The Swallow CycleOctober 2, 2023
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.
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.