TOM THUMB: THE TRICKSTER, THE HERO, AND THE SHADOW
Before concluding the series of Posting on ‘Tom Thumb’ I am going to deal with what I consider to be the most interesting of the ARCHETYPES, namely THE SHADOW and how it manifests. In this connection write about the THREE ARCHETYPES that Tom Thumb manifests; first THE TRICKSTER; second THE HERO; and finally THE SHADOW.
Let us start with a definition of THE TRICKSTER. Most students of the Human Mind agree that the TRICKSTER ARCHETYPE can be fairly complex For example it can take on the role of a clown, a rebel against normal codes of conduct, an entertainer, someone who is mischievous, a person who gets into danger and escapes by wit, deceit, or trickery. The Trickster can also play a duel role of Hero and Trickster. He (it is mostly a Male) is also described as crafty or cunning. If you want to open out this designation, look back to my earlier Posting: ‘Does the Unconscious Speak II’
As you can appreciate a study of this one ARCHETYPE, namely, THE TRICKSTER, which occurs in most Fairy Tales and Myths Worldwide would occupy volumes. We can only concentrate on one or two aspects of this as it relates to a single character, Tom Thumb.
Ok, how do we know that Tom Thumb combines the TRICKSTER ARCHETYPE within his character. The answer is simple. Early on in the story, shortly after the Fairies have made his clothes,the narrative,states plainly, ‘as he got older he became very
cunning and full of tricks.’ Then we are given an example;
“When he was old enough to play with the boys, and had lost all his own cherry-stones, he used to creep into the bags of his playfellows, fill his pockets, and, getting out unseen,
would again join in the game.”
Unfortunately for this little TRICKSTER he is caught at it and punished by his ‘play-fellows’. Note how Tom’s behaviour is described: "Ah, ha! my little Tommy," said the boy, "so I have caught you stealing my cherrystones at last, and you shall be rewarded for your thievish TRICKS." (My capitalization.) So the FIRST attribute that is brought out about Tom is not how sweet or brave he is, but how TRICKY he is. One wonders whether Tom somehow cheated when he engaged in flipping the Cherry Stones into small holes or trying to hit a target. We will never know.
What else did Tom get up to?
Having been delivered from the mouth of the great fish and ending up on King Arthur’s table we are told, ‘the king …. made Tom his dwarf, and he soon grew a great favorite at court’ How was this, well? ’by his TRICKS and gambols he not only amused the king and queen, but also all the knights of the Round Table.”
A TYPICAL KING’S DWARF: JEFFREY HUDSON 30 YEARS OLD AND 18 INCHES HIGH; SIX TIMES TALLER THAN TOM THUMB BUT OCCUPIES THE SAME ROLE.
What does our little man get up to next?
There are instances where accidents happen, and as a result certain antics are manifested to try to rescue the situation. These antics are not necessarily, mischievous or behaviour that is calculated, rather they can be reflex responses. However, in the following example we shall see how others INTERPRET such behaviour:
“Just at the time when Tom came flying across the courtyard, the cook
happened to be passing with the king's great bowl of furmenty, which was
a dish his majesty was very fond of; but unfortunately the poor little
fellow fell plump into the middle of it, and splashed the hot furmenty
about the cook's face.”
In this instance ‘splashing the cook’s face’ with hot soup was not, intentional, nor planned as a ruse to get out of the bowl. These were the actions that a normal person would exhibit in similar circumstances.
But now we come to two interesting observations. First, look at the Cook’s TEMPERAMENT. He was ‘an ill-natured fellow’ who exhibited ‘a terrible rage’ because of being splashed. He manifests no desire to rescue the poor little chap. Rather, he carts Tom straight to the king’. For what purpose? As it turns out, for execution. Look at the personality of the Cook again. He is observing Tom’s actions through the SHAPING EFFECT of HIS OWN PERSONALITY.
This is so important, because it suggests that the actions of others that we might interpret as TRICKSTER characteristics, might not be such at all. Such behaviour might be nothing more than a SHADOW REFLECTION of ourselves; more on the SHADOW later.
THE KING'S BANQUET - WAITING FOR HIS FURMENTY
How then does the Cook, through the window of his own personality, INTERPRET the actions of Tom? He tells the King that, ‘Tom had jumped into the royal furmenty’, and had ‘thrown it down out of mere mischief’ More on the King and his SHADOW later. The poor little chap is then ‘to be beheaded immediately.’
Now we come to THE REAL TRICKSTER:
“On hearing this dreadful sentence pronounced, poor Tom fell a-trembling
with fear, but, seeing no means of escape, and observing a miller close
to him gaping with his great mouth, as country boobies do at a far, he
took a leap, and fairly jumped down his throat.
As I indicated earlier, a TRICKSTER will use all sorts of wiles to escape from danger. Tom could hardly use any wiles when the Raven seized him, or the cow took him into its mouth. Nor could he do anything when the huge fish swallowed him. He had, in these instances to accept his fate and wait. But here, with the THREAT of death hanging over him and pressed by his SHADOW (fear, the opposite of his bravery and clowning) for self-preservation, his WILY NATURE spots the opportunity. At one spring he is down the Miller’s throat.
In fact the narrative emphasises Tom’s nature once more when it says “This exploit was done with such activity that not one person present saw it, and even the
miller did not know the TRICK which Tom had played upon him.”
THE MILL WHERE TOM IS TAKEN
The Miller at once departs for home, back to his Mill and Tom now has to GET OUT OF DANGER once more, otherwise he will die inside the Miller’s stomach. So his TRICKY DISPOSITION comes to his rescue:
Once Tom is at a reasonable distance from the King’s Court and safe at the Mill, look at his antics to get out of this perilous situation:
“When Tom heard the mill at work he knew he was clear of the court, and
therefore, he began to tumble and roll about, so that the poor miller
could get no rest, thinking he was bewitched”
We see Tom’s roistering not only causes intense discomfort, but surfaces the inherent SUPERSTITION typical of the times. So what does the Miller do? He ‘ sent for a doctor.’ Unfortunately for the Miller the doctor is as superstitious as himself, especially when Tom’s Trickery occurs inside the Miller. “Tom began to dance and sing; and the doctor, being as much frightened as the miller, sent in haste for five other doctors and twenty learned men”. One can imagine the scene, as the group, viewing the case through the SUPERSTITIONS of their own time, try to come to some sort of conclusion. What an interesting distinction is made between ‘the doctors’ and ‘the learned men’. Clearly, the first group is intellectually inferior to the second. Why was this?
If you look back on a previous posting you will form some idea of the state of Medicine by the time of this tale. We remember it is supposedly set in the 6th century AD. If the flavour of that period is captured then the Medical situation would be something like this: around the 11th century a Medical School was established in Italy; by 1300 other Medical Schools had also been established; to some degree they challenged the teachings of Hippocrates and Galen. In other words the state of medicine in the supposed historical setting of the tale would be fairly primitive, laced with superstition.
From the point of view of our tale however, even if the writer unwittingly slips into the assumptions of his own time, the account of the doctor’s visit would capture the essence of things. For example, the changes introduced by the Medical Institutions did not spread completely throughout Europe; and what is more to the point, only the rich benefited from them. So, our Miller, belonging to the lower class, would have to rely on folk remedies and quack ideas passed from generation to generation.
Because the fees of Doctors at the time and certainly the ‘learned men’ would be extremely high, it seems to me that the vast assembly of doctors and their highly educated colleagues only came because of the unusual and interesting nature of this unique case.
A GROUP OF MEDIEVAL DOCTORS VISITING PATIENTS
But wily Tom beats them all to the punch and ‘When they were debating about this extraordinary case, the miller happened to yawn’. This was just what the little opportunist was waiting for. “Tom, seizing the chance, made another jump, and alighted safely upon his feet in the middle of the table.” Unfortunately for Tom his escape from the Miller’s mouth, presumably in front of the whole assembly of doctors and ‘learned men’, both humiliated and enraged the Miller to such an extent that he snatched Tom off the table and carted him off to the King. The King is busy ‘with state Affairs’, so orders Tom to be taken away and kept in custody till he sent for him.’
THE KING BUSY WITH AFFAIRS OF STATE WHILE TOM IS IN CUSTODY
But as things turn out, the Miller does not get Tom beheaded. The King pardons him, takes Tom back into favour and ‘ notice the next bit, ‘on account of his wonderful feats of
activity, Tom was knighted by the king.’ So the TRICKSTER succeeds in obtaining a knighthood by the performance of his TRICKS, ‘his wonderful feats of activity.’
What were these antics? Once Tom was knighted and clad in new clothes ‘mounted on the mouse, as he rode out a-hunting with the king and nobility,’ it so amused the Courtiers that they were ‘all ready to expire with laughter at Tom and his fine prancing charger.’
However, Tom’s luck was not to last, for after a long visit to Fairyland he returns to the Court of King Thunstone. Here his Trickster antics do not bode well, as we shall see later they draw out the SHADOW in King Thunstone’s Queen. At this time Tom meets his death
THE TRICKSTER MEETS HIS FATE IN THE ENDTOM FIGHTS OFF THE CAT AND IT RELEASES TOM AND HIS MOUSE
Let us just pause a moment and see where we are up to regarding Tom. We have established that his PRINCIPAL nature is that of a TRICKSTER. At times it lands him into trouble, at other times saves his life, but finally leads to his death.
Where then does THE SHADOW appear in all this? Before I discuss this I shall deal with a point or two in connection with Tom’s ARCHETYPAL HERO role. I think it is safe to say that because Tom play’s the MAIN role in this little drama we must not conclude that it is equivalent to saying that he is THE HERO.
What then is the ARCHETYPAL HERO? Generally the hero deliberately battles against tremendous odds such as giants, ravenous beasts, or other almost insuperable barriers. I can find only two examples where Tom manifests such qualities DELIBERATELY. One is the occasion when he is out riding on his mouse and passes a farmyard when
“‘a large cat, which was lurking about the door, made a spring, and seized both Tom and his mouse. She then ran up a tree with them, and was beginning to devour the
mouse; but Tom boldly drew his sword, and attacked the cat so fiercely that she let them both fall”
This is a clear example of HEROISM. Here is a creature many times bigger than Tom or his Mouse, with teeth and claws to match. It would require stupendous bravery to fight off this animal (equivalent to a monster) and force it to release its prey.
A further incident of HEROISM occurs when a SPIDER, immense by comparison with Tom’s stature ‘one day attacked him; and although he drew his sword and fought well’ his HEROISM and bravery were not enough. After slugging it out ‘ the spider's poisonous breath at last overcame him.’ Tom is killed and the Spider “suck'd every drop of his blood."
AFTER A HEROIC BATTLE TOM THUMB IS KILLED BY THE SPIDER
I repeat these are the only examples I can find of Tom’s heroism. I am afraid he resigns his fate when The Raven carries him off to the top of the Giant’s Castle, when the Giant picks him up he does not FIGHT LIKE A HERO, when the big fish swallows him he does nothing. Yet when the Cat threatens the life of his mouse and the Spider takes him on, he makes a stand.
The SHADOW ARCHETYPE is so important and is often misunderstood or not clearly appreciated that I think it wise to let it stand alone. Consequently, I shall leave a thorough discussion of this ARCHETYPE until the next Posting. Then I shall:
1. define it 2. See how it is fulfilled in Tom by way of contrast 3. Show how other characters manifest it.
Until then, I hope this Post has been of some interest.
Picture Credits Wikimedia Commons