'"Hop-o'-My-Thumb" (French: "Le Petit Poucet"; also published in English as "Little Poucet", "Little Thumb", "Little Thumbling", "Little Tom Thumb" and "Tom Thumb") is a French fairy tale. It is one of the eight fairy tales that is included in Charles Perrault's 1697 anthology Histoires ou Contes du temps passé (Fairy Tales from Past Times with Morals or Mother Goose Tales).
The story's title character and protagonist is a seven-year-old boy who is the youngest of seven brothers. Hop-o'-My-Thumb's poor parents cannot afford to feed him and his six brothers. For that reason, they twice attempt to abandon their sons in the middle of a forest. The first time, Hop-o'-My-Thumb leaves a trail of pebbles and is able to lead his brothers back home. The second time, Hop-o'-My-Thumb leaves a trail of breadcrumbs which are eaten by birds. He and his brothers become hopelessly lost in the forest and eventually arrive at the home of a child-eating ogre.
The first half of "Hop-o'-My-Thumb" is almost identical to the first half of "Hansel and Gretel", as it appears in the Brothers Grimm's 1812 anthology of German folktales Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales). The Brothers Grimm acknowledged the strong similarities between the two stories in their original footnotes to "Hansel and Gretel". There are also some similarities between "Hop-o'-My-Thumb" and the English fairy tale "Jack and the Beanstalk".
Although "Hop-o'-My-Thumb" is sometimes translated into English as "Tom Thumb" or "Little Tom Thumb", the story has very little in common with the English fairy tale "Tom Thumb", which tells of how a thumb-sized young man becomes the dwarf at the court of King Arthur. It is possible, however, that the two stories share a common ancestor.
French films based on "hop-o'-My-Thumb" were released in 1901, 1909, 1912, 1972, 2001 and 2012. A ten-minute black and white animated cartoon based on the fairy tale was released in the Soviet Union in 1938. The German-born composer Hans Werner Henze adapted the story as the Italian-language opera Policino that was first performed in 1980.
A poor woodcutter and his wife have seven sons. Their oldest child is ten years-old and their youngest is seven. When he was born, their youngest son was no bigger than a man's thumb and he earned the nickname Hop-o'-My-Thumb as a result. Hop-o'-My-Thumb is still small. He hardly ever speaks. As a result, his parents and older brothers look down on him because they think he is stupid. The truth is that Hop-o'-My-Thumb is very intelligent. Although he hardly ever speaks, he always listens intently.
The woodcutter and his wife are so poor that they are unable to feed their children. One night, the woodcutter suggests to his wife that they lead their seven sons into the forest and abandon them there. The woodcutter tells his wife that they will be able to slip away unnoticed while the boys are happily gathering sticks. The boys' mother does not like this idea at all. Her husband, however, manages to persuade her that it would be better to abandon their sons than to watch them slowly starve to death and she agrees to the plan. While in bed, Hop-o'-My-Thumb hears his parents talking. Unnoticed by them, he goes downstairs and overhears everything. Hop-o'-My-Thumb gets up very early the next morning and goes to a brook. He picks up several white pebbles that can be found next to the brook and puts them in his pockets. He says nothing to his brothers about what he knows.
Later that morning, the woodcutter and his wife lead Hop-o'-My-Thumb and his brothers into a thick forest. On the way, Hop-o'-My-Thumb drops the white pebbles behind him to leave a trail back to his house. Most of the boys have fun gathering sticks and do not notice for some time that their parents have left. When they do notice, they begin to scream and cry. Hop-o'-My-Thumb then calmly tells his brothers that he can lead them home. Hop-o'-My-Thumb follows the trail of white pebbles that he dropped. He and his brothers arrive back at their house but do not dare go inside for some time. They listen at the door before deciding if it is safe to enter. Fortunately for them, the lord of the manor came to the house earlier and paid the woodcutter ten écus that he had owed him for a long time. The woodcutter and his wife spent some of the money on much more food than was needed just to feed the two of them. The boys hear their mother saying that she wishes her sons were with her. At that point, the boys decide to go back inside the house. They are warmly welcomed by their mother.
Thanks to the money that the lord of the manor paid the woodcutter, Hop-o'-My-Thumb and his family live happily for some time. When the money runs out, however, their situation is just as bad as it was before. The woodcutter and his wife again decide to abandon their sons. They decide to take them further away this time so that they will be less likely to come back. Again, Hop-o'-My-Thumb overhears his parents. He intends to go to the brook and gather up white pebbles again. Unfortunately, he is unable to leave the house because the door has been double locked. When the boys are taken out, their mother gives them each a piece of bread. Hop-o'-My-Thumb leaves a trail of breadcrumbs behind him, hoping that he will be able to follow it home.
The boys are abandoned in the thickest, darkest part of the forest. Hop-o'-My-Thumb is not greatly troubled because he thinks that he can go home by following the trail of breadcrumbs that he left. Unfortunately, the breadcrumbs have all been eaten by birds. Hop-o'-My-Thumb and his brothers become hopelessly lost in the woods. Night falls. It becomes very windy. It rains. The boys hear howling wolves all around them. Hop-o'-My-Thumb climbs a tree in order to get a better view of his surroundings. In the distance, he sees light coming from the window of a house. He leads his brothers towards it.
Hop-o'-My-Thumb and his brothers arrive at the house. The door is opened by a woman who asks the boys what they want. Hop-o'-My-Thumb says that he and his brothers got lost in the woods and asks to be allowed to stay in the house for the night. The woman tells them that, unfortunately, her husband is an ogre who eats children. Hop-o'-My-Thumb says that he and his brothers will be eaten by wolves if they stay outside. He adds that perhaps the ogre will take pity on them and not eat them. The ogre's wife allows the boys to stay.
When the ogre comes home, his wife tells the boys to hide under a bed. The ogre says that he can smell fresh meat. He follows the scent and finds the boys hiding under the bed. Even though he has already eaten a whole sheep for dinner, the ogre wants to kill and eat the seven boys at once. The ogre's wife points out that he still has a calf, two sheep and half a pig to eat and that he can leave the boys until the following day. The ogre agrees. He tells his wife to fatten the boys up by giving them a good supper and then put them to bed. Before going to bed, the ogre drinks a lot of wine and gets drunk.
Hop-o'-My-Thumb and his six brothers sleep in one bed. In another bed in the same room are the ogre's seven daughters. The seven little ogresses each have gold crowns on their heads. Fearing that the ogre may wake up in the night and decide to kill him and his brothers, Hop-o'-My-Thumb takes off his hat and his brothers' hats. He swaps them for the crowns that the ogresses are wearing. The ogre comes into the bedroom and goes towards the bed where Hop-o'-My-Thumb and his sleeping brothers are lying. When he feels a gold crown, he thinks that his drunkenness has led him to go to the bed where his daughters are by mistake. He then goes to the other bed. Thinking that they are Hop-o'-My-Thumb and his brothers, the ogre kills his seven daughters by cutting their throats with a large knife. He then goes back to his own room and goes back to sleep. When he hears the ogre snoring, Hop-o'-My-Thumb tells his brothers to get dressed and leave the house. They spend the rest of the night wandering through the forest. They eventually find the right path and almost reach their home.
The following morning, the ogre finds out that he has been tricked into killing his own daughters. He vows to take revenge on the boys. He asks his wife to fetch his seven-league boots. The boots allow the ogre to go from one mountain to another in a single step and to jump over rivers as if they were tiny streams. Hop-o'-My-Thumb and his brothers see the ogre approaching. Hop-o'-My-Thumb tells his brothers to hide behind a large rock. The ogre has become tired because of the vast distance that he has traveled in a short time. He lies down and goes to sleep on the same rock behind which Hop-o'-My-Thumb's brothers are hiding. Hop-o'-My-Thumb tells his brothers to go home. He then takes the seven-league boots off the sleeping ogre's feet and puts them on his own. Being magical, the boots are able to grow or shrink in order to perfectly fit whoever is wearing them.
The story has two alternative endings. In the first ending, Hop-o'-My-Thumb uses the seven-league boots to go to the ogre's house. He tells the ogre's wife that some bandits stopped the ogre and told him that he would be killed unless he handed over all his valuables. The ogre saw Hop-o'-My-Thumb and gave him his seven-league boots so that he could go to his house quickly to fetch his valuables and so that his wife would know he was telling the truth. The ogre's wife gives Hop-o'-My-Thumb everything they have of any value. Hop-o'-My-Thumb then goes straight home with the goods he has stolen from the ogre's house. He and his family become rich as a result.
In the second ending, Hop-o'-My-Thumb uses the seven-league boots to go to the king and offers his services as a messenger. Since he has a pair of seven-league boots and is able to travel vast distances very quickly, Hop-o'-My-Thumb becomes highly prized as a messenger and is very well paid for his services. After having worked as a messenger for some time and having saved a large amount of money, Hop-o'-My-Thumb returns home. Thanks to the money that he earned as a messenger, Hop-o'-My-Thumb and his family are able to live comfortably from then onward.
Perrault finishes his tale with a moral in verse. According to Perrault's moral, parents typically value those of their children who are good-looking, big and strong. They usually do not think much of those of their children who are small, look weak and do not say very much. It is those children, however, who may turn out to be the saviors of their families.
- 1909 silent film adaptation (intertitles in French)
- 1938 animated version from the Soviet Union (in Russian without subtitles)
- "Hop-o'-My-Thumb" was a common nickname for short people in 16th century English. Although, it is stated that Hop-o'-My-Thumb was only as big as a man's thumb when he was born, there is no indication that he is still that small at the time in which the story takes place. Hop-o'-My-Thumb having once been the size of a man's thumb has no bearing on the tale. The fact that Charles Perrault includes that information in his story points towards its origins as a folktale.
- Versions of "Hop-o'-My-Thumb" in French and English on Wikisource.
- Fan-made audiobook of Charles Perrault's "Hop-o'-My-Thumb" in French on YouTube.