With a story from Hans Christian Andersen
Episode 4 - Saturday, 14 December 2019
I have so enjoyed telling the story of little Thumbelina. I know the character well, or so I thought, but as soon as I read the story, I realised I didn't know her at all.
In the song sung by Danny Kaye, it is assumed that Thumbelina is unhappy because she is very small; "No bigger than my thumb."
But that is not true. Thumbelina is fine about her height. She is sad because people keep trying to force her into marriage!
But though that is such a dreadful thing, the story is delightful, and like all good fairy tales, has a wonderfully happy ending.
I start though by taking you on a little audio tour of my studio. It is an interesting hole because I have done a lot of different things sound wise over many years, mostly as a sound engineer, but also as a musician (a very bad one!). My studio is therefore set up for anything, all cramped in one small room.
As you listen, here are a few photos to help you along. Don't forget to tell all your friends and family about my podcast! Enjoy the story.
Hello and welcome to the Deep in the Dark Forest. And I am CC Hogan. And if it’s sounding a bit strange, I’m sorry about that; I’m actually in my control room. And the reason I am here is I thought I would give you a little bit of a tour. Which might sound a bit strange in audio, but we’ll have a go, shall we?
Right, first of all, I am sitting in front of my huge monitor, and then I have a little monitor on my left, I pad up to the right, and a few other bits and pieces, my controllers and things. This is where I do the editing and bits of composing, and that sort of thing.
Now, if I go to my left, and wander over here, go off mic and onto another one, here we have a microphone over my keyboards. So, piano and that sort of thing. Which is all very well and neat, yeah?
Right, now let’s take another walk, and walk into another part of the room. And over here this is where I keep my percussion and some of my guitars. And things – got a couple of bongos, tablas, that sort of thing and a guitar on the wall. So that’s alright.
So, let’s take another walk over this direction. And over here (just tripping over something) and we come into what is the voice booth, and I am just going to put my headphones on. Right, umm, and this is where I normally do the recording. You get the idea!
Anyway, enough of the boring bits, and on with the story. This one is a little bit longer and is a sweet little tale by Hans Christian Andersen. Like the Ugly Duckling from Episode Two, this has a moral slant which feels quite modern. In this case, about how a girl should choose who she marries and not be told! And, yes, I had forgotten that this was what the story of Thumbelina was all about. I’m a bit out of breath now…
There was once a woman who wished to have a child. Now, I am not sure what you would do if you wished the same, but this particular woman went to a fairy, and she said: “I should so very much like to have a little child. Can you tell me where I can find one?”
“Dead easy!” said the fairy, who was into this kind of thing. “Here is a barleycorn. Now, my dear, it’s not quite like the barleycorn you find in a farmers’ fields, and which the chickens love to eat. But put it into a flowerpot and see what happens.”
“Thank you,” said the woman; and she gave the fairy twelve shillings, which was the price of the barleycorn. Off she went home and planted it, and by and by, there grew a large, handsome flower, somewhat like a tulip in appearance, but with its leaves tightly closed, as if it were still a bud.
“Oh, what a beautiful flower,” said the woman, and she kissed the red and golden-coloured petals. And as she did, the flower opened, just like a real tulip. But inside the flower, upon the green velvet stamens, sat a very delicate and graceful little girl. She was scarcely half as long as a thumb, so 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, and her bedding was made from blue violet leaves, with a rose leaf for a quilt. In this cosy little nest she slept peacefully every night, but during the day she amused herself on a table, where the peasant wife had placed a plate full of water.
Around this plate were wreaths of flowers with their stems in the water, and upon it floated a large tulip leaf, which the little one used for a boat. She sat and rowed herself from one side of the plate to the other, with oars made of white horsehair. It was such a pretty sight. And as she rowed, Thumbelina sang in a voice softer and sweeter than anyone had heard before.
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 leapt right upon the table where Thumbelina lay sleeping under her rose-leaf quilt.
“What a pretty little wife this would make for my son,” said the toad. So she picked up the walnut shell in which Thumbelina lay asleep, and she jumped through the window into the garden.
The toad and her son lived, as toads do, in the swampy banks of a broad stream in the garden. He was even uglier than his mother; and when he saw the pretty little girl in her elegant bed, he could only cry “Croak, croak, croak.”
“Don’t speak so loud, or she will wake,” said the toad-mother in hushed tones. “Or then she might run away, for she’s as light as swan’s-down. We will place her on one of the waterlily leaves out in the stream. It will be like an island to her, she is so light and small, and she won’t be able to escape. And while she is there, we will sort out the stateroom under the marsh as quick as maybe, and you and she can live there when you are married.”
Far out in the stream grew huge waterlilies, their broad green leaves floating on the water. The largest of these leaves was a little farther off than the rest, and the old toad swam out to it with the walnut shell, in which Thumbelina lay asleep.
Well, come the morning when she awoke, and saw where she was, poor Thumbelina wept and wept, for she could see nothing but water on every side of the large green leaf, and no way of reaching the land.
Meanwhile the old toad was very busy under the marsh, decking her room with rushes and yellow wildflowers, to make it pretty for her new daughter-in-law. Then she swam out with her ugly son to Thumbelina’s leaf to take the pretty bed in the walnut shell for the bridal chamber. The old toad bowed low 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. The toad grabbed the elegant little bed and swam away with it, leaving Thumbelina all alone on the green leaf, where she sat and wept all the more. She could not bear to think of living with the old toad and having her ugly son for a husband. And they hadn’t even bothered to ask her first! The little fishes who swam about in the water beneath had seen the toad and heard what she had said, so now they lifted their heads above the water to look at the miserable girl.
As soon as they caught sight of her they saw how upset pretty Thumbelina was, and it angered them to think that she must go and live with the ugly toads.
“No, it must never be!” they said as one. So they gathered together in the water, around the green stalk which held the broad leaf, and gnawed it away at the root with their sharp little teeth. And once it was free, the leaf floated off down the stream, carrying Thumbelina far away from the land of the toad.
Sweet Thumbelina sailed past many towns, and the little birds in the bushes flew up and down singing, “What a lovely little creature.” Farther and farther drifted the leaf, till one day, she floated into another land. A graceful little white butterfly fluttered around her this way and that, and at last alighted on the leaf. Little Thumbelina smiled, for now the toad could not possibly reach her, and the country through which she sailed was beautiful, the sun shining upon the water until it glittered like liquid gold. She untied the ribbon from her dress and tied one end of it round the butterfly, fastening the other end to the leaf. It was like a little sail and the leaf glided on much faster than before, taking Thumbelina with it.
Presently, a large bug called a cockchafer buzzed its way by. The moment he caught sight of Thumbelina, 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 with the ribbon and could not escape.
Poor Thumbelina! She was so scared. And she was sad for the butterfly, for if he could not escape the ribbon, he might starve. But the cockchafer wasn’t troubled about all that stuff. No, he seated himself by her side on a leaf, and gave her some honey from the flowers to eat. “You are very pretty,” he said. “Though not in the least like a cockchafer, of course.”
The tree was full of cockchafers and they rushed to stare at little Thumbelina, sitting there with big worried eyes. The young lady cockchafers turned up their feelers in disgust 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.”
“How ugly she is!” said all the lady cockchafers.
The cockchafer who had stolen her from the leaf then decided he thought she was ugly too. “I don’t want nothing more to do with you!” he said, dismissively. “Go where you like!” Then he flew down with her from the tree and placed her on a daisy.
Poor old Thumbelina wept her eyes out, because the horrible Cockchafers said she was ugly and wouldn’t talk to her. Not that she wanted to be with them in the first place, of course. And all the while she was really the loveliest creature that one could imagine, and as tender and delicate as a beautiful rose leaf, and with such a warm heart.
During the whole of that summer 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 shamrock leaf, to protect herself from the rain. She sucked the honey from the flowers for food and drank the dew from their leaves every morning.
The summer turned into autumn and then came the winter; the 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 which was her home was now rolled together and shrivelled up; nothing remained but a yellow, withered stalk. She was so cold, for her dress was 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 whole shovelfuls of snow for she was only an inch high. She tried to wrap herself in a dry leaf, but it cracked in the middle letting the wind in, and she shivered all the more. So, she set forth on a journey.
Near the wood in which she had been living was a large cornfield. The corn had been cut a long time back and nothing remained but the bare, dry stubble, sticking out of the frozen ground. For little Thumbelina, it might as well have been a wood.
She shivered and shook with the cold, her little arms wrapped tightly around her, as she wandered through the field, until she came at last to the door of a field mouse, who had a little den under the corn stubble. The den was warm and comfortable, with a whole roomful of corn, a kitchen, and a beautiful little dining room. 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 old field mouse. “Come into my warm room and dine with me.”
She liked Thumbelina, so she twitched her whiskery nose and said, “You are quite welcome to stay with me all winter, if you like. But in return you must keep my rooms clean and neat, and tell me stories, for I like a good story.” So Thumbelina did all that the field mouse asked her, and was warm and happy.
“We shall have a visitor soon,” said the field mouse after a couple of days. “My neighbour 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 had him for a husband, you would be well provided for indeed. But he is blind, you know, so tell him some of your prettiest stories.”
Thumbelina wasn’t at all interested in this neighbour who she didn’t know. However, he came and paid his visit, dressed in his black velvet coat, like a mole always is.
“He is very learned, and his house is twenty times larger than mine,” hinted the field mouse through the side of her mouth.
Rich and learned he might, but he wasn’t very pleasant, and he had nothing nice to say of the warm sun and the pretty flowers above the ground which Thumbelina loved so much. Thumbelina was told to sing to him. “Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home,” she sang, and many other pretty songs. And the mole fell in love with her because she had so sweet a voice. But he said nothing, for he was very prudent mole, and cautious.
Not long before, the mole had dug a long passage under the earth, which led from the dwelling of the field mouse to his own, and he told the field mouse she and Thumbelina could use it whenever they wished. But he warned them not to be alarmed at the sight of a dead bird which lay in the passage. It was a perfect little bird, with a beak and feathers, and could not have been dead long. The mole took in his mouth a piece of rotten phosphorescent wood, which glittered like fire in the dark. He went before them to light their way through the long, dark passage. When they came to 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.
The bird was a swallow who had died of the cold. His beautiful wings were pulled close to his sides, and his feet and head drawn up under his feathers. It made little Thumbelina very sad, for she did so love the little birds. All the summer they had sung and twittered for her so beautifully, and had made her happy when she could have been so sad. 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 just die of hunger in the winter.”
“Oh, you are such a clever man!” exclaimed the field mouse. “What is the use of twittering if, when winter comes, one must either starve or be frozen to death? Still, birds are very high bred.”
Thumbelina said nothing, but when the mole and the mouse had turned their backs upon the bird, she stooped down and stroked aside the soft feathers which covered his head, and kissed the closed eyes. “Perhaps this was the one who sang to me so sweetly in the summer,” she said quietly. “How much pleasure it gave me, you dear, pretty bird.”
The mole now stopped up the hole through which the daylight shone, and accompanied the ladies back home. All through that night Thumbelina couldn’t sleep a wink. So she got out of bed and wove a large, beautiful carpet of hay. She carried it to the dead bird and laid 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. Thumbelina’s eyes opened wide, for something inside the bird went “thump, thump.” It was the bird’s heart; for he was not really dead, just numbed with the cold, and the warmth had restored him to life.
Thumbelina trembled with fear, for the bird was large, a great deal larger than herself at only an inch tall. But she took a big breath of courage, and laid the wool more thickly over the poor swallow, tucking it in around him, and then took a leaf which she had used for her own quilt 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 holding a piece of the glowing wood in her hand. “Thank you, pretty one,” said the sick swallow; “I have been so nicely warmed that I shall soon regain my strength and be able to fly about once again in the warm sun.”
“Oh, dear,” said Thumbelina. “It is cold out of doors now; it snows and freezes every day. Stay in your warm bed and 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 thorn bush and could not fly as fast as the others, who were soon far away on their journey south to warm countries. At last he had fallen to the earth, and could remember nothing more, and had no idea 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 didn’t like swallows. Soon the springtime came, and the sun warmed the earth. 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 upset the field mouse who had given her a warm home for the winter if she just left, so she said, “No, I cannot.”
“Farewell, then. Farewell, good Thumbelina,” said the swallow, and he flew out into the sunshine.
Thumbelina watched him fly away, and the tears rose in her eyes.
“Tweet, tweet,” sang the bird from afar, as he flew out into the green woods, and Thumbelina felt so 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 had grown up high into the air. The thickest forest for tiny little Thumbelina.
“You are going to be married, little one,” said the field mouse. “My neighbour has asked. What good fortune for a poor child like you! Now, we shall prepare your wedding clothes. They must be woollen and linen. Nothing must be wanting when you are the wife of the mole.”
Thumbelina turned the spindle, and the field mouse hired four spiders, who were to weave day and night. Every evening the mole came to visit, and all he would speak about was the time when the summer would be over. Then he would keep his wedding day with Thumbelina. But for now, the heat of the sun was so great that it burned the earth and made it hard, like stone. Thumbelina was not at all pleased, for she did not like the tiresome mole, and still nobody had asked her what she wanted.
Every morning when the sun rose and every evening when it went down she would creep out of 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 was out there, and she 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’s wedding clothes were quite ready, and the field mouse said to her, “In four weeks, my dear, you shall be wed.”
Thumbelina broke down. “I will not marry that disagreeable mole,” she wept.
“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.” For the field mouse thought that a fortune was everything.
So the wedding day was fixed, and once they were married, the mole would take her away to live with him, deep under the earth, never again to see the warm sun, because he did not like it. Thumbelina ached 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. 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. “Please say hello to 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 tweeted with joy and flew down to her. She told him how she was being forced to marry the horrible mole without her permission, 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 south to warmer countries. Come with me! You can sit on my back and fasten yourself on with your sash. Then we can fly away from the mole and his gloomy rooms; far away, over the mountains, to where the sun shines more brightly and it is forever summer. And where the flowers bloom in greater beauty. Fly with me, dear little one. You saved my life when I was frozen in that dark, dreary passage.”
“I will go with you,” said Thumbelina; and she sat herself on the bird’s back, with her feet curled back on his outstretched wings, and she tied her ribbon to one of his strongest feathers.
The swallow rose into the air and flew over forest and over the sea, and 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, her little head poking out, so 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 fallen palace of dazzling white marble, built in the olden times. Vines clustered round its lofty pillars, and in the roof were many swallows’ nests. One was the home of the swallow who carried Thumbelina.
“This is my house,” said the swallow; “but it won’t do for you to live there. I don’t think you would be comfy so far from the ground in a nest of twigs. Choose for yourself one of those lovely flowers, and I will put you down upon it, and then you shall have everything you wish to make you happy.”
“That will be delightful,” said Thumbelina, and she clapped her little hands for joy.
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 man was at first quite frightened of the bird, who was like a giant compared to such a delicate little creature as himself. But when he saw Thumbelina he smiled broadly, for he thought she was the prettiest girl he had ever seen. He took the gold crown from his head and placed it on hers, and he asked her name and if she would be his wife, and queen over all the flowers. Yes, he actually asked!
This certainly was a very different sort of husband from the son of the toad, or the mole with his black velvet and fur. They had just told her she would be their wife! So she said yes. Then all the flowers opened, and out of each came a little lady or a tiny lord, as pretty and handsome as you can imagine. Each of them brought Thumbelina a present. But the best gift of all 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.
They danced and sang and rejoiced, and the swallow, who sat high above them in his nest, was asked to sing a wedding song. Poor little swallow! He did as well as he could, but in his heart he felt so sad, for he was very fond of Thumbelina, and would have liked never to be parted from her again.
“You must not be called Thumbelina anymore,” said the spirit of the flowers to her. “It is an ugly name, and you are so very lovely. We will call you Maia.”
And when the seasons changed, the time came for the swallow to leave. “Farewell, farewell,” sang the swallow, with a heavy heart, as he left the warm countries, to fly back to Denmark. For there he had his summer nest over the window of a house in which dwelt the writer of fairy stories. The swallow sang “Tweet, tweet,” and from his song and the pen of Hans Christian Anderson, came this very tale.
That last paragraph took me by surprise. I love the idea, which I have no reason to doubt is true, of Andersen sitting in his study, being pestered by the tweeting of the little bird in it’s nest above the window, and deciding to write a story about him and his friend, Thumbelina.
I am not sure whether I have ever heard the original tale or not. I can’t remember if we had a book of Hans Christians Andersen’s tales at home when I was a child, but we had the soundtrack of the Danny Kaye film on a vinyl, of course. So my memories are of the song from the film. I am a little concerned what happened to the woman who went to the fairy and was given the barleycorn. I do hope one day Queen Thumbelina went to see her!
That’s it for this week, because it was a slightly longer story. I will leave you with a bit of a quandary. I would like to record the Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, which, of course, has vaguely inspired the film Frozen. But it is long – eleven thousand words long. So, do I do it in bits? It is written in seven stories, so I could do. And I don’t want to edit it down; I am trying to avoid doing that with any of the stories. So, what do you reckon? Let me know on Twitter or on my Facebook page – links in the show notes.
Don’t forget to tell everyone about the Deep in the Dark Forest podcast and subscribe on your favourite Podcast Service. You can sign up for my newsletter too. Details in the show notes or on the website.
I am CC Hogan, and I wish you good fortune as you travel on your way!