Little Thumbelina by Hans Christian Andersen
THERE was once a woman who wished very much to have a little child.
She went to a fairy and said: I should so very much like to have a
little child. Can you tell me where I can find one?
Oh, that can be easily managed, said the fairy. Here is a
barleycorn; it is not exactly of the same sort as those which grow in
the farmers' fields, and which the chickens eat. Put it into a
flowerpot and see what will happen.
Thank you, said the woman; and she gave the fairy twelve
shillings, which was the price of the barleycorn. Then she went home
and planted it, and there grew up a large, handsome flower, somewhat
like a tulip in appearance, but with its leaves tightly closed, as if
it were still a bud.
It is a beautiful flower, said the woman, and she kissed the red
and golden-colored petals; and as she did so the flower opened, and she
could see that it was a real tulip. But within the flower, upon the
green velvet stamens, sat a very delicate and graceful little maiden.
She was scarcely half as long as a thumb, and they gave her the name of
Little Thumb, or Thumbelina, because she was so small.
A walnut shell, elegantly polished, served her for a cradle; her bed
was formed of blue violet leaves, with a rose leaf for a counterpane.
Here she slept at night, but during the day she amused herself on a
table, where the peasant wife had placed a plate full of water.
Round this plate were wreaths of flowers with their stems in the
water, and upon it floated a large tulip leaf, which served the little
one for a boat. Here she sat and rowed herself from side to side, with
two oars made of white horsehair. It was a very pretty sight.
Thumbelina could also sing so softly and sweetly that nothing like her
singing had ever before been heard.
One night, while she lay in her pretty bed, a large, ugly, wet toad
crept through a broken pane of glass in the window and leaped right
upon the table where she lay sleeping under her rose-leaf quilt.
What a pretty little wife this would make for my son, said the
toad, and she took up the walnut shell in which Thumbelina lay asleep,
and jumped through the window with it, into the garden.
In the swampy margin of a broad stream in the garden lived the toad
with her son. He was uglier even than his mother; and when he saw the
pretty little maiden in her elegant bed, he could only cry Croak,
Don't speak so loud, or she will wake, said the toad, and then
she might run away, for she is as light as swan's-down. We will place
her on one of the water-lily leaves out in the stream; it will be like
an island to her, she is so light and small, and then she cannot
escape; and while she is there we will make haste and prepare the
stateroom under the marsh, in which you are to live when you are
Far out in the stream grew a number of water lilies with broad green
leaves which seemed to float on the top of the water. The largest of
these leaves appeared farther off than the rest, and the old toad swam
out to it with the walnut shell, in which Thumbelina still lay asleep.
The tiny creature woke very early in the morning and began to cry
bitterly when she found where she was, for she could see nothing but
water on every side of the large green leaf, and no way of reaching the
Meanwhile the old toad was very busy under the marsh, decking her
room with rushes and yellow wildflowers, to make it look pretty for her
new daughter-in-law. Then she swam out with her ugly son to the leaf on
which she had placed poor Thumbelina. She wanted to bring the pretty
bed, that she might put it in the bridal chamber to be ready for her.
The old toad bowed low to her in the water and said, Here is my son;
he will be your husband, and you will live happily together in the
marsh by the stream.
Croak, croak, croak, was all her son could say for himself. So the
toad took up the elegant little bed and swam away with it, leaving
Thumbelina all alone on the green leaf, where she sat and wept. She
could not bear to think of living with the old toad and having her ugly
son for a husband. The little fishes who swam about in the water
beneath had seen the toad and heard what she said, so now they lifted
their heads above the water to look at the little maiden.
As soon as they caught sight of her they saw she was very pretty,
and it vexed them to think that she must go and live with the ugly
No, it must never be! So they gathered together in the water,
round the green stalk which held the leaf on which the little maiden
stood, and gnawed it away at the root with their teeth. Then the leaf
floated down the stream, carrying Thumbelina far away out of reach of
Thumbelina sailed past many towns, and the little birds in the
bushes saw her and sang, What a lovely little creature. So the leaf
swam away with her farther and farther, till it brought her to other
lands. A graceful little white butterfly constantly fluttered round her
and at last alighted on the leaf. The little maiden pleased him, and
she was glad of it, for now the toad could not possibly reach her, and
the country through which she sailed was beautiful, and the sun shone
upon the water till it glittered like liquid gold. She took off her
girdle and tied one end of it round the butterfly, fastening the other
end of the ribbon to the leaf, which now glided on much faster than
before, taking Thumbelina with it as she stood.
Presently a large cockchafer flew by. The moment he caught sight of
her he seized her round her delicate waist with his claws and flew with
her into a tree. The green leaf floated away on the brook, and the
butterfly flew with it, for he was fastened to it and could not get
Oh, how frightened Thumbelina felt when the cockchafer flew with her
to the tree! But especially was she sorry for the beautiful white
butterfly which she had fastened to the leaf, for if he could not free
himself he would die of hunger. But the cockchafer did not trouble
himself at all about the matter. He seated himself by her side, on a
large green leaf, gave her some honey from the flowers to eat, and told
her she was very pretty, though not in the least like a cockchafer.
[Illustration: Glided on much faster than before....]
After a time all the cockchafers who lived in the tree came to pay
Thumbelina a visit. They stared at her, and then the young lady
cockchafers turned up their feelers and said, She has only two legs!
how ugly that looks. She has no feelers, said another. Her waist is
quite slim. Pooh! she is like a human being.
Oh, she is ugly, said all the lady cockchafers. The cockchafer who
had run away with her believed all the others when they said she was
ugly. He would have nothing more to say to her, and told her she might
go where she liked. Then he flew down with her from the tree and placed
her on a daisy, and she wept at the thought that she was so ugly that
even the cockchafers would have nothing to say to her. And all the
while she was really the loveliest creature that one could imagine, and
as tender and delicate as a beautiful rose leaf.
During the whole summer poor little Thumbelina lived quite alone in
the wide forest. She wove herself a bed with blades of grass and hung
it up under a broad leaf, to protect herself from the rain. She sucked
the honey from the flowers for food and drank the dew from their leaves
So passed away the summer and the autumn, and then came the
winterthe long, cold winter. All the birds who had sung to her so
sweetly had flown away, and the trees and the flowers had withered. The
large shamrock under the shelter of which she had lived was now rolled
together and shriveled up; nothing remained but a yellow, withered
stalk. She felt dreadfully cold, for her clothes were torn, and she was
herself so frail and delicate that she was nearly frozen to death. It
began to snow, too; and the snowflakes, as they fell upon her, were
like a whole shovelful falling upon one of us, for we are tall, but she
was only an inch high. She wrapped herself in a dry leaf, but it
cracked in the middle and could not keep her warm, and she shivered
Near the wood in which she had been living was a large cornfield,
but the corn had been cut a long time; nothing remained but the bare,
dry stubble, standing up out of the frozen ground. It was to her like
struggling through a large wood.
Oh! how she shivered with the cold. She came at last to the door of
a field mouse, who had a little den under the corn stubble. There dwelt
the field mouse in warmth and comfort, with a whole roomful of corn, a
kitchen, and a beautiful dining room. Poor Thumbelina stood before the
door, just like a little beggar girl, and asked for a small piece of
barleycorn, for she had been without a morsel to eat for two days.
You poor little creature, said the field mouse, for she was really
a good old mouse, come into my warm room and dine with me.
She was pleased with Thumbelina, so she said, You are quite welcome
to stay with me all the winter, if you like; but you must keep my rooms
clean and neat, and tell me stories, for I shall like to hear them very
much. And Thumbelina did all that the field mouse asked her, and found
herself very comfortable.
We shall have a visitor soon, said the field mouse one day; my
neighbor pays me a visit once a week. He is better off than I am; he
has large rooms, and wears a beautiful black velvet coat. If you could
only have him for a husband, you would be well provided for indeed. But
he is blind, so you must tell him some of your prettiest stories.
Thumbelina did not feel at all interested about this neighbor, for
he was a mole. However, he came and paid his visit, dressed in his
black velvet coat.
He is very rich and learned, and his house is twenty times larger
than mine, said the field mouse.
He was rich and learned, no doubt, but he always spoke slightingly
of the sun and the pretty flowers, because he had never seen them.
Thumbelina was obliged to sing to him, Ladybird, ladybird, fly away
home, and many other pretty songs. And the mole fell in love with her
because she had so sweet a voice; but he said nothing yet, for he was
very prudent and cautious. A short time before, the mole had dug a long
passage under the earth, which led from the dwelling of the field mouse
to his own, and here she had permission to walk with Thumbelina
whenever she liked. But he warned them not to be alarmed at the sight
of a dead bird which lay in the passage. It was a perfect bird, with a
beak and feathers, and could not have been dead long. It was lying just
where the mole had made his passage. The mole took in his mouth a piece
of phosphorescent wood, which glittered like fire in the dark. Then he
went before them to light them through the long, dark passage. When
they came to the spot where the dead bird lay, the mole pushed his
broad nose through the ceiling, so that the earth gave way and the
daylight shone into the passage.
In the middle of the floor lay a swallow, his beautiful wings pulled
close to his sides, his feet and head drawn up under his feathersthe
poor bird had evidently died of the cold. It made little Thumbelina
very sad to see it, she did so love the little birds; all the summer
they had sung and twittered for her so beautifully. But the mole pushed
it aside with his crooked legs and said: He will sing no more now. How
miserable it must be to be born a little bird! I am thankful that none
of my children will ever be birds, for they can do nothing but cry
'Tweet, tweet,' and must always die of hunger in the winter.
Yes, you may well say that, as a clever man! exclaimed the field
mouse. What is the use of his twittering if, when winter comes, he
must either starve or be frozen to death? Still, birds are very high
Thumbelina said nothing, but when the two others had turned their
backs upon the bird, she stooped down and stroked aside the soft
feathers which covered his head, and kissed the closed eyelids.
Perhaps this was the one who sang to me so sweetly in the summer, she
said; and how much pleasure it gave me, you dear, pretty bird.
The mole now stopped up the hole through which the daylight shone,
and then accompanied the ladies home. But during the night Thumbelina
could not sleep; so she got out of bed and wove a large, beautiful
carpet of hay. She carried it to the dead bird and spread it over him,
with some down from the flowers which she had found in the field
mouse's room. It was as soft as wool, and she spread some of it on each
side of the bird, so that he might lie warmly in the cold earth.
Farewell, pretty little bird, said she, farewell. Thank you for
your delightful singing during the summer, when all the trees were
green and the warm sun shone upon us. Then she laid her head on the
bird's breast, but she was alarmed, for it seemed as if something
inside the bird went thump, thump. It was the bird's heart; he was
not really dead, only benumbed with the cold, and the warmth had
restored him to life. In autumn all the swallows fly away into warm
countries; but if one happens to linger, the cold seizes it, and it
becomes chilled and falls down as if dead. It remains where it fell,
and the cold snow covers it.
Thumbelina trembled very much; she was quite frightened, for the
bird was large, a great deal larger than herself (she was only an inch
high). But she took courage, laid the wool more thickly over the poor
swallow, and then took a leaf which she had used for her own
counterpane and laid it over his head.
The next night she again stole out to see him. He was alive, but
very weak; he could only open his eyes for a moment to look at
Thumbelina, who stood by, holding a piece of decayed wood in her hand,
for she had no other lantern. Thank you, pretty little maiden, said
the sick swallow; I have been so nicely warmed that I shall soon
regain my strength and be able to fly about again in the warm
Oh, said she, it is cold out of doors now; it snows and freezes.
Stay in your warm bed; I will take care of you.
She brought the swallow some water in a flower leaf, and after he
had drunk, he told her that he had wounded one of his wings in a
thornbush and could not fly as fast as the others, who were soon far
away on their journey to warm countries. At last he had fallen to the
earth, and could remember nothing more, nor how he came to be where she
had found him.
All winter the swallow remained underground, and Thumbelina nursed
him with care and love. She did not tell either the mole or the field
mouse anything about it, for they did not like swallows. Very soon the
springtime came, and the sun warmed the earth. Then the swallow bade
farewell to Thumbelina, and she opened the hole in the ceiling which
the mole had made. The sun shone in upon them so beautifully that the
swallow asked her if she would go with him. She could sit on his back,
he said, and he would fly away with her into the green woods. But she
knew it would grieve the field mouse if she left her in that manner, so
she said, No, I cannot.
Farewell, then, farewell, you good, pretty little maiden, said the
swallow, and he flew out into the sunshine.
* * * * *
Thumbelina looked after him, and the tears rose in her eyes. She was
very fond of the poor swallow.
Tweet, tweet, sang the bird, as he flew out into the green woods,
and Thumbelina felt very sad. She was not allowed to go out into the
warm sunshine. The corn which had been sowed in the field over the
house of the field mouse had grown up high into the air and formed a
thick wood to Thumbelina, who was only an inch in height.
[Illustration: Nothing must be wanting when you are the wife of the
You are going to be married, little one, said the field mouse. My
neighbor has asked for you. What good fortune for a poor child like
you! Now we will prepare your wedding clothes. They must be woolen and
linen. Nothing must be wanting when you are the wife of the mole.
Thumbelina had to turn the spindle, and the field mouse hired four
spiders, who were to weave day and night. Every evening the mole
visited her and was continually speaking of the time when the summer
would be over. Then he would keep his wedding day with Thumbelina; but
now the heat of the sun was so great that it burned the earth and made
it hard, like stone. As soon as the summer was over the wedding should
take place. But Thumbelina was not at all pleased, for she did not like
the tiresome mole.
Every morning when the sun rose and every evening when it went down
she would creep out at the door, and as the wind blew aside the ears of
corn so that she could see the blue sky, she thought how beautiful and
bright it seemed out there and wished so much to see her dear friend,
the swallow, again. But he never returned, for by this time he had
flown far away into the lovely green forest.
When autumn arrived Thumbelina had her outfit quite ready, and the
field mouse said to her, In four weeks the wedding must take place.
Then she wept and said she would not marry the disagreeable mole.
Nonsense, replied the field mouse. Now don't be obstinate, or I
shall bite you with my white teeth. He is a very handsome mole; the
queen herself does not wear more beautiful velvets and furs. His
kitchens and cellars are quite full. You ought to be very thankful for
such good fortune.
So the wedding day was fixed, on which the mole was to take her away
to live with him, deep under the earth, and never again to see the warm
sun, because he did not like it. The poor child was very unhappy
at the thought of saying farewell to the beautiful sun, and as the
field mouse had given her permission to stand at the door, she went to
look at it once more.
Farewell, bright sun, she cried, stretching out her arm towards
it; and then she walked a short distance from the house, for the corn
had been cut, and only the dry stubble remained in the fields.
Farewell, farewell, she repeated, twining her arm around a little red
flower that grew just by her side. Greet the little swallow from me,
if you should see him again.
Tweet, tweet, sounded over her head suddenly. She looked up, and
there was the swallow himself flying close by. As soon as he spied
Thumbelina he was delighted. She told him how unwilling she was to
marry the ugly mole, and to live always beneath the earth, nevermore to
see the bright sun. And as she told him, she wept.
Cold winter is coming, said the swallow, and I am going to fly
away into warmer countries. Will you go with me? You can sit on my back
and fasten yourself on with your sash. Then we can fly away from the
ugly mole and his gloomy roomsfar away, over the mountains, into
warmer countries, where the sun shines more brightly than here; where
it is always summer, and the flowers bloom in greater beauty. Fly now
with me, dear little one; you saved my life when I lay frozen in that
dark, dreary passage.
Yes, I will go with you, said Thumbelina; and she seated herself
on the bird's back, with her feet on his outstretched wings, and tied
her girdle to one of his strongest feathers.
The swallow rose in the air and flew over forest and over seahigh
above the highest mountains, covered with eternal snow. Thumbelina
would have been frozen in the cold air, but she crept under the bird's
warm feathers, keeping her little head uncovered, so that she might
admire the beautiful lands over which they passed. At length they
reached the warm countries, where the sun shines brightly and the sky
seems so much higher above the earth. Here on the hedges and by the
wayside grew purple, green, and white grapes, lemons and oranges hung
from trees in the fields, and the air was fragrant with myrtles and
orange blossoms. Beautiful children ran along the country lanes,
playing with large gay butterflies; and as the swallow flew farther and
farther, every place appeared still more lovely.
At last they came to a blue lake, and by the side of it, shaded by
trees of the deepest green, stood a palace of dazzling white marble,
built in the olden times. Vines clustered round its lofty pillars, and
at the top were many swallows' nests, and one of these was the home of
the swallow who carried Thumbelina.
This is my house, said the swallow; but it would not do for you
to live thereyou would not be comfortable. You must choose for
yourself one of those lovely flowers, and I will put you down upon it,
and then you shall have everything that you can wish to make you
That will be delightful, she said, and clapped her little hands
A large marble pillar lay on the ground, which, in falling, had been
broken into three pieces. Between these pieces grew the most beautiful
large white flowers, so the swallow flew down with Thumbelina and
placed her on one of the broad leaves. But how surprised she was to see
in the middle of the flower a tiny little man, as white and transparent
as if he had been made of crystal! He had a gold crown on his head, and
delicate wings at his shoulders, and was not much larger than was she
herself. He was the angel of the flower, for a tiny man and a tiny
woman dwell in every flower, and this was the king of them all.
Oh, how beautiful he is! whispered Thumbelina to the swallow.
The little prince was at first quite frightened at the bird, who was
like a giant compared to such a delicate little creature as himself;
but when he saw Thumbelina he was delighted and thought her the
prettiest little maiden he had ever seen. He took the gold crown from
his head and placed it on hers, and asked her name and if she would be
his wife and queen over all the flowers.
This certainly was a very different sort of husband from the son of
the toad, or the mole with his black velvet and fur, so she said Yes to
the handsome prince. Then all the flowers opened, and out of each came
a little lady or a tiny lord, all so pretty it was quite a pleasure to
look at them. Each of them brought Thumbelina a present; but the best
gift was a pair of beautiful wings, which had belonged to a large white
fly, and they fastened them to Thumbelina's shoulders, so that she
might fly from flower to flower.
Then there was much rejoicing, and the little swallow, who sat above
them in his nest, was asked to sing a wedding song, which he did as
well as he could; but in his heart he felt sad, for he was very fond of
Thumbelina and would have liked never to part from her again.
You must not be called Thumbelina any more, said the spirit of the
flowers to her. It is an ugly name, and you are so very lovely. We
will call you Maia.
Farewell, farewell, said the swallow, with a heavy heart, as he
left the warm countries, to fly back into Denmark. There he had a nest
over the window of a house in which dwelt the writer of fairy tales.
The swallow sang Tweet, tweet, and from his song came the whole