I am researching folk tales at the moment, and finding the history of story telling fascinating. These images are taken from magic lantern slides from the 19th century and are so utterly delightful and beguiling. The story this one tells is Tom Thumb, and was itself retold by Charles Perrault in 1697, which at the time was published under his son’s name, as he was far too erudite a thinker , belonging to the Academie Francaise. I wonder what he would think about his long lasting legacy being those Tales from Mother Goose? The tale itself is interesting, recalling different narratives within it. Tom Thumb is the scrawniest of a bunch of boys born to a faggot farmer and his wife, and the boys are abandoned by their parents who are too poor to keep them. Tom keeps his brother safe from wolves in the forest, and leads them back to their home where the parents have had a change of fortune and are delighted to see their children. Soon poverty strikes again, and once more the parents turn the children out into the depths of the forest. It is the scrawny yet implacable Tom that keeps the brothers safe until they reach a house in a clearing. Again there are hints here of Hansel and Gretel, but the occupant is no witch, but an ogre who plans to fatten tehm up overnight and eat them for breakfast. Once again inscrutable Tom outwits the ogre and tricks him into killing his own daughters having mistaken them for the sleeping boys. The brothers escape the ogre, who on discovering the trickery puts on his seven league boots and hotfoots after them . After some time the ogre has to rest, and after taking off his boots, settles into a deep sleep. Tom , hearing his snores, steals his boots which have magical qualities so they now fit the diminutive lad, and proceeds to the ogre’s wife. He convinces her that the ogre has been held captive and she must hand over the ogre’s wealth in order that he can pay a ransom. This she does, and Tom returns in triumph. Clearly the moral is not to underestimate the runt in the litter. Perhaps Perrault was telling the tale to the adults, as a warning not to neglect their children. Perhaps the tale should be retold today.
Perrault was retelling these stories himself, but the test of time has proved how successfully he did that, with wit and humour that continues to entertain today. Just as the magic lantern slides.
Magic lantern images are here: http://www.laternamagica.fr/page.php?id=1