Once upon a time there was a woman who wanted a child. Since these were magical times, she went to a fairy and asked the little
“Oh, yes,” said the fairy. “Here is a barleycorn. Put it into a flowerpot, and see what happens.”
“Thank you,” said the woman. So she went home and planted it, and immediately a large handsome flower grew up. “It is a beautiful flower,” said the woman, and she kissed the leaves. When she did so, the flower opened, and within the flower perched a tiny maiden. She was scarcely half as long as a thumb, and the woman gave her the name of Thumbelina because she was so small.
Thumbelina's bed was formed of blue violet-leaves and a walnut shell. One night, while she lay in her pretty bed, a large, slimy toad crept through a broken pane of glass, and leaped right upon the table where Thumbelina lay sleeping under her roseleaf quilt. “What a pretty wife she would make for my son,” said the toad, and she took the walnut-shell bed in which little Thumbelina lay asleep and jumped through the window with it.
The toad's son was even uglier than his mother, and when he saw the pretty little maiden in her walnut-shell bed, he could only croak happily.
They placed the bed on a water-lily leaf out in a stream where Thumbelina couldn't escape, while the toad and her son made plans for a very fancy wedding ceremony.
Thumbelina woke the next morning and began to cry when she found where she was. She could see nothing but water on every side and no way of reaching land.
Eventually, the toad swam out with her ugly son to the leaf on which they had placed Thumbelina. “Here is my son, he will be your husband, and you will live happily in the marsh by the stream,” the toad croaked.
Thumbelina cried because she could not bear to think of living with the old toad and having her ugly son for a husband. The little fishes, who swam about in the water beneath, had seen the toad and heard what she said, so they lifted their heads above the water to look at the little maiden. As soon as they caught sight of her, they saw she was very pretty. It made them very sorry to think that she must go and live with the ugly toads. So they gnawed away at the root of the leaf where Thumbelina was sitting. When they had finished, the leaf floated down the stream.
As Thumbelina sailed, a large beetle flew by. The moment he caught sight of her, he grabbed her and flew with her into a tree. Oh, how frightened little Thumbelina felt when the beetle flew with her to the tree! He seated himself by her side on a large green leaf, gave her some honey to eat, and told her she was very pretty. But all of the other beetles turned up and said, “She has only two legs! How ugly that looks.”
The beetle believed the others when they said she was ugly and had nothing more to do with her. He told her she might go where she liked.
During the summer, poor little Thumbelina lived alone in the forest. Summer and autumn passed, then came winter — a long, cold winter. Thumbelina felt so cold. She went looking for shelter and found the door of a field mouse, who had a little den under the corn-stubble. There dwelt the field mouse in warmth and comfort, with a whole roomful of corn. Poor little Thumbelina stood before the door just like a little beggar-girl and asked for help.
“You poor little creature,” said the field mouse, who was really a good, kind field mouse, “come into my warm room and dine with me. We shall have a visitor soon. My neighbor pays me a visit once a week. He is rich. If you could only have him for a husband, you would be well provided for indeed. But he is blind, so you must tell him a pretty story.”
But Thumbelina did not feel at all interested in this neighbor, for he was a mole. But, the mole, upon hearing Thumbelina's lovely voice, fell in love with her. He said nothing yet, for he was very cautious. Instead, he invited Thumbelina and the field mouse to visit him.
A short time before, the mole had dug a long passage under the earth, which led from the dwelling of the field mouse to his home. He warned them not to be alarmed at the sight of a dead bird in the passage.
When Thumbelina saw the bird — which was a swallow — she felt very sad. She stooped down and stroked aside the soft feathers that covered the head and kissed the closed eyelids.
That night Thumbelina could not sleep. So she got out of bed and wove a large quilt of hay. Then she carried it to the dead bird and spread it over him. She laid her head on the bird's breast, and was alarmed to hear the bird's heart beat. He was not really dead, only numb with the cold, and the warmth had restored him to life. Thumbelina trembled, for the bird was a great deal larger than herself. But she took courage and laid the blanket more thickly over the poor swallow. The next morning she again stole out to see him. He was alive but very weak.
“Thank you, pretty little maiden,” said the sick swallow. “I have been so nicely warmed that I shall soon regain my strength and be able to fly about again in the warm sunshine.”
The whole winter the swallow remained underground, and Thumbelina nursed him. Neither the mole nor the field mouse knew anything about it, for they did not like swallows. Very soon the springtime came, and the sun warmed the earth. Then the swallow bade farewell to Thumbelina. The swallow asked her if she would go with him — she could sit on his back — but Thumbelina knew it would make the field mouse very sad so she said no.
“Good-bye, then,” said the swallow and flew away.
“You are going to be married, Thumbelina,” said the field mouse soon after the swallow left. “My neighbor has asked for you.”
Thumbelina wept and said she would not marry the disagreeable mole.
“Nonsense,” replied the field mouse. “Now don't be stubborn.”
So the wedding day was set, and the mole was to fetch Thumbelina away to live with him, deep under the earth. The poor child was very unhappy at the thought of saying farewell to the beautiful sun. The field mouse had given her permission to stand at the door, so she went to look at the sun once more.
“Farewell, bright sun,” she cried.
“Cold winter is coming,” said the swallow, “and I am going to fly away into warmer countries. Will you go with me? Fly now with me, dear little Thumbelina. You saved my life when I lay frozen.”
“Yes, I will go with you,” she said, and seated herself on the bird's back.
Then the swallow rose in the air and flew over forest and over sea, high above the mountains. At last they came to a blue lake, and by the side of it, shaded by trees of the deepest green, stood a palace of dazzling white marble.
Vines clustered round its lofty pillars, and at the top were many swallows' nests. One was the home of the swallow that carried Thumbelina.
“This is my house,” said the swallow, “but it would not do for you to live there. You must choose one of those lovely flowers, and I will put you down upon it.”
“That will be delightful,” she said.
A large marble pillar lay on the ground broken into pieces. Between them grew the most magnificent white flowers. 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 transparent as glass! He had a golden crown on his head and delicate wings at his shoulders, and he was not much larger than Thumbelina herself. He was the angel of the flower. A tiny man and a tiny woman dwelt in every flower. This was the prince of them all.
The little prince was at first quite frightened of the bird, who was like a giant, compared to such a delicate little guy like himself. But when he saw Thumbelina, he was delighted, and thought her the prettiest little maiden he had ever seen. He asked if she would be his wife and queen of all the flowers. Thumbelina happily agreed.
Then all the flowers opened, and out of each came a little lady or a tiny lord. Each of them brought Thumbelina a present. The best gift of all was a pair of beautiful wings, which had belonged to a large white fly. They fastened them to Thumbelina's shoulders, so that she might fly happily from flower to flower and visit her new friends.
And there, Thumbelina lived happily ever after.