English folklore, King Arthur’s court, P.T. Barnum’s circus, Queen Victoria’s entertainment,
the first global superstar…
“SMALL STATURE, BIG LEGEND."
The earliest allusions to Tom occur in various 16th-century works such as Reginald Scot’s Discovery of Witchcraft (1584), where Tom is cited as one of the supernatural folk employed by servant maids to frighten children.
The History of Tom Thumb was published in 1621. Tom is no bigger than his father’s thumb, and his adventures include being swallowed by a cow, tangling with giants, and becoming a favourite of King Arthur.
The earliest surviving text is a 40-page booklet printed in London for Thomas Langley in 1621 entitled The History of Tom Thumbe, the Little, for his small stature surnamed, King Arthur’s Dwarfe: whose Life and adventures contain many strange and wonderful accidents, published for the delight of merry Time-spenders.
The author is presumed to be Londoner Richard Johnson (1579–1659?) because his initials appear on the last page. The only known copy is in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York.
The grave measures just 16″ (40 cm) in length.
Richard Johnson’s The History of Tom Thumbe of 1621 tells that in the days of King Arthur, old Thomas of the Mountain, a plowman and a member of the King’s Council, wants nothing more than a son, even if he is no bigger than his thumb.
He sends his wife to consult with Merlin. In three months time, she gives birth to the diminutive Tom Thumb. At Christmas, she makes puddings, but Tom falls into the batter and is boiled into one of them. His mother thereafter keeps a closer watch upon him. One day, he accompanies her to the field to milk the cows. He sits under a thistle, but a red cow swallows him.
Another day, he accompanies his father for the seed sowing and rides in the horse’s ear. Tom is set down in the field to play the scarecrow, but a raven carries him away. His parents search for him, but are unable to find him. The raven drops Tom at the castle of a giant. The cruel giant swallows the tiny boy like a pill. Tom thrashes about so much in the giant’s stomach that he is vomited into the sea. There, he is eaten once more by a fish which is caught for King Arthur’s supper. The cook is astonished to see the little man emerge from the fish. Tom then becomes King Arthur’s Dwarf.
Tom becomes a favorite at King Arthur’s royal court, especially among the ladies. There is revelry; Tom joins the jousting and dances in the palm of a Maid of Honor. King Arthur listens with amazement to Tom’s many adventures
Charles Sherwood Stratton (January 4, 1838 – July 15, 1883) – Better known by his stage name “General Tom Thumb”, achieved great fame as a performer under circus pioneer P.T. Barnum.
Ironically Charles was a relatively large baby, weighing 9 pounds 8 ounces (4.3 kg) at birth. He developed and grew normally for the first six months of his life, at which point he was 25 inches (64 cm) tall and weighed 15 pounds (6.8 kg). Then he suddenly stopped growing.
Phineas T. Barnum, (P.T. Barnum), heard about Stratton and after contacting his parents, taught the boy how to sing, dance, mime, and impersonate famous people.
Stratton made his first tour of America at the age of five, with routines that included impersonating characters such as Cupid and Napoleon Bonaparte as well as singing, dancing and comical banter with another performer. It was a huge success and the tour expanded.
A year later, Barnum took young Stratton on a tour of Europe, making him an international celebrity. Stratton appeared twice before Queen Victoria. He also met the three-year-old Prince of Wales, who would become King Edward VII. In 1845, he triumphed at the Théâtre du Vaudeville (France) in the play Le petit Poucet of Dumanoir and Clairville (OCLC 691400304). The tour was a huge success, with crowds mobbing him wherever he went.
After his three-year tour in Europe, Stratton began his rise to superstardom in the United States. Stratton’s fame grew at an astonishing rate, and his popularity and celebrity surpassed that of any actor within his lifetime. He was truly the worlds first international entertainment superstar.
His marriage with a little person, Lavinia Warren, became front-page news. The wedding took place at Grace Episcopal Church and the wedding reception was held at New York City’s Metropolitan Hotel. The couple stood atop a grand piano at the reception to greet some 10,000 guests.
Following the wedding, the couple was received by President Lincoln at the White House. Stratton and his wife toured together in Europe as well as British India, in particular the area that would later become Bangladesh.
Under Barnum’s management, Stratton became a wealthy man. He owned a house in the fashionable part of New York and a steam yacht, and he had a wardrobe of fine clothes. He also owned a specially adapted home on one of Connecticut’s Thimble Islands.
Stratton died unexpectedly of a stroke. He was 45 years old, 102 centimetres (3.35 ft) tall and weighed 32 kilograms (71 lb). Over 20,000 people attended the funeral.
Tom Thumb is the subject of several films.
In 1936, a short animated version directed by Ub Iwerks was released, and in 1940 another animated version by Chuck Jones called Tom Thumb in Trouble.
In 1958, George Pal directed a live action musical, tom thumb (rendered in lowercase to denote the character’s small size) starring Russ Tamblyn.
Also in 1958, although not released in the U.S. until 1967 in a dubbed version, a Mexican version of Tom Thumb(originally titled Pulgarcito) was made based loosely on Charles Perrault’s “Le petit Poucet”.
A darker, modernized film version using stop motion animation called The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb was released in 1993, and Tom Thumb Meets Thumbelina and 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 Tom voiced by Elijah Wood.
Text stories and later comic strips based on the Tom Thumb character appeared in the anthology comic The Beano from the first issue in 1938 until the late fifties.There are additional thumb-sized character legends around the world:
Le petit poucet (France), Der kleine Däumling (Germany), Little One Inch/Issun-bōshi (Japan), Thumbikin (Norway), Pulgarcito (Spain), Pollicino (Italy), Piñoncito (Chile), Липунюшка – Lipunyushka (Russia), Palčić (Serbia), Patufet (Catalonia), The Hazel-nut Child (Bukovina), Klein Duimpje and Pinkeltje (Netherlands), Hüvelyk Matyi (Hungary), and others.