English Fairy Tales (Joseph Jacobs)

Week 12: England - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

Tom Tit Tot

Reading time: 6 minutes. Word count: 1100 words.

Well, you know of course that someone is going to come to her rescue - a mysterious, nameless creature who comes knocking at her door...

However, all of a sudden she heard a sort of a knocking low down on the door. She upped and oped it, and what should she see but a small little black thing with a long tail. That looked up at her right curious, and that said: 'What are you a-crying for?’ ‘What’s that to you?’ says she. ‘Never you mind,’ that said, ‘but tell me what you’re a-crying for.’ ‘That won’t do me no good if I do,’ says she. ‘You don’t know that,’ that said, and twirled that’s tail round.

‘Well,’ says she, ‘that won’t do no harm, if that don’t do no good,’ and she upped and told about the pies, and the skeins, and everything. ‘This is what I’ll do,’ says the little black thing. ‘I’ll come to your window every morning and take the flax and bring it spun at night.’ ‘What’s your pay?’ says she.

That looked out of the corner of that’s eyes, and that said: ‘I’ll give you three guesses every night to guess my name, and if you haven’t guessed it before the month’s up you shall be mine.’ Well, she thought, she’d be sure to guess that’s name before the month was up. ‘All right,’ says she, ‘I agree.’ ‘All right,’ that says, and law! how that twirled that’s tail.

Well, the next day, her husband took her into the room, and there was the flax and the day’s food. ‘Now, there’s the flax,’ says he, ‘and if that ain’t spun up this night, off goes your head.’ And then he went out and locked the door. He’d hardly gone, when there was a knocking against the window. She upped and she oped it, and there sure enough was the little old thing sitting on the ledge.

‘Where’s the flax?’ says he. ‘Here it be,’ says she. And she gave it to him. Well, come the evening a knocking came again to the window. She upped and she oped it, and there was the little old thing with five skeins of flax on his arm. ‘Here it be,’ says he, and he gave it to her.

‘Now, what’s my name?’ says he. ‘What, is that Bill?’ says she. ‘Noo, that ain’t,’ says he, and he twirled his tail. ‘Is that Ned?’ says she. ‘Noo, that ain’t,’ says he, and he twirled his tail. ‘Well, is that Mark?’ says she. ‘Noo, that ain’t,’ says he, and he twirled his tail harder, and away he flew.

Well, when her husband came in, there were the five skeins ready for him. ‘I see I shan’t have to kill you tonight, my dear,’ says he; ‘you’ll have your food and your flax in the morning,’ says he, and away he goes.

Well, every day the flax and the food were brought, and every day that there little black impet used to come mornings and evenings. And all the day the girl sat trying to think of names to say to it when it came at night. But she never hit on the right one. And as it got towards the end of the month, the impet began to look so maliceful, and that twirled that’s tail faster and faster each time she gave a guess.

At last it came to the last day but one. The impet came at night along with the five skeins, and that said: ‘What, ain’t you got my name yet?’ ‘Is that Nicodemus?’ says she. 'Noo, ‘t ain’t,’ that says. ‘Is that Sammle?’ says she. ‘Noo, ‘t ain’t,’ that says. ‘A-well, is that Methusalem?’ says she. ‘Noo, ‘t ain’t that neither,’ that says.

Then that looks at her with that’s eyes like a coal of fire, and that says: ‘Woman, there’s only tomorrow night, and then you’ll be mine!’ And away it flew. Well, she felt that horrid. However, she heard the king coming along the passage. In he came, and when he sees the five skeins, he says, says he: ‘Well, my dear,’ says he. ‘I don’t see but what you’ll have your skeins ready tomorrow night as well, and as I reckon I shan’t have to kill you, I’ll have supper in here tonight.’ So they brought supper, and another stool for him, and down the two sat.

Well, he hadn’t eaten but a mouthful or so, when he stops and begins to laugh. ‘What is it?’ says she.

‘A-why,’ says he, ‘I was out a-hunting today, and I got away to a place in the wood I’d never seen before. And there was an old chalk-pit. And I heard a kind of a sort of humming. So I got off my hobby [small horse] , and I went right quiet to the pit, and I looked down. Well, what should there be but the funniest little black thing you ever set eyes on. And what was that doing, but that had a little spinning-wheel, and that was spinning wonderful fast, and twirling that’s tail. And as that span that sang:

‘Nimmy nimmy not
My name’s Tom Tit Tot.’

Well, when the girl heard this, she felt as if she could have jumped out of her skin for joy, but she didn’t say a word. Next day that there little thing looked so maliceful when he came for the flax. And when night came she heard that knocking against the window panes. She oped the window, and that come right in on the ledge. That was grinning from ear to ear, and Oo! that’s tail was twirling round so fast. ‘What’s my name?’ that says, as that gave her the skeins. ‘Is that Solomon?’ she says, pretending to be afeard. ‘Noo, ‘tain’t,’ that says, and that came further into the room. ‘Well, is that Zebedee?’ says she again. ‘Noo, ‘tain’t,’ says the impet. And then that laughed and twirled that’s tail till you couldn’t hardly see it.

‘Take time, woman,’ that says; ‘next guess, and you’re mine.’ And that stretched out that’s black hands at her. Well, she backed a step or two, and she looked at it, and then she laughed out, and says she, pointing her finger at it:

‘Nimmy nimmy not
Your name’s Tom Tit Tot.’

Well, when that heard her, that gave an awful shriek and away that flew into the dark, and she never saw it any more.

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • who did all the spinning for her? what was his price?
  • what did the woman have to do in order to avoid paying the price?
  • how did the woman manage to find the answer she needed?

Source: English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs (1890). Weblink.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM