Hop o' My Thumb: 10 facts to know

by Tolovaj

Hop o' My Thumb by Charles Perrault is also known as Little Thumb (Le Petit Poucet). But most of us are more familiar with a German version - Hansel and Gretel.

Hop o' My Thumb is a fairy tale written by Charles Perrault. The story is about seven boys who were abandoned in the woods by their poor father. Brothers found a house where a cannibalistic giant lived and they were trapped.

The smallest of the boys, called Hop o' My Thumb tricked the giant, led the boys out, and when the giant almost caught them, he stole his magic boots. With these a whole new life for the family becomes possible.

This fairy tale is not among best known-ones, but it's closest German relative Hansel and Gretel is. Let's take a look at Hop o' My Thumb. Here are the ten most important facts:

1. Popularity

It's one of only eight Perrault's fairy tales, published in 1697. Four of these fairy tales are still extremely popular:

Puss in Boots
Red Riding Hood
The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood

One is almost forgotten:

Riquet of the Tuft

Three are somewhere between:

Diamonds and Toads
Hop o' My Thumb

The last on the list above is better known as the German version, rewritten by Brothers Grimm. Read on to learn more!

2. The title may vary

Hop o' My Thumb is often titled as The Little Thumb or Seven-League Boots and too often confused with Tom Thumb. The French title is Le Petit Poucet, which can be translated as A Little Thumb, but the more poetic Hop 'o My Thumb coming from the phrase Hop on my thumb, used for teasing little people, caught on much better in English speaking world.

So don't be surprised if you open a collection of fairy tales and find the same story with a different title.

3. French version of Hansel and Gretel?

While we are dealing with a story about seven boys confronting a giant, it's essentially an older version of Hansel and Gretel confronting the witch.

There are also several similarities with a fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk (communication with giant's wife, stealing his treasures, hiding and running away, ...).

Apart from that, we can relate it with Babes in the Wood, Brother and Sister and a few other 'children in the wood' themed fairy tales.

4. Criticism with self-reflection

Charles Perrault used the story to mock and criticize the poor countrymen who had way too many children and suffered from famine: in Hop o' My Thumb all seven boys were born in just four years span! This is theoretically possible, though - if we are dealing with sets of twins.

Perrault himself got four kids in five years, though. But he was a rich man when he married.

5. Magic number seven

There are seven brothers and seven sisters in this fairy tale.

It's not the only Perrault's fairy tale with magic number seven - he used it for the number of fairies in The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood as well.

Among hundred known versions of the Sleeping Beauty story all the most popular ones (Perrault's is not among them) use different numbers or no specific number of fairies, astrologers, etc.

There are also seven wives in the Bluebeard!

Basic Analysis

6. Protagonist

Hop o' My Thumb is actually the only protagonist. His brothers are merely his followers and the story would be pretty much the same without them. They are just casualties, exactly like the seven giant's daughters who die instead of the boys.

The Hop o' My Thumb's mission in the story is simple. He must confront the antagonist if he wants to grow up.

7. Antagonist

We are dealing with only one antagonist as well. This is Hop o' My Thumb's father. But this antagonist is polarized. He acts as a protector and a threat at the same time. This conflict is solved with symbolic transformation into a man-eating giant. Such polarization is pretty usual in fairy tales and one of the reasons for their popularity.

Kids can't destroy their father, but in order to survive, the giant must be defeated and his power (seven-league boots) taken before the kids can return home - to the nicer half of their father, represented as the woodcutter.

When the brothers returned home for the first time, without confronting the giant and gaining his treasure, nothing was solved. So they must go to the wood again.

8. Helper

The mother is also presented on two levels - as the mother of the boys and as the wife of the giant.

In both cases, she serves as their helper, who is trying to protect the boys from the brute force. In both cases, she is way too weak and incapable to do anything useful.

The boys must find a way to survive on their own. Symbolically they must grow up.

9. Trick defeats the brute power

The motif of switching caps with the giant's girls is present in several other fairy tales. It's a popular tool of conmen - they love to trick the opponents into their own traps.

This motif is used together with another popular one - about the youngest, smallest, weakest kid in the family, a so-called simpleton, who shows superb wit through the story and achieves much more than his or her siblings.

10. More than ordinary hero

Hop o' My Thumb is presented better than most positive fairy tale characters. He obviously doesn't protect just himself but his brothers too.

When he defeats the giant, he becomes very rich. In many fairy tales this would be enough for the happy ending.

He gives money to his family and other people as well. He also forgives his parents. Not once, but twice, which shows the greatness of his heart.

Updated: 10/04/2020, Tolovaj
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DerdriuMarriner on 11/05/2020

Tolovaj, Thank you for all the fine images and fun facts.
The third image indeed lends credence to three sets of twins -- the first perhaps identical and the next two, because of the height differences, fraternal -- and to one single birth (perhaps a twin sibling died). The same may be said of the fifth, frightening image of three sets of two siblings and one off by himself.
It seems a bit strange to have so many twins in one nuclear family -- unless perhaps maternal and paternal parents and grandparents were twins -- since twins tend to skip generations.
Was Hop o' My Thumb forgiving two times by pardoning his parents separately or was it a case of releasing them from blame in one fell sweep? (In the first case, perhaps saying Dad, I forgive you. [pause] Mom, I forgive you. In the second, perhaps saying Dad, Mom, I forgive you.)

Tolovaj on 04/30/2020

Yes, that's true, frankbeswick. This is exactly the point where fairy tales use the character of the giant - big, loud, powerful person in one's life - in many cases this is one's father. And by the way, fathers often posses shiny objects and other displays of power.

frankbeswick on 04/29/2020

The biblical account of Goliath's height might have been exaggerated. A few years ago I read a comment by a bible scholar who estimated Goliath's height as six foot three.Big even for our time, but as men then were smaller than they are now this height would have been gigantic. But still, a giant is someone substantially bigger than you are, so for David Goliath was a giant.

Tolovaj on 04/29/2020

You are right, blackspanielgallery. For that reason they are perfect representation of the evil part of the figure of father in fair tales. Have you heard about the theory claiming Goliath had a pituitary gland disease causing hormonal imbalance, gigantism and bad eyesight? It's called acromegaly.

blackspanielgallery on 04/28/2020

Giants are often associated with evil, perhaps caused by the offspring of the Watchers in old texts, and continued with Goliath.

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