Thumbelina | Boy-Man (A Native AmericanTale)

The following is an annotated version of the fairy tale. I recommend reading the entire story before exploring the annotations, especially if you have not read the tale recently.

THERE was once a little boy who lived with his sister on the shore of a beautiful lake. This boy was not like other children,--he did not grow as they did, but remained as tiny a fellow as in his baby days.

The child’s body, however, was no match for his spirit. He was a very giant in cour age and he liked nothing better than to act the master of the lodge.

One winter day he said to his sister, “Make me a ball; I wish to go out on the ice and have some sport.”

The girl did as she was asked, but as she gave it to him she warned him to take care of himself. “Don’t go too far out on the ice,” she begged.

Boy-man only laughed and started off in great glee, throwing his ball far ahead of him and running after it with the speed of the wind.

By and by he noticed some large spots on the ice ahead.

When he drew nearer he found that these spots were four large men who were spearing fish. Strange to say, they looked so much alike that it was hard to tell one from another.

As Boy-man came close to them, one looked up and noticed the little fellow for the first time.

“Look!” he cried to the others, “see what a tiny creature that is.”

His three brothers looked up at the same moment. They were so exactly alike that Boy-man said to himself, “Four in one; how hard it must be to choose their own hunting shirts!”

When they had done looking at Boy-man, the men turned once more to their fishing and paid no more attention to the little fellow.

“Hm!” thought he, not at all pleased. “They think because I am so tiny that I am not worth notice. I think I will teach them a little lesson.”

The men had covered their heads in order to watch for the fish, so they did not see Boy-man as he crept close beside them and seized a large trout they had just caught. Then, holding it by its gills, he ran away over the ice. Feeling the jar from his footsteps, they looked up.

Boy-man was so small that at first they thought the fish was running away by itself. But when they got up, they could just see the little fellow’s head above the fish he was carrying.

Boy-man ran home as fast as he could. He left the trout by the door and went inside, telling his sister to go out and bring in the fish. She was much surprised and cried out:

“Where did you get it? I hope you did not steal it.”

Boy-man replied that it came from their lake and that he found it on the ice. Surely all the fish in its waters belonged to him.

“But how did you get it?” urged his sister.

“Never mind; get it ready for our dinner,” was the reply.

Finding he would say nothing more, his sister did as she was bidden and the big fish was soon cooked. How sweet it tasted! It was no wonder the girl forgot everything else but the delicious dinner, and she asked her brother no more questions.

The very next morning he took his ball and started for the lake once more. He had great sport as he went. Sometimes he would hurl the ball far ahead of him; again, he would toss it high into the air above his head; and then he would throw it behind him and run back to get it, as though he did not care which way he went, so long as he was moving swiftly.

How fast he did run, to be sure! No one could have kept up with him, no matter how hard he might try.

Pretty soon Boy-man reached the lake. There were the four men fishing just as they had been the day before. “Now for more sport!” he thought. He took his ball and tossed it so far that it dropped into the hole in the ice around which the men were fishing. Then he called out:

“Please get my ball and give it to me.”

“Indeed we will not,” they answered with an ugly laugh. At the same time they took their spears and pushed the ball under the ice. When Boy-man saw what they had done, he cried out:

“Very well. Now look out!”

In a moment he had rushed upon the men and pushed every one of them into the water. At the same time the ball bounded out upon the ice. Boy-man picked it up and, tossing it ahead of him, ran gaily homeward. He moved so fast that he reached it ahead of the ball. There he stayed quietly and rested for the remainder of the day without saying anything about what had happened.
In the meantime the four men managed to get out of the water, but they were icy cold and wet and very angry.

“It is of no use to run after him,” they said, “but we will yet punish him as he de serves.”

Early the next morning they got ready to seek Boy-man in his own home. Their old mother begged them to think no more of revenge. She said:

“That little boy is certainly a manito, or he could not do such wonderful things.” Her sons did not listen to this good advice, but with such a terribly warcry as nearly frightened all of the birds of that neighborhood out of their feathers, they went in search of Boy-man.

When they were still a long way off he heard them coming, but he was not the least bit troubled. By and by his sister caught the sound of snow-shoes moving over the snow. She went to the door and there in the distance she saw the four big men coming toward the lodge. She was terribly frightened for her brother had told her he had made someone very angry the day before.

“Oh!” she cried, running to her brother. “That man is coming, but he has made him self into four.”

“Never mind! Get me something to eat,” was the cool answer.
“What! Can you eat now?” she asked in wonder.

His only answer was to tell her to do as he had asked her to and be quick.

She set the food before her brother and he began to eat. By this time the four brothers had reached the door. Just as they were about to lift the curtain, Boy-man turned his dish over. Instantly the doorway was blocked by a big stone.

The men outside, more angry than ever, began to pound and hammer with all their might. After a while they managed to make a small hole through the stone. Then one of the brothers, putting his face to the hole, rolled his eye round in a fearful way as though he expected to scare Boy-man by doing so.

But the little fellow went on with his meal in the coolest way, only stopping to send an arrow from his bow to the door. It entered the man’s head and he fell back quite dead.

“Number one,” remarked Boy-man quietly, and he paid no further heed to what he had done.

And flow a second face appeared in the opening and a second arrow flew from Boy man’s bow. The head disappeared and the man fell as his brother had fallen. The tiny master of the lodge cried out, “Number two,” and went on eating.

He treated the remaining two brothers in the same way. Then he told his sister to go outside and look about. As soon as she had done so, she hurried back, saying:

“Why, there are four of them!”

“Yes, and there will always be that number,” he replied.

With these words, he himself went out and lifted the bodies from the ground. He gave a push to each, placing the first one with his face toward the East, the second toward the North, the third toward the West, and the fourth toward the South, and sent them flying in all directions.

The rest of the winter passed away quietly for Boy-man and his sister. But when spring came and the bright sun shone down upon the fresh green earth, the little fellow told his sister to make him some new arrows. She did as he told her, and fashioned them in the most careful way possible. She gave them to her brother, saying:

“Do not shoot into the lake, I pray you.”

But Boy-man paid no heed to her words; he only turned toward the water and shot one of his arrows. Then he waded into the lake deeper and deeper. As his sister watched him, she cried out in great fright:

“Come back! O do come back!” He did not answer her, but cried out:

“You of the red fins! Come and swallow me!”

Close beside Boy-man a great fish instantly appeared and swallowed him. The poor sister standing on the shore was terribly frightened; but even as her brother was disappearing down the monster’s throat he called out to her:


What could Boy-man mean by this? His sister did not understand.

“I wonder if it is an old moccasin that he wants?” she said to herself.

She hurried back to the lodge and got the moccasin. Tying it to a string fastened to a tree on the shore, she threw it into the water.

The monster fish saw it.

“What is that?” he asked.

“It is a great dainty. Taste it,” Boy-man answered.

The big fish did not question the strange command but hastened to obey. As soon as he had fairly swallowed it, Boy-man, who was laughing softly, seized the string and pulled himself ashore.

The sister was very much surprised to see the fish coming nearer and nearer, till at last he landed clear up on the beach. She was still more astonished when the monster seemed to speak, saying:

“Hurry up and let me out of this horrid place.”

But no! It was the voice of her own brother. The girl was used to doing whatever he told her, so she at once took a knife and cut open the side of the fish. Out through this queer door stepped Boy-man.

“Cut up the fish and dry it,” he ordered. “We shall have enough to eat for the whole spring.”

“My brother is certainly wonderful,” thought his sister after this thing had happened. One evening they were sitting together in the lodge in the darkness when the girl said to her brother:

“It seems strange to me that you who have so much power cannot do more than Ko ko, who gets all his light from the moon. It shines or not, as it pleases.”

“Do you not think that is enough?” asked Boy-man.

“Yes,” was the answer, “if it did not stay in the clouds, but would come into the lodge when we wish.”

“You shall see that we have a light,” declared her brother.

He stretched himself on a mat by the doorway and began to sing a chant to the fire flies. They heard his voice and hastened to obey his call. First, one by one, then in great swarms, they came flying into the lodge till it was ablaze with their soft and beautiful light.

Boy-man and his sister looked at each other with trust and love in their faces. From that time they lived together in the little lodge in great happiness, and never did a doubt of the other enter the mind of either one.

Wade, Mary Hazelton. Indian Fairy Tales As Told to the Children of the Wiguam. 1906.

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