The Swallow Cycle

October 2, 2023 By arne hendriks Off

Thumbling stories have two things in common: 1. The protagonist is by default very small, and 2. To emphasize and perhaps ridicule this smallness, at some point in the story, they’re swallowed by an animal, preferably a cow. The good news is that most times they find a way out and survive. The bad news is that quite often they’re swallowed again, by something else.

In one example Tom Thumb travels through a cow’s digestive system before being pooped out; is then gulped up by a large bird and spat out; only to be eaten by a fish before escaping when the fish is caught and cut open. Other thumbling stories involve foxes, lions and wolves. In Japan, a demon eats Issun-Boshi, only for the tiny samurai to cut the stomach and jump out fighting. In other stories it is not swallowing but involuntary immersion. ​Tom Thumb is immersed in a pudding and must break his way out. The Grimms’ Daumerling is cooked into a sausage. Gulliver is dropped into a bowl of cream and barely survives. The Italian Cecino is not that lucky when he falls into a puddle – and drowns. For Tommeliten in Norwegian tales, falling into a bowl of buttered porridge also means death. According to the Motif-Index of Folk-Literature there are several small-size related extraordinary swallowing themes that can be discerned.

F911.3.1: Thumbling swallowed by animals
F912: Victim kills swallower from within
F913: Victims rescued from swallower’s belly
F915, victim speaks from swallower’s body

The Incredible Shrinking Man seeks to derail such manifestations of ridicule and prejudice against the small and hopes to inspire a culture that appreciates smallness as a desirable quality. But derailing such deeply embedded cultural motives is not easy.