In a wealthy estate in the North Country of England, an abusive chimney sweeper, Mr. Grimes, sends his mischievous apprentice, Tom, into a chimney. The boy becomes lost in a labyrinth of interconnected tunnels and eventually exits through the fireplace in a little girl’s bedroom, where he sees (for the first time in his life) pictures of Jesus Christ. The girl, Ellie, wakes up suddenly and screams, prompting Tom to flee through a window. He makes his way to a neighboring town, to the house of the local schoolteacher, who gives him food and a place to sleep. That night, Tom sleepwalks to a stream and in effect drowns himself. In a symbolic baptism, he washes out of his soot-covered body and becomes a water-baby among the fairies.
During the next phase of his transformation, Tom plays in the country stream, tormenting crabs and other water creatures. A storm comes, causing the stream to swell, and Tom follows the other creatures out to sea, where he eventually encounters Ellie and Professor Ptthmllnsprts fishing on the shore. After Tom escapes from their net, Ellie falls and hits her head on a rock. A week later, the fairies carry her away. Meanwhile, Tom discovers a school of water-babies. They introduce him to Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid, who punishes him for his cruelty to the sea creatures. Later, he meets Madame Doasyouwouldbedoneby, a loving surrogate mother. He steals her candy, however, and his guilt causes prickles to grow on his body. Finally, he is...
(The entire section is 451 words.)