My first foray into speaking the English language as a child, apart from listening to my parents talk and learning the odd word from telly programmes, were the Ladybird ‘Well-loved tales’ series. They were graded 1 to 3, according to difficulty. My mom would get them from a store in old PJ as well as the Anthonian book store in Brickfields. The first book I read (grade 1, of course) was The Three Little Pigs, which I was taught to read with different voice pitches for the various characters in the story. No videotaped evidence, phew.

As I got on to the higher grade books, there was the brothers Grimm’s Rumpelstiltskin. It’s the one with the young common woman that was married off to a king who expects her to spin straw into gold by the first anniversary of their marriage, due to the folly of her mom. And as we all know, she was pregnant by the end of the year and did manage to turn straw into gold but with the aid of an imp, who, in return, demands possession of her baby if she couldn’t guess its name (it=the imp lah).

A few years later, one of the prizes i received at Sri Petaling was a book called Cerita-cerita Rakyat Inggeris. It was part of a series, some of which I had read as mom would borrow some from her school library, which included Cerita-cerita Rakyat Berber and some other countries that i can’t remember. Back to the book of English tales (but in Bahasa), one of the stories in it was again a version of Rumpelstiltskin. This one happened to be a fav of mine and my brother due to its peculiarity.

The tale was called Tom Tit Tot, which was the name of the imp as opposed to the Teutonic-sounding Ladybird tome. the girl’s mom made apum as opposed to pies, which she left on the window sill, waiting for it to ‘come back’ – which was the root of the girl’s problem as she thought by eating them all, it would all err… ‘come’ back. It was an absolute joy reading the tale of Tom Tit Tot as it included bits of “ekornya berputar-putar dangan ligat” and of course, “apum“. The chapter on Tom Tit Tot had a few woodcut illustrations, one of which is shown on the left – this one obviously the bit when Tom Tit Tot agreed to spin the “jerami” into “emas“.

But the bit that takes the cake was how she learnt of the imp’s name. So, on the final night when the imp returned to taunt the poor girl (who was merely feigning ignorance), we saw more of “ekor berputar lebih ligat“, until she said this to the overconfident tail-twirling imp:

Just look at its face. Priceless.

Fast forward to the present day, I googled Tom Tit Tot to find that it actually is an old English tale (most of which revolved around a main character that is always named Jack) which was featured in a book by Joseph Jacobs called English Fairy Tales. You could read the tale in its original East Anglian form here, which does include the same woodcut illustrations that came in the Malay version that i have.

And to think it really did go, “nimmy nimmy not, yar name’s Tom Tit Tot!”.