This story is so similar to Hansel and Gretel you might wonder how both co-existed. Both stories have:
- A time of famine
- In which the parents decide to leave their children in the woods
- A trail of pebbles
- A second abandonment, further into the woods
- A welcoming cottage in the woods
- A cannibalistic inhabitant who wants to fatten the children up and eat them
- Trickery and cunning on the part of one child as a means of escape
- A home-away-home structure, in which the children end up (richer, in some versions) back home after an adventure
- No mention of the trauma of abandonment that must surely have resulted after being abandoned — twice — by your very own parents.
The truth is, Hansel and Gretel is the version that survived the best in the English speaking world. How many people know the story of Hansel and Gretel but have never heard of Hop O’ My Thumb? That certainly described me until I recently made an effort to read some of the lesser known fairytales.
This tale is much kinder to mothers than to fathers, and far kinder to mothers than the Grimm brothers were. Here, the mothers stand up for their children while the fathers want to get rid of them. In Hansel and Gretel it is the other way around. There has been much psychoanalysis of that.
There are also elements of Tom Thumb in this tale (obviously, from the title!), though no mention in the actual story about Hop O’ My Thumb’s diminutive size. Nonetheless, almost all illustrators depict not only the titular character but also the brothers as very tiny.
I’m also reminded of Jack and the Beanstalk when the ogre arrives home to his cottage in the wood and sniffs out the children to eat.
His seven daughters are somewhat vampiric, with their pointy teeth. They have already started sucking on the blood of babies, we are told.
What can I say? This story has it all.