“A long time ago a countryman had a son who was as big as a thumb, and did not become any bigger, and during several years did not grow one hair’s breadth.”
At first I rolled my eyes because I thought I was encountering another Tom Thumb story, but thankfully that ended up not being the case.
Thumbling is the name of our protagonist in The Young Giant, and as a boy he is kidnapped/taken from his home by a giant, who then raises him to be tall and strong like a giant. Thumbling, after achieving maximum giant-ness, returns home but is not recognized by his parents. He stays for dinner, and after not being satisfied by the food – he requires more than they have – Thumbling requests an iron staff be delivered to him by his father before he goes on his way. Unfortunately Thumbling’s father cannot find a staff strong enough, which fortunately for mom and dad, leads to a quicker departure on the part of Thumbling.
Setting off, Thumbling’s first stop is at the local blacksmith, where he takes up a position as a journeyman. Instead of wages for his work, Thumbling says he will trade his work for two blows to the blacksmith, and when his strength is too much for the work required, Thumbling lands one powerful kick to the blacksmith and goes on his way. He then takes a position working for the bailiff, who after several attempts at duping Thumbling, gets kicked out a window as punishment.
If this odd trade that Thumbling makes with his employers – rather than getting paid, after he does the work required he gets to kick them – was agreed upon with honorable characters and not greedy or selfish ones, I would have a worse impression of Thumbling than I do. Although I find it quite odd that he would come up with such a violent or hard-hitting (ha ha) trade at the top of his head, it has a little more merit because he carries it out on those who try to harm him. This is not to say I agree with his method; he uses his physical stature and power to get back at those who do him wrong, rather than trying to be clever or outsmarting them. Within the fairy tale world I can see the practicality of using what you have to banish your enemies, but that type of black and white problem solving just doesn’t work beyond the pages of Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales. Plus, Thumbling also kicks the bailiff’s wife out the window although she really did nothing to him, and we are left with the thought of the couple “hover[ing] about there in the air” as Thumbling goes on his way carrying the iron bar.
I found one opinion that describes Thumbling’s journey away from home as a nod towards the Industrial Revolution, where children would leave home to work in newly developed and developing industries, but I don’t think that is a big enough part of this tale to make such a connection. I believe The Young Giant has more to do with the conflict of power, force, and greed which has been present since humans have existed on the earth.
Next up is another very short fairy tale which I have not read. The Tom Thumb chronicles (personally dubbed) and The Young Giant are a few of the longest I’ve encountered in my anthology so far, and I have come to the conclusion that shorter fairy tales are the ones I enjoy most. We’ll see how often that changes.