thumbelina is a Hans Christian Anderson tale, published in Danish, as Tommelise, in 1835. Danny Kaye sang a song about Thumbelina for a 1952 movie about Hans Christian Anderson. And of course there have been animated movies. 

Vintage Thumbelina illustration
Thumbelina Father Tuck

I prefer the Thumbelina version in William Bennett's Book of Virtues. In this version Thumbelina goes for a stroll and enjoys a sailing ride with a fish, explores a field mouse's home and flies with a songbird. I like this version because Thumbelina is childish and in the end she is returned home to her mother. Bennett puts this tale in the Compassion section as Thumbelina's kindness toward the bird results in her happy ending. 

Elsa Beskow Thumbelina and toad
Elsa Beskow Thumbelina illustration

Of course in Anderson's original Thumbelina, she is abducted by creatures who want to marry her --first a toad, then a cockchafer, and a mole. This story is one of perseverence as Thumbelina survives, helps a sick bird who then takes her to a wonderful fairy land where she finds her true love, the elf prince. 

Maja Lindberg Thumbelina
Maja Lindberg Thumbelina illustration

The Thumbelina story can also be seen as a tale of being different; perhaps some people saw pretty little Thumbelina as disabled, but in fact, she could do things others could only dream of. In the end, she found the elf-prince who was her own kind.