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1889: Hoppe-o'-my-thumb, the fairy tale

Updated: Dec 9, 2023

An interesting aside from a letter in the Mid Sussex Times, 19 March 1889 written by well known local barrister Twynihoe William Erle (1828-1908) relates to 'Hugh Hoppeorerhombr'. Hugh was the cousin of William de Legh who was killed by an arrow while defending Cuckfield Park from a band of poachers.

The Rev Canon James Hughes Cooper, a noted historian and chronicler of the town's history, observed in the following week’s Middy:

'I should like to suggest that the ‘terrible name’ is perhaps Hoppe-o-my-thumb, a mediæval expression for a dwarf, or at any rate a person of ‘little of stature’. '

Certainly today's preferred term is 'person of short stature' rather than dwarf.

The fable can be found on a Wikipedia page (link below).

Hop-o'-My-Thumb (Hop-on-My-Thumb), or Hop o' My Thumb, also known as Little Thumbling, Little Thumb, or Little Poucet [Poucet is French for thumb].

The story was first published in English as 'Little Poucet' in Robert Samber's 1729 translation of Perrault's book, 'Histories, or Tales of Past Times'. In 1764, the name of the hero was changed to Little Thumb. In 1804.

A poor woodcutter and his wife are no longer able to support their children and intend to abandon them in a forest. Hop-o'-My-Thumb, overhearing his parents, plans ahead and collects small white pebbles from a river. He uses the stones to mark a trail that enables him to successfully lead his brothers back home. However, the second time round, he uses breadcrumbs instead, which the birds eat up.

The brothers are lost in the woods. Hop-o'-My-Thumb climbs up a tree and spots a distant light. The boys walk towards it. They come at last to a house, and learn that it belongs to an ogre. Hop-o'-My-Thumb, fearing the wolves, decides to take the risk of staying in the monster's residence.

The ogre allows the boys to sleep for the night, and provides a bed for them in his daughters' room. But the ogre wakes up not too long after, and prepares to kill them in their slumber. Hop-o'-My-Thumb, who anticipated the possibility, already planned ahead and replaced the daughters' gold crowns with the bonnets worn by him and his brothers. As a result, the ogre kills his daughters instead, and goes back to bed. Once he is snoring, Hop-o'-My-Thumb directs his siblings out of the house.

The ogre wakes up in the morning to discover his grave mistake, puts on his seven-league boots, and races after the boys. They spot the ogre while walking. Hop-o'-My-Thumb once again thinks fast and hides in a small nearby cave. The ogre, who is tired, happens to rest close to their hiding spot. Hop-o'-My-Thumb instructs his brothers to make their way home, and meanwhile, removes the boots from the sleeping ogre. He puts them on, and the boots, being magical, resize to fit him.

Hop-o'-My-Thumb uses the boots to make a fortune, and returns to his family's home, where they live happily ever after.

Illustration Wikimedia public domain image. Artist Gustave Doré (1832–1883)

Wikimedia entry for Hop-o'-My-Thumb:

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.

Visit Cuckfield Museum, follow the link for details



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