“Thumbelina” (Danish: Tommelise) is a literary fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen first published by C. A. Reitzel on 16 December 1835 in Copenhagen, Denmark with “The Naughty Boy” and “The Traveling Companion” in the second installment of Fairy Tales Told for Children. “Thumbelina” is about a tiny girl and her adventures with appearance- and marriage-minded toads, moles, and cockchafers. She successfully avoids their intentions before falling in love with a flower-fairy prince just her size.
“Thumbelina” is chiefly Andersen’s invention, though he did take inspiration from tales of miniature people such as “Tom Thumb.” “Thumbelina” was published as one of a series of seven fairy tales in 1835 which were not well received by the Danish critics who disliked their informal style and their lack of morals. One critic, however, applauded “Thumbelina.” The earliest English translation of “Thumbelina” is dated 1846. The tale has been adapted to various media including song and animated film.
In the first English translation of 1847 by Mary Howitt, the tale opens with a beggar woman giving a peasant’s wife a barleycorn in exchange for food. Once planted, a tiny girl, Thumbelina (Tommelise), emerges from its flower. One night, Thumbelina, asleep in her walnut-shell cradle, is carried off by a toad who wants the miniature maiden as a bride for her son. With the help of friendly fish and a butterfly, Thumbelina escapes the toad and her son, and drifts on a lily pad until captured by a stag-beetle. The insect discards her when his friends reject her company. Thumbelina tries to protect herself from the elements, but when winter comes, she is in desperate straits. She is finally given shelter by an old field mouse and tends her dwelling in gratitude. The mouse suggests Thumbelina marry her neighbor, a mole, but Thumbelina finds repulsive the prospect of being married to such a creature. She escapes the situation by fleeing to a far land with a swallow she nursed back to health during the winter. In a
sunny field of flowers, Thumbelina meets a tiny flower-fairy prince just her size and to her liking, and they wed. She receives a pair of wings to accompany her husband on his travels from flower to flower, and a new name, Maia.