Once upon a time, there lived a woman who could not have children. She really wanted to have a little girl but she didn't know where and how to find her. So, one day she turned to a witch for help. The witch gave her a grain of barleycorn which grows in the farmer’s field and told her to put it in a flower-pot.
"I should so very much like to have a little child; can you tell me where I can find one?"
"Oh, that can be easily managed," said the fairy. "Here is a barleycorn of a different kind to those which grow in the farmer’s fields, and which the chickens eat; put it into a flower-pot, and see what will happen.""
The overjoyed woman went home and planted the grain. At that moment, a beautiful flower began to grow. It looked like a tulip, but the buds were still closed, so she wasn’t sure what kind of flower it was. The woman bent down and kissed the flower and it suddenly opened. Now she saw that it was a tulip, and in the middle of it, on green velvet stamens, sat a little girl. She was so small, no bigger than the thumb of one hand. That's why the woman called the girl Thumbelina.
Thumbelina was enjoying her new home. One lacquered walnut shell was her cradle in which she slept, violet petals served as pillows, and rose petals as blankets. During the day, she played on the table, where the woman put a plate with water, in which a woman placed a tulip petal to float. Thumbelina sat on it, enjoying, rowing, and often singing. She had a beautiful voice.
One night, while she was lying in her beautiful bed, an ugly toad jumped up through the broken glass on the window. Disgusting, big and wet, it jumped on the table where Thumbelina slept under a rose petal.
The toad grabbed the walnut shell, in which Thumbelina slept, and jumped out the window. She was overjoyed to find a wife for her son. The toad and her equally ugly son lived in a swampy, muddy pond. He started screaming when he saw how beautiful little Thumbelina was. And his mother told him to be quiet so he wouldn't wake her. The toad was afraid that his son’s future bride would run away because she was so tiny and thin and she could easily run away without them even noticing.
They decided to put her on one big leaf of water lily, in the middle of the river, while they prepared the room for her, under the mud. This is where Thumbelina and her future husband, the toad’s son, would live and work.
""Don’t speak so loud, or she will wake," said the toad, "and then she might run away, for she is as light as swan’s down. We will place her on one of the water-lily leaves out in the stream; it will be like an island to her, she is so light and small, and then she cannot escape; and, while she is away, we will make haste and prepare the state-room under the marsh, in which you are to live when you are married.""
There were many water lily leaves on the river, and the old toad found the largest and most distant one. She swam up to it with a walnut shell and left Thumbelina there.
When the little girl woke up in the morning, she stared at the water. She started crying because the water was all around her and she could not reach the land.
"The tiny little creature woke very early in the morning, and began to cry bitterly when she found where she was, for she could see nothing but water on every side of the large green leaf, and no way of reaching the land."
During that time, the old toad was tidying up the room. She and her son swam to the water lily to take Thumbelina’s cradle and place her in the ceremonial room. Then she told her that she would marry her son and the two of them swam back to the shore, leaving the weeping Thumbelina alone.
""Croak, croak, croak," was all her son could say for himself; so the toad took up the elegant little bed, and swam away with it, leaving Tiny all alone on the green leaf, where she sat and wept."
Then, all of a sudden, small fishes appeared swimming around the leaves of the water lily. They saw beautiful Thumbelina, weeping. They were very sorry and didn't want this lovely little girl to end up with an ugly toad. So they all gathered, bit the stem of the water lily with their teeth, and the leaf sailed down the river, carrying Thumbelina away from the frog and her ugly son.
""No, it must never be!" so they assembled together in the water, round the green stalk which held the leaf on which the little maiden stood, and gnawed it away at the root with their teeth. Then the leaf floated down the stream, carrying Tiny far away out of reach of land."
Thumbelina has been sailing for so long. She passed many cities and places, and the birds watched her and admired her beauty.
One day, a beautiful white butterfly landed on a water lily leaf. It flew around her for a long time and admired the little girl. When the butterfly landed on the leaf, Thumbelina took off her girdle and tied one side of it around the butterfly and the other one around the leaf, so the water lily now sailed even faster. Then a great cockchafer appeared, grabbed Thumbelina, and flew to the tree with her. The tiny Thumbelina was so scared.
"Oh, how frightened little Tiny felt when the cockchafer flew with her to the tree! But especially was she sorry for the beautiful white butterfly which she had fastened to the leaf, for if he could not free himself he would die of hunger. But the cockchafer did not trouble himself at all about the matter."
The cockchafer was delighted with her beauty. He gave her some flower honey to eat, and soon other cockchafers came to see her. One young cockchafer, visibly jealous, ridiculed the fact that she had only two legs, the other laughed that she had no wings.
"After a time, all the cockchafers turned up their feelers, and said, "She has only two legs! how ugly that looks." "She has no feelers," said another. "Her waist is quite slim. Pooh! she is like a human being.""
Although the cockchafer liked her very much, listening to others around him, he thought the same as they did. He didn't want her anymore, so he let her go. He came down from the tree and left her alone there. Thumbelina was sitting and crying, thinking that she was so ugly that even a cockchafer didn't want her.
Throughout the summer, Thumbelina lived alone in the woods. She made a bed and shelter for herself, ate sweet flower juice, and drank drops of morning dew. Autumn has passed, so a long, cold winter has arrived. It started to snow and Thumbelina covered herself with a leaf, but she couldn't keep her warm.
She reached the edge of the woods and found the door of a field mouse who was warm, had a lot of grain, a kitchen, and a pantry. Poor little Thumbelina knocked timidly on the door, like a beggar. When the mouse opened, she asked her to dine with her because she had not eaten for two days.
An old field mouse invited her inside to warm up and join her for dinner. She liked her a lot, so she suggested that she stay with her all winter. In return, she was supposed to clean her home and tell her stories. Thumbelina agreed to all and was very happy she could stay.
""We shall have a visitor soon," said the field-mouse one day; "my neighbor pays me a visit once a week. He is better off than I am; he has large rooms, and wears a beautiful black velvet coat. If you could only have him for a husband, you would be well provided for indeed. But he is blind, so you must tell him some of your prettiest stories.""
Thumbelina did not want to marry an old mole. Although he was smart and well-read, he didn’t like the sun or beautiful flowers. He spoke only the worst about them, although he never saw them. Thumbelina sang songs about flowers and animals, and he soon fell in love with her beautiful voice. But he didn't want to say anything, because he was a gentleman. He made a new passage from his own to their house, so that they could constantly come to visit him.
As they followed him through the dark narrow passages, they came across a dead swallow. The poor bird froze from the cold. Thumbelina was very sad because she loved birds. The mole commented about how he is that his children will not have the fate of that bird because they have nothing but their chirping and are dying from the cold.
"But the mole pushed it aside with his crooked legs, and said, "He will sing no more now. How miserable it must be to be born a little bird! I am thankful that none of my children will ever be birds, for they can do nothing but cry, ‘Tweet, tweet,’ and always die of hunger in the winter.""
The mouse agreed with these "wise words", and Thumbelina stood silently next to them. When they went forward, she kissed the dead swallow on the head and thanked him for all the songs he sang, because maybe she used to listen to his song during the summer.
"...she stooped down and stroked aside the soft feathers which covered the head, and kissed the closed eyelids. "Perhaps this was the one who sang to me so sweetly in the summer," she said; "and how much pleasure it gave me, you dear, pretty bird.""
The mole took the mouse and Thumbelina to his home, and Thumbelina couldn't sleep that night. She got up from her bed, wove a beautiful soft blanket, and took it to the dead swallow. She covered it to keep the bird warm while lying in the cold ground. She said goodbye to the bird and at one point rested her head on his body. Suddenly she jumped in surprise because she heard a beating heart in the bird's chest.
The swallow was alive, just frozen, and now that he was warming up, he began to wake up. Thumbelina came to visit the swallow the next evening, covering it over his head to keep him warm. The bird barely opened its eyes and looked at its savior.
""Thank you, pretty little maiden," said the sick swallow; "I have been so nicely warmed, that I shall soon regain my strength, and be able to fly about again in the warm sunshine.""
All winter, Thumbelina nursed the swallow, and the mouse and the mole knew nothing about it. They certainly wouldn’t like that.
When spring came, the swallow was ready to take off. He asked Thumbelina to go with her, but she refused. She thought that the old mouse would be sad without her, so she decided to stay. The swallow flew away, and the little girl remained sad. She was not allowed to go outside, because the grain had grown strongly, so it looked like a dense forest to her so small.
"Tiny looked after him, and the tears rose in her eyes. She was very fond of the poor swallow."
"Tweet, tweet," sang the bird, as he flew out into the green woods, and Tiny felt very sad. She was not allowed to go out into the warm sunshine. The corn which had been sown in the field over the house of the field-mouse had grown up high into the air, and formed a thick wood to Tiny, who was only an inch in height."
One day, a mouse told her that Thumbelina should spend the summer sewing a dowry for herself because the old mole asked for her hand.
The poor girl had to work behind a spindle, and the mouse employed four more spiders to knit and weave all night. The old mole came every night and said that he would marry Thumbelina as soon as summer passed. Thumbelina was not happy at all, because the old, annoying mole was not interested in her at all. Every day she managed to sneak out of the house and sit on the doorstep. She watched the blue sky and listened to the wind. She desperately wanted to see her friend swallow, but he never returned.
"Every morning when the sun rose, and every evening when it went down, she would creep out at the door, and as the wind blew aside the ears of corn, so that she could see the blue sky, she thought how beautiful and bright it seemed out there, and wished so much to see her dear swallow again. But he never returned; for by this time he had flown far away into the lovely green forest."
When autumn came, the dowry was ready. The mouse told her that she would get married in four weeks. Thumbelina cried and said she doesn't want to marry the mole, but the mouse told her to shut up because the mole is rich and a great opportunity for her.
So, the wedding day came. The mole came for the bride to take her deep underground because he did not like light. The poor girl was so sad because she had to say goodbye to the warm sun. She stood in the doorway and cried sadly.
"Farewell bright sun," she cried, stretching out her arm towards it; and then she walked a short distance from the house; for the corn had been cut, and only the dry stubble remained in the fields. "Farewell, farewell," she repeated, twining her arm round a little red flower that grew just by her side. "Greet the little swallow from me, if you should see him again.""
Suddenly she heard something above her. When she looked up, she saw a swallow. She told him about the wedding and how she doesn’t like the old, boring mole. She didn’t want to live underground and give up nature and the sun.
The swallow then told her that he was flying to warmer countries because winter is coming and invited her to go with him. He told her that the sun shines brighter there, it is always summer and the flowers are much more beautiful. Thumbelina agreed happily and sat on the bird's back. It was cold high in the sky, but she crawled into the bird's feathers, throwing out only her head to see the beautiful places over which they flew.
Eventually, they arrived in warmer regions. The sun was so bright here, it seemed twice as warm as where she lived before. Beautiful grapes grew everywhere, and for the first time, she saw lemons and oranges. The swallow flew even farther until they reached his house. He lived on top of a vine. He offered Thumbelina to put her down and find her home among the beautiful flowers. The girl happily agreed.
A large marble pillar was broken into three parts, and beautiful, white flowers grew from the cracks. Thumbelina was surprised when she saw a little man sitting in the middle of a flower. He had a beautiful golden crown on his head and transparent wings on his shoulders. He was a flower angel and was Thumbelina's height. In each of these flowers lived a small man or woman, and he was the king of them all.
""Oh, how beautiful he is!" whispered Tiny to the swallow.
The little prince was at first quite frightened at the bird, who was like a giant, compared to such a delicate little creature as himself; but when he saw Tiny, he was delighted, and thought her the prettiest little maiden he had ever seen."
Then the little king took off his crown and put it on Thumbelina's head. He asked if she would marry him and become the queen of all flowers. Thumbelina agreed happily. Men and women came from all the flowers to offer gifts. One of the gifts to Thumbelina were beautiful transparent wings, which they attached to the new queen's back. Everyone was happy, and the swallow sang to them the best it could. The swallow was both happy and sad because he loved Thumbelina very much and did not want to say goodbye to her.
The little king changed Thumbelina’s name to Maia, who could now fly freely from flower to flower.
""You must not be called Tiny any more," said the spirit of the flowers to her. "It is an ugly name, and you are so very pretty. We will call you Maia.""
Swallow said goodbye to her dear friend and left for the warm regions. He returned to Denmark, where he lived in a house above the window of a man who told fairy tales. The swallow sang to the man and from his song came the entire story.