If you’re not familiar with Tom Thumb, Journeyman, I recommend clicking here to read the story before proceeding to my commentary.
Tom Thumb is a fascinating person. Should time allow, some day I would like to study his history. Other than what the Grimm Brothers have preserved for us, is there anything more to know about the creation of this amazing protagonist? For now, however, Tom’s Grimm adventures will suffice. There is plenty to keep us engaged.
It’s interesting to note that the Journeyman story follows a similar plot line as the previous Tom Thumb tale. You can read my thoughts on that here. He leaves his parents, gets entangled in the happenings of some robbers, is swallowed by a cow, and even finds his way into a canine’s mouth before making his way back to his father. The Christological motif of death and resurrection is certainly present in this Tom Thumb story. At first I thought that perhaps Journeyman was nothing more than a retelling, a reboot if you will, of the same story, but upon further consideration I abandoned that notion and came to think of it as a sequel. In my commentary on Tom Thumb I referred to similarities between the Bible’s Hannah and the peasant’s wife, specifically their desire to be mothers. That’s just the beginning. Tom Thumb would appear to be Samuel’s fairyland counterpart.
Eventually both women conceived children, Samuel and Tom. Hannah did as she had vowed and gave Samuel back to the Lord (1 Samuel 1:11, 27-28). Likewise, Tom’s mother did as she said she would and loved him with all her heart. Samuel left Hannah’s care when she brought him to the house of the Lord with the food stuffs for an offering (1 Sam. 1:24) where the priests would’ve eaten a portion of part of it (Leviticus 2:3). Tom left his mother’s care when upon the hearth he looked into the dish she had prepared and was carried up the chimney by “the steam from the food,” the steam that would have carried the scent of the meal, or in offering language the “pleasing aroma to the Lord” (Numbers 15:10).
This aromatic steam carried Tom up into the air, drawing the Biblically literate reader to the offering that accompanied Samuel on his journey. When Tom “sank down to the ground again” he “went to a master in his craft, but the food was not good enough for him.” It may be hard to see the parallel at first, but this is nothing other than Samuel being delivered to Eli. In Samuel’s story, after we’re told that “the boy ministered to the Lord in the presence of Eli the priest” (1 Sam. 2:11) we hear about the poor behavior of Eli’s sons (1 Sam. 2:12-17). They were taking the priestly share of the offerings “before the fat was burned” (1 Sam. 2:15), in other words, before the Lord had been given His portion (Lev. 3:3–5; 7:30). Eating the fat from the sacrificial animals was an act explicitly prohibited (Lev. 7:22–26) and to top it off, they used the threat of violence to get their way. In the words of the Brother’s Grimm, “the food [read offering] was not good enough.” It had “too many potatoes, too little meat!” A poor offering indeed. Eli’s sons abused their position and didn’t serve the Israelites and the Lord as they should have. When Tom confronted the mistress about the atrocity, what did she use but the threat of violence to drive him away. Avoiding her angry strikes lead him to journey to a great forest where “he fell in with a band of robbers.” This is the second time he worked with thieves. In the first tale he protected a pastor’s silver and gold while in the company of robbers, but in this story he actually assists the robbers in stealing the King’s money. Curious.
As masters in their craft, the Grimms have creatively conflated two Biblical texts delivering a great story rooted in the Word: the Lord calling Samuel (1 Sam. 3) and Samuel issuing a warning against having kings (1 Sam. 8:10-18). Why would Tom steal from the King? A clue to his motivation is given when the robbers greet him, “thou giant Goliath, wilt thou go to the treasure-chamber with us?”
Rest assured this is more than just the use of an ironic nickname, although it is certainly that as well. Goliath was a Philistine, and though he’s not immediately involved in Samuel’s story, he was the quintessential representation of his people. This little greeting provides context. Packed into the word Goliath is the conflict between the Philistines and the Hebrews that is conveyed in the chapters of 1 Samuel between the two chapters the Grimms have combined (3 and 8). It’s the Philistines who attack Israel, at which time Eli’s sons, the meat stealing Potato-Kings, die (1 Sam. 4:10-11).
Tom working against an earthly king is an event that extends from Samuel warning the people against having earthly kings after Israel had rejected the Lord as their king (1 Sam. 8:7). In Tom Thumb, Journeyman the King is a bad guy, a usurper who has taken the place of the real King, God. What does Samuel do but speak against the establishment of a king, against the king taking for himself that which is Israel’s and storing up their treasures for himself? Tom is merely taking back from the earthly king what he took from God’s people, from God. This is clearly seen in what Tom does with the “kreuzer, which he earned on his travels.” He gives it to his father. The treasure that was taken from God when Israel rejected Him is given back to Him when His Son returns home – Tom, in this case, is both a Samuel figure and a Christ figure, just as the prophet’s mouth speaks the words of the Lord.
In God’s Word the warning comes after Samuel is called to be a prophet of the Lord (1 Sam. 3). This happened in a very memorable way when the Lord called Samuel, and he answered by saying, “Here am I,” three times (1 Sam. 3:4-5, 6-7, 8-9). Finally Eli perceives that it’s the Lord calling Samuel. In the words of the Grimms, however, this threefold, “Here am I,” occurs, not before, but as part of the robbery of the earthly King. Nevertheless the point is made that the words of this tale extend from the Word of God recorded in 1 Samuel.
If you aren’t familiar with it, perhaps now would be a good time to take a peak. As much as I like Tom’s adventures, Samuel’s are much better.
Next week’s Finding Truth in The Story will be on Sweet Porridge. Click here to read the fairy tale in advance.
I’m reading the fairly tales from the Fall River Press publication, Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales illustrated by Arthur Rackham. Click here to purchase a copy for yourself.
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