Tom Thumb is a character of English folklore. The History of Tom Thumb was published in 1621, and has the distinction of being the first fairy tale printed in English. 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 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.
Aside from his own tale, Tom figures in Henry Fielding’s play Tom Thumb, a companion piece to his The Author’s Farce. It was later expanded into a single piece titled The Tragedy of Tragedies, or the History of Tom Thumb the Great.
In the middle 18th century, books began to be published specifically for children (some with their authorship attributed to “Tommy Thumb”) and, by the middle 19th century, Tom was a fixture of the nursery library. Charlotte Yonge cleansed questionable passages and the tale took on moral overtones. Dinah Mulock however refrained from scrubbing the tale of its vulgarities. Tom Thumb’s story has been adapted to several films including the 1958 George Pal musical tom thumb starring Russ Tamblyn. Tiny folkloric characters like Tom are known in cultures around the world.