从前有个裁缝，他儿子个子矮小得只有大拇指那么大，因此人们叫他"大拇哥"。 尽管大拇哥个头小，可他挺勇敢。 有一天，他对父亲说："父亲，我要去周游世界。""好哇，我的儿子，"老裁缝一边说一边拿来一根编织用的长针，在尾端用蜡做了个圆柄，"带上这把剑备用吧。"小裁缝打算和家人一起再吃顿饭就出发，于是他蹦蹦跳跳来到厨房，想看看妈妈为这最后一顿饭做了些什么。 "妈妈，今天吃什么饭菜？""自己看吧。"妈妈说。 饭菜已经做好了，放在灶台上。 于是大拇哥跳上灶台朝盘子里看。 可是他把脖子伸得太长了，盘子里冒出的热气一下子把他带进了烟囱，又在空中转悠了一阵才落到地面上来。 小裁缝一看自己已经在外面了，便开始四处游历。 他来到本行一位大师傅家，但那里的伙食不是很好。
"女主人，假如你不改善伙食，"大拇哥说，"我就不住在这里，而且明早还要在你家门上用粉笔写上：'土豆太多肉太少，土豆先生再见了！'""那你想吃点啥呢，蚂蚱？"女主人一边生气地说，一边抓起一块擦碗布去打他。 可是小裁缝敏捷地藏到了顶针下面，探出脑袋，朝女主人直吐舌头。 女主人一把抓起顶针想抓住大拇哥，可他又跳进了布堆里；等女主人抖开布来找他时，他又钻进了桌上的一道裂缝。 "喂，女主人！"他探出头来喊道。 等女主人一巴掌打过来，他一下就缩到抽屉里去了。 当然，女主人最后还是抓住了他，把他赶了出去。
小裁缝继续旅行。 他来到一片大森林里，碰到一伙强盗正在谋划怎样盗窃国王的财宝。 他们一见小裁缝就想："这么小的人可以从锁眼里钻进宝库，我们就用不着撬门了。"于是，其中一人冲他喊："喂！勇敢的哥利亚，敢跟我们去宝库吗？你可以溜进去，然后把钱扔出来给我们。"大拇哥想了想说了声"行。"就跟着他们来到宝库。 他把门从上到下地检查了一遍，看有没有裂缝。 很快他就找到一条足以让他钻进去的缝。 可就在他打算爬进去时，门口的两个卫兵看到了他，其中一个说："那只蜘蛛爬在那儿多难看呀，我来打死它。""让它去吧，"另一个说，"又不碍你的事。"就这样，大拇哥安全爬进了宝库，打开了一扇窗子。 强盗们正在下面等他，他把一袋又一袋金子扔出窗外。 他干得正起劲时，听到国王来检查宝库了，赶紧藏了起来。 国王发现有几袋金子不见了，可不明白是怎样丢的，因为门上的锁和销子似乎都没人动过，戒备也挺森严的。 他临走时对卫兵说："小心点，有人盯上这里的钱财了。"所以，当大拇哥又开始干时，卫兵听到了钱被挪动的声音和金子"叮叮当当"的碰撞声，于是立刻跑进来想抓住盗贼。 但小裁缝听到了卫兵的跑步声，早在他们到来之前就跳到一个角落里，用一袋金子把自己挡住了。 卫兵没见到一个人影，只听到有人在嘲笑地说："我在这儿呢！"卫兵跟着声音追过去时，小裁缝早就跑到另一袋金子下面，冲他们喊："唉呀，我在这儿呢！"就这样，大拇哥把卫兵捉弄得精疲力尽，最后只好离开了。 他接着将所有金子都扔到了窗外。 他使出全身力气把最后一袋抛起来，然后敏捷地跳上袋子跟着弹了出来。 强盗们对他十分钦佩，"你真是个勇敢的英雄。"
他收好那把剑，告别了强盗，继续上路。 起先他去给大师傅当学徒，可他不喜欢，最后在一家酒店当起了男侍。 那些女佣可受不了啦，因为他把她们偷偷从菜盘里拿了些什么、从地窖里偷走了什么统统告发到她们老板那里，而她们却看不到他。 他们说："你等着瞧吧，我们会找你算这笔账的！"然后窜通一气捉弄他。 不久后的一天，一个女佣正在花园里割草，她看到大拇哥在草地上蹦来跳去，就赶紧割，一把将他卷进了草垛，然后用布捆好，悄悄拿去喂牛了。 牛群里有头大黑牛，一口把大拇哥吞了下去，倒也没伤着他什么。 牛肚子里黑乎乎的，没有一点光亮，大拇哥不习惯，于是在有人挤奶时大叫起来：
可挤奶的声音太大了，没人听得懂他在说什么。 主人走过来说："明天把那头牛给杀了。"大拇哥急得在牛肚里大喊大叫："先让我出来！我在它肚子里呢！"主人听得真切，可就是不知道声音是从哪里来的。 "你在哪儿呢？"主人问。 "在黑暗中。"可是主人没明白就走了。
第二天，黑牛被杀了。 幸运的是大拇哥没挨刀割就被扔到做香肠的那堆肉里去了。 当屠夫过来打算处理这些肉时，大拇哥又开始大嚷："别切得太狠！我在肉堆里呢！"可刀切的声音盖过了他的叫嚷，谁都没理睬他。 这下他可麻烦了。 不过麻烦激发人的智慧，他在刀的起落之间上窜下跳，竟然毫发未损。 可他暂时还逃不开，只好和那些咸肉丁一起被塞进黑香肠里去了。 他在里面被挤得要死，而且还被挂到烟囱里让烟熏，日子真难过啊！
冬天里的某一天，主人想用黑香肠款待客人，于是把它从烟囱里取了出来。 女主人在切香肠时，大拇哥小心翼翼，不敢把头伸出去看，唯恐被切掉一块。 他终于找到机会，给自己清出一条路逃了出来。
小裁缝在这家受尽了苦，所以不愿意再呆下去，立刻启程上路了，然而他自由了没多久。 他来到野外，一只狐狸不假思索地把他抓起来塞进了嘴里。 "嗨，狐狸先生，"小裁缝喊道，"我粘在你喉咙里了，让我出去。""可以，你都不够填我的牙齿缝。不过你要是答应把你父亲院子里的家禽给我吃，我就放了你。""非常愿意。"大拇哥回答。 于是狐狸放了他，还把他背回了家。 父亲和儿子团聚了，心甘情愿地将家里养的鸡鸭全部给了狐狸。 "我给你带回来一块钱作为补偿。"大拇哥说着将他在旅行中挣的金币交给了父亲。
A certain tailor had a son, who happened to be small, and no bigger than a Thumb, and on this account he was always called Thumbling. He had, however, some courage in him, and said to his father, "Father, I must and will go out into the world." - "That's right, my son," said the old man, and took a long darning-needle and made a knob of sealing-wax on it at the candle, "and there is a sword for thee to take with thee on the way." Then the little tailor wanted to have one more meal with them, and hopped into the kitchen to see what his lady mother had cooked for the last time. It was, however, just dished up, and the dish stood on the hearth. Then he said, "Mother, what is there to eat to-day?" - "See for thyself," said his mother. So Thumbling jumped on to the hearth, and peeped into the dish, but as he stretched his neck in too far the steam from the food caught hold of him, and carried him up the chimney. He rode about in the air on the steam for a while, until at length he sank down to the ground again. Now the little tailor was outside in the wide world, and he travelled about, and went to a master in his craft, but the food was not good enough for him. "Mistress, if you give us no better food," said Thumbling, "I will go away, and early to-morrow morning I will write with chalk on the door of your house, 'Too many potatoes, too little meat! Farewell, Mr. Potato-King.'" - "What wouldst thou have forsooth, grasshopper?" said the mistress, and grew angry, and seized a dishcloth, and was just going to strike him; but my little tailor crept nimbly under a thimble, peeped out from beneath it, and put his tongue out at the mistress. She took up the thimble, and wanted to get hold of him, but little Thumbling hopped into the cloth, and while the mistress was opening it out and looking for him, he got into a crevice in the table. "Ho, ho, lady mistress," cried he, and thrust his head out, and when she began to strike him he leapt down into the drawer. At last, however, she caught him and drove him out of the house.
The little tailor journeyed on and came to a great forest, and there he fell in with a band of robbers who had a design to steal the King's treasure. When they saw the little tailor, they thought, "A little fellow like that can creep through a key-hole and serve as picklock to us." - "Hollo," cried one of them, "thou giant Goliath, wilt thou go to the treasure-chamber with us? Thou canst slip thyself in and throw out the money." Thumbling reflected a while, and at length he said, "yes," and went with them to the treasure-chamber. Then he looked at the doors above and below, to see if there was any crack in them. It was not long before he espied one which was broad enough to let him in. He was therefore about to get in at once, but one of the two sentries who stood before the door, observed him, and said to the other, "What an ugly spider is creeping there; I will kill it." - "Let the poor creature alone," said the other; "it has done thee no harm." Then Thumbling got safely through the crevice into the treasure-chamber, opened the window beneath which the robbers were standing, and threw out to them one thaler after another. When the little tailor was in the full swing of his work, he heard the King coming to inspect his treasure-chamber, and crept hastily into a hiding-place. The King noticed that several solid thalers were missing, but could not conceive who could have stolen them, for locks and bolts were in good condition, and all seemed well guarded. Then he went away again, and said to the sentries, "Be on the watch, some one is after the money." When therefore Thumbling recommenced his labours, they heard the money moving, and a sound of klink, klink, klink. They ran swiftly in to seize the thief, but the little tailor, who heard them coming, was still swifter, and leapt into a corner and covered himself with a thaler, so that nothing could be seen of him, and at the same time he mocked the sentries and cried, "Here am I!" The sentries ran thither, but as they got there, he had already hopped into another corner under a thaler, and was crying, "Ho, ho, here am I!" The watchmen sprang there in haste, but Thumbling had long ago got into a third corner, and was crying, "Ho, ho, here am I!" And thus he made fools of them, and drove them so long round about the treasure-chamber that they were weary and went away. Then by degrees he threw all the thalers out, dispatching the last with all his might, then hopped nimbly upon it, and flew down with it through the window. The robbers paid him great compliments. "Thou art a valiant hero," said they; "wilt thou be our captain?"
Thumbling, however, declined, and said he wanted to see the world first. They now divided the booty, but the little tailor only asked for a kreuzer because he could not carry more.
Then he once more buckled on his sword, bade the robbers goodbye, and took to the road. First, he went to work with some masters, but he had no liking for that, and at last he hired himself as man-servant in an inn. The maids, however, could not endure him, for he saw all they did secretly, without their seeing him, and he told their master and mistress what they had taken off the plates, and carried away out of the cellar, for themselves. Then said they, "Wait, and we will pay thee off!" and arranged with each other to play him a trick. Soon afterwards when one of the maids was mowing in the garden, and saw Thumbling jumping about and creeping up and down the plants, she mowed him up quickly with the grass, tied all in a great cloth, and secretly threw it to the cows. Now amongst them there was a great black one, who swallowed him down without hurting him. Down below, however, it pleased him ill, for it was quite dark, neither was any candle burning. When the cow was being milked he cried,
"Strip, strap, strull,
Will the pail soon be full?"
But the noise of the milking prevented his being understood. After this the master of the house came into the cow-byre and said, "That cow shall be killed to-morrow." Then Thumbling was so alarmed that he cried out in a clear voice, "Let me out first, for I am shut up inside her." The master heard that quite well, but did not know from whence the voice came. "Where art thou?" asked he. "In the black one," answered Thumbling, but the master did not understand what that meant, and went out.
Next morning the cow was killed. Happily Thumbling did not meet with one blow at the cutting up and chopping; he got among the sausage-meat. And when the butcher came in and began his work, he cried out with all his might, "Don't chop too deep, don't chop too deep, I am amongst it." No one heard this because of the noise of the chopping-knife. Now poor Thumbling was in trouble, but trouble sharpens the wits, and he sprang out so adroitly between the blows that none of them touched him, and he escaped with a whole skin. But still he could not get away, there was nothing for it but to let himself be thrust into a black-pudding with the bits of bacon. His quarters there were rather confined, and besides that he was hung up in the chimney to be smoked, and there time did hang terribly heavy on his hands.
At length in winter he was taken down again, as the black-pudding had to be set before a guest. When the hostess was cutting it in slices, he took care not to stretch out his head too far lest a bit of it should be cut off; at last he saw his opportunity, cleared a passage for himself, and jumped out.
The little tailor, however, would not stay any longer in a house where he fared so ill, so at once set out on his journey again. But his liberty did not last long. In the open country he met with a fox who snapped him up in a fit of absence. "Hollo, Mr. Fox," cried the little tailor, "it is I who am sticking in your throat, set me at liberty again." - "Thou art right," answered the fox. "Thou art next to nothing for me, but if thou wilt promise me the fowls in thy father's yard I will let thee go." - "With all my heart," replied Thumbling. "Thou shalt have all the cocks and hens, that I promise thee." Then the fox let him go again, and himself carried him home. When the father once more saw his dear son, he willingly gave the fox all the fowls which he had. "For this I likewise bring thee a handsome bit of money," said Thumbling, and gave his father the kreuzer which he earned on his travels.
"But why did the fox get the poor chickens to eat?" - "Oh, you goose, your father would surely love his child far more than the fowls in the yard!"