Biographic Information: Steel, Flora Annie Webster. (1918). English Fairy Tales (pp. 25-37). New York: Macmillan
Ethnic Origin: English
Power Centers: There are five highly-charged emotional moments in the tale of "Tom Tit Tot." When the girl comes to the end of the first eleven months of her marriage to the king, she must keep the bargain made by her mother. The king takes her to a room filled with flax waiting to be spun. When he leaves her, she weeps, realizing that she, indeed, must honor the bargain, spinning five skeins each day for the coming month or, failing, loose her head. Knowing that she canít spin at all, she fears for her life. At that point, wee little "That" arrives and offers a possible solution to her dilemma. Realizing now that nothing is without cost, she asks what he wants in exchange, knowing that she has little choice but to agree to his demand. He tells her that he will spin for her every day, but that at the end of the month she will become his bride. The only was in which she can avoid going with him is to tell him what his name is. She agrees and he promises to return on the morrow.
Although she has a month in which to tell "That" his name, the story provides a window on only three of these occasions, the first day, the next to the last day and the last day on which he spins for her. On the first day and on the penultimate day, she cannot name him. Each time, when the king retrieves the skeins, he reminds her that she has once again been spared through her success. On the evening before the last day of the month, the king is so pleased, he stays to have a meal with the girl. It is during the meal that he reveals the name she sorely needs. Although she is overjoyed, the girl maintains her composure. The following evening when Tom Tit Tot returns with the last of the spinning, on her third "attempt" to guess his name, she repeats the very rhyme told her the previous day, thereby revealing his name and banishing him forever. The girl is freed and takes her place in the world.
Characters: the mother, the girl, the king, and Tom Tit Tot
Scenes: There are only two locations in the tale, the home shared by the mother and daughter and the room in which the girl must spin the five skeins each day. In the first location, the pies are eaten and the king learns of the girlís spinning abilities. In the second, the girlís task is set and she meets Tom Tit Tot and grapples with her fate.
Synopsis: The tale opens at the home shared by the mother and her daughter. The mother has baked five pies which she sets aside to soften, saying they will "come again." The daughter, taking her literally, eats all five. When the mother discovers this, she goes outside to spin, singing to herself about the pies eaten by the girl. The king comes along, hears the woman singing and asks what she has said. The embarrassed woman, changes her words to say that the girl has spun five skeins, an impossible task. The king offers to take the girl as his wife, providing lavishly for her for the first eleven months of their marriage if she will spin five skeins each day of the twelfth month. The mother, thinking he will forget, agrees.
The story then moves to the last day of the eleventh month, when the king shows the girl the flax-filled room and tells her she must spin the five skeins each day or loose her head. When he leaves a little man arrives and offers to spin for her on the condition that at monthís end she become his bride if she cannot tell him his name. Having no option, she agrees.
The following day she fails to name him. There is no account of any day after that until the next to the last day of the month, when she still is unable to name him. The little man leaves. Pleased with the girlís accomplishments, the king arrives to have a meal with her. It is during dinner that the king reveals the name of "That" and the girl is saved.
The last day, when Tom Tit Tot returns with the dayís spinning, she suggests two names she knows to be incorrect. Only on the third naming does she tell him his true name, driving him away for all time and saving herself.
Rhymes/Special Phrases/"Flavor": There are consistently five pies baked and five skeins to be spun. There is the time of eleven months of safety and plenty for the girl before she must complete the task agreed to by her mother. There is one month of spinning, although only three days are depicted in the telling. The king, her husband, provides the key to the girlís survival, when he repeats the rhyme he overheard. In most versions, except Steel, the rhyme is "Nimmy nimmy not, my name is Tom Tit Tot." Steelís version, however, is "Name me, name me not, my name is Tom Tit Tot."
Audience: The ages between seven and eleven are characterized by Erik Erikson as the task of Industry versus Inferiority. The girl in the tale is required to save herself through work. The tale assures the child that even though a task may seem impossible, there is help available. The child also understands, that the help may seem dangerous in its own right, but, in the end, the child will be successful at the task and will go on to the next stage unscathed.
The orientation to productive work marks a change between the preoperational period and the concrete operational period of childhood as described by Piaget. This tale certainly offers a task that has a real product at its end.
The story also reminds the child that he must leave the safety of home, in which a parent has provided for all his needs, and go into the world to face his own fears. However, there is always support available to the child as he learns to live outside the safety of the parental home.
Bibliographic information on other versions/variants:
Comparison: The Scottish tale, "Whuppity Stoorie," and the Irish tale, "The White Hen," are not tales of childhood. The first concerns the responsibilities of parenting and providing for children. The second is a tale about grief and moving on with oneís life. Both have rhymes that tell the protagonist the name of the helper, thus setting the person free of his or her obligation to the helper. The Crossley-Holland version of "Whuppity Stoorie" is written in "broad Scots" which makes for difficult reading and telling, unless one can reproduce a consistent accent. Finlayís version is charming and carries a definite "flavor" of Scotland. She uses expressions such as "goodwife," "bairn, and "brae" along with the traditional rhymes to carry the reader or listener to the cloudy hills of the Border Country. MacManus does not use Irish expressions or words in his telling of the tale, although he does name the child "Sheila." It is none the less a good telling, albeit without much of the flavor of Ireland about it.
The only tale to deal with more than one person who must complete the task is Perrifool, which has three sisters and the youngest saves the day. It, too, is told as a fairy tale, without a nod to its origins which are Scottish.
Duffy and the Devil, from Cornwall, is a Caldecott Honor Book. The story is well-told, but certainly not with a Cornish accent. The words do give the reader or listener the clear idea that the story is not set in the here-and-now. Squire Lovel takes Duffy home to do his spinning and knitting. The author has chosen a rich vocabulary, for example, bramble and gallivant, and figures of speech, for example, "simple as pudding." The conclusion is delightful, as not only does the Devil vanish, but he takes with him the products of his labors, leaving Duffy to vow that she will never knit or spin again.
There is nothing especially interesting in Picardís telling of the French version. If it were not included in a volume of French tales, it would be difficult to assign it an origin.
"Rumplestiltskin," as told in this version of the Grimmís tales, is a standard telling with no flavor of Germany left about it, except perhaps the fact that it is not the mother, but the father who gives his daughter in marriage to the king. During the romantic period, when the Brothers Grimm were collecting and writing their tales, motherhood was revered. Had the Grimm's collected a tale in which the mother gave her child in such a fashion, they might well have changed it to the father or, as they often did, to a stepmother. It is interesting that the father is described as a miller. In Russian folklore, the miller is seen as in league with the devil, having many dealing with him at the stream. One wonders if such a belief existed in Germany as well and could explain why the father is a miller in this story.
Of the versions of "Tom Tit Tot," only the recent one by Reeves, gives the girl a name. He calls her "Joan," a common English name, equivalent to Jack or John. It is written in clear, storybook language. The Jacobs version and the Crossley-Holland version use written dialect in an attempt to have the story sound as if it is being told by "Ye Olde Storie Teller." This sort of transcription is currently not in favor with folklorist, according to Terry Zug. The 1918 version in Steel is so charming, with its descriptions and elaborations, that it is hard to resist and was the one selected. The others used the traditional rhyme "Nimmy, nimmy not, my name is Tom Tit Tot." Steel, however, uses "Name me, name me not, my name is Tom Tit Tot" which offers a clear understanding of the meaning of the rhyme.