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Hans Christian Andersen
Father of the Modern Fairy Tale 
by Terri Windling


Thomas of the Thumb
(A Scottish Tale)

THERE was one before now whose name was Tómas na h òrdaig, and he was no bigger than the thumb of a stalwart man. Tómas went once to take a walk, and there came a coarse shower of hailstones, and Tómas went in under a dock leaf; and there came a great drove of cattle past, and there was a great brindled bull amongst them, and he was eating about the docken, and he ate Tómas of the Thumb. His mother and his father missed him, and they went to seek him. They were going past the brindled bull, and quoth Tómas na h òrdaig,

"Ye are there a seeking me,
Through smooth places, and moss places;
And here am I a lonely one,
Within the brindled bull."

Then they killed the brindled bull, and they sought Tómas na h òrdaig amongst the paunches and entrails of the bull, but they threw away the great gut in which he was.

There came a carlin the way, and she took the great gut, and as she was going along she went over a bog.

Tómas said something to her, and the old wife threw away the great gut from her in a fright.

There came a fox the way, and he took with him the gut, and Tómas shouted

"Bies taileù! the fox. Bis taileù! the fox." Then the dogs ran after the fox, and they caught him, and they ate him and though they ate the gut they did not touch Tómas na h òrdaig.

Tómas went home, where his mother and his father were, and he it was indeed that had the queer story for them.

Campbell's Sources

This varies from the book adventures of our old friend Tom Thumb, who is now supposed to have been the dwarf of King Arthur. The story comes from Glenfalloch, which is not far from Dumbarton, which was, according to family tradition, the birth-place of King Arthur's son. It was told to Dewar by a girl who took charge of him when a child, and it is known to one other man whom I know. I used to hear the adventures of "Comhaoise Ordaig" (Thumb's co-temporary), from my piper nurse myself, but I was so young at the time that I have forgotten all but the name.

The cry of "bis taileu" may still be heard in the mouths of herd laddies addressing their collies, and it maybe the same as "tally-ho!" for which a French derivation has been sought and found--"tallis hors." I would rather imagine King Arthur, and his knights, and his dwarf, shouting an old Celtic hunting cry, and red-coated sportsmen keeping it up till now, than trace it to Norman-French; but in any case, here is something like tally-ho in the mouth of Tom Thumb, and in a glen where tally-ho has never been heard.

Campbell, J. F. More Popular Tales of the West Highlands: Orally Collected. London: Alexander Gardner, 1890-1893. (Reprint available from Detroit: Singing Tree Press, 1969.)


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