Once upon a time there was a woman whose only wish was to have a tiny little child. She had no idea where to get one, so she went to an old witch and asked her: “Please, old witch, tell me where I can get a tiny little child.”
“That is not so hard,” said the witch. “Plant this seed in the ground and see what happens.”
The woman paid the witch twelve gold coins and went home to plant the seed. No sooner was it in the ground than it started to sprout. A big beautiful flower grew up. It became a tulip that was ready to bloom.
“What a lovely flower,” said the woman as she kissed the red and yellow petals that were closed so tightly. With a snap they opened and became a real tulip. In the center of the flower sat a tiny little girl. She was so beautiful and so delicate, and exactly one inch long.
“I will call her Thumbelina,” thought the woman.
The shell of a walnut became Thumbelina’s cradle, the blue petals of violets her mattress, and a rose petal her cover. Here she slept at night; in the daytime she played on the table by the window. The woman had put a bowl of water there with flowers all around it. In the water floated a tulip petal on which Thumbelina could float from one side of the bowl to the other.
Thumbelina would float and sing more beautifully than anyone has ever sung before.
One night as she lay sleeping in her little bed a frog came through the window. She was big and wet and ugly. She jumped down onto the table where Thumbelina lay sleeping under the rose petal.
“She will make a lovely wife for my son,” said the frog. She grabbed the walnut shell in which Thumbelina slept, leaped out through the window and into the garden.
On the banks of the stream, where it was muddiest, lived the frog with her son. He was just as ugly as his mother. “Croak…Croak…Croak!” was all he said when he saw the beautiful little girl in the walnut shell.
“Don’t talk so loud! You’ll wake her!” scolded the mother frog, “She could run away and we would not be able to catch her, for she is as light as the feather of a swan. I will put her on a water-lily leaf. It will seem like an island to her. Then we will get your hole in the mud ready for your marriage.”
Out in the stream grew many water lilies. All their leaves seemed to float on the water. The biggest of them was far out from shore. Upon that lily the old frog put Thumbelina’s little bed.
When the poor girl awoke in the morning and saw where she was she began to cry bitterly. There was no way of getting to shore at all.
The old frog was very busy down in the mud hole, decorating the walls with reeds and flowers that grew on shore. She meant to make a very pretty wedding. After she finished, she and her ugly son swam out to the water-lily to fetch Thumbelina’s bed. It was to go in the bridal chamber. The old frog curtsied, and that is not easy while swimming; then she said, “Meet my son who will be your new husband. You will both live very happily in the mud hole.”
“Croak!…Croak!” was all the son said. Then they took the walnut shell bed and swam away with it. Poor Thumbelina sat on the water-leaf and wept, for she did not want to live with these ugly frogs. The little fishes swimming by in the water heard what the old frog had said. They poked their heads out of the water to look at the tiny girl. When they saw her beauty it made them sad to think of her with the frogs in the mud. They decided they would do something and gathered around the stem that went from Thumbelina’s leaf to the bottom of the stream. They nibbled and nibbled and soon the leaf was free. It drifted down the stream, carrying Thumbelina far away from the ugly frogs.
As Thumbelina sailed down the stream, little birds sang, “Oh what a pretty girl.” Farther and farther floated the leaf down the stream, taking its little passenger to strange new lands.
A white butterfly flew around in a circle and landed on the leaf. It had taken a fancy to little Thumbelina. The girl laughed, for she was happy to have escaped from the frogs. She tied one end of the silk ribbon she wore around her waist to the butterfly. The other end she tied to her water-lily. The butterfly flew and pulled Thumbelina quickly down the stream.
A big May bug flew by. It spied Thumbelina, swooped down and picked her off the leaf and flew up into a tree with her. The leaf and butterfly went on down the stream without Thumbelina.
Thumbelina was terrified of what would happen next. The May bug put Thumbelina in the tree and gave her honey from the flowers. He told her she was the prettiest thing he had ever seen, even though she didn’t look like a May bug at all. Soon all the other May bugs of the tree came calling on their little visitor. Two young May bugs wiggled their antennae and said, “Look at her. She has only two legs! How disgusting!”
All the other lady May bugs agreed. The May bug who had found Thumbelina still thought she was lovely, but as the others kept saying how ugly she was, he soon believed it too. Now he didn’t want her anymore, and put her down on a daisy at the foot of the tree and told her she was free to go wherever she wanted for all he cared. Poor Thumbelina cried. The thought it was terrible to be so ugly that not even a May bug would want her around.
All summer long Thumbelina lived alone in the forest. She made a hammock out of grass and hung it under a leaf so it would not rain on her when she slept. She ate honey from the flowers and drank the dew from the leaves each morning.
Autumn passed. Then came winter. It was long and cold. All the birds flew away, the flowers died and the trees lost their leaves. Thumbelina was terribly cold. Her clothes were in tatters and she became thin and delicate.
Thumbelina was bound to freeze to death. It started to snow and the snowflakes were big and heavy upon her. She tried to wrap herself up in a dried old leaf, but it gave her no warmth. She shivered in the cold.
Not far from the forest was a big field where the dry stubbles of grain poked up from the frozen ground. It was a stubble forest to Thumbelina and she wandered into them and soon came to a hole in the ground. It was the home of a field mouse. Deep down the mouse lived in warmth and comfort, with a full larder and a nice kitchen. Like a beggar, Thumbelina stood by the hole and asked for a grain of barley to eat. She had not eaten for days.
“Poor little wretch,” said the field mouse, for she had a very kind heart. “Come on down into my warm house and dine with me.”
The field mouse thought Thumbelina a fine little girl. “You can stay for the whole winter,” she said. “But you must keep the house tidy and tell me a story every day, for I like a good story.” Thumbelina did what the kind old mouse asked, and lived very happily.
“Soon we shall have a visitor,” said the mouse. “Once a week my neighbor comes. He lives even better than I do. He has a drawing room and wears the most exquisite black fur coat. If only he would marry you, then you would be well taken care of. He won’t be able to see you, for he is blind, so you will have to tell him the very best of your stories.”
But Thumbelina did not want to marry the mouse’s neighbor, for he was a mole. The next day he came visiting dressed in his fine black coat. The field mouse had said that he was both rich and wise. His house was twenty times the size of the mouse’s; and learned he was, too. He did not like the sun or the flowers. “Abominable!” he would say because he could not see them. Thumbelina sang for him and he did fall in love with her because of her voice. The blind mole never showed his feeling though because he was clear-headed and never made a spectacle of himself.
The mole had recently dug a tunnel from his house to the field mouse’s and he invited Thumbelina and the mouse to use it as often as they liked. He said not to be afraid of the dead bird in the tunnel. It had died a few days before and still had all its feathers.
The mole took a piece of hot glowing coal to light the way in the tunnel. When they came to the dead bird, the mole made a hole up through the earth to let the sunlight in. Now Thumbelina could see that the bird was a dead swallow with its wings pressed close to its body. Its head was tucked under one wing. The poor bird had frozen to death. Thumbelina was very sad. She had loved all the birds that had sung for her in the forest.
The mole kicked the bird with one of his short legs and said, “It has ceased its chirping. What a misfortune. Thank God I am not a bird.”
“Yes, that’s what all sensible people think,” said the field mouse. “What does chirping lead to? Starvation and cold. I suppose birds think it all romantic.”
Thumbelina said nothing, but when the mouse and mole turned their backs, she leaned down and kissed the closed eye of the swallow. “How much joy you might have given me,” she thought.
The mole closed up the hole through which the sunlight came and took the ladies home. That night Thumbelina could not sleep. She rose and wove a blanket out of hay. She carried it down the dark tunnel and covered the little bird with it. She tucked small bits of cotton under the swallow to protect it from the cold earth.
“Good-by, beautiful bird,” she said. “Good-by and thank you for the songs you sang when it was summer and the trees were green.”
She put her head on the bird’s breast. Then she jumped up! Something was ticking inside. It sounded like a little watch. Thumbelina tucked the blanket closer around the bird.
The next night Thumbelina sneaked down into the tunnel again and found the bird had opened its eyes just enough to see her in the dark.
“Thank you, sweet little child,” said the sick swallow softly. “I feel so much better. I am not cold now. Soon I shall be strong again and fly in the sunshine.”
“Oh no,” she said. “It is cold and snowing outside. You will freeze. Stay here in your warm bed. I will nurse you.”
She brought the swallow water on a leaf. The he told Thumbelina his story. He told her of how he had torn his wing on a rosebush and could not fly fast enough to keep up with the other swallows. He had been left behind and had fainted from the cold. That was all he could tell her for he had no memory of how he came to be in the mole’s passageway.
The swallow stayed there all winter. Thumbelina took good care of him and grew very fond of him. She breathed not a word to the mole or the field mouse. She knew they did not like the poor swallow.
When spring came and the warm sun could be felt under the ground, the swallow said goodbye to Thumbelina, who opened the hole that the mole had made. The sun shone down. The swallow asked her if she would like to come along; she could sit on his back and he would fly her out over the great forest. But Thumbelina knew that the field mouse would be sad and lonely if she left.
“I cannot,” she said sadly.
The bird thanked her once more. “Farewell…Fare thee well, lovely girl,” he sang as he flew out into the sunshine.
Thumbelina’s eyes filled with tears as she watched the swallow fly away. She knew that soon the grain would be tall and she would not be able to see the sunshine.
“This summer you must spend getting your trousseau ready,” said the field mouse. For the mole had proposed to her in his velvet coat. “You must have good woolens and linen when you become Mrs. Mole.”
Thumbelina spun night and day and the field mouse brought four spiders to help weave. Every evening the mole came for a visit, but all he said was “Goodness, how nice it will be when summer is over.”
He didn’t like the way the sun baked the earth; it was too hard to dig in. When fall came they would get married. Thumbelina thought the mole was dull and she did not love him. Every day, at sunrise and at sunset, she tiptoed to the entrance of the field mouse’s house, so that when the wind blew and parted the grain, she could see the blue sky. She thought of how light and beautiful it was out there and she longed for her friend the swallow. “He is probably far away in the green forest,” she thought.
Autumn came. “In four weeks we shall hold the wedding!” cried the field mouse.
Thumbelina wept and said she did not want to marry the boring old mole.
“Fiddlesticks!” squeaked the field mouse. “Don’t be stubborn or I will bite you with my front teeth. The mole has a fine velvet coat and will make you a splendid husband.”
The day of the wedding arrived and Thumbelina thought she would never again see the bright sun.
“Farewell, you beautiful sun!” Thumbelina lifted her hands toward the sky and stepped out upon the field. She touched a lonely red flower that grew in the hard ground.
A gentle breeze touched her shoulder and she heard a sound above her.
She looked up. It was the swallow. He chirped with joy at seeing Thumbelina.
“I am flying to the warm country for the winter,” he called to her. “Won’t you come with me? You can sit on my back and we will fly far away from the terrible mole and his dirty house. We will cross the great mountains and find the land where the sun shines brilliantly and the loveliest flowers grow. Fly with me, Thumbelina.”
“Yes, I will come,” cried Thumbelina, and climbed up on the bird’s back. The swallow flew high into the sky, above forests and lakes and over high mountains that are always snow-covered. Thumbelina crawled under the swallow’s warm feathers and stuck her head out to see the beauty below.
They came to the warm country. The sun shone brilliantly and the sky seemed higher. Along the fences grew lovely green and blue grapes. From the trees in the forest hung oranges and lemons. Along the roads, beautiful children ran, chasing many-colored butterflies. As the swallow flew further south, the landscape became more and more beautiful.
Near a forest, on the shores of a lake, stood the ruins of an ancient temple. Ivy wound around white pillars. On top of these were many swallows’ nests and one of them belonged to Thumbelina’s swallow.
“This is my house,” he said. He then flew over to a lovely white flower and set Thumbelina down upon it. “This shall be your house.”
As Thumbelina looked into the flower she saw something move. It was little more than a shimmer of light. To her astonishment, she saw that it was a little man. He was like glass that glowed. On his head was a golden crown. On his back were wings. He was no taller than Thumbelina. In every white flower all around lived such a tiny angel. This one was the king of them all.
“Oh, how handsome he is!” whispered Thumbelina to the swallow.
The little king took off his crown and put it on Thumbelina’s head. “Would you like to be queen of the flowers?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Thumbelina. From every flower all around came a tiny angel to pay respect to the new queen. They brought her gifts and the best one was a new pair of wings.
The swallow sang the best songs he knew.
“You shall not be called Thumbelina any more,” said the tiny king. “You shall be called Maja.”
“Farewell!” called the swallow as he flew back to the north, away from the warm country. He came to Denmark and made his nest above the window of a man who could tell fairy tales.
As the swallow sang, the man listened and wrote down the whole story.
“Thumbelina” adaptation Copyright © 1996 by Alessandro Cima
Illustrations Copyright © 1996 by Candlelight Stories
All Rights Reserved