Tom Tit Tot

tom tit totIn this fairytale, a woman lies to a king about her daughter being good at using a spinning-wheel. For some reason this is just the kind of girl the king wants to marry. Unfortunately, the poor girl isn’t good at anything except eating and needs the help of a strange creature in order to keep her head. Then, to avoid an even worse fate, she must guess the creature’s name. In his book “English Fairy Tales”, Joseph Jacobs wrote: “The story of Tom Tit Tot …is one of the best folk-tales that have ever been collected, far superior to any of the continental variants of this tale with which I am acquainted.” I am afraid that we can’t agree. To learn why, we suggest that you read the story and then have a look at our comments below.

English Learner Vocabulary Help

The words and expressions in our Elementary level Simplified English story which are not in our 800 word list are: , , , , , , , , , and .

There is also a word that is in our Elementary word list but has a meaning in the story which is different to the one most commonly used. We are told that for eleven months the girl had all she liked to eat, and all the beautiful clothes she liked to wear, and all the company she liked to keep. The word here has nothing to do with a kind of business, but means the people you spend time with.

General Comments on the Story

english fairy talesOur source for the story was a children’s book called English Fairy Stories by Australian folktale collector Joseph Jacobs, first published in 1890. The book can be downloaded in various e-book forms from Project Gutenberg here. An audiobookis available from Librivox here. Jacobs’ source was a folktale of the same name which appeared in the “Suffolk Notes and Queries” section of the Ipswich Journal in 1877. It was contributed by Victorian poet Anna Walter-Thomas ( Fison), who had heard it from her nurse as a child.

As mentioned above, we can’t agree with Joseph Jacobs’s assessment of the story. He goes as far as to suggest that it is “unequalled among all other folk-tales… for its combined sense of humour and dramatic power.” In my opinion, there are a number of unanswered questions which greatly reduce the dramatic power of Tom Tit Tot. For example: Why does the king want a wife who can spin five skeins of flax every day? And why does he wait until they have been married for eleven months before putting the girl to the test? These make it much less of a story than the Brothers Grimm “continental variant” Rumpelstiltskin, where the greedy king gets the girl to spin straw into gold. It likely that either Anna Walter-Thomas (who was married to a church minister) cut some pieces out of the story that she thought were improper when she submitted it to the Ipswitch Journal, or the nurse who told her the story did so.

For anyone who is interested, we have included a version of Rumpelstiltskin above. There are many English versions of the books that we know today as “Grimms’ Fairy Tales”. First published in 1812-15 under the name “Children’s and Household Tales”, six further editions were released during the Grimm brothers’ lifetime. With each new edition, stories were added and subtracted and some of those that remained were changed to make them more socially acceptable and/or reflect the fact the target audience was changing from general readers to children. In the 1812-15 editions there were 156 stories. In the last edition there was 200 plus 10 legends. The version of Rumpelstiltskin presented here is from the 1823 English translation by Edgar Taylor. Although not as true as it might be to the original story, the audio recording that comes with this one provides excellent listening material for English learners.


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cruel(adj: cruel, crueler, cruelest) Used to describe: 1. someone who hurts others and does not feel sorry about it; 2. something that causes or helps to cause pain or suffering.
(n: cruelty pl cruelties) 1. Something which causes pain or suffering. 2. The quality or state of being cruel. 3000

dishes(n: dishes, plural) All the things [such as plates, forks, glasses, pans, cooking utensils, etc.] that are used to prepare, serve, and eat a meal. We put all the dishes in the sink after dinner. Will you wash the breakfast dishes, please? 2000

(adj: either) 1. The one or the other of two things, people etc. You can choose either answer. 2. The one and the other of two things, people etc; both. Either answer is correct..
(adv: either) 1. [after a negative statement] In addition; also. He is not wise or handsome either. 2. Used for emphasis. If you don't go, I won't either.
(conj: either.. or..) Used with or to indicate choices or possibilities. Either go to see him or send a message.
(idiom: me neither) Used in informal U.S. speech to say that you agree with a negative statement that someone has made. “I didn't like the movie.” “Me either.” 1000

flax(n: flax, noncount) 1. A plant that has blue flowers and is grown for its fiber and its seed. The fiber of flax is used to make linen and the seed is used to make linseed oil. 2. The fiber of the flax plant. 12000

imp(n: imp pl imps) 1. A small creature that plays harmful tricks in children's stories. 2. A child who causes trouble in a playful way; a mischievous child. He's a lovable imp. 7000

knock(v: knock, knocks, knocked, knocking) To make a loud, sharp noise by hitting or tapping something [especially a door to get someone to open it]. 1000

skein(n: skein pl skeins) A long piece of yarn or thread that is ​collected together into the ​shape of a ​loose ​ring. (กลุ่มด้ายที่พันกันยุ่งเหยิง) 13000

spinspinning-wheel(v: spin, spins, spun, spinning) 1. To turn or cause someone or something to go round and round repeatedly. The car hit a patch of ice and spun into the wall. The children were spinning a top. (หมุน) 2. To form threads from (wool, cotton etc) by drawing out and twisting, especially using a machine such as a spinning-wheel They spun the wool into yarn. (กรอ) 3000

supper(n: supper pl suppers) A usually light meal taken at the end of the day. (อาหารมื้อเย็น) 3000

twirl(v: twirl, twirls, twirled, twirling) To turn (something) around and around quickly. To twirl a baton/drumstick. (วน) 11000

business(n: company pl companies) A business organization. He runs his own trucking company.
(n: company, noncount) 1. The people you spend time with. You can tell a lot about people by the company they keep. 2. The state or condition of being with another person. I enjoy her company. 1000

(adj: née or nee) Born; used to state what a woman's name was before she married. Mrs Jane Brown, née Black. 12000

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