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Fairy Tales

Ганс Андерсен

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Table of Contents

From the Pages of Fairy Tales

Title Page

Copyright Page

Hans Christian Andersen

The World of Hans Christian Andersen and His Fairy Tales

The Hans Christian Andersen We Never Knew

Translator’s Preface








































































Commentaries on the Tales

Inspired by Andersen’s


For Further Reading

Alphabetical Index of the Tales

From the Pages of Fairy Tales

“You see, ladies and gentlemen, Your Royal Majesty! You can never know what to expect from the real nightingale, but everything is determined in the artificial bird. It will be so-and-so, and no different! You can explain it; you can open it up and show the human thought—how the cylinders are placed, how they work, and how one follows the other!”

(from “The Nightingale,” page 10)

It’s an old innate law and privilege that when the moon is in the precise position it was last night, and the wind blows as it blew yesterday, then all will-o‘-the-wisps born at that hour and minute can become human beings.

(from “The Will-o’-the-Wisps Are in Town,” page 37)

“This is certainly an interesting tinderbox if it will give me what I want like this!”

(from “The Tinderbox,” page 90)

“I almost didn’t close my eyes the whole night! God knows what could have been in the bed? I was lying on something hard, so I am completely black and blue all over my body. It’s quite dreadful!”

(from “The Princess on the Pea,” page 107)

Way out at sea the water is as blue as the petals on the loveliest corn-flower, and as clear as the purest glass, but it’s very deep, deeper than any anchor rope can reach. Many church steeples would have to be placed end to end to reach from the bottom up to the surface and beyond. Down there the sea people live.

(from “The Little Mermaid,” page 188)

The emperor came to them with his most distinguished cavaliers. Both swindlers lifted one arm in the air as if they were holding something and said, “See, here are the pants. Here’s the jacket, and here’s the cape!” They continued on and on. “They are as light as cobwebs. You might think you weren’t wearing anything, but that’s the beauty of this fabric.”

(from “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” page 215)

In the middle of a garden there was a rose tree that was completely full of roses, and in one of these, the most beautiful of them all, lived an elf. He was so tiny that no human eye could see him. He had a bedroom behind every rose petal. He was as well formed and lovely as any child could be and had wings from his shoulders all the way down to his feet. What a lovely fragrance there was in his rooms, and how clear and lovely the walls were! Of course they were the fine, pink rose petals.

(from “The Rose Elf,” page 289)

Dance she did and dance she must, dance in the dark night. The shoes carried her away over thorns and stubble that scratched her until she bled. She danced over the heath until she came to a lonely little cottage. She knew that the executioner lived there....

(from “The Red Shoes,” page 395)

The poor duckling who had been last out of the egg and who looked so dreadful was bitten, pushed, and made fun of, both by the ducks and the chickens. “He’s too big,” they all said, and the turkey rooster, who was born with spurs and thought he was an emperor, blew himself up like a clipper ship under full sail, went right up to him, gobbled at him, and turned red in the face. The poor duckling didn’t know whether he was coming or going, and was very sad because he was so ugly. Indeed, he was the laughing stock of the entire hen yard.

(from “The Ugly Duckling,” pages 485-486)

Once upon a time there was a darning needle that was so refined and stuck-up that she was under the illusion that she was a sewing needle.

(from “The Darning Needle,” page 555)

Everything was once again where it was before except for the two old portraits of the peddler and the goose girl. They had been blown up to the wall in the great hall, and when someone who was an art expert said that they were painted by a master, they were repaired and remained hanging there. No one knew before that they were any good, and how would you know that? Now they hung in a place of honor. “Everything in its proper place” and eventually that’s where everything ends up. Eternity is long—longer than this story.

(from “Everything in Its Proper Place,” page 597)

Published by Barnes & Noble Books

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Hans Christian Andersen published his first collection of fairy tales in 1835,

and continued to issue subsequent volumes until 1872, three years before

his death. Marte Hvam Hult’s new translation is based on the first

five volumes of H. C. Andersens Eventyr ( 1963-1967) .

Published in 2007 by Barnes & Noble Classics with new Introduction,

Notes, Biography, Chronology, Inspired By, Comments & Questions,

and For Further Reading.

Introduction, Commentaries on the Tales, and For Further Reading

Copyright © 2007 by Jack Zipes.

Note on Hans Christian Andersen, The World of Hans Christian Andersen

and his Fairy Tales, Textual Annotations, Inspired by Andersen’s Fairy Tales,

Comments & Questions, and Marte Hvam Hult’s Original

Translation of Andersen’s Fairy Tales

Copyright © 2007 by Barnes & Noble, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or

transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including

photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without

the prior written permission of the publisher.

Barnes & Noble Classics and the Barnes & Noble Classics

colophon are trademarks of Barnes & Noble, Inc.

Fairy Tales

ISBN-13: 978-1-59308-260-4 ISBN-10: 1-59308-260-6

eISBN : 978-1-411-43216-1

LC Control Number 2006925199

Produced and published in conjunction with:

Fine Creative Media, Inc.

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Michael J. Fine, President and Publisher

Printed in the United States of America


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Hans Christian Andersen

The future author of the classic stories “The Ugly Duckling,” “The Little Mermaid,” and “The Red Shoes,” Hans Christian Andersen was born on April 2, 1805, into humble circumstances in the Danish city of Odense. His father, Hans Andersen, was an impoverished cobbler who had taught himself to read and write; his mother, illiterate and superstitious, worked as a washerwoman and died an alcoholic. From an early age, Hans shared his father’s love of the theater. When Hans was a boy, he and his father built a puppet theater, where Hans would enact dramas of his own invention. Desperate for money, in 1812 Hans Andersen Sr. was paid to take another man’s place in the army of Denmark, allied with the French in the Napoleonic Wars. When he returned home, he was sick and suffering from an illness that would prove fatal in 1816. Before his mother remarried, young Hans worked in a factory, but the family’s economic woes continued.

In 1819 Hans—fourteen years old and with little education, but endowed with a remarkable singing voice and a gift for performance—left Odense to seek his fortune in Copenhagen as a singer, dancer, or actor. Through his talents and ambition, as well as a certain audacity, he attracted wealthy patrons who arranged singing lessons and a small stipend for him. In 1820 he joined the choir of the Royal Theater, one of whose directors, Jonas Collin, had Hans sent to a private school in Slagelse, 50 miles from Copenhagen. When he returned to the city in 1827, he maintained his relationship with Collin, became a frequent dinner guest at the homes of the city’s elite, and blossomed as a writer. His first poem, “The Dying Child,” appeared in 1827, and two years later he published a travel sketch in the style of German Romantic writer E. T. A. Hoffmann, who had a great influence on him.

In 1833 and 1834 Andersen visited France, Switzerland, and Italy, where he set his first successful novel, The Improvisatore (1835). He began writing fairy tales in the folk tradition and published them as Fairy Tales Told for Children ( 1835) , a volume that included “The Princess on the Pea” and “Little Claus and Big Claus.” The same year he produced a second installment of stories including “Thumbelina.” Thereafter, for the rest of his life he published a new volume of tales every year or two. Among the best known are “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” “The Nightingale,” and “The Little Match Girl.” He also published several travelogues, dozens of plays, six novels, and three autobiographies.

For inspiration, Andersen drew on the people he knew as well as on traditional folk tales. His unique style—his inventive, entertaining stories appeal to children and adults alike—at—tracted many admirers, including the Danish king, who, when Andersen was a young man, granted him a royal annuity. Andersen was an international celebrity, and the royalties from his books made him wealthy. An avid traveler, he made frequent sojourns throughout Europe, most frequently to the cultured city of Weimar, Germany. Hans Christian Andersen died on August 4, 1875, in Copenhagen.

The World of Hans Christian Andersen and His Fairy Tales

1805   Hans Christian Andersen is born on April 2, in the Danish city of Odense. His father, Hans Andersen, is a cobbler ; his mother, Anne Marie Andersdatter, works as a washerwoman. 1812   Hans Andersen Sr. leaves his family to serve in the Danish army at a time when Denmark is an ally of Napoleon. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm publish the first volume of Children ’s and Household Tales.  1813   Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard is born. 1814   Hans Andersen Sr. returns to Odense, suffering from an illness contracted while he was in the army. Denmark cedes control of Norway to Sweden. 1815   The Grimm brothers publish the second volume of Children’s and Household Tales.  1816   Hans Andersen Sr. dies. Young Hans takes a factory job to help support the household. 1818   Anne Marie remarries, but the family’s financial situation does not improve. Endowed with an exceptional singing voice, Hans earns money singing in the salons of the town’s educated middle class. 1819   Young Hans leaves Odense and travels to Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen, where he pursues a career as a singer, dancer, and actor. He solicits leading figures in the city’s arts establishment before winning the patronage of composer C. E. F. Weyse, among others; he is provided with singing lessons and a small stipend. 1820   His stipend depleted, a desperate Andersen joins Copenhagen’s Royal Theater choir and lands several minor roles with the company. 1822   A play written by Andersen is rejected by the theater. With the help of one of the theater’s directors, Jonas Collin, Andersen obtains a scholarship that allows him to attend a private school in Slagelse, 50 miles from Copenhagen. The Grimms publish a third volume of Children’s and Household Tales.  German Romantic author E. T. A. Hoffmann dies.1827   Returning to Copenhagen and still under the patronage of Jonas Collin, Andersen begins dining with the cultured families of the cosmopolitan city and develops a lifelong friendship with his patron’s son, Edvard Collin. He publishes his first work, a poem called “The Dying Child.” 1829   Andersen passes entrance exams for the University of Copenhagen but does not enroll. He publishes his first book, A Walking Tour from the Holmen Canal to the Eastern Point of Amager. His first play, Love at St. Nicholas Tower,  is performed at the Royal Theater.1831   He makes his first major trip to Germany and meets many important authors and writers, including Ludwig Tieck, a German writer of fairy tales. 1832   Andersen writes The Book of My Life, the first of three autobiographies he will produce; it will not be published until 1926. The second part of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust  is published posthumously.1833   Andersen’s mother, overcome by alcoholism, dies. During this year and the next, Andersen travels to Germany, Paris, Switzerland, and Italy. Slavery is abolished in the British Empire. 1835   The Improvisatore, an autobiographical novel set in Italy, is so successful that it is immediately published in German . Andersen’s first booklet of fairy tales, Fairy Tales Told for Children, is published in May; the volume includes “The Tinderbox,” “Little Claus and Big Claus,” and “The Princess on the Pea.” In December he publishes a second booklet of Fairy Tales  that includes “Thumbelina” and “The Naughty Boy.” American novelist1836   Andersen’s second autobiographical novel, O. T.: Life in Denmark, is published. Charles Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers   begins to be published in monthly installments.1837   A third booklet of Andersen’s Fairy Tales is published, this one containing “The Little Mermaid” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” A third autobiographical novel, Only a Fiddler,  is published.1838   The King of Denmark awards Andersen an annual grant that allows him to concentrate on writing. He publishes the first booklet of a new collection of Fairy Tales Told for Children that includes “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” and “The Wild Swans.” Dickens’s Oliver Twist is a best-seller in England. Naturalist and artist John James Audubon completes publication of the four volumes of The Birds of America.  1839   The second booklet of the new Fairy Tales collection, including “The Flying Trunk” and “The Storks,” is published . 1840   Andersen’s plays The Mulatto, which dramatizes the evils of slavery, and The Moorish Maiden  debut at the Royal Theater. During this year and the next, he travels to Italy, Greece, and Turkey.1842   Andersen publishes the third booklet of the new collection of Fairy Tales; it includes “The Rose Elf” and “The Swineherd.” He publishes the travel book A Poet’s  Bazaar.1843   Dickens publishes A Christmas Carol. German poet Friedrich Hölderlin dies. English critic John Ruskin publishes the first volume of his critical work Modern Painters.  The Tivoli Gardens open in Copenhagen.1844  New Fairy Tales,  a collection of tales containing “The Ugly Duckling” and “The Nightingale,” is published. Andersen makes his first visit to Weimar, Germany, a cultured city to which he will return repeatedly in the years that follow.1845   He publishes a second collection of New Fairy Tales,  which includes “The Snow Queen” and “The Spruce Tree,” and a third collection, which includes “The Red Shoes” and “The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep.”1847   He produces a third volume of New Fairy Tales; it includes “The Shadow.” Andersen’s second autobiography , The True Story of My Life,  is published in German and is shortly translated into English. Andersen visits England and meets Dickens.1848   He publishes a fourth volume of New Fairy Tales, which includes “The Little Match Girl,” and a patriotic novel, The Two Baronesses. Frederick VII becomes the Danish king. Denmark goes to war with Germany and Prussia over control of the region Schleswig-Holstein. German political theorist and revolutionary Karl Marx produces his Communist Manifesto.  1851  In Sweden, a travel narrative of Andersen’s visit to that country, is published. German-French poet Heinrich Heine publishes Romanzero. American writer Herman Melville publishes Moby-Dick.  1852   Andersen publishes Stories, which includes “It’s Perfectly True!” Dickens begins monthly serialization of Bleak House. German playwright Christian Friedrich Hebbel’s Agnes Bernauer  debuts.1853   Andersen publishes a second collection of Stories  that includes “Everything in Its Proper Place.”1855  The Fairy Tale of My Life, Andersen’s third and final autobiography , is published. Kierkegaard dies. American poet Walt Whitman publishes Leaves of Grass.  1857   Andersen publishes the novel To Be or Not to Be. 1858   Andersen publishes the first two volumes of the series New Fairy Tales and Stories;  included are ” ‘Something’” and “The Bog King’s Daughter.”1859   A third volume of New Fairy Tales and Stories,  including “The Girl Who Stepped on Bread,” is published.1860   English playwright J. M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan,  is born.1861   Andersen publishes the first volume in a second series of New Fairy Tales and Stories;  included are “The Snow-man” and “What Father Does Is Always Right.”1862   He publishes a second volume in the second series of New Fairy Tales and Stories;  included are “The Ice Maiden” and “The Butterfly.”1863   Andersen publishes the travel book In Spain.  1864   Denmark goes to war with Prussia and Austria over Schleswig-Holstein, which Denmark is forced to relinquish . French scientist Louis Pasteur demonstrates that treatment with heat protects certain foods from damaging microorganisms. 1865   Andersen publishes a third volume in the second series of New Fairy Tales and Stories, including “The Will-o’-the Wisps Are in Town.” Russian writer Leo Tolstoy begins publishing War and Peace. English author Lewis Carroll publishes Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  English author Rudyard Kipling is born.1866   Andersen publishes a fourth volume in the second series of New Fairy Tales and Stories,  including “The Snowdrop.”1870   Lucky Peter, Andersen’s last novel, appears. 1872   Andersen publishes two volumes in the third series of New Fairy Tales and Stories,  including “The Gardener and the Gentry,” “Auntie Toothache,” and “The Story Old Johanna Told”; he begins to experience the first symptoms of liver cancer.1875   Hans Christian Andersen dies on August 4 in Copenhagen. His funeral is attended by hundreds of admirers, including the Danish king.

The Hans Christian Andersen We Never Knew

Long before publishers knew how to market their authors with dexterity, long before Walt Disney made his name into an international logo, Hans Christian Andersen knew how to create himself as a celebrity and glorify his name, despite the fact that he was a writer with limited talents. As a young country boy—perhaps, one could even say, a country bumpkin—who was poor as a church mouse, Andersen tried to take Copenhagen by storm in 1819, when he was only fourteen years old, and very few people would have wagered at that time that he would become the most famous fairy-tale writer of the nineteenth century, even more famous than the Brothers Grimm. But his fame was also tainted. Andersen was a nuisance, a pest, a demanding intruder, and a clumsy actor, whose greatest desire was to write plays and star in them. He never fully realized this ambition, but he did become an inventive and innovative writer of fairy tales, and he used his tales therapeutically to come to terms with the traumas and tensions in his life. All this led to the formation of an extraordinary personality, for Andersen was one of the greatest mythomaniacs, hypochondriacs, and narcissists of the nineteenth century. He custom-made his life into a fairy tale that he sold successfully from the moment he arrived in Copenhagen, and it is impossible to grasp him or any of his tales without knowing something about the reality of his life and his strategies for survival.

But how is it possible to know the reality of Andersen’s life when he consciously concealed many vital facts and incidents in the three autobiographies he wrote? How is it possible to relate his unusual, autobiographical tales to his life when they are so fantastic and can be interpreted in many different ways and on many levels? Andersen appears to defy definition and categorization, and it may not even be necessary to know something about his life to appreciate his tales. Yet because he wove himself so imaginatively into his narratives and because there are so many misunderstandings about his life and the meanings of his tales, it is crucial to attempt to sort through the myths about him and investigate how his tales came into existence so that we can have a fuller and clearer appreciation of the difficulties he overcame to achieve the success he did. Moreover, it is important to realize how diverse his stories are, for they were not all fairy tales about his life. Nor were they written for children. Nor did they always end happily. There is something uncanny and often chilling about Andersen’s tales, a bitter irony that makes us wonder whether the pursuit of happiness and success is worth all the effort.

Andersen was born on April 2, 1805, into a dirt-poor family in Odense, in a squalid section of the provincial town of about 15,000 people. His father, Hans, was a shoemaker, several years younger than his wife, Anne Marie Andersdatter, a washerwoman and domestic. His parents suffered from poverty all their lives; his father became so desperate at one point that he took money from another man for replacing him as a soldier in a draft recruitment and serving for two years in the Danish army during the Napoleonic Wars. Overly sensitive about his family’s poverty and his homely appearance, Andersen kept to himself as a young boy. When he was seven, his parents took him to the theater, and a new, fantastic world exploded before his eyes: From this point on theater life came to represent a glorious realm of freedom, and he hoped to become a great writer involved with the stage. But there was a lot of misery to overcome: His father, a sick and broken man, died in 1816, two years after he returned from the wars; his mother was afflicted by alcoholism; the teenager Andersen was often humiliated at work by older boys and men; he was haunted by the insanity that ran in the family and felt shame about an aunt who ran a brothel in Copenhagen. The traumas of his youth cast him into the role of outsider, and they undoubtedly led him to imagine how he might abandon Odense and create a different life for himself as an actor or writer. Indeed, he showed an early proclivity for reading and writing, even though his schooling was modest, and he believed deeply that he belonged elsewhere—perhaps he was the son of a royal couple, he imagined. Clearly, his imagination was fertile, but his drive and ambition were just as important.

Andersen’s immense desire to become a famous writer or actor drove him to transcend his poor start in life and his social status. In 1819, when he was only fourteen, he convinced his mother to allow him to travel to Copenhagen to pursue his dreams. But once he arrived, he again faced one trial after the next. At that time Copenhagen was a relatively small port city of 120,000 inhabitants, and Danish society, dominated by the aristocracy and upper-middle class, was highly stratified. Armed with a letter of introduction from Mr. Iversen, an Odense printer, to Madame Schall, a renowned solo dancer at the Royal Theater, Andersen made numerous attempts to impress people with his talent, but he was too raw and uncouth to be accepted into the art world. To rectify the situation he took singing and acting lessons and even had a bit part as a troll in a play performed at the Royal Theater in Copenhagen. In addition he tried to write plays that he continually submitted to the theater management, which always rejected them. Then a wealthy legal administrator, Jonas Collin, took him under his wing and sent him to a private boarding school to fine-tune him for polite society. From 1822 to 1827, Andersen was indeed trained and re-tooled, largely by a neurotic taskmaster named Simon Meisling, first in Slagelse, a provincial town 50 miles from Copenhagen, and later in Helsingør. Andersen, who was several years older and much taller than his classmates, was instructed to forget all ideas of becoming a writer or poet; Meisling, a notable scholar but a notoriously mean and petty man, who delighted in humiliating Andersen, tried to drill him according to the strict regulations of a classical education and often humiliated Andersen in and outside the classroom. Though he did learn a great deal and managed to keep writing poems and sketches, Andersen suffered greatly from Meisling’s constant persecution. Only the support of Collin and friendships with elderly men—such as the great Danish poet B. S. Ingermann, the physicist H. C. Ørsted, and the commodore Peter Frederick Wulff—and their families enabled him to tolerate the five years with Meisling. By 1827 Collin allowed Andersen to return to the city and prepare himself for admission to the University of Copenhagen. When he passed the matriculation examination in 1829, however, Andersen took the bold step of embarking on a career as a free-lance writer. That same year he had a modest success with a fantasy sketchbook, A Walking Tour from the Holmen Canal to the Eastern Point of Amager, influenced by German Romantic writer E. T. A. Hoffmann, and a sentimental comedy, Love at St. Nicholas Tower, which was performed at the Royal Theater in Copenhagen. These works enabled Andersen to convince Collin that he was “destined” to become a writer, and it was Collin, who assisted him time and again to obtain royal stipends and to make connections that were to be beneficial for Andersen throughout his life. At that time in Denmark and in Europe as a whole, it was very difficult to earn a living as a free-lance writer unless one was born into money, was supported by an aristocratic patron, or received a royal grant.

Although Collin’s help was significant, it was Andersen’s perseverance, audacity, and cunning that enabled him to climb to fame starting in the early 1830s. It is difficult to say whether Andersen consciously conceived plans for his success or whether he intuitively knew what he had to do to survive in Danish and European high society. In his scrupulously researched biography, Hans Christian Andersen: A New Life (Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 2005), Jens Andersen notes that the young writer early on concocted a story about himself that gained him admission into the upper classes. It was truly a kind of fairy tale, in which Andersen, the poor ugly duckling, triumphs against the odds and becomes a gifted writer because God has ordained it so. Sometimes he blended it with the motif of Aladdin and the magic lamp, which he introduced in his first fairy tale, “The Tinderbox” (1835). Andersen had to prove that he was a soldier of fortitude who had the makings of a king, or that he was an oppressed and awkward fowl who would develop into an elegant swan. This was the story that he repeated to himself, and it formed the basis of his three autobiographies. At the same time, Andersen learned how to market himself as the Lord’s chosen writer whenever he traveled abroad—he made more than thirty trips throughout Europe and the Middle East during his lifetime. Beginning with his first major trip to Germany in 1831, he would send his books to famous authors and wealthy people in advance of his arrival, implying that he was a kind of poetic genius who was stunning the world and was thus worth meeting and befriending. Indeed, Andersen did have a peculiar charm that made him an odd and delightful performer for court societies and upper-middle-class salons, which were always on the lookout for “sensational” entertainment.

Andersen knew exactly what he had to do and wanted to do to maintain his early success: forge a name for himself, influence and cater to the public, and become a respectable member of the upper classes through marriage. From 1831 to 1840, he worked hard in both the artistic and social domains, succeeding in art and failing only in his plan to wed a proper wife. After his trip to Germany, where he met two of the great romantic writers, Ludwig Tieck and Adelbert Chamisso, Andersen published Shadow Pictures (1831), which describes his journey, and the long dramatic poem Agnete and the Merman (1833), which would serve as the basis for his fairy tale “The Little Mermaid” (1837). At the same time, he wrote a short autobiography that circulated only among his closest friends and was not published until 1926. He did publish an autobiographical novel, The Improvisatore, in 1835; it was so successful that it was immediately translated into German. The year 1835 also marked the publication of his first two pamphlets of fairy tales, which included “The Tinderbox,” “Little Claus and Big Claus,” “The Princess on the Pea,” “Little Ida’s Flowers,” “Thumbelina,” and “The Naughty Boy.” In 1836 he produced his second autobiographical novel, O. T.: Life in Denmark and in 1837 his third, Only a Fiddler, in 1837 he added “The Little Mermaid” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes” to his collection of fairy tales. These works led to Andersen’s receiving an annual grant from the King of Denmark in 1838; this grant, the amount of which was raised from time to time, enabled Andersen to live as a free-lance writer for the rest of his life. Finally, two of his plays, The Mulatto: A Comedy in Green and The Moorish Maiden, were performed at the Royal Theater in Copenhagen in 1840.

While the 1830s were highly productive and successful years for Andersen’s artistic career, there were some personal set backs. He proposed to Riborg Voigt, the sister of a schoolmate, in 1830, and courted Louise Collin, daughter of his patron, in 1832. Both young women rejected his advances, as did Jenny Lind, the famous Swedish singer, in 1843. Andersen was never able to achieve the happy married life he ostensibly sought because he was never fully acceptable in upper-class society and because he felt strong attractions toward men. For most of his life, he was in love with Edvard Collin, the son of his patron Jonas Collin, and his diaries and papers reveal that he often used women to draw closer to men or that he favored the company of young men. Some critics have argued that Andersen was a homosexual who had an occasional relationship and veiled his sexual preferences his entire life. Others maintain that Andersen may have been gay or bisexual but never had any sexual affairs because he was painfully afraid of sex, often thought he would contract a venereal disease, and repressed his urges. Whatever the case may be, his diaries and letters reveal just how confused and frustrated, if not tortured, Andersen was because he could not fulfill his sexual desires. Throughout his life he suffered from migraine headaches, paranoia, hypochondria, and other neuroses that might be attributed to the repression of his sex drive. Ironically, all this suffering also played a significant role in his producing some of the greatest fairy tales and stories in Western literature.

By 1840 Andersen had become famous throughout Europe, his fame resting more on his fairy tales and stories than on any of the other works he produced. Though the title of his first collection was Eventyr, fortalte for Bøm (Fairy Tales Told for Children), Andersen had not had much contact with children and did not tell tales to children at that point. He basically intended to capture the tone and style of a storyteller as if he were telling tales to children. Indeed, he thrived on the short narrative form. Although his novels and plays were sometimes well received, his writing was clearly not suited for these forms; the novels, plays, and even his poetry are flaccid, conventional, sentimental, and imitative—barely readable today, if they are read at all. On the other hand, he had an extraordinary gift for writing short narratives. During the 1840s he produced some of his best tales, including “The Ugly Duckling” (1844), “The Nightingale” (1844), “The Snow Queen” (1845), and “The Shadow” (1847). By this time Andersen no longer made the pretense that his tales were addressed to children. He eliminated the phrase “for children” in the title of his collections, and many of the tales became more complex. For instance, “The Shadow” was purposely written to address the hurt and humiliation that Andersen felt because his beloved Edvard Collin refused throughout his life to address him as “you” with the familiar du in Danish; instead, Collin kept Andersen at a distance by using the formal de. “The Shadow,” in which Andersen reveals the feelings of obliteration caused by this relationship, is also a brilliant reflection of the master/slave relationship and the condition of paranoia.

It was clearly due to the appreciation of adults that Andersen became immensely successful by the 1840s. Not only were his tales well received; he also published an official autobiography, The True Story of My Life, in 1846, the same year his stories were first translated into English. The next year he planned and organized his first trip to England, where he was treated as a celebrity. He published a patriotic novel, The Two Baronesses, in 1848, and though he felt drawn to the Germans, he defended Denmark in its conflict with Germany and Prussia from 1848 to 1851 over control of the Schleswig-Holstein region. In fact, Andersen’s loyalties were split because he felt more comfortable in foreign countries, especially when he was hosted by rich aristocratic families and sorely mistreated and unrecognized in Denmark. In 1846 he wrote the following letter from Berlin to his patron Jonas Collin: You know, of course, that my greatest vanity, or call it rather joy, resides in the knowledge that you consider me worthy of you. I think of you as I receive all this recognition. Yet I am truly loved and appreciated abroad; I am—famous. Yes, you may well smile. But the foremost men fly to meet me, I see myself welcomed into all their families. Princes, and the most talented of men pay me the greatest courtesies. You should see how they flock around me in the so-called important circles. Oh, that’s not something any of all those people back home think about, they overlook me completely and no doubt they would be happy with a droplet of the tribute I receive. Yet my writings must have greater merit than the Danes give them (Jens Andersen, Hans Christian Andersen: A New Life, p. 114) .

Andersen could never reconcile himself to the fact that he was not praised unconditionally by the Danish critics and public. He had an enormous ego and insatiable need for compliments and special treatment. From 1850 until his death in 1875, the more he wrote the more he tended to repeat the plots and styles of his earlier tales, and though some like “Clod Hans” (1855), “What Father Does Is Always Right” (1861), and “The Gardener and the Gentry” (1872) were masterful works of art, most waxed pale in comparison to those that had preceded them. His last two novels, To Be or Not to Be (1857) and Lucky Peter (1870), were poorly conceived and boring to read. His plays were performed but were not very successful. If anything, it was not Andersen’s unusual talents as a storyteller that grew in the latter part of his life, but rather his vanity, and he was often a burden on others. For instance, when he returned to England in 1857 and spent five weeks with Charles Dickens and his family, they could not wait to see him leave because he was too nitpicky and overbearing. Andersen continued to make annual excursions to other countries and cities, and wherever he went he insisted on being coddled and pampered, and he sought close male friendships that were often amorous but never fulfilled in the way he desired. The older he became, the more lonely he felt, and the more he needed some kind of warm family life to replace the Collins, who continued to assist him and manage his affairs but kept their distance. In 1865 Andersen began close friendships with two wealthy Jewish families, the Melchiors and the Henriques, who became his dedicated supporters; though he maintained a residence in Copenhagen, when he visited the World Exposition in Paris in 1867 and such countries as Spain, Germany, and Switzerland, Andersen often stayed at their estates. By 1873 it was clear that he was suffering from cancer of the liver, and though he courageously fought the disease and even made a few trips and attended social functions during the next two years, he finally succumbed to the cancer on August 4, 1875.

Most anthologies of Andersen’s fairy tales and stories tend to present them chronologically, according to the dates they first appeared in Danish. This type of organization enables readers to follow Andersen’s development as a writer and to draw parallels with the events in his life, but that can be a disadvantage if critics and readers go too far in interpreting the tales autobiographically and tracing biographical details in his tales. For example, “The Ugly Duckling” is generally regarded as a representation of the trials and tribulations of the outsider Andersen, who had to overcome obstacles to reveal his aristocratic nature as a swan. “The Little Mermaid” has frequently been interpreted as a reflection of the unrequited love Andersen felt for Edvard Collin. “The Nightingale” mirrors the tenuous relationship between Andersen the artist and his patron the King of Denmark. There is undoubtedly some truth to these interpretations. All writing has psychological and biographical dimensions. But to relentlessly view most of Andersen’s tales as symbolic stories about his own life and experiences can diminish our appreciation of the depth and originality of many of his narratives.

At his best, Andersen was an unusually creative and sensitive writer whose imagination enabled him to transform ordinary occurrences and appearances into extraordinary stories that open new perspectives on life. He was not a profound philosophical thinker, but he had a knack of responding spontaneously and naively to the world around him, and he possessed a talent for conveying his wonder about the miracles of life through short narrative prose that could be awe-inspiring. Moreover, because he always felt oppressed, dominated, and misunderstood, he sought to assess and grasp the causes of suffering, and offered hope to his readers—a hope that he himself needed to pursue his dreams.

It thus makes sense to try to “categorize” Andersen’s tales in a non-traditional-that is, non-chronological-manner in order to try to appreciate some of the common themes that he tried to weave into his narratives time and again from 1835 to 1875. Though it is difficult to typify all his tales, a consideration of their common themes will allow for a broader and more critical appreciation of his works and might make some of his intentions clearer. I have divided the tales into the following categories: the artist and society; folk tales (the adaptation of folklore); original fairy tales; evangelical and religious tales; the anthropomorphizing of animals and nature; the humanization of toys and objects; and legends. There are, of course, overlapping themes and motifs, and a tale that appears in one category might have been included in another. Yet from the vantage point of these categories, Andersen’s tales may assume more relevance in a socio-cultural context. (See “Commentaries on the Tales” for more on each tale in this collection.)


One of Andersen’s most insightful and profound fairy tales, one that fully addresses his philosophy of art and the artist, is “The Nightingale”; it deserves to be placed first in any anthology of Andersen’s tales, followed by “The Gardener and the Gentry.” The first is clearly a fairy-tale allegory about the relationship of the artist to his patron; the second is a bitter, ironic story, also about patronage, but more specifically about folklore and the artist’s role in Denmark. While it is difficult to state which category of Andersen’s tales is most important, it is clear that there was an overriding concern in all his tales with the virtue of art and with the genuine storyteller as a cultivator of the social good. Andersen was writing at a time when the status of the professional and independent writer was in the process of being formed; before Andersen’s time, in Denmark and most of Europe it was virtually impossible to earn a living as a professional writer. Therefore, a writer had to have an independent income, trade, and profession, or a wealthy patron to support his work, and as there was no copyright law, a writer’s works were not fully protected. If a writer was dependent on a patron, he would be obliged to respect and pay attention to the expectations of his benefactor.

In “The Nightingale” and “The Gardener and the Gentry,” Andersen depicts the quandary of the artist who must suffer the indignities of serving upper-class patrons who do not appreciate his great accomplishments; in each case, the artist is a commoner or is common-looking but capable of producing uncommon art. For Andersen, uncommon art was “authentic” and “true” and stemmed from nature—that is, the natural talents of the artist. It is also essential and therapeutic, for humankind cannot do without it. In “The Nightingale,” the artist/bird heals the emperor, who realizes that mechanical art is artificial. In “The Gardener and the Gentry,” a more cynical Andersen depicts an arrogant, rich man and his wife who are unable to appreciate the originality of their innovative artist/gardener. Despite their ignorance and closed minds, true art succeeds, an indication of Andersen’s strong belief that the artist who is naturally endowed with talent will somehow shine forth.

One can always distinguish the true art from the false, and all the other tales in this category reflect Andersen’s constant re-examination of the nature of storytelling and the salvation it offered all people. In one of his last tales, “The Cripple” (1872), it is the fairy tale that enables a sick boy to regain his health; the story is a personal wish-fulfillment that transcends the conditions in Andersen’s life to become a universal narrative about art’s wondrous powers.


Many famous writers of fairy tales have made and continue to make extraordinary use of folk tales that were spread by word of mouth, and Andersen was no exception. In fact, most of Andersen’s early tales—including “The Tinderbox,” “Little Claus and Big Claus (1835),” “The Princess on the Pea,” and “The Traveling Companion” (1835)—are based on Danish folk tales that he had heard or read. He may have also used German and European tales collected by the Brothers Grimm as his sources; for instance, “The Tinderbox” and “Little Claus and Big Claus” are closely related to the Grimms’ “The Blue Light” and “The Little Farmer,” and other of Andersen’s tales show the influence of the Grimms. Knowing the sources enables us to study how Andersen appropriated and enriched these tales to reflect upon conditions in Danish society and upon the trajectory of his life. A good example is “The Traveling Companion,” an oral tale widespread in the Scandinavian countries and most of Europe. Folklorists refer to it as a tale type about the “grateful dead,” in which a dead man whose corpse is maltreated helps a young man who kindly protects the corpse from abuse. In Andersen’s version, the young man is devout and trusts the Lord and his dead father in Heaven to guide him through life. Andersen combines pagan and Christian motifs to illustrate the rise of a poor, naive man whose goodness enables him to marry a princess.

Andersen colored his tales based on folklore with his personal experience while using the folk perspective to expose the contradictions of the aristocratic class. In “The Swineherd” (1842) he remained close to the folk perspective, which he also developed in some of his original fairy tales, such as “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

In Andersen’s early adaptations of folklore we see him in an “apprentice” phase as a writer of short prose. Taking the structure and contents of these tales as a basis, he developed his own style and tone, which was characterized by the simple folk mode of storytelling. Andersen’s style overall is really not so much “childlike” as it is “folksy,” and it was this blend of intimate, down-to-earth storytelling with folk motifs and literary themes that gave rise to some of his most significant fairy tales.


It is perhaps an exaggeration to assert that Andersen’s fairy tales are “original” because all his narratives reveal how much he borrowed from literature and from the folklore tradition. Nevertheless, he endowed them with his own original touch and personal experiences, and that makes them somewhat unique narratives. The major feature of Andersen’s original literary fairy tales is that he turned known literary motifs into provocative and uncanny stories that challenge conventional expectations and explore modes of magic realism he learned from the German Romantics, especially E. T. A. Hoffmann. Two of his greatest fairy tales—“The Shadow” and “The Little Mermaid”—demonstrate his talent for transforming known folk and literary motifs into highly complex narratives about identity formation. “The Shadow,” clearly based on German writer Adelbert Chamisso’s novella Peter Schlemihl (1813), in which a man sells his shadow to the devil, can also be traced to E. T. A. Hoffman’s tale “The New Year’s Adventure” (1819), in which a man gives up his reflection for love. For Andersen, this loss of a shadow or reflection is transformed into a psychological conflict in which unconscious forces debilitate and eventually destroy a strong ego. The learned man’s identity is literally effaced by his shadow. In “The Little Mermaid,” based on his poem Agnete and the Merman and Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué’s fairy-tale novella Undine (1811), Andersen depicts the quest for identity in a more positive light. There are strong religious overtones in this narrative, in which a young girl learns that becoming human involves self-sacrifice, humility, and devotion. Christian redemption is promised if the mermaid will fulfill her destiny. Other tales, including “The Bronze Pig” (1842) and “Ib and Little Christine” (1855), feature this motif. Many others reflect Andersen’s desire to uncover social contradictions.

What often makes Andersen’s original tales original is their irony—a key element in “The Shadow” but one that is even more pronounced in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” (1837) and “The Naughty Boy” (1835). Andersen used the metaphorical mode of the fairy tale to expose social hypocrisy, and in the best of his original fairy tales, he left his readers not with happy endings, but with startling ones aimed at making them reflect upon ethical and moral behavior.


Andersen is not commonly thought of a religious writer; yet religious motifs and themes run through a majority of his tales. This religious dimension is one reason Andersen became so popular in the nineteenth century: He “tamed” the pagan or secular aspects of the folk-tale and fairy-tale traditions and made them acceptable to the nineteenth-century European and American reading publics. To a certain extent, some of his tales fit the standards of evangelical literature, which was very strong and popular throughout Europe and North America. “The Snow Queen” (1845) and “The Red Shoes” (1845) are good examples; both depict young girls who place their lives in the hands of God and are saved because they trust in the Lord’s powers of redemption. The beginning of “The Snow Queen” establishes the connection between the devil and the snow queen, and the narrative develops into a Christian conflict between good and evil; it becomes clear by the end of the tale that Gerda will need the assistance of angels and the Lord to save Kai. In “The Red Shoes,” the unfortunate Karen is mercilessly punished for her pride, and she must have her feet cut off and learn Christian humility before she can be accepted into heaven.

Andersen tended to chastise girls or use them as examples in Christian allegorical fairy tales that celebrate the intelligent design of God. Whether the girl is reprimanded, as in “The Girl Who Stepped on Bread” (1859), or elevated to the level of a saint, as in “The Little Match Girl” (1845), Andersen insisted that she become self-sacrificial and pious. It was not much different for the male characters in Andersen’s tales, but interestingly, he did not treat males as harshly as he did females. Overall, almost all of Andersen’s religious tales and many others indicate that the only way to fulfill one’s destiny is to place one’s trust in the Lord.


In his traditional tales in which animals, insects, and plants speak and come to life, Andersen often didactically conveys moral values. Placing one’s faith in God is an undercurrent in his most famous fairy tale, “The Ugly Duckling.” There are no Christian references in this narrative; instead Andersen uses the tradition of animal tales to demonstrate that there is such a thing as “intelligent design.” The duckling must have faith in order to overcome all the obstacles in his life and triumph in the end.

Andersen’s anthropomorphizing tales are not always religious. In many, he pokes fun at human foibles—for example, pomposity is his target in “The Spruce Tree” (1845) and “The Dung Beetle” (1861). His short tales, pungent and often bitterly ironic, stand in the tradition of Aesop’s fables and reflect Andersen’s notions of “survival of the fittest.” Though in fact he rejected Darwin’s ideas, many of Andersen’s tales that deal with anthropomorphized animals and plants are concerned with intense social and natural conflict. He understood the fierce battles waged in the European societies of his day, such as the revolutions of 1848 and the uprisings of peasants and workers, but instead of recounting these conflicts in realistic stories, Andersen anthropomorphized animals and nature to comment critically on more than one of the delicate issues and taboo subjects of his time.


Much in the same way that he used animals and nature, Andersen “humanized” toys and inanimate objects to comment on social issues and human weaknesses. Here his model was E. T. A. Hoffmann, who had experimented with this narrative mode in such tales as “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” (1816). Another obvious example is “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” (1838). Perhaps more important is “The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep” (1845), in which he uses porcelain figures to meditate philosophically on the fear of freedom. What is intriguing in Andersen’s tales about toys and objects is the way he realistically describes them; he had a great eye for detail and depicted toys, objects, and their settings so carefully and precisely that it almost seems natural they would come to life. Andersen often took tiny incidental or neglected objects, such as a darning needle or rags, as the subject matter for a consideration of serious philosophical and social concerns or even survival and immortality.


Andersen was also concerned about traditions, and though he became very cosmopolitan and developed a hate-love relationship with Denmark, he sought to mine the Danish soil, so to speak, to celebrate its richness. Throughout his tales he relied on references to Danish legends and proverbs to add local color to his narratives. Often on his trips in Denmark, he would hear a local legend or see something legendary that would inspire his imagination; two good examples are “Holger the Dane” (1845) and “Everything in Its Proper Place” (1853). While the legend about a king who rises from the dead to save his country can be found in many cultures, Andersen bases “Holger the Dane” on Danish lore; he wrote at a time when Denmark was engaged in a conflict with Prussia, and the story is clearly patriotic in spirit, something unusual for Andersen, who was a loyal Danish citizen but never really patriotic.

More typical of Andersen is “Everything in Its Proper Place,” in which he invents his own local legend about a family’s history and its house to comment on class conflict. Houses and mansions abound in Andersen’s stories, and though he knew some of their legendary histories, he was at his best when he invented legends; his inventions were always bound up with his real experiences and his realistic appraisal of Danish society.

Andersen’s range as a short-story writer was great. Not only did he experiment with a variety of genres; he also dealt with diverse social and psychological problems in unusual narrative modes. A master of self-irony, he often employed the first-person narrative to poke fun simultaneously at himself and at conceited people who tell stories that reveal their pretentiousness. Some of his more imaginative fairy tales are told in a vivacious, colloquial style that appears to be flippant, until he suddenly introduces serious issues that transform the tale into a complex narrative of survival and salvation. Though he could over-emphasize sentimentality, religiosity, and pathos, Andersen was deeply invested in the issues he raised in his tales. It was almost as if life and death were at risk in his short prose, and he needed to capture the intensity of the moment. This is perhaps why he kept trying to write from different vantage points, used different genres, experimented with forms and ideas borrowed from other writers, and inserted his own life experiences into the narratives.

Little is known in the English-speaking world about the tireless creative experiments of the tormented writer called Hans Christian Andersen. He tried to make a fairy tale out of his life to save himself from his sufferings. Whether he succeeded in saving himself is open to question, but he did leave us fantastic tales that still stun us and compel us to reflect on the human will to survive.

Jack Zipes is professor of German and comparative literature at the University of Minnesota and is a specialist in folklore and fairy tales. Some of his major publications include Breaking the Magic Spell: Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales ( 1979) , Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion ( 1983 ) , Don’t Bet on the Prince: Contemporary Feminist Fairy Tales in North America and England ( 1986) , The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World (1988), and Sticks and Stones: The Troublesome Success of Children’s Literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter (2001). He has also translated The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (1987) and edited The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales (2000) and The Great Fairy Tale Tradition (2001 ). Most recently he has served as the general editor of the Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature (2005).

Translator’s Preface

“There are so many delightful stories in this book,” said Hans. “So many that you haven’t heard.” “Well, I don’t care about them,” said Garden-Ole. “I want to hear the one I know.”

The sentiment expressed by Garden-Ole in Andersen’s story “The Cripple” is one that might be familiar to many English readers of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories. It is tempting in reading a new translation to want to hear again the stories that we know. And most of the old favorites are here: “The Tinderbox,” “The Princess on the Pea,”. The Little Mermaid,” ”The Emperor’s New Clothes,” ”The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” ”The Ugly Ducking,” and others. But here too are ”many that you haven’t heard“—or, at least, have not heard as often. It is my hope that reading some of the less often translated tales will help the modern English reader understand why Andersen is considered by Danes to be at the center of the Danish literary canon, not primarily a children’s author, as he continues to be thought of in the English-speaking world.

When I told a friend that I was working on a translation of Andersen’s stories she looked at me with a puzzled expression and said, “But hasn’t that been done?” I replied that of course it had, but while Andersen’s nineteenth-century Danish words remain forever unchanged upon the page, our splendid English language continues on its merry way, evolving and adapting and challenging us to renew the old stories in the idioms of our time. Many of the early English translations were quite deplorable, and while there have been good recent translations of “the ones you know,” the most complete edition of recent years, Erik Christian Haugaard’s comprehensive Hans Christian Andersen: The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1974) can really best be described as an excellent adaptation rather than a translation. So the fact remains that many of Andersen’s less-often translated stories remain unknown to English readers in anything approximating their original forms.

The translations in this book were made directly from the first five volumes of the critical edition of H. C. Andersens Eventyr (Copenhagen: 1963-1967), edited by Erik Dal and Erling Nielsen. For the textual annotations to this collection, I made extensive use of the notes and commentaries by Erik Dal, Erling Nielsen, and Flemming Hovmann from volume 7 of this work, which appears on the Arkiv for Dansk Litteratur (Archive of Danish literature) website: http://www.adl.dk.

Andersen often made references to or citations from other texts in his work, and whenever a standard English translation was available, I have used that. These borrowings are recorded in the annotations, which immediately follow each story. Andersen’s own footnotes are indicated in the annotations by “[Andersen’s note].” Since this text is intended for a broad range of readers, no efforts have been made to censor Andersen’s expressions or adapt them to a younger audience.

It is a popular practice to lament the difficulty in translating Andersen’s style, and it is true that his fondness for puns and word play, alliteration, and stylistic originality can be challenging for the translator. In fact, as Viggo Hjørnager Pedersen writes in his excellent 2004 study Ugly Ducklings? Studies in the English Translations of Hans Christian Andersen’s Tales and Stories (see “For Further Reading”), “Andersen’s style is not easy to imitate in English and few have done so with success.” Despite this daunting observation by a native Danish scholar, I have made no conscious effort to convey a comprehensive stylistic whole, because I believe that Andersen actually used diverse techniques, depending on the demands of the story and at different times in his life. I have rather seen my task as one of capturing the mood and tenor of each individual story. My goal throughout has been to attempt to give the modern English reader a reading experience as similar as possible to that of a Danish reader of the original, one story at a time. This has sometimes necessitated taking a few liberties with Andersen’s text when conveying jokes and puns, adding alliteration when possible, and sometimes changing pronouns for the sake of consistency. The most notorious example of the latter (and one for which I expect to be severely criticized) is changing the single gender-specific pronoun referring to the nightingale from “her” to “it.” I did this because it is the male nightingale that sings, and because Andersen uses “it” except in this one instance. In a few rare instances, I have actually changed or even added a few words in order to keep a rhyme, a joke, or the sense of the original. For example, in “The Flea and the Professor,” when the professor ascends skyward in his balloon, the original has “‘Slip Snorer og Toug!’ sagde han. ‘Nu gaaer Ballonen!’ De troede han sagde: ‘Kanonen!’” [The final sentence translates as: “They thought he said: ‘the cannon!’”] I have changed this exchange to: “‘Let go of the ropes and cords,’ he said. ‘Up goes the balloon!’ They thought he said, ‘Let’s make a boom!’” The exchange makes sense only if the expressions rhyme. Such liberties with the original are rare and always deliberate.

If I have not been consciously concerned with a stylistic whole, I have been extremely conscious of Andersen’s use of poetic language in many of the later stories, and with his delightful sense of play and fun in his use of Danish. To this end I found Fritse Jacobsen’s H. C. Andersens ordspil (H. C. Andersen’s Puns; Copenhagen: University of Copenhagen Center for Translation, DAO 9, 2000) very useful. Unfortunately, it has not always been possible to convey Andersen’s jokes and puns, with specific Danish cultural references, successfully through English. In some cases I have compensated for this loss by adding a joke of my own or slightly twisting Andersen’s original (my favorites include giving the darning needle “the bends,” and the deliberate misspelling of “do” in the story “In the Duckyard”). In some cases I have found that the best English solutions for jokes and puns have already been discovered. Those familiar with earlier translations will hear echoes of Leyssac, Hersholt, Spink, Haugaard, and Keigwin in my work. Scholars of all disciplines build on the work of others, and there is no reason why translators should not appropriate best solutions. The goal, after all, is the most perfect possible rendering of Danish to English, and despite Viggo Pedersen’s attempts to find influence between translators by comparing short sentences or paragraphs, there really are a finite number of possible ways to translate a set Danish sentence to a corresponding English one.

Many people helped in one way or another with my work. I would like to acknowledge and thank Gracia Grindal, Dennis Omoe, Ole Stig Andersen, Kathie Crawford, Erik Horak-Hult, Michael Hult, Jeffrey Broesche at Fine Creative Media, and my entire email address book for responding to my English language usage survey. I am deeply grateful to Anne Hvam for her countless hours of work on the poetic sections of “The Galoshes of Fortune.” I am confident that “Mormors briller” has never been rendered as well in English. Finally, I am enormously indebted to Jack Zipes for his careful corrections, enlightening commentary, and valuable suggestions throughout the project, and not least for his observations on the art of translating. All remaining errors in the “many delightful stories in this book” are my own.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

September 28, 2005

Marte Hvam Hult holds a Ph.D. in Scandinavian languages and literatures from the University of Minnesota. She is the author of Framing a National Narrative: The Legend Collections of Peter Christen Asbjørnsen, published by Wayne State University Press in 2003. She is working on a translation of Asbjørnsen’s Huldreeventyr.



OF COURSE YOU KNOW that in China the emperor is Chinese, and all the people around him are Chinese. It was many years ago, but just because of that, it’s worth while hearing the story before it’s forgotten! The emperor’s palace was the most splendid in the world, completely made of fine porcelain—so expensive, but so brittle, so fragile to touch that you had to be really careful. There were the most remarkable flowers in the garden, and to the most beautiful were tied silver bells so that you couldn’t walk by without noticing the flower. Everything was so artful in the emperor’s garden, and it was so big that even the gardener didn’t know where it ended. If you kept walking, you would enter the loveliest forest with high trees and deep lakes. The forest went right down to the deep, blue sea. Big ships sailed right under the branches, and in the branches lived a nightingale that sang so sweetly that even the poor fisherman, who had so much else to do while pulling up his nets, lay still and listened when he was out at night and heard the nightingale. “Dear God, how beautifully it sings,” he said, but then he had to pay attention to his task and forget the bird. But when it sang again the next night, and the fisherman was out again, he said the same: “Dear God, how beautifully it sings!”

Travelers came to the emperor’s city from all the countries of the world, and they were astounded by it all: the palace and the garden, but when they heard the nightingale, they all said, “this is the best of all!”

And the travelers talked about the bird when they got home, and scholars wrote many books about the city, the palace, and the garden. But they didn’t forget the nightingale. It was placed at the very top of the wonders, and those who could write poetry wrote the most beautiful poems, all about the nightingale in the forest by the deep sea.

The books circulated around the world, and in the course of time one reached the emperor. He sat on his golden throne and read and read. He nodded his head constantly because he was pleased to hear the magnificent descriptions of the city, palace, and garden. “But the nightingale is the best of all!” it said in the book.

“What?!” said the emperor. “The nightingale! I don’t know anything about that bird at all! Is there such a bird in my kingdom, even here in my own garden? And I’ve never heard about it? I have to read about this?!”

And he called his chamberlain, who was so distinguished that when someone who was inferior to him dared to speak to him, or asked about something, he didn’t say anything but “P!” and it didn’t mean anything.

“There’s supposed to be a highly remarkable bird called a nightingale here,” said the emperor. “They say it’s the best thing in my entire kingdom! Why hasn’t anyone told me about it?”

“I’ve never before heard it mentioned,” said the chamberlain. “It’s never been presented at court.”

“I want it to come here this evening and sing for me,” said the emperor. “The whole world knows what I have, and I don’t know it myself!”

“I’ve never heard anything about it before,” said the chamberlain, “I’ll go find it.”

But where to find it? The chamberlain ran up and down all the steps, through the rooms and hallways. None of those he met had heard anything about the nightingale, and the chamberlain ran back to the emperor and said that it must have been a fable made up by those who wrote books. “Your royal majesty should not believe what is written! They are mostly made up, and something called black magic.”

“But the book I read it in,” said the emperor, “was sent to me by the powerful emperor of Japan, and so it can’t be untrue. I want to hear the nightingale! It shall be here this evening! It’s my greatest pleasure, and if it doesn’t come, the entire court will be thumped on the stomach after they’ve had dinner.”

“Tsing-pe!” said the chamberlain, who ran up and down all the steps again, through the rooms and hallways, and half the people at court ran along too because they didn’t want to be thumped on the stomach. They went asking about the remarkable nightingale which the whole world knew, but no one at court had heard of.

Finally, they met a poor little girl in the kitchen, and she said, “Oh God, the nightingale! I know it well. Oh my, how it can sing! Every evening I’m allowed to bring some of the scraps from the table home to my poor sick mother who lives down by the shore. When I walk back, I get tired, and rest in the woods. Then I hear the nightingale singing, and it brings tears to my eyes. It’s like being kissed by my mother.”

“Little kitchen maid,” said the chamberlain, “I’ll get you a permanent job in the kitchen and permission to watch the emperor eat if you can lead us to the nightingale. The emperor has ordered him to perform this evening!”

And then they all went into the woods where the nightingale used to sing. Half the court went along. As they were starting out, they heard a cow mooing.

“Oh,” said the young court nobles, “Here we have it! What remarkable power in such a little animal! We have most assuredly heard it before.”

“No, those are cows mooing,” said the little kitchen maid. “We’re still far from the place.”

Then the frogs croaked in the pond.

“Lovely!” said the Chinese palace chaplain. “Now I hear it—like little church bells.”

“No, those are the frogs,” said the little kitchen maid. “But I think we’ll hear it pretty soon.”

And then the nightingale started singing.

“That’s it,” said the little girl. “Listen! listen! And there it is!” and she pointed at a little grey bird up in the branches.

“Is this possible?” asked the chamberlain. “I wouldn’t have imagined it to look like that. How plain it looks! It must have lost its colors from seeing so many distinguished people looking at it!”

“Little nightingale,” called the little kitchen maid quite loudly, “our Most Gracious Emperor so dearly wants you to sing for him!”

“With the greatest pleasure!” said the nightingale and sang so beautifully that it was a pleasure to hear.

“It sounds like glass bells,” said the chamberlain. “And look at its little throat, how it’s throbbing! It’s remarkable that we haven’t heard it before. It’ll be a big success at court!”

“Shall I sing one more time for the emperor?” asked the nightingale, who thought the emperor was with them.

“My splendid little nightingale,” said the chamberlain. “I have the great honor of summoning you to a court party this evening, where you will enchant his great Royal Highness the Emperor with your charming song!”

“It really sounds better out in the open air,” said the nightingale, but it gladly followed along when it heard that it was the emperor’s wish.

At the palace everything had been polished. The walls and floors of porcelain were shining with the light of many thousand golden lamps. The most beautiful flowers with their bells were lined up in the hallways. There was a running back and forth and a draft so that all the bells rang, and you couldn’t hear what anyone said.

In the middle of the big chamber where the emperor sat, a golden perch had been set up, and the nightingale was to sit on that. The entire court was there, and the little kitchen maid had been allowed to stand back by the door since she now had the official title of Real Kitchen Maid. They were all dressed up in their finest, and all looked at the little grey bird as the emperor nodded for it to begin.

And the nightingale sang so beautifully that it brought tears to the emperor’s eyes. They rolled down over his cheeks, and then the nightingale sang even more beautifully so it touched everyone’s heart. The emperor was very happy, and he said that the nightingale should have his golden slipper to wear around its neck. But the nightingale thanked him and said it had already had payment enough.

“I’ve seen tears in the emperor’s eyes, and that is the greatest treasure for me. An emperor’s tears have a remarkable power. God knows I have payment enough!” and then it sang again with its blessed, sweet voice.

“That’s the most delightful coquetry and flirtation we’ve ever seen,” said all the ladies, and they kept water in their mouths so they could cluck when someone talked to them. They thought they were nightingales too. Well, the footmen and chambermaids also let it be known that they were satisfied, and that says a lot since they are the most difficult to please. Yes, the nightingale was a great success!

It was going to remain at court and have its own cage, but freedom to walk out twice a day and once at night. Twelve servants were to go along with silk ribbons tied to the nightingale’s leg, and they were to hold on tightly. There was no pleasure to be had from walks like this!

The whole town talked about the remarkable bird, and if two people met each other, then the first said only “Night” and the other said “gale,” and then they sighed and understood each other. Eleven grocers named their children after the nightingale, but none of them could sing a note.

One day a big package came for the emperor, on the outside was written Nightingale.

“Here’s a new book about our famous bird,” said the emperor, but it wasn’t a book. It was a little work of art lying in a box: an artificial nightingale that was supposed to resemble the real one, but it was studded with diamonds, rubies and sapphires. As soon as you wound the artificial bird up, it would sing one of the songs the real bird could sing, and the tail bobbed up and down and sparkled silver and gold. Around its neck was a little ribbon, and on the ribbon was written: “The emperor of Japan’s nightingale is a trifling compared to the emperor of China’s.”

“It’s lovely,” they all said, and the one who had brought the artificial bird was immediately given the title of Most Imperial Nightingale Bringer.

“They have to sing together. A duet!”

And so they had to sing together, but it didn’t really work since the real nightingale sang in his way, and the artificial bird sang on cylinders. “It’s not its fault,” said the court conductor. “It keeps perfect time and fits quite into my school of music theory.” Then the artificial bird was to sing alone and was just as well received as the real bird. Moreover it was so much more beautiful to look at, for it glittered like bracelets and brooches.

Thirty three times it sang the same song, and it never got tired. People would gladly have listened to it again, but the emperor thought that now the live nightingale should also sing a little—but where was it? No one had noticed that it had flown out of the open window, away to its green forest.

“What’s the meaning of this?” cried the emperor, and all the members of the court scolded the bird, and thought that the nightingale was a most ungrateful creature. “We still have the best bird,” they said, and then the artificial bird had to sing again, and that was the thirty-fourth time they heard the same piece, but they didn’t quite know it yet for it was so long, and the conductor praised the bird so extravagantly. He insisted that it was better than the real nightingale, not just in appearance with its many lovely diamonds, but also on the inside.

“You see, ladies and gentlemen, Your Royal Majesty! You can never know what to expect from the real nightingale, but everything is determined in the artificial bird. It will be so-and-so, and no different! You can explain it; you can open it up and show the human thought—how the cylinders are placed, how they work, and how one follows the other!”

“My thoughts exactly,” everyone said, and on the following Sunday the conductor was allowed to exhibit the bird for the public. The emperor also said that they were to hear it sing, and they were so pleased by it as if they had drunk themselves merry on tea (for that is so thoroughly Chinese), and they all said “Oh” and stuck their index fingers in the air and nodded. But the poor fisherman, who had heard the real nightingale, said, “It sounds good enough, and sounds similar too, but there’s something missing. I don’t know what.”

The real nightingale was banished from the country and the empire.

The artificial bird had its place on a silk pillow right by the emperor’s bed. All the gifts it had received, gold and gems, were lying around it, and it had been given the title of Most Imperial Nightstand Singer of the First Rank to the Left because the emperor considered the side towards the heart to be the most distinguished. The heart is on the left side also in emperors. The Royal Conductor wrote twenty-five volumes about the ar-tificial bird that were very learned and very long and included all the longest Chinese words. All the people said that they had read and understood the books. Otherwise they would have been stupid, of course, and would have been thumped on the stomach.

The artificial bird had its place on a silk pillow right by the emperor’s bed.

It continued this way for a whole year. The emperor, the court, and all the other Chinamen knew every little cluck in the artificial bird’s song, but they were therefore all the more happy with it—they could sing along, and they did. The street urchins sang “zizizi, klukklukkluk,” and the emperor sang it, too. Yes, it was certainly lovely.

But one evening, as the artificial bird was singing beautifully, and the emperor was lying in bed listening, there was suddenly a “svupp” sound inside the bird, and something snapped: “Surrrrrr.” All the wheels went around, and the music stopped.

The emperor leaped out of bed at once and had his court physician summoned, but what good could he do? So they called for the watchmaker and after a lot of talk and a lot of tinkering, he managed to more or less fix the bird, but he said it had to be used sparingly because the threads were so worn, and it wasn’t possible to install new ones without the music becoming uneven. This was a great tragedy! The artificial bird could only sing once a year, if that. But then the Court Conductor would give a little speech with big words and say that it was as good as before, and so it was as good as before.

Five years went by and the whole country was greatly saddened because it was said that the emperor was sick and wouldn’t live much longer. The people had been very fond of him, but a new emperor had already been selected. His subjects stood out on the street and asked the chamberlain how the old emperor was doing.

“P!” he said and shook his head.

Cold and pale, the emperor lay in his big magnificent bed. The whole court thought he was dead, and all of them ran to greet the new emperor. The chamber attendants ran about to talk about it, and the palace maids had their usual gossip. There were cloth runners spread in all the rooms and hallways so that you couldn’t hear anyone walk, and therefore it was very quiet—so quiet. But the emperor wasn’t dead yet. Stiff and pale, he lay in the magnificent bed with the long velvet curtains and the heavy gold tassels. High on the wall a window was open, and the moonlight shone on the emperor and the artificial bird.

The poor emperor was barely able to draw a breath; it was as if something was sitting on his chest. He opened his eyes, and then he saw that it was Death sitting there. He had put on the emperor’s golden crown and held in one hand his golden sword, and in the other his magnificent banner. Round about in the folds of the velvet bed curtains strange heads were peeping out, some quite terrible and others blessedly mild. They were the emperor’s good and evil deeds looking at him, now that Death was sitting on his heart.

“Do you remember that?” whispered one after the other. “Do you remember that?” and then they spoke to him of so many things that the sweat sprang out on his forehead.

“I knew nothing about that!” said the emperor. “Music, music, the big Chinese drum!” he called, “so that I won’t hear everything that they’re saying.”

But they continued, and Death nodded like a Chinaman along with everything that was said.

“Music, music!” cried the emperor. “You little blessed golden bird. Sing, just sing! I have given you gold and precious things. I have myself hung my golden slipper around your neck. Sing, oh sing!”

But the bird stood still. There was no one to wind it up, and otherwise it didn’t sing, but Death with his big empty eye sockets continued to look at the emperor, and it was quiet, so terribly quiet.

Suddenly outside the window came a beautiful song. It was the little, live nightingale, sitting on the branch outside. It had heard about the emperor’s sorrows and had come to sing with comfort and hope for him, and as it sang, the figures became paler and paler, the blood flowed quicker and quicker in the emperor’s weak limbs, and Death itself listened and said: “Sing on, little nightingale, sing on.”

“Music, music!” cried the emperor.

“You little blessed golden bird. Sing, just sing!”

“Will you give me the magnificent golden sword? Will you give me the precious banner? Will you give me the emperor’s crown?”

And Death gave each treasure for a song, and the nightingale continued to sing. It sang about the quiet churchyard, where the white roses grow, where the elder trees emit their scent, and where the fresh grass is watered by tears of the survivors. Then Death felt a longing for his garden and glided, like a cold, white fog, out the window.

“Thank you, thank you,” said the emperor. “You heavenly little bird, I know you well. I chased you away from my country and my empire, and yet your song has cast away the evil sights from my bed and taken Death from my heart! How shall I reward you?”

“You have rewarded me,” said the nightingale. “I received tears from your eyes the first time I sang for you, and I’ll never forget that. Those are the jewels that enrich a singer’s heart. But rest now and become healthy and strong. I’ll sing for you.”

It sang—and the emperor fell into a sweet sleep, a gentle restoring sleep.

The sun shone through the windows on him when he awoke, stronger and healthy. None of his servants had come back because they thought he was dead, but the nightingale was still sitting there singing.

“You must stay with me always,” said the emperor. “You’ll only sing when you want to, and I’ll crush the artificial bird into a thousand pieces.”

“Don’t do that!” said the nightingale. “It has done what good it could. Keep it as always. I can’t live here at the palace, but let me come when I want to, and in the evenings I’ll sit on the branch by the window and sing for you so you can be happy and thoughtful too. I’ll sing about the happy and about those who suffer. I’ll sing about the good and evil that is hidden from you! Your little songbird flies far and wide to the poor fishermen, to the farmer’s roof, to everywhere that’s far from you and your palace. I love your heart more than your crown, and yet your crown has a scent of something sacred about it!—I’ll come, I’ll sing for you.—But you must promise me one thing.”

“Everything!” said the emperor, standing there in his royal clothing that he’d put on himself. He was holding the sword, heavy with gold, up to his heart.

“I ask you this one thing. Don’t tell anyone that you have a little bird that tells you everything. Then things will go even better.”

And the nightingale flew away.

Soon after the servants entered the room to see to their dead emperor—there they stood, and the emperor said, “Good morning.”


ABOUT FIVE MILES FROM the capital there was an old manor house with thick walls, towers, and corbie gables.

A rich, noble family lived there, but only in the summer. This manor was the best and most beautiful of all the properties they owned. It looked like new outside and was full of comfort and coziness inside. The family coat of arms was engraved in stone above the estate gate, and beautiful roses were entwined around the crest and bay windows. A carpet of grass was spread out in front of the manor house. There were red and white hawthorn and rare flowers, even outside the greenhouse.

The family also had a very capable gardener. It was a delight to see the flower garden, and the fruit orchard and vegetable garden. Next to this there was still a remnant of the original old garden—some box hedges—clipped to form crowns and pyramids. Behind these stood two huge old trees. They were always almost leafless, and you could easily have believed that a stormy wind or a waterspout had spread big clumps of manure over them, but every clump was a bird nest.

A huge flock of shrieking rooks and crows had built nests here from times immemorial. It was an entire city of birds, and the birds were the masters, the occupiers of the property, the oldest family on the estate, and the real masters of the manor. None of the people down there concerned them, but they tolerated these crawling creatures, except that sometimes they banged with their guns, so it tickled the birds’ backbones and caused every bird to fly up in fear and cry, “scum, scum!”

The gardener often talked to the master and mistress about having the old trees cut down. They didn’t look good, and if they were gone, they would most likely be rid of the screaming birds, who would go elsewhere. But the master and mistress didn’t want to be rid of either the trees or the birds because they were from old times. Anything from old times was something the estate could and should not lose.

“Those trees are the birds’ inheritance, my good Larsen. Let them keep them.” The gardener’s name was Larsen, but that’s neither here nor there.

“Larsen, don’t you have enough room to work? The whole flower garden, the greenhouses, fruit and vegetables gardens?”

He did have those, and he cared for, watched over, and cultivated them with zeal and skill, and the master and mistress acknowledged that, but they didn’t conceal from him that they often ate fruits and saw flowers when visiting that surpassed what they had in their own gardens. That saddened the gardener because he always strived to do the best he could. He was good-hearted and good at his job.

One day the master and mistress called him in and told him in a gentle and lordly manner that the day before they had eaten some apples and pears at distinguished friends that were so juicy and so delicious that they and all the other guests had expressed their greatest admiration. The fruits were certainly not domestic, but they should be imported, and should be grown here if the climate would allow it. They knew that the fruits had been bought in town at the best greengrocer’s. The gardener was to ride into town and find out where the apples and pears had come from and then write for grafts.

The gardener knew the greengrocer well because he was the very one to whom, on the master’s behalf, he sold the surplus fruit that grew in the estate gardens.

And the gardener went to town and asked the greengrocer where he had gotten those highly acclaimed apples and pears.

“They’re from your own garden!” said the greengrocer and showed him both the apples and pears that he immediately recognized.

Well, how happy this made the gardener! He hurried back to the master and mistress and told them that both the apples and pears were from their own garden.

But the master and mistress simply couldn’t believe it. “It’s not possible, Larsen! Can you get this confirmed in writing from the greengrocer?”

And he could and did do that. He brought the written certification.

“This is really strange!” said the master and mistress.

Every day big platters of the magnificent apples and pears from their own garden appeared on the table. Bushels and barrels full of these fruits were sent to friends in town and out of town, even to foreign countries! What a pleasure! But of course they had to add that it had been two amazingly good summers for the fruit trees. Good fruit was being produced all over the country.

Some time passed. The master and mistress were invited to dinner at court. The day after this they called in the gardener. They had gotten melons at the table from the royal greenhouses that were so juicy and tasty.

“You must go to the royal gardener, dear Larsen, and get us some of the seeds of those priceless melons!”

“But the royal gardener got the seeds from us!” said the gardener, quite pleased.

“Well, then that man has the knowledge to bring fruit to a higher level of development!” said the master. “Each melon was remarkable.”

“Well, I can be proud then,” said the gardener. “I must tell your lordship that the royal gardener didn’t have luck with his melons this year, and when he saw how splendid ours were and tasted them, he ordered three of them for the castle.”

“Larsen! You’re not telling me those were melons from our garden?!”

“I think so!” said the gardener, who went to the royal gardener and got written confirmation that the melons on the kingly table came from the manor.

It really was a surprise for the master and his lady, and they didn’t keep quiet about the story. They showed the certificate, and melon seeds were sent around widely, just as the pear and apple grafts had been earlier.

And word was received that they grew and produced exceptional fruit, and these melon seeds were named after the noble estate, so that that name could now be read in English, German, and French.

No one could have imagined this!

“Just so the gardener doesn’t get a swollen head about this,” said the master and mistress.

But the gardener took it all in a different way. He just wanted to establish his name as one of the country’s best gardeners, to try each year to bring forth something superior in all the types of garden plants, and he did that. But often he was told that the very first fruits he had produced, the apples and pears, were really the best. All later types were inferior to them. The melons had certainly been very good, but that was something completely different. The strawberries could be called exceptional, but yet not better than those other noble families had, and when the radishes didn’t turn out one year, only those unfortunate radishes were discussed, none of the other good things that were produced.

It was almost as if the master and mistress felt a relief in saying, “Things didn’t work out this year, Larsen!” They were quite happy to be able to say, “It didn’t work out this year.”

A couple of times a week the gardener brought fresh flowers up to the living room, and they were always so beautifully arranged. The colors seemed to be more vibrant through the arrangement.

“You have taste, Larsen,” said the master and mistress. “It’s a gift, given by the Lord, not of your own doing.”

One day the gardener brought a large crystal saucer in which a lily pad was floating. On top of this was placed a shining blue flower, as big as a sunflower with its long thick stem trailing down in the water.

“The lotus of the Hindus!” exclaimed the master and mistress.

They had never seen such a flower, and during the day it was placed in the sunshine and in the evening under reflected light. Everyone who saw it thought it was remarkably lovely and rare. Even the most distinguished of the country’s young ladies said so, and she was a princess. She was both wise and good.

The master and mistress were honored to give her the flower, and it went with the princess to the palace. Then they went down into the garden to pick such a flower themselves, if one was still there, but they couldn’t find one. So they called the gardener and asked where he had gotten the blue Lotus.

“We’ve searched in vain,” they said. “We’ve been in the greenhouses and round about in the flower gardens.”

“No, it’s not to be found there,” said the gardener. “It’s just a simple flower from the vegetable garden! But isn’t it true that it’s beautiful? It looks like a blue cactus, but it’s only the blossom on the artichoke!”

“You should have told us that straight off!” said the master and mistress. “We thought it was a rare, foreign flower. You have disgraced us with the young princess! She saw the flower here, and thought it was beautiful and didn’t know what it was. She is very knowledgeable about botany, but her knowledge doesn’t have anything to do with vegetables! How could it occur to you, Larsen, to bring such a flower up to the house? It makes a laughing stock of us!”

And the beautiful, gorgeous blue flower, which had been picked in the vegetable garden, was taken out of the living room, where it didn’t belong.1 Then the master and mistress apologized to the princess and told her that the flower was just a kitchen herb that the gardener had wanted to display, but he had been sternly admonished about placing it on display.

“That’s a shame and not fair,” said the princess. “He has opened our eyes to a magnificent flower that we had not paid any attention to. He has shown us beauty where we did not think to seek it. As long as the artichokes are blooming, the royal gardener will bring one to my parlor every day.” And that’s what happened.

So then the master and mistress told the gardener that he could bring them a fresh artichoke flower again. “It is pretty after all,” they said, “quite remarkable!” And the gardener was praised. “Larsen likes that,” they said. “He’s a spoiled child!”

In the autumn there was a terrible storm. It started at night, and became so powerful that many big trees at the edge of the forest were torn up by the roots, much to the distress of the master and mistress. A great distress for them, but to the joy of the gardener, the two big trees with all the bird nests blew over. You could hear rooks and crows screaming at the height of the storm. People at the manor said that they flapped their wings against the windows.

“Well, now you’re happy, Larsen,” said the master and mistress. “The storm has knocked down the trees, and the birds have fled to the forest. Now nothing’s left from the old days here. Every sign and every allusion are gone! It’s very sad for us.”

The gardener didn’t say anything, but he thought about what he had long thought about—how to utilize the splendid sunny spot he didn’t have access to before. It would become the ornament of the garden, and the joy of his master and mistress.

The big fallen trees had crushed and completely destroyed the ancient box hedges, with their topiary. Here the gardener planted a thicket of growth—native plants from the meadows and forest. He planted with rich abundance what no other gardeners had thought belonged in a gentry’s garden, into the type of soil the plants needed and with the amount of shade and sun required by each type. He took care of them with love, and they grew splendidly.

The juniper bushes from the heaths of Jutland grew in form and color like the cypress of Italy. The shiny prickly holly, evergreen in winter cold or summer sun, was a delight to see. In front of them grew ferns of many different kinds. Some looked like they were children of the palm tree, and others as if they were parents of the delicate lovely vegetation we call maiden-hair. Here too was the despised burdock that is so lovely in its freshness that it can appear in bouquets. The dock stood on high ground, but lower, where it was damper, grew the common dock, also a despised plant, but with its height and huge leaves still so artistically lovely. Transplanted from the meadow grew the waist-high mullein like a magnificent many-armed candelabra with flower next to flower. There were woodruff, primroses, and forest lily of the valley, the white Calla, and the delicate three-leafed wood sorrel. It was beautiful to see.

In the front small pear trees from France grew in rows tied to wire cord. They received sun and good care and soon produced big, juicy fruit as in the land they came from.

Instead of the old leafless trees, a tall flagpole was installed, where the Danish flag flew and close to that another pole where in the summer and autumn the hop vines twisted with their fragrant cones of flowers, but where in winter an oat sheaf was hung, according to an old custom, so that the birds of the sky should have food in the merry time of Christmas.

“Larsen is getting sentimental in his old age,” said the master and mistress, “but he is loyal and attached to us.”

At the New Year there was a picture of the old estate in one of the capital’s illustrated magazines. You could see the flagpole and the oat-sheaf for the birds at Christmas time, and it was stressed what a good idea it was that an old custom was upheld and honored. So appropriate for the old estate!

“Everything that that Larsen does,” said the master and mistress, “is heralded by drums! He’s a lucky man! We almost have to be proud that we have him!”

But they were not at all proud of that. They felt that they were the master and mistress, and they could let Larsen go anytime, but they didn’t do that. They were good people, and there are many good people of their type, and that’s good for many a Larsen.

Well, that’s the story of the gardener and the gentry, and now you can think about it.


1. Andersen evidently forgot that the flower has been given to the princess and is no longer in the living room.


ONCE UPON A TIME there was a merchant who was so rich that he could pave the entire street and almost another little alley with silver coins. But he didn’t do that. He knew of other ways to use his money, and if he paid out a penny, he got a dollar back. That’s the kind of merchant he was—and then he died.

His son got all this money, and he lived merrily, went to parties every night, made kites from his dollar bills, and skipped stones on the water with gold coins instead of pebbles. That makes money go, and go it did. Finally he only had four coins left and no other clothes than a pair of slippers and an old robe. Now none of his friends cared about him anymore since they couldn’t walk down the street together, but one of them, who was kind, sent him an old trunk and advised, “pack it in!” That was all well and good, but he had nothing to pack so he sat in the trunk himself.

It was a strange trunk. As soon as you pressed on the lock, the trunk could fly. And that’s what it did. Whee! It flew with him up the chimney and high up over the clouds, further and further away. The bottom kept groaning, and he was afraid that it would fall to pieces, and then he would have done a nice somersault, heaven knows! Soon he came to the land of the Turks. He hid the trunk in the forest under some wilted leaves and walked into town. He could do that safely because all the Turks walked around like him in robes and slippers. Then he met a wet nurse with a little child. “Listen here, you Turkananny,” he said, “what kind of castle is that here close to town? The windows are so high up.”

“The king’s daughter lives there,” she said. “It’s been prophesied that she will be unlucky in love, and therefore no one can visit her unless the king and queen are there.”

“Thanks,” said the merchant’s son, and then he went back into the forest, sat in his trunk, flew up on the roof, and crept through the window to the princess.

She was lying on the sofa sleeping. She was so beautiful that the merchant’s son had to kiss her. She woke up and was quite alarmed, but he said he was the Turkish God, who had come down through the sky to her, and she liked that.

Then they sat side by side, and he told stories about her eyes: they were the most lovely, dark oceans, and thoughts were swimming there like mermaids. Then he talked about her forehead: it was a snow-topped mountain with the most magnificent rooms and pictures, and he told her about the stork that brings the sweet little babies.

They were certainly some wonderful stories! Then he proposed to the princess, and she said yes at once!

“But you have to come on Saturday,” she said. “The king and queen are coming here for tea then. They’ll be very proud that I’m going to marry the Turkish God, but listen, be sure you can tell a really lovely fairy tale because they particularly like them. My mother likes them to be elegant and moralistic, and my father likes funny ones so he can laugh.”

“I’ll bring no other wedding gift than a fairy tale,” he said, and then they parted, but the princess gave him a sword that was studded with gold coins, something he could really use.

Then he flew away, bought himself a new robe, and sat in the forest composing a fairy tale to be finished by Saturday. That’s not so easy either.

But he finished it, and then it was Saturday.

The king and queen and all the court were waiting with tea at the princess’s tower, where he was very well received!

“Won’t you tell a fairy tale?” asked the queen. “One that is profound and educational.”

“One that can make you laugh, too,” added the king.

“Yes certainly,” he said and told this story. Listen carefully.

“Once upon a time there was a package of matches that were extremely stuck-up because they were of such high origin. Their family tree, that is to say, the big pine tree that each of them was a little stick of, had been a tall old tree in the forest. The matches were now lying on a shelf between a tinderbox and an old iron kettle, and they told them stories about their youth. ‘Yes, when we were riding high,’ they said, ‘we really were riding high! Every morning and evening we had diamond tea, that was the dew. We had the sunshine all day when the sun was shining, and all the little birds had to tell us stories. We could easily tell that we were rich because the ordinary trees only wore clothes in the summer, but our family could afford nice green clothes both summer and winter. But then the foresters came. It was the big revolution, and our family tree was split up. The head of the family got a place as the topmast on a magnificent ship that could sail around the world if it wanted to. The other branches went to other places, and we now have the task of bringing light to the common crowd. That’s how we who are so noble came to be here in this kitchen.’

“‘Yes, it’s quite different for me,’ said the iron kettle, standing next to the matches. ‘From the time I came into the world, I have been in hot water many times. I have the responsibility for the most substantial work and am strictly speaking the most important one in the house. My only joy is to sit here clean and tidy after dinner and have pleasant conversations with my companions. But with the exception of the water pail, who gets out in the yard once in a while, we all live a secluded indoor life. Our only news comes from the marketing basket, but he talks very critically of the government and the people. Just the other day an old jug over there fell over in alarm at what he said and smashed to pieces. He’s markedly liberal, I’ll tell you.’ ‘You spout off too much,’ the tinderbox said, and the flint struck the stone so the sparks flew. ‘Let’s have a cheerful, merry evening.’

“‘Yes, let’s talk about who is most distinguished,’ the matches said.

“‘No, I don’t like talking about myself,’ said the clay pot. ‘Let’s have an evening of entertainment. I’ll start. I’ll tell about something that we’ve all experienced. Everyone can follow along then, and it’s so amusing: On the Baltic where the Danish beech trees ...’

“‘That’s a great beginning,’ all the plates said, ‘this’ll definitely be a story we’ll like.’

“‘Yes, I spent my youth there with a quiet family. The furniture was polished, the floors washed, and there were clean curtains every other week.’

“‘How interestingly you tell that!” said the broom. ‘You can hear at once that it’s a woman telling the story—there’s no dirt in it at all.’

“‘Yes, one can tell that,” the water pail said, and it made a little hop of joy so that there was a splash on the floor.

“And the pot continued the story, and the ending was as good as the beginning.

“All the plates were rattling with pleasure, and the broom took some green parsley out of the parsley pot and crowned the pot with a wreath because he knew it would irritate the others, and ‘if I crown her today,’ he thought, ‘she’ll crown me tomorrow.’

“‘Now I’ll dance,’ said the fire tongs and danced. Oh, God bless us, how she could kick a leg in the air! The old seat cover in the corner split from watching it! ‘May I also be crowned?’ asked the fire tongs, and so she was.

“‘These are just riffraff,’ thought the matches.

“Then the tea urn was supposed to sing, but she had a cold, she said. She couldn’t sing unless she was warmed up. Actually it was due to conceit because she didn’t want to sing except for the master and mistress in the dining room.

“On the windowsill sat an old quill pen that the maid used for writing. There was nothing remarkable about him, except that he had been dipped too deeply in the inkwell, but he was proud of that. ‘If the tea urn doesn’t want to sing,’ he said, ‘then she doesn’t have to. There is a nightingale hanging outside in a cage. It can sing. Granted it hasn’t had lessons, but we won’t criticize it this evening.’

“‘I find it highly inappropriate,’ said the tea kettle, who usually sang in the kitchen and was a half sister of the tea urn, ‘that a foreign bird like that should sing. Is that patriotic? I’ll let the marketing basket judge!’

“‘I’m just so annoyed,’ the marketing basket said. ‘I’m so thoroughly annoyed, you can’t imagine! Is this an appropriate way to spend the evening? Wouldn’t it be better to rearrange things and set the house in order? Then everyone would be in his correct place, and I would control the whole shebang. That would be something else!’

“‘Yes, let’s cause a riot!’ they all said. At that moment the door opened. It was the maid, and so everyone stopped talking. No one said a word. But there wasn’t a pot who didn’t know what it could do and how dignified it was. ‘Well, if I had wanted it,’ they all thought, ‘it really would have been a merry evening!’

“The maid took the matches and made a fire with them—God bless us, how they sizzled and burned in flames!

“‘Now everyone can see,’ they thought, ‘that we are the best! What radiance we have! What light!’—and then they were burned out.”

“That was a lovely fairy tale,” the queen said. “I felt just like I was in the kitchen with the matches. You may certainly marry our daughter.”

“Of course,” the king agreed, “you’ll marry our daughter on Monday!” Now they said “du” to him, since he was going to be part of the family. 1

So the wedding day was decided, and the evening before the whole town was lit up. Rolls and pastries were thrown to the crowds. Street urchins stood on their toes, shouted hurrah, and whistled through their fingers. It was extremely splendid.

“Well, I’d better also do something,” the merchant’s son thought, and so he bought some rockets, caps, and all the fireworks you could think of, put them in his trunk, and flew up in the air with it.

Whoosh, how it went! And how it popped and puffed!

All the Turks jumped in the air at this so that their slippers flew around their ears. They had never seen such a sight in the sky before. Now they understood that it really was the Turkish God himself who was going to marry the princess.

As soon as the merchant’s son landed in the forest with his trunk, he thought, “I’ll just go into town to find out how that looked to everyone.” And it was understandable that he wanted to do that.

Well, how the people were talking! Every single one he asked about it had seen it in his own way, but it had been beautiful for all of them.

“I saw the Turkish God himself,” one said. “He had eyes like shining stars and a beard like foaming water.”

“He flew in a coat of fire,” another one said, “and the most gorgeous little angels peeked out from the folds.”

Yes, he heard lovely things, and the next day he was getting married.

Then he went back to the forest to put himself in his trunk—but where was it? The trunk had burned up. A spark from the fireworks had remained, had started a fire, and the trunk was in ashes. He couldn’t fly any longer and couldn’t get to his bride.

She stood all day on the roof waiting. She’s still waiting, but he’s wandering the world telling fairy tales. But they aren’t any longer so lighthearted as the one he told about the matches.


1. Danish shares with many European languages formal and informal forms of direct address. “Du” is informal.


THERE WAS A MAN who at one time had known so many new fairy tales, but now they had come to an end, he said. The tale used to come by its own accord, but now it didn’t knock at his door anymore. And why didn’t it come? Well, it’s true enough that the man hadn’t thought about it for a whole year, had not expected it to come knocking, and it evidently hadn’t been around there either, since there was war without, and within the sorrow and distress that war carries with it.

The stork and the swallow returned from their long voyages. They didn’t think of any danger, but when they arrived their nests had been burned. People’s houses were burned, gates broken, or just entirely gone. The enemy’s horses trampled on the old graves. They were hard, dark times, but even those have an end.

And now it was over, they said, but the fairy tale still hadn’t come knocking, nor was it heard from.

“I guess it’s dead and gone along with many others,” said the man. But the fairy tale never dies!

And over a year passed, and he longed sorely for it.

“I wonder if the fairy tale will ever come knocking again?” And he remembered so vividly all the many shapes in which it had come to him. Sometimes young and beautiful, like spring itself, a lovely little girl with a wreath of woodruff in her hair and beech branches in her hand. Her eyes shone like deep forest lakes in the clear sunshine. Sometimes it had also come as a peddler, opened its pack of wares and let silk ribbons wave with verses and inscriptions from old memories. But still, it was most beautiful when it came as a little old woman with silvery white hair and with eyes so big and wise. She had told about the oldest times, long before princesses spun gold while dragons and serpents lay outside keeping watch. She told stories so vividly that the eyes of everyone who listened would go dim, and the floor would become black with human blood. Awful to see and to hear, and yet so delightful because it all happened so very long ago.

“I wonder if she’ll never come again!” the man said, and stared towards the door until he saw black spots in front of his eyes and black spots on the floor. He didn’t know if it was blood or mourning crepe from the heavy, dark days.

And as he sat, it occurred to him that maybe the fairy tale had gone into hiding, like the princesses in the old folk tales, and now had to be sought out. If she were found, she would shine with a new splendor, more beautiful than ever before.

“Who knows? Maybe she lies hidden in the littered straw that’s tilted at the edge of the well. Careful! Careful! Maybe she has hidden in a withered flower that’s lying in one of the big books on the shelf.”

And the man went to the shelf and opened one of the newest instructive books, but there was no flower there. It was about Holger the Dane, and the man read that the entire story had been invented and put together by a monk in France. That it was just a novel that had been “translated and published in the Danish language.” And that Holger the Dane had not existed at all and so would certainly never come again, as the Danes had sung about and so wanted to believe. Holger the Dane was just like William Tell, idle talk, not to be relied upon, and all this was written in this most scholarly book.

“Well, I believe what I believe,” said the man. “There’s no smoke without fire.”

And he shut the book, put it back on the shelf, and went over to the fresh flowers on the windowsill. Maybe the fairy tale had hidden there in the red tulip with the golden yellow edges, in the fresh rose, or the vibrantly colored camellia. Sunshine lay amongst the leaves, but no fairy tale.

“The flowers that were here during the sad times were all much more beautiful, but every one of them was cut off, bound into wreaths, and laid into coffins and over the folded flag. Maybe the fairy tale is buried with those flowers! But the flowers would have known about that, and the coffin would have sensed it. The earth would have sensed it too, and every little blade of grass that shoots forth would have told about it. The fairy tale never dies!”

“Maybe it was even here and knocked, but who at that time would have had an ear for it, or even a thought about it? We looked dark and heavily, almost angrily, at the sunshine of the spring, the twittering of birds, and all the pleasant greenery. Our tongues couldn’t sing the favorite old folk songs. They were put away with so many other things that had been dear to our hearts. The fairy tale could very well have knocked, but not have been heard, not welcomed, and so it just went away.”

“I will go out and find it. Into the country, out in the forest, along the sweeping seashore!”

An old manor house can be found out there with red brick walls, corbiestep gables, and a fluttering flag on the tower. The nightingale sings under the finely fringed beech leaves while it looks at the garden’s blooming apple blossoms and thinks they are roses. The bees are busy here in the summertime, and they swarm around their queen in buzzing song. The storms of autumn can tell about the wild hunt, about mankind, and the leaves of the forest that blow away. At Christmas time the wild swans sing from the open sea, while inside the old manor, by the side of the stove, people are in the mood for hearing songs and old stories.

Down in the old part of the garden, where the big avenue of wild chestnut trees lures you into the shade, the man who was seeking the fairy tale was walking. The wind had once whispered to him here of Valdemar Daa and His Daughters. The dryad in the tree, none other than Mother fairy tale herself, had told him The Old Oak Tree’s Dream here. In grandmother’s time trimmed hedges stood here, but now only ferns and nettles grew there. They spread over the abandoned remains of old statuary. Moss grew from their stony eyes, although they could see just as well as before, but the man looking for the fairy tale couldn’t. He couldn’t see the fairy tale. Where was it? Above him and over the old trees hundreds of crows flew crying, “Fly from here, from here!”

And he walked from the garden over the manor’s moat, and into the grove of alders. There was a little six-sided house here and a hen and duck yard. In the middle of the room sat the old woman who ruled all of this. She knew about every egg that was laid, and every chick that came from the egg, but she was not the fairy tale the man was looking for. She could prove that with a Christian baptism certificate and a vaccination certificate, both lying in the chest of drawers.

Outside, not far from the house, was a hill filled with red hawthorn and laburnum. There’s an old tombstone there that had come from the churchyard in the market town. It was carved to honor one of the town’s councilmen. His wife and his five daughters, all with folded hands and ruffed collars, were standing around him, chiseled from stone. If you looked at it long enough, it somehow affected your thoughts, and those thoughts in turn affected the stone so that it told about the old times. Anyway, that’s how it happened for the man searching for the fairy tale. As he arrived here now, he saw a liv ing butterfly sitting on the forehead of the carved councilman. It fluttered its wings, flew a short distance, and then landed again right by the tombstone as if to show him what was growing there. It was a four-leaf clover, and there were seven of them, side by side. When luck comes, it comes in earnest! He picked the clovers and put them in his pocket. Good luck is just as good as ready money, although a new lovely fairy tale would have been even better, thought the man. But he didn’t find it there.

The sun set, red and huge. Fog rose from the meadow. The bog witch was brewing.

It was late in the evening. He stood alone in his room, looking out over the garden and meadow, the moor and the seashore. The moon was shining clearly and there was a mist hanging over the meadow as if it were a big lake. There had been one there once, according to legend, and in the moonlight you could see for yourself. Then the man thought about what he had read in town, how William Tell and Holger the Dane had not existed, but in folklore they became, like the sea out there, living visions for legend. Yes, Holger the Dane would return!

As he was standing there and thinking, something hit the window quite strongly. Was it a bird? A bat or an owl? Well, you don’t let them in if they knock! The window sprang open by it self, and an old woman looked in at the man.

“What’s this?” he said. “Who is she? She’s looking right into the second story. Is she standing on a ladder?”

“You have a four-leaf clover in your pocket,” she said. “You actually have seven, one of which is a six-leaf clover!”

“Who are you?” asked the man.

“The bog witch!” she said. “The bog witch, and I’m brewing. I was in the process of doing that, and the tap was in the barrel, but one of the frisky little bog children drew the tap out in fun and flung it up here against the house where it hit the window. Now the beer’s running out of the barrel, and that’s not a good thing for anyone!”

“Well, but tell me—” said the man.

“Wait a moment,” said the bog witch. “I have other things to attend to,” and then she was gone.

The man was about to close the window, and then she reappeared.

“Now that’s done,” she said, “but half of the beer I’ll have to brew again tomorrow if the weather holds. Now what did you want to ask about? I came back because I always keep my word, and you have seven four-leaf clovers in your pocket, one of which has six-leaves and that earns respect. They’re badges that grow by the road, but aren’t found by everyone. What did you want to ask about? Don’t just stand there like a silly sap. I have to get back to my barrel and tap.”

And the man asked about the fairy tale, asked if the bog witch had seen it on her way.

“Oh, for brewing sassafras!” said the witch. “Haven’t you had enough of fairy tales yet? I do believe that most people have. There are other things to take care of and be concerned about. Even the children have outgrown them. Give the little boys a cigar and the little girls a new petticoat—they care more about that! Listen to fairy tales? No, there are other things to attend to, more important things to do!”

“What do you mean by that?” the man said. “And what do you know of the world? You only see frogs and will-o’-the-wisps!”

“Well, watch out for the will-o’-the-wisps!” said the witch. “They’re out! They’re on the loose. We should talk about them. Come to me in the bog, where I need to be now. I’ll tell you all about it, but hurry while your seven four-leaf clovers with the one sixer are fresh, and the moon is still up!”

And the bog witch was gone.

The clock struck twelve on the tower clock, and before it struck the quarter hour the man was out of the yard, out of the garden and standing in the meadow. The fog had lifted, and the bog witch had stopped brewing.

“It took a long time for you to get here,” said the bog witch. “Trolls get around faster than people, and I’m glad I was born of troll folk.”

“What do you have to tell me?” asked the man. “Is it something about the fairy tale?”

“Can’t you think of anything but that?” said the witch.

“Well, can you tell me about the poetry of the future then?” asked the man.

“Don’t be so hifalutin,” said the witch, “and I’ll answer you. You only think about poetry, and ask about the fairy tale, as if she’s the one who gets everything going. But she’s just the oldest, although she is always taken for the youngest. I certainly know her. I have been young too, and that’s not a childhood illness. I was once quite a pretty elf maiden, and danced with the others in the moonlight, listened to the nightingale, walked in the forests and met the fairy tale maiden, who was always out gadding about. Sometimes she spent the night in a partly opened tulip or in a globe flower. Sometimes she slipped into the church and wrapped herself in the mourning crepe that hung from the altar candles.”

“You have a lot of lovely information,” said the man.

“Well, I should hope I know as much as you do anyway!” said the bog witch. “Fairy tales and poetry—Well, they’re two of a kind. They can go lie down wherever they want. All their work and talk can be brewed both better and cheaper than they do it. You can get them from me for nothing. I have a whole cupboard full of poetry in bottles. It’s the essence of it, the best, the actual herb, both the sweet and the bitter. I have bottles of all the poetry people need, so they can put some on their handkerchiefs to smell on Sundays and holidays.”

“You’re saying some really strange things,” said the man. “You have bottled poetry?”

“More than you can stand!” said the witch. “You must know the story about the girl who stepped on bread to avoid dirtying her new shoes? It’s been both written and printed.”

“I wrote that story myself,” said the man.

“Well, then you know it.” said the witch, “And you know that the girl sank right down into the ground to the bog witch just as the devil’s great-grandmother was visiting to see the brewery. She saw the girl who sank and requested her for a pedestal, a souvenir of her visit. She got her, and I got a gift that I have no use for: a portable apothecary, a whole cupboard of poetry in bottles. Great-grandmother decided where it was to stand, and it’s still standing there. Just look! You have your seven four-leaf clovers, one of which is a six-leaf clover, in your pocket so I’m sure you’ll be able to see it.”

And truly, right in the middle of the bog there was a sort of big hollow alder stump, and that was great-grandmother’s cupboard. It was open to her and to everyone in all countries and in all times, the bog witch said, as long as they knew where the cupboard was. It could be opened in the front and the back, and on all sides and corners. It was a real work of art, but just looked like an old alder stump. The poets of all countries, especially our own, were copied there. Their essence was figured out, reviewed, cleaned up, concentrated and bottled. With sure instinct (as it’s called when one doesn’t want to say “genius” ) great-grandmother had taken the taste of this and that poet from nature, added a little witchcraft, and then she had his poetry bottled for eternity.

“Let me look!” said the man.

“But there are more important things to hear,” said the bog witch.

“But we’re right here by the cupboard,” said the man and looked inside. “There are bottles of all sizes here. What’s in that one? And that one there?”

“Here is what they call Essence of May,” said the bog witch. “I haven’t tried it, but I know that if you splash just a little on the floor, you’ll immediately get a lovely forest lake with water lilies, rushes, and curled mint. Only two drops on an old notebook, even from the elementary grades, and the book turns into a fragrant fantasy play that can be produced with a scent strong enough to put you to sleep. I’m sure it’s meant as a courtesy to me that it’s labeled ‘Bog Witch’s Brewery.’ ”

“Here is the Scandal Flagon. It looks like it only has dirty water in it, and it is dirty water, but with fizz powder of city-chatter added: three portions of lies to two grains of truth. It was stirred with a birch branch, but not from one soaked in salt and used on a criminal’s bloody back, or from one used by a schoolmaster for spanking, but taken directly from the broom that sweeps the gutters.”

“And here is the bottle with pious poetry, to be used for hymns. Every drop has the sound of hell’s gates slamming shut and is made of the blood and sweat of punishment. Some say it’s just bile of dove, but doves are the best and gentlest of creatures and have no bile. That’s what people who know nothing of zoology say.”

There stood the mother of all bottles! It took over half the cupboard—the bottle of Everyday Stories.1 It was wrapped in both pigskin and bladder so it wouldn’t lose its strength. Each nation could make its own soup here, depending on how you turned and tipped the bottle. There was old German blood stew with robber dumplings, and also thin crofter’s soup with real courtiers at the bottom, and a pat of philosophy floating in the middle. There was English governess gruel and the French potage à la Kock,2 made from cock bones and sparrow eggs. In Danish it’s called cancan soup. But the best soup was the Copenhagian, that’s what the family said.

Tragedy was bottled in champagne bottles that start out with a bang, as tragedy should. Comedy looked like fine sand that could be thrown in people’s eyes. That is to say, the finer comedy. The coarse kind was also in bottles, but these were made up only of future playbills, where the name of the piece was the most powerful. There were excellent comedy titles, such as “Do you Dare to Spit in the Mechanism?” “One on the Jaw,” “The Sweet Ass,” and “She’s Dead Drunk.”

The man became lost in thought from all this, but the bog witch was thinking ahead, and she wanted an end to it.

“You’ve looked long enough at that junk box,” she said. “Now you know what’s here, but you still don’t know the most important thing you should know! The will-o’-the-wisps are in town! That’s more important than poetry or fairy tales. I shouldn’t say anything about it, but there must be some guidance, a fate, something that has overtaken me. Something has stuck in my throat the wrong way and must come out! The will-o’ -the-wisps are in town! They are on the loose! Just watch out, people!”

“I don’t understand a word you’re saying,” said the man.

“Please sit down there on the cupboard,” she said. “But don’t fall in and break the bottles. You know what’s in them. I’ll tell you about the great event; it just happened yesterday, and it’s happened before. There are still three hundred and sixty four days to go. Well, I guess you know how many days are in a year?”

And the bog witch told the following:

“There was great excitement in the swamp yesterday! A big celebration! A little will-o‘-the-wisp was born. Actually twelve of them were born, by that brood of will-o’-the-wisps who have the ability, if they wish, to appear as people, and act and rule among them as if they were born human beings. That’s a big event in the swamp, and that’s why all the will-o‘-the-wisp males and females danced as little lights over the bog and meadows. There are female ones you see, but we’re not talking about them. I sat on the cupboard there and had all twelve little newborns on my lap. They were shining like glowworms and had already begun to hop around. They grew bigger by the minute, so that before a quarter hour had passed, they were as big as their father or uncle. It’s an old innate law and privilege that when the moon is in the precise position it was last night, and the wind blows as it blew yesterday, then all will-o’-the-wisps born at that hour and minute can become human beings. And each of them flits around for a whole year exercising their power. A will-o‘-the-wisp can travel around the country and the world too, if he’s not afraid to fall in the sea, or to be blown out in a great storm. He can get right inside a person, speak for him, and make all the movements he wants to. The will-o’-the-wisp can take any form, male or female, act in their minds, but with all his own nature, so he can get what he wants. In one year he must show that he can lead three hundred and sixty five people astray, and in grand fashion. He must lead them away from what’s true and right. Then he’ll obtain the highest a will-o‘-the-wisp can aspire to: becoming a runner in front of the Devil’s finest coach. He’ll receive a glowing orange uniform and breathe fire from his throat. That’s something a common will-o’-the-wisp can really lick his lips over. But there’s also danger and a lot of worry for an ambitious will-o‘-the-wisp who intends to play a part. If a person becomes aware of who he is, he can blow him away, and the will-o’-the-wisp is put out and must return to the swamp. And if the will-o‘-the-wisp is moved by longing for his family before the year is over and betrays himself, then he’s also out of it. He no longer burns clearly and soon goes out and can’t be relit. And if the year ends without him leading three hundred and sixty five people away from truth, and what’s good and beautiful, then he’s sentenced to lie in a rotten tree and shine without moving, and that’s the worst possible punishment for a lively will-o’-the-wisp. I knew all of this, and I told all of it to the twelve little will-o’ -the-wisps, who were sitting on my lap. They were wild with joy. I told them that it was surest and most comfortable to give up glory and not do anything. But the young licks didn’t want that. They already saw themselves in glowing orange with flames coming out of their mouths.

“‘Stay with us!’ said some of the elders.

“‘Trick the humans!’ said others. ‘People are drying out our meadows, draining them. What will become of our descendants?’

“‘We want to go blow blazes!’ said the newborn will-o’-the-wisps, and so it was decided.

“They immediately had a minute-long dance. It couldn’t have been shorter. The elf maidens swung around three times with all the others because they didn’t want to appear haughty. They actually preferred to dance by themselves. Then it was time for the godparents’ gifts. ‘Skipping stones’ as it’s called. The presents flew like small stones across the bog water. Each of the elf maidens gave a piece of her veil. ‘Take it!’ they said, ‘and then you will right away at a pinch know the higher forms of dance with the most difficult swings and turns. You’ll have the proper carriage and can appear at the most elegant parties.’ The nightjar3 taught each of the young will-o’-the-wisps to say, ‘Braaa, braaa, braaa’ and to say it at the right times, and that’s a big gift that pays off. The owl and the stork also gave something, but they said it wasn’t worth mentioning so we won’t talk about it.

“Just then King Valdemar on his wild hunt4 came thundering over the bog, and when that company heard about the celebration, they sent a couple of fine dogs as gifts, dogs who could hunt with the wind and could surely carry a will-o‘-the-wisp or three. Two old nightmares, who make a living by riding, were at the party. They taught the young will-o’-the-wisps the art of slipping through keyholes, which would open every door to them. They offered to convey the young will-o’-the-wisps to town, where they knew their way around. Usually they ride through the air on their own long manes, that they tie into knots to sit firmly on, but this time each of them straddled the back of a wild hunt dog and took the young Wills who were to trick and bewilder people on their laps. Swoosh! They were gone.

“That was all last night. Now the will-o’-the-wisps are in town. They have set to work. But how and what they are doing, you tell me! I have a pain in my big toe because of a weather wire that always tells me something is up!”

“But this is a whole fairy tale!” said the man.

“Well, it’s really just the beginning of one,” said the bog witch. “Can you tell me how the will-o’-the-wisps are romping about and carrying on, and in what shape they are appearing in order to lead people astray?”

“I do think,” said the man, “that a whole novel could be writ ten about the will-o‘-the-wisps with twelve chapters, one for each will-o’-the-wisp; or maybe even better, an entire folk comedy!”

“You should write that!” said the bog witch, “or maybe it’s best to let it go.”

“Yes, that’s more comfortable and pleasant,” said the man. “Then you avoid being staked in the newspapers which is just as hard as it is for a will-o’-the-wisp to lie in a rotten tree, shining but unable to say a word!”

“It’s all the same to me,” said the bog witch. “But just let the others write, those who are able and those who are not. I’ll give an old tap from my barrel that will open up the cupboard with poetry in bottles, and from there they can get what they’re lacking. As for you, my good man, it seems to me that you have gotten enough ink on your fingers and have reached the age and maturity not to run after fairy tales every year, when there are much more important things to do here now. You must have understood what is going on, haven’t you?”

“The will-o‘-the-wisps are in town!” said the man. “I have heard it, and I understand it! But what do you want me to do about it? I’ll just be raked over the coals if I see one and tell people: Look! There goes a will-o’-the-wisp in the guise of an honest man.”

“They also wear skirts!” said the bog witch. “The will-o’-the-wisp can assume all shapes and appear in all places. He goes to church, not for the Lord’s sake, but maybe he’s gone into the minister! He speaks on election day, not for the country’s sake, but just for his own. He’s an artist, both in the painter’s paint jar and the theater’s make-up jar, but when he gets complete power, then there’s the end of it: the jar’s empty. I talk and talk, but I must get out of my throat what’s stuck there, even though it harms my own family. I’m going to be the savior of humanity. It’s truly not something I can help, and I’m not doing it for the sake of a medal. But I’m doing the craziest thing I could—I’m telling a poet, so then the whole town will soon know about it!”

“The town won’t pay any attention,” said the man. “It won’t affect a single person. They’ll all think I’m telling a fairy tale when I tell them in complete seriousness ‘The will-o’-the-wisps are in town,’ said the bog witch. ‘Beware! ”’


1 Reference to En Hverdagshistorie (1828; A Story of Everyday Life) by Thomasine Gyllembourg; the novella gave its name to a whole genre of stories about contemporary Copenhagen. Andersen did not like the genre.

2 Reference to Paul de Kock ( 1793-1871 ) , French author of popular novels of Parisian life.

3 In Danish the word the nightjar teaches the will-o’-the-wisps to say is bra, which means “fine” or “good.”

4 According to legend, fourteenth-century King Valdemar mocked God by preferring hunting to heaven. Hence he was condemned to ride and hunt the Danish countryside every night.


You KNOW THE PIXIE, but do you know Madame, the gardener’s wife? She was well-read, knew verses by heart, and could even write them easily herself. Only the rhyming, the “riveting together” as she put it, sometimes gave her a little trouble. She had the gift of writing well, and the gift of gab. She could certainly have been a minister, or at least a minister’s wife.

“The earth is beautiful in its Sunday dress,” she said, and she had put that thought in a composition, including “riveting.” She had written it into a ballad that was both beautiful and long.

Her cousin, the seminarian, Mr. Kisserup—his name is really not relevant—was visiting the gardener’s, and heard her poem. He said that it really did him good. “You have soul, Madame!” he told her.

“What nonsense!” said the gardener. “Don’t go putting that idea into her head. A wife should be a body, a decent body, and watch her kettles so the porridge doesn’t get crusty.”

“What gets crusty I remove with a wooden spoon,” said Madame, “and I take the crusty from you with a little kiss! One would think that you only thought about cabbages and potatoes, but you love the flowers!” And then she kissed him. “Flow ers are the soul,” she said.

“Watch your kettle!” he said and went out into the garden. That was his “kettle,” and he took care of it.

But the seminarian sat and talked to Madame. In his own way he held almost a little sermon over her lovely words, “The earth is beautiful.”

“The earth is beautiful. We were told to subdue it and be its masters. One person does so by his spirit, another with his body. One person comes into the world as astonishment’s exclamation mark, another like a dash, so you really can ask what he’s doing here. One becomes a bishop, another just a poor seminarian, but it’s all done wisely. The earth is beautiful and always in its Sunday best! That was a thought-provoking poem of yours, Madame, full of feeling and geography.”

“You have soul, Mr. Kisserup!” said Madame, “a deep soul, I assure you. One feels so much clarity after talking with you.”

And they continued talking, just as nicely and well as before. But in the kitchen there was also someone talking, and that was the pixie, the little grey-clothed pixie with the red stocking cap. You know him! The pixie sat in the kitchen and was watching the kettle. He talked, but nobody heard him except the big black pussycat, “Creamsneaker,” as he was called by Madame.

The pixie was furious at her because he knew she didn’t believe that he was real. Granted, she had never seen him, but with all her reading she must have known that he existed and should therefore have given him a little attention. It never occurred to her to put out so much as a spoonful of porridge for him at Christmas. All his ancestors had gotten that, and from madames who didn’t read at all. The porridge had been swimming in butter and cream. The cat got wet whiskers just hearing about it.

“She calls me a concept!” said the pixie. “It’s beyond my conception that she can say that. She completely repudiates me! I overheard that, and now I’ve been listening again. She is sitting in there gossiping with that boy-beating seminarian. I’m with father: ‘Watch your kettle!’ She’s not doing that, so now I’ll make it boil over.”

And the pixie blew on the fire. It flamed up and burned. “Surri-rurri-rupp!” There the kettle boiled over!

“Now I’m going in to pick holes in father’s socks,” said the pixie. “I’ll unravel a big hole in the toe and the heel, so there’ll be something to darn, if she doesn’t start sprouting poetry then. Darn poet lady—darn father’s socks!”

The cat sneezed at that. He had a cold, even though he always wore a fur coat.

“I’ve opened the pantry door,” said the pixie. “There’s some boiled cream there, as thick as flour porridge. If you don’t want to lick it up, I will!”

“Since I will get the blame and the beating, I may as well lick the cream,” said the cat.

“First eating, then beating,” said the pixie. “But now I’m going to the seminarian’s room to hang his suspenders on the mirror and put his socks in the water basin. He’ll think the punch was too strong, and that his head’s swimming. Last night I sat on the wood pile by the doghouse. I really enjoy teasing the watchdog. I let my legs hang over and dangle. The dog couldn’t reach them, no matter how high he jumped. It made him mad. He barked and barked. My legs dangled and dangled. It was a riot, and woke the seminarian up. He peered out three times, but he didn’t see me, even though he was wearing glasses. He always wears them when he sleeps.”

“Miaow when the mistress comes,” said the cat. “I can’t hear so well. I’m sick today.”

“You’re lick-sick!” said the pixie. “Lick away! Lick the sickness away! But dry your whiskers so the cream doesn’t stick to them. Now I’ll go eavesdrop.”

And the pixie stood by the door, and the door was ajar. There was no one in the living room except Madame and the seminarian. They were talking about “gifts of the spirit.” Gifts that should be set above the pots and pans of every household, as the seminarian so beautifully put it.

“Mr. Kisserup,” said Madame. “In this connection I will show you something that I have never shown another human soul, least of all a man: my little poems, although some of them are quite long. I have called them Poems of a Danneqvinde.1 I am so very fond of old Danish words.”

“And they should be kept and used!” agreed the seminarian. “The language must be cleansed of all German.”

“I do that,” said Madame. “You’ll never hear me say Kleiner or Butterteig. I say donuts and butter pastry.”

And she took a notebook out of a drawer. It had a light-green cover with two ink spots on it.

“There’s a great deal of seriousness in this book,” she said. “I have the strongest sense for tragedy. Here’s ‘The Sigh in the Night,’ ‘My Sunset,’ and ‘When I married Klemmensen.’ Of course, that’s my husband. You can skip that one. But it’s deeply felt and thought-out. The best one is called ‘The Housewife’s Duties.’ They’re all very sad. That’s where my talent lies. Only one poem is humorous. There are some cheerful thoughts. It’s possible to have those too, of course. Thoughts about—you mustn’t laugh at me! Thoughts about being a poetess! This is only known to myself, my drawer, and now you too, Mr. Kisserup. I love poetry. It comes over me. It teases me, rules, and has me in its power. I have expressed it with the poem titled ‘Little Pixie.’ I’m sure you know the old folk belief about the house pixie, who’s always up to tricks around the house. I have imagined that I am the house and that poetry, the feelings in me, is the pixie, the spirit that controls me. I have sung about his power and greatness in ‘Little Pixie,’ but you must give me your hand and swear that you’ll never breathe a word of this to my husband or anyone. Read it aloud, so I can tell if you understand my handwriting.”

And the seminarian read, and Madame listened, and the little pixie listened. He was eavesdropping, you know, and had just come in time to hear the title: “Little Pixie.”

“Why, it’s about me!” he said. “What could she have written about me? Well, I’ll pinch her, pinch her eggs, pinch her chickens, and chase the fat off the fatted calf! You’d better look out, Madame!”

And he eavesdropped with pursed lips, but everything he heard about the pixie’s splendor and strength, and his power over the gardener’s wife made him smile more and more. She meant poetry, you know, but he took it literally, from the title. His eyes glistened with happiness. Quite a noble expression appeared around the corners of his mouth. He lifted his heels and stood on his toes and became a whole inch taller than before. He was delighted with what was said about “Little Pixie.”

“Madame has soul, and she is very cultured. How I have misjudged that woman! She has put me in her rhyme. It will be printed and read! I won’t let the cat drink her cream anymore. I’ll do it myself! One drinks less than two, and that’s a savings I’ll introduce to respect and honor Madame.”

“He’s sure like a human being, that pixie!” said the old cat. “Just one sweet miaow from the mistress, a miaow about himself, and he immediately changes his mind. She is clever, Madame.”

But she wasn’t clever. It was the pixie who was human.

If you can’t understand this story, ask about it, but don’t ask the pixie or the Madame.


1. Dannequinde is an old spelling of the word for “Danish woman.”


THERE WAS AN ELDERLY man on the steamship with such a contented face. If it wasn’t lying, he must have been the happiest man on earth. He was too, he said. I heard it from his own mouth. He was Danish, a countryman of mine, and a traveling theater manager. He was a puppeteer, and had his whole personnel with him in a big box. His innate cheerfulness had been strengthened by a technology student, and from that experiment he had become completely happy. I didn’t understand him right away, but then he told me the whole story, and here it is.

“It happened in Slagelse,” he said. “I gave a performance at the coach inn and had an excellent audience, all young except for a couple of old ladies. Then a fellow who looked like a student, dressed in black, comes and sits down. He laughs in all the right places and claps when he should. He was an exceptional spectator! I had to know who he was, and then I hear that he’s a graduate candidate from the Polytechnical Institute, sent out to instruct the people in the provinces. My show was over at eight o‘clock because children have to go to bed early of course, and you have to be considerate of the public. At nine o’clock the candidate started his lecture and experiments, and then I was his spectator. It was remarkable to hear and see. Most of it was Greek to me, as the saying goes, but I did think this: If we humans can find out all this, we must also be able to exist longer than till we’re put in the ground. He just did small miracles, but all of it went slick as a whistle, and straight from nature. In the time of Moses and the Prophets such a technological student would have become a wise man of the land, and in the Middle Ages he would have been burned at the stake. I didn’t sleep all night, and when I gave another performance the next night and saw that the student was there again, I was really in a good mood. An actor once told me that when he played a lover he thought about just one person in the audience. He played to her and forgot the rest of the spectators. The technology candidate was my ‘her’—the only one I performed for.

“When the performance was over, all the puppets took their curtain call, and the technology student invited me to have a glass of wine with him in his room. He talked about my play, and I talked about his science, and I think we both enjoyed them equally, but I got the best of it because there was so much in his presentation that he couldn’t himself explain; for example, the fact that a piece of iron that goes through a coil becomes magnetic. What is this? The spirit comes over it, but where does it come from? It seems to me it’s like human beings here on earth. God lets them fall through the coil of time, and the spirit comes over them, and you have a Napoleon, a Luther, or another person like that. ‘The whole world is a series of miracles,’ said the candidate, ‘but we are so used to them that we take them for granted.’ And he talked and explained, and at last it was as if he lifted my skull, and I confessed truly that if I weren’t already an old fellow, I would at once go to the Polytechnical Institute and learn to see the world with a fine-toothed comb, and I’d do that even though I was one of the happiest of men.”

“‘One of the happiest!’ he said, and it was as if he tasted the words. ‘Are you happy?’ he asked. ‘Yes,’ I answered, ‘I’m happy and I’m welcomed in all the towns where I come with my company. It’s true that there’s one wish that sometimes comes over me like a nightmare and disrupts my good mood, and that’s to become a theater manager for a real live troupe of human beings.’ ‘You wish that your puppets would come to life. You wish they would become real actors,’ he said, ‘and you yourself the director. You think you would be completely happy then?’ He didn’t believe it, but I did, and we talked back and forth, and we both kept our own opinion, but we toasted each other, and the wine was very good. But there had to be something magical in it because otherwise the whole story would simply be that I got drunk. It wasn’t that because I saw quite clearly. There was a kind of sunshine in the room, shining out of the technological candidate’s face, and it made me think about the old gods with their eternal youth, when they walked the earth. I told him that, and he smiled, and I would have sworn that he was a disguised god, or one of their family. And that’s what he was! My highest wish would be granted, the puppets become real, and I would be a director of people. We drank to it. He packed all my puppets in the wooden case, tied it to my back, and then he had me fall through a coil. I can still hear how I fell. I was lying on the floor—this is all true—and the entire company jumped out of the case. The spirit had come over all of them, and every puppet had become a remarkable artist—they said so themselves—and I was the director.”

“Everything was ready for the first performance. All the actors wanted to talk to me, and the audience too. The dancer said that if she didn’t get to pirouette, the performance would be a flop. She was the star of the show and wanted to be treated that way. The puppet who played the empress wanted to be treated like the empress off the stage as well because otherwise she would be out of practice. He who had the part of coming in with a letter was just as self-important as the star lover, since he said that there were no small actors, only small parts. Then the hero demanded that all his lines should be exit lines, since they always got the applause. The primadonna would only perform under red lights—not blue ones—because they were the most becoming to her. It was like flies in a bottle, and as the director, I was in the middle of the bottle. I lost my breath, I lost my wits, and I was as miserable as a person can be. These were new types of people I was among, and I wished that I had them all back in the box, and that I had never become a director. I told them straight out that they really were all just puppets, and then they beat me to death. Then I was lying on the bed in my room. How I got there from the technological student’s room he must know, because I don’t. The moon was shining in on the floor where the puppet case had tipped over, and all the puppets were spread around, big and little ones, all of them. But I didn’t waste any time. I jumped out of bed and got them all in the box, some on their heads and some on their feet. I slammed down the lid and then sat down on the box. It was quite a sight, can you see it? I can. ‘Now you can stay in there,’ I said, ‘and never again will I wish that you were flesh and blood!’ I was in such a good mood, and the happiest person. The technological candidate had purified me. I sat there in pure bliss and fell asleep on the case, and in the morning—it was actually in the afternoon, but I slept so strangely long in the morning—I was still sitting there, happy, because I had learned that the only thing I’d ever wished for had been stupid. I asked about the technological candidate, but he was gone, like the Greek or Roman gods. And from that time on, I have been the happiest of men. I am a happy manager for my personnel doesn’t argue with me, nor does the public. They enjoy themselves thoroughly. I freely put together the pieces myself, and take the best parts of the plays I want, and nobody bothers about it. I produce pieces that are now despised on the stage, but that the audience flocked to and cried over thirty years ago. I give them to the young ones, and they cry like father and mother did. I do Johanna von Montfaucon1 and Dyveke,2 but I shorten them because the young ones don’t care for a lot of love nonsense. They want it sad but quick. I have traveled up and down Denmark, back and forth, and I know everyone, and they all know me. Now I’m going to Sweden, and if I do well there and earn good money, then I’ll become a Pan-Scandinavian.3 Otherwise, I won’t. I can tell you this since you’re my countryman.”

And I, as his countryman, am repeating it immediately, of course, just for the fun of telling it.


1 Five-act tragedy by German playwright August von Kotzebue (1761-1819), translated and adapted by N. T. Bruun, with music by Claus Schall; it was performed for the first time at Copenhagen’s Royal Theater on April 29, 1804.

2 Tragedy by Ole Johan Samsøe; it was performed for the first time at Copenhagen’s Royal Theater on January 30, 1796.

3 Reference to the movement called Scandinavianism, which called for a closer union between Norway, Sweden, and Denmark; the movement was particularly active in the 1840s and 1850s.


“I WANT TO BE something!” said the eldest of five brothers. “I want to be of some use in the world, be it ever so humble a position. As long as I am doing something good, it will be something. I will make bricks. You can’t do without them! Then I will have done something anyway!”

“But an all-too-little something!” said the second brother. “What you’re doing is as good as nothing. It’s just a helping job, something that can be done by a machine. No, become a mason instead. That’s something I want to be. That’s a trade! With that I’ll get into a guild and become a middle-class citizen. I’ll have my own banner and my own public house. If I do well, I’ll be able to have journeymen, become a master, and my wife will become a Mrs. Master Mason! That is something!”

“That’s absolutely nothing!” said the third. “That’s completely outside of the middle-class structure, and there are many classes in town that are above the master Masons. You can be a worthy man, but as a master you are only what is called a ‘common’ worker. No! I know something better. I want to be a builder, and get into the artistic area, the theoretical, and rise up to the highest in the realm of the mind. Of course I have to start at the bottom. I might as well admit it straight out. I have to begin as a carpenter’s apprentice and wear a cap, even though I’m used to a silk hat, and run to get beer and spirits for the lowly journeymen. They’ll be familiar and say “du” to me, and that’s bad, but I’ll just imagine that it’s all a masquerade, and the masks will come off tomorrow—that is to say when I become a journeyman and go off on my own, it’ll be no business of theirs. I’ll go to the academy and learn to draw. I’ll become an architect! That’s something! That’s something big! I can become both high-born and well-born with a little something more in front and back of my name, and I’ll build and build like those who came before me. That’s something you can always rely on, and all of it is something!”

“But that’s something I don’t care about!” said the fourth. “I don’t want to ride in the wake, or be a copy of something. I want to be a genius, and more skillful than all of you! I’ll shape a new style, create the idea for a building that fits the country’s climate, materials, the national spirit, the developments of our age, and then another story for my own genius!”

“But if the climate and the materials aren’t any good,” said the fifth, “that would be too bad, and it would have an impact. National spirit can also easily develop into something affected, and the developments of the age can often cause you to run riot, just as adolescents often do. I can see that none of you will actually become something, no matter how much you may think so yourselves. But do as you want. I won’t copy you. I’ll place myself outside and criticize what you do. There is always something wrong with everything. I will point it out and discuss it. That is something!”

And that’s what he did, and people said about the fifth brother: “He’s really something! He’s got a good head, but he doesn’t do anything!”—Yet because of that he was something.

See that’s just a little story, and there’s no end to it as long as the world goes on.

Well, what happened to the five brothers? What we’ve heard wasn’t anything, was it? Listen further. It’s really a complete fairy tale.

The oldest brother, who made bricks, noticed that a little penny rolled out of each brick when it was finished. Only a copper penny, but many small copper pennies piled on top of each other become a shiny dollar, and wherever you knock on the door with that, whether it’s at the baker, the butcher, or the tailor—yes, at all of them—the doors fly open, and you get what you need. See, that’s what came from the bricks. Even though some fell to pieces or broke in the middle, they could be used too.

Up on the embankment a poor woman, old mother Margrethe, so badly wanted to slap up a little house. She got all the brick pieces and a couple of unbroken ones because the oldest brother had a good heart, even if he was only a brick maker. The poor woman built the house herself. It was narrow, and the one window was crooked. The door was much too low, and the straw roof could have been better laid, but it gave shelter against wind and weather, and you could see way out to sea, which broke against the dike in its might. The salty drops of water sprayed over the whole house, which was still standing when he who had made the bricks was dead and gone.

The second brother really knew the art of building. Well, he was trained for it. When he finished his apprenticeship, he packed his knapsack and sang the song of the craftsman:While young I can the world traverse,

And houses build out there.

My craftsmanship becomes my purse,

My youthfulness my flair.

And if, again, I see home’s soil

My sweetheart’s told “I’m able”

For an active craftsman it’s no toil

To populate the table!

And he did. When he came back and became a Master mason, he built house after house—a whole street full. When they were finished and looked good, they gave the city esteem, and then the houses built a little house for him that was to be his own. But how could houses build, you ask? Well, just ask them. They won’t answer, but people will answer, and they’ll say, “Yes indeed, that street built him his house!” It was small and had a dirt floor, but when he danced on it with his bride, the floor became shiny and polished. And a flower grew from every brick in the wall. That was just as good as expensive wallpaper. It was a lovely house and a happy couple. The banner of the guild waved outside and the journeymen and apprentices shouted “Hurrah!” Well, that was something! And then he died, and that was also something!

Then there was the architect, the third brother, who had been an apprentice first, worn a cap and run errands in the town, but from the academy he had worked his way up to a master builder “high-born” and “well-born.” If the houses in the street had built a house for his brother who was the mason, now the street itself was named after the architect and the most beautiful house in the street was his. That was something, and he was something—and with a long title in front and back of his name. His children were called aristocratic, and when he died, his wife was a widow of distinguished social status. That is something! And his name was up on the street sign and always on everyone’s lips as the street name—Well, that is something!

And then there was the genius, the fourth brother, who wanted to build something new, something different with a top story for himself. Well, it collapsed, and he fell and broke his neck—but he had a beautiful funeral, with guild banners and music, flowers on the street over the pavement, and flowery notices in the paper. There were three sermons for him, each longer than the one before, and that would have pleased him, because he liked being talked about. He got a monument on his grave, only one story, but even that’s something!

Now he was dead, like the other three, but the last one, the critic, outlived them all and that was only right, because then he got the final word, and it was of great importance to him to have the last word. He’s the one who had the good head, as everyone said! Then his time came too, and he died and went to the Pearly Gates. People always arrive there two by two, and there he was standing with another soul who also really wanted to get in. It was no one other than old mother Margrethe from the house by the dike.

“It must be for the sake of contrast that I and this miserable soul should arrive here at the same time,” said the critic. “So who are you, Granny? Do you want to get in here too?”

And the old woman curtsied as best she could. She thought it was St. Peter himself who was speaking to her. “I’m just a poor old woman without any family. Old Margrethe from the house by the dike.”

“What have you done, and what have you accomplished down there?”

“I haven’t accomplished anything at all in this world that can open up the door for me here! It would be a true act of grace if I were to be allowed inside the gate.”

“How did you come to leave the world?” he asked her to make conversation about something, since he was bored standing there and waiting.

“Well, how I left it, I don’t know! I’ve been sick and ailing for the last few years, so I guess I wasn’t able to tolerate crawling out of bed to go out in the cold and frost outdoors. It’s a hard winter, you know, but now I have escaped it. There were a few days when there was no wind, but bitterly cold, as Your Reverence probably knows. The ice had formed as far out from the beach as one could see. All the people from town went out on the ice and were skating and dancing too, I think. There was music and food and drink out there. I could hear it from where I was lying in my simple room. Evening was approaching, the moon was up, but it was a new moon. From my bed through the window I could see way out over the shore, and right there between sky and sea a strange white cloud appeared. I lay and looked at it, looked at the black dot in the middle of it that got bigger and bigger, and then I knew what it meant. I am old and experienced, but that sign you don’t see often. I recognized it and felt a horror! I had seen that thing coming twice before in my life and knew that there would be a terrible storm with a spring tide that would rush over the poor people out there who were drinking and running and frolicking. Young and old, the whole town was out there. Who would warn them if no one there saw and recognized what I now knew? I became so afraid, and I felt more life in me than I had felt for a long time! I got out of the bed and went to the window, but I couldn’t manage to get any further. I did get the window open. I could see the people running and jumping out there on the ice, see the neat flags and hear how the boys shouted ”hurrah,” and girls and boys sang. They were having a good time, but the white cloud with the black bag inside rose higher and higher! I shouted as loudly as I could, but no one heard me. I was too far away. Soon the storm would break out, the ice would break, and everyone out there would sink through without hope of rescue. They couldn’t hear me. I wasn’t able to reach them. If only I could get them to come on land! Then God gave me the idea of lighting fire to my bed, letting the whole house burn up, rather than that all those people should die so wretchedly. I lit the candle, saw the red flame—I was able to get out the door, but there I lay—I couldn’t get any further. The flames shot out behind me and out the window and across the roof. They saw me from out there, and they all ran as fast as they could to help me—poor old me—whom they thought was trapped inside. Every one of them came running. I heard them coming, but I also heard the sudden roaring in the air. I heard the rumbling that sounded like cannon fire. The spring tide lifted the ice, and it broke in pieces, but they reached the dike where the sparks were flying over me. They were all safe and sound, although I must not have been able to stand the cold and the fright, and so here I am at the Pearly Gates. They say they can be opened even for a poor person like me. Now I don’t have a house anymore there on the dike, although that doesn’t gain me entrance here.”

Then the Pearly Gates opened, and the angel let the old woman in. A straw from her bed fell outside the gates. It was one of those that had laid in her bed and that she had lit to save the many people, and it turned to the purest gold, but a gold that grew and that twined itself into the most beautiful decorations.

“See, that’s what the poor woman brought,” said the angel. “What are you bringing? Well, I know already that you didn’t accomplish anything. You didn’t even make a brick! If you could just go back and bring at least a brick that you had made, it would count for something. It wouldn’t be any good, since you made it, but if you made it with good will it would at least be something. But you can’t go back, and I can’t do anything for you!”

Then the poor soul, the woman from the embankment, pleaded for him. “His brother made and gave me all the bricks and broken bits that I slapped up my miserable little house with. That was a lot for a poor wretch like me. Can’t all those bits and broken bricks count as one brick’s worth for him? That would be an act of mercy, and he needs it, and this is the home of mercy, after all.”

“Your brother, the one you called the poorest, whose honest work you considered lowest, gives you his heavenly mite. You will not be turned away. You will be allowed to stand out here and think things over, try to promote your life down there, but you won’t get in before your good deeds have accomplished—something!

“I could have said that better,” thought the critic, but he didn’t say it out loud, and that was already really something.


THERE WAS A YOUNG man who was studying to be a writer. He wanted to become one by Easter, get married, and live by his writing. He knew it was just a question of hitting on something. But he couldn’t think of anything. He was born too late. Everything had been examined before he was born. Everything had been written about.

“Those lucky people who were born a thousand years ago!” he said. “They could become immortal! Even those born a hundred years ago were lucky. There was still something to write about then. Now there’s nothing in the world left to write about, so what can I write about?”

He mulled and stewed over it to the point that he became ill, the miserable fellow. No doctor could help him, but maybe the wise woman could. She lived in a little house by the gate that she opened up for those driving or riding on the road. But she was able to open much more than the gate. She was wiser than the doctor, who drove in his own coach and paid a tax because of his rank.

“I must go out and see her,” said the young man.

The house she lived in was small and neat, but drab to look at. There wasn’t a tree or a flower. There was a beehive outside the door—very useful! There was a little potato patch—very useful! There was also a ditch with blackthorn bushes that had flowered and set berries—bitter berries that purse the lips if they’re tasted before frost.

“It’s like an image of our prosaic times, I see here,” thought the young man, and that was a thought. A pearl he found by the wise woman’s door.

“Write it up!” she said. “Half a loaf is better than no bread. I know why you’re here. You can’t think of anything, but you want to be a writer by Easter.”

“Everything’s been written!” he said. “Our times aren’t like the old days.”

“No!” said the woman. “In the old days wise women were burned at the stake, and poets walked around with shrunken bellies and holes in their sleeves. Our times are good times—they’re the very best! But you aren’t looking at it the right way, nor have you sharpened your hearing. I’m sure you never say the Lord’s prayer in the evening either. There are all sorts of things to write and tell about here for those who are able. You can take stories from the earth’s plants and crops, scoop them up from the running and standing water, but you have to understand, understand how to catch a sunbeam! Now try on my glasses, put my hearing trumpet in your ear, pray to God, and stop thinking about yourself.”

The last part was very hard, and more than a wise woman could ask for.

He got the glasses and the ear trumpet and was positioned in the middle of the potato patch. She put a big potato in his hand. It was ringing. It rang out a song with words—the potato’s history—interesting. An everyday story in ten parts. Ten lines would have been enough.

And what did the potato sing about?

It sang about itself and its family—the potato’s arrival in Europe, and the lack of appreciation they had experienced and suffered before they, like now, were recognized as a bigger blessing than a nugget of gold.

“We were distributed at the city hall in all cities by order of the King. Our great importance was proclaimed, but people didn’t believe it and didn’t even understand how to plant us. One man dug a hole and threw a whole half bushel of potatoes into it. Another stuck a potato into the ground here and there and waited for them to shoot up like a tree that he could shake potatoes from. And there was growth, flowers, and watery fruit, but everything withered away. No one thought that the blessing lay under the ground—the potatoes. Well, we have had our trials and sufferings, that is to say, our ancestors—they and us, it makes no difference. What stories!”

“Well, that’s enough,” said the woman. “Look at the blackthorn! ”

“We also have close relatives in the potato’s homeland,” said the blackthorn bushes, “further north than they grew. Norwegians from Norway sailed west through fogs and storms to an unknown land where under the ice and snow, they found herbs and greenery and bushes with wine’s dark blue berries—sloeberries. They froze to ripe grapes, and so do we. And that country was called Vineland, Greenland, Sloethornland.”

“That’s a very romantic story,” said the young man.

“Come along,” said the wise woman and led him over to the beehive. He looked into it. What a hustle and bustle! There were bees in all the hallways beating their wings to bring a healthy breeze into the entire big factory. That was their job. From outside bees born with baskets on their legs came bringing flower pollen. It was shaken off, sorted, and made into honey and wax. They came and went. The Queen bee wanted to fly too, but then they would all have to fly along, and it wasn’t time for that yet. But since she wanted to fly, they bit the wings from her majesty, and then she had to stay put.

“Climb up on the embankment,” said the wise woman. “Take a look at the road, and all the folks there!”

“What a swarming throng!” said the young man, “Story upon story! Humming and buzzing! It’s too much for me! I’m going back!”

“No, go straight ahead!” said the woman. “Go right into the teeming crowd. Have an eye for them, and an ear—and yes—a heart too. Then you’ll soon think of something. But before you go, I must have my glasses and ear trumpet back.” And she took both of them.

“Now I can’t see anything,” said the young man, “and I can’t hear any longer.”

“Well, then you can’t be a writer by Easter,” said the wise woman.

“But when then?” he asked.

“Neither by Easter nor Pentecost! You can’t learn imagination.”

“But what shall I do to make my living by writing?”

“Oh, you can manage that by Shrove Tuesday! Become a critic! Knock down the poets. Knock down their writings—that’s just like knocking them. Just don’t be over-awed. Hit at them without ceremony. You’ll get enough dough to support both yourself and a wife!”

“You’ve hit upon the very thing!” said the young man, and he knocked down all the poets because he couldn’t become one himself.

We heard this from the wise woman. She knows what people can think up.


HE WHO COULD DO the most incredible thing was to have the King’s daughter and half the kingdom.

The young people—well, the old ones too—strained all their thoughts, tendons, and muscles over this. Two died from over-eating, and one drank himself to death. All trying to do the most incredible thing according to their taste, but that wasn’t how it was supposed to be done. The little street urchins practiced spitting on their own backs. They thought that was the most incredible thing.

On a pre-assigned day everyone was to produce what they had to show as the most incredible thing. The judges were children from the age of three all the way up to folks in their nineties. There was a whole exhibition of incredible things, but everyone soon agreed that the most incredible was a huge clock in a case, remarkably artistic both inside and out. At the striking of the hour, lifelike images appeared to show what time had struck. There were twelve performances in all with moving figures and song and speech.

“This is the most incredible thing!” people said.

The clock struck one, and Moses was standing on a mountain writing the first commandment on a tablet: “You shall have no other gods before me.”

The clock struck two and the Garden of Eden appeared, where Adam and Eve met. They were both happy despite not owning so much as a clothes closet. They didn’t need it either.

At the stroke of three the three wise men appeared. One was as black as coal, but he couldn’t help it. The sun had blackened him. They carried incense and precious objects.

At four o’clock, the seasons of the year came out. Spring with a cuckoo on a leafed-out beech branch. Summer with a grasshopper on a ripe ear of corn. The autumn with an empty stork’s nest for the bird had flown away. And winter with an old crow that could tell stories in the stove corner, old memories.

When the clock struck five the five senses were there. Sight came as a maker of eye glasses. Hearing was a coppersmith. Smell was selling violets and woodruff. Taste was a cook, and Feeling was a funeral director with mourning crepe hanging down to his heels.

The clock struck six. A gambler was sitting there throwing dice. The die landed with the highest number up—it was six.

Then came the seven days of the week or the seven deadly sins. People couldn’t agree which they were, but of course they belong together and aren’t easy to tell apart.

Then a choir of monks sang eight o’clock matins.

The nine muses followed at the stroke of nine. One worked at the observatory, one at the historical archives, and the rest belonged to the theater.

At ten Moses came back again with the tablet of laws. Now all God’s commandments were there, ten of them.

The clock struck again and little boys and girls hopped and ran around. They were playing a game and singing along: “Four plus seven, the clock strikes eleven,” and that’s what it was.

Then twelve struck and the night watchman came out wearing his hat with ear-flaps and carrying his spiked mace. He sang the old song of the watchman: “It was at midnight that our savior was born,” and as he sang roses grew and turned into heads of angels, borne by rainbow colored wings.

It was lovely to hear and beautiful to see. The whole thing was an exceptional work of art. Everybody said it was the most incredible thing.

The artist was a young man, good-hearted and as happy as a child. He was a faithful friend and helpful to his impoverished parents. He deserved the princess and half the kingdom.

The day of decision had arrived. The whole town was decorated, and the princess sat on the throne of the land. A new curled horsehair stuffing had been added, but that didn’t make it any more comfy or classy. The judges looked around slyly at the one who was going to win. He stood there confident and happy. His happiness was assured, for he had made the most incredible thing.

Just then a tall, strong strapping fellow yelled, “No, I’m going to do that now! I’m the man to do the most incredible thing!” And then he swung a big axe at the work of art.

“Crunch, crash, smash!” There the whole thing lay. Wheels and springs were flying all over. It was completely destroyed!

“I was able to do that!” said the man. “My strikes have struck down his, and struck down all of you. I have done the most incredible thing!”

“Destroying such a work of art!” said the judges. “Yes, that really was the most incredible thing.”

All the people agreed, and so then he was to have the princess and half the kingdom, because the law’s the law, even an incredible one.

From the embankments and all the town’s towers it was proclaimed that the wedding was to take place. The princess was not at all happy about it, but she looked beautiful and was magnificently dressed. The church was ablaze with candles, late in the evening when it looks best. Young noble maidens of the town sang and attended the bride. Knights sang and attended the groom. He strutted as if he could never snap.

Then the singing stopped, and it was so quiet that you could have heard a pin drop. In the middle of that silence the big church doors flew open with a rumbling and tumbling—“boom!” The entire clock mechanism came marching right up the church aisle and stood between the bride and the bridegroom. People who are dead can’t walk again, we know that very well, but works of art can haunt. The body was broken, but not the spirit. The spirit of art was spooking, and that was no spoofing matter.

The work of art looked just like it had when it was whole and untouched. The hours started to strike, one after the other, all the way to twelve, and the figures swarmed forth. First came Moses, and it was as if flames shone from his forehead. He threw the heavy stone laws tablets on the bridegroom’s feet which pinned them to the church floor.

“I can’t pick them up again!” Moses said. “You chopped my arms off! Stay as you are!”

Then came Adam and Eve, the three wise men from the East, and the four seasons. All of them hurled unpleasant truths at him. “Shame on you!”

But he wasn’t ashamed.

All of the figures that every hour had at its disposal stepped out of the clock, and all grew to a tremendous size. There almost wasn’t room for the real people. And when at the stroke of twelve, the watchman stepped out with his hat and spiked mace, there was a singular commotion. The watchman went right up to the bridegroom and struck him on the head with the spiked mace.

“Lie there!” he said. “Tit for tat! We are avenged, and so is our master! We’re leaving!”

And the whole great work of art disappeared. But the candles changed into big flowers of light throughout the church, and the gilded stars on the ceiling sent out long, clear rays. The organ played by itself. Everybody said that it was the most incredible thing they had ever experienced.

“Will you summon the right one?” said the princess. “The one who made the artwork—he shall be my husband and master.”

And he stood in the church with all the people as his attendants. Everyone rejoiced, and everyone blessed him. There wasn’t a person who was jealous. And that was really the most incredible thing!


WHERE DID WE GET this story?

—Would you like to know?

We got it from the waste barrel in the store with all the old papers in it. Many good and rare books have ended up at the grocer’s and the greengrocer’s—not for reading, but as useful articles. They need paper to make paper cones for starch and coffee, and paper to wrap salt herring, butter, and cheese in. Handwritten materials can be used too.

Often things go into the barrel that shouldn’t go there.

I know a greengrocer’s apprentice, son of a grocer. He has advanced from the basement to the first floor store. He’s well-read, well-read in wrapping paper, both printed and handwritten. He has an interesting collection, including several important documents from the wastepaper baskets of one or another much too busy and absent-minded official, several confidential letters from girlfriend to girlfriend: scandalous stories which must not be revealed—not spoken of by anyone. He is a living salvage operation for a considerable amount of literature, and he has a large working area. He has both his parents’ and employer’s stores and has saved many a book or page of a book that probably deserve to be read twice.

He has shown me his collection of printed and written materials from the barrel, most of it from the grocer’s. There were a couple of pages of a good-sized notebook, and the especially beautiful clear handwriting drew my attention immediately.

“The student wrote this,” he said. “The student who lived across the street and died a month ago. They say he suffered a lot from toothaches. It’s quite amusing to read, but there’s only a little of it left now. There was a whole book plus some. My parents gave the student’s landlady half a pound of green soap for it. Here is what I’ve saved of it.”

I borrowed it, and read it, and now I’ll tell it. The title was:



—My aunt gave me candies when I was little. My teeth withstood it and weren’t ruined. Now I’m older and have become a college student, and she still spoils me with sweets. She says that I’m a poet.

I have something of the poet in me, but not enough. Often when I’m walking the city streets, it seems to me like I’m in a big library. The houses are bookcases and each story a shelf with books. There stands an everyday story. There a good old fashioned comedy. There are scientific works about all kinds of subjects. Here smut and good literature. I can fantasize and philosophize about all that literature.

There’s something of the poet in me, but not enough. Many people have just as much of it as I have and yet don’t carry a sign or a collar with poet written on it.

They and I have been given a gift from God, a blessing big enough for oneself, but much too small to be parceled out to others. It comes like a sunbeam and fills your soul and mind. It comes like a waft of flowers, like a melody you know but can’t remember from where.

The other evening I was sitting in my room and felt like reading. I had no magazine or book to leaf through. Suddenly a leaf fell fresh and green from the linden tree, and the breeze blew it in the window to me.

I looked at all the many branching veins. A little bug was moving across them, as if it were making a thorough inspection of the leaf. That made me think of human wisdom. We crawl around on the leaf too and know only that. But then we deliver lectures about the entire big tree, the root, trunk, and crown. The big tree—God, the world, and immortality, and of the whole we only know a little leaf!

Just then Aunt Mille came for a visit.

I showed her the leaf with the bug and told her my thoughts about it, and her eyes lit up.

“You’re a poet!” she said. “Maybe the greatest we have! I will gladly go to my grave if I can live to see that. You’ve always amazed me by your powerful imagination, ever since brewer Rasmussen’s funeral.”

That’s what Aunt Mille said, and she kissed me.

Who was Aunt Mille, and who was brewer Rasmussen?


We children always called mother’s aunt “auntie.” We had no other name for her.

She gave us jam and sugar, even though it was bad for our teeth. She said she had a soft spot for the sweet children. It was cruel to deny them a little of the sweets that they loved so much.

And so we loved Auntie very much too.

She was an old maid, and as far back as I can remember she was always old. Her age never changed.

In earlier years she had suffered a lot from toothaches and was always talking about it. That’s why her friend, brewer Rasmussen, jokingly started calling her Auntie Toothache.

In his last years he no longer did brewing, but lived off the interest of his money. He often visited Auntie and was older than she was. He had no teeth at all, just some black stumps. He told us children that he had eaten too much sugar as a child, and that’s what one looks like from doing that.

Auntie must not have eaten any sugar in her childhood because she had the most beautiful white teeth.

Brewer Rasmussen said that she saved on using them—she didn’t sleep with them at night! We children knew it was mean to say that, but Auntie said he hadn’t meant anything by it.

One morning at breakfast she told us a bad dream she had had that night. One of her teeth had fallen out. “That means I am going to lose a true friend,” she said.

“If it was a false tooth,” the brewer chuckled, “then it only means you’ll lose a false friend.”

“You’re a rude old man!” Auntie said as angrily as I have ever seen her, before or since. Later she said that he had only been teasing her. He was the noblest person on earth, and when he died some day, he would become a little angel of God in heaven.

I thought a lot about that transformation and wondered if I would be able to recognize him in his new form.

When Auntie was young, and he was young too, he had proposed to her. But she deliberated over it too long and didn’t make up her mind. Didn’t make up her mind for too long, and so became an old maid, but she was always a loyal friend to him.

And then brewer Rasmussen died.

He was driven to his grave in the most expensive hearse, and a big procession followed, many people with medals and wearing uniforms.

Auntie stood by the window in her black mourning together with all us children, except for my little brother, whom the stork had brought a week ago.

When the hearse and procession had passed and the street was empty, Auntie wanted to go, but I didn’t want to. I was waiting for the angel, brewer Rasmussen. He had become a little winged child of God and had to appear.

“Auntie,” I said, “Don’t you think he’ll be coming now? Or when the stork brings us another little brother, will he bring angel Rasmussen?”

Auntie was completely overwhelmed by my imagination and said, “That child will become a great poet!” She repeated that all through my school years, after my confirmation, and now into my years as a college student.

She was and is the most sympathetic friend to me, both in my pains with my poetry and pains in my teeth. I have bouts of both.

“Just write down all your thoughts,” she said, ”and put them in the drawer. That’s what jean Paul1 did, and he became a great poet, although I don’t really like him. He isn’t exciting. You must be exciting! And you will be exciting!”

The night after this conversation I lay awake in longing and distress, with the want and need to become the great poet that Auntie saw and sensed in me. I was in “poet pain,” but there’s a worse pain, and that’s a toothache. It crushed and squashed me. I became a writhing worm with an herbal hot pad on my cheek and Spanish fly.

“I know all about that,” said Auntie. She had a sad smile on her lips, and her teeth shone so white.

I must start a new section of my story and Auntie’s.


I had moved into my new apartment and had lived there a month. I talked with Auntie about it.

“I live with a quiet family. They don’t pay any attention to me, even if I ring three times. Actually it’s a real madhouse with racket and noises of wind and weather and people. I live right over the entrance portal, and every coach that drives in or out makes the pictures on the wall shake. The gate slams and shakes the house as if it were an earthquake. If I’m lying in bed, the jolts go through all my limbs, but that is supposed to be good for the nerves. If the wind’s blowing, and it’s always windy here in this country, then the long casement window hooks dangle back and forth and slam against the brick wall. The neighbor’s portal bell rings with every gust of wind.

The residents of the building come home in batches from late in the evening until far into the night. The lodger right above me, who gives trombone lessons during the day, comes home last, and he doesn’t go to bed until he has had a little midnight walk around his room with heavy tromping in iron-clad boots.

There are no double windows, but there’s a broken pane that the landlady has pasted paper over. The wind blows through the crack anyway and makes a sound like a humming horsefly. It’s music to put you to sleep. When I finally do fall asleep, I’m soon awakened by the crow of the rooster. The rooster and hens announce from the chicken coop of the man in the cellar that it’ll soon be morning. The little ponies, who don’t have a stable, are tethered in the sandpit below the stairs. They kick at the door and the walls for exercise.

At daybreak, the janitor, who lives in the attic with his family, comes lumbering down the stairs. Wooden shoes clack, the gate slams, the house shakes, and when that’s over, the lodger upstairs begins his exercises. He lifts a heavy iron ball in each hand, but he can’t keep a hold of them. They fall again and again, while at the same time all the children in the building run screaming on their way to school. I go to the window and open it to get some fresh air—it’s refreshing when I can get it—if the lady in the back building isn’t washing gloves in stain remover. That’s how she makes her living. All in all, it’s a nice building, and I live with a quiet family.”

That was the account I gave my aunt about my apartment. It was more lively though, because an oral presentation is more vivid than the written word.

“You’re a poet!” shouted Auntie. “Just write up what you said, and you’ll be just as good as Dickens. Actually you interest me much more. You paint when you speak! You describe your building so that one can see it. It makes one shudder! Keep writing, make it come alive. Put people in, beautiful people and preferably unhappy ones!”

I really did write it down, as it stands with the noises and sounds, but just with myself in it, no action. That came later!


It was in the winter, late in the evening after the theater. There was a terrible snowstorm, so it was almost impossible to make any headway walking.

Auntie had been to the theater, and I was there to see her home, but it was hard to walk oneself, much less help someone else. All the cabs were taken. Auntie lived far over in town, but my room was close to the theater. If that hadn’t been the case, we would have had to stand in the sentry box for who knows how long.

We struggled along in the deep snow, surrounded by the whirling snowflakes. I lifted her, held her, and pushed her along. We only fell twice, but we fell softly.

We reached my gate where we shook ourselves off. We shook ourselves on the stairs too, and we still had enough snow on us to fill up the floor in the entry.

We took off our coats and other clothing that could be taken off. The landlady lent Auntie dry stockings and a robe. She said it was a necessity, and added that Auntie could not possibly get home that night, which was true. She asked her to make do with the sofa in her living room, where she would make up a bed in front of the always locked door to my room. And that was done.

A fire burned in my stove. The teapot was brought to the table, and the little room became cozy, if not as cozy as at Auntie’s, where there are thick curtains in front of the door in the winter, thick curtains over the windows, and two-ply carpets with three layers of heavy paper underneath. You sit there as if in a tightly corked bottle of warm air. But, as I said, it was cozy there in my place too. Outside the wind howled.

Auntie talked and told stories. Back came the days of her youth and back came the brewer, old memories.

She remembered when I got my first tooth, and the pleasure the family took in it. The first tooth! The tooth of innocence, shining like a little white drop of milk—the milk tooth.

First came one, then others, a whole line. Side by side, upper and lower—the most lovely baby teeth, but yet just the vanguards, not the real ones that have to last for a lifetime.

They came too, and the wisdom teeth also. Flankers of the rank, born in pain and with great difficulty.

And they leave again, every one of them! They go before their service is up. Even the last tooth goes, and that’s not a day of celebration. It’s a melancholy day.

And then you’re old, even if your spirit is young.

Such thoughts and talk aren’t pleasant, and yet we talked about all this. We went back to childhood years. We talked and talked. It was midnight before Auntie went to bed in the room next door.

“Good night, my sweet child,” she called. “Now I’ll sleep as if I’m lying in my own bed.”

And she slept peacefully, but there was no peace either in the house or outside. The storm shook the windows, slammed the long dangling iron hooks, and rang the neighbor’s portal bell in the back building. The lodger upstairs had come home. He was still taking his little walk up and down. He took off his boots and went to bed and to rest, but he snores so loudly that good ears can hear it through the ceiling.

I couldn’t sleep, and couldn’t calm down. The weather didn’t calm down either. It was immensely lively. The wind whistled and sang in its fashion and my teeth also began to get lively. They whistled and sang in their fashion, and struck up a terrific toothache.

There was a draft from the window. The moonlight shone onto the floor. The lighting changed as the clouds came and went in the stormy weather. There was a shifting of shadow and light, but at last the shadow on the floor took shape and looked like something. I looked at the moving shape and sensed an icy cold blast.

A figure was sitting on the floor, thin and long, as when a child tries to draw a person on a blackboard with chalk. The body is a single long line. A line and one more are the arms, and the legs are also each just a line, with the head a polygon.

The figure soon became more distinct. It seemed to have some kind of dress on—very thin and fine, but that showed the figure was a female.

I heard a humming sound. Was it her, or the wind that was buzzing like a horsefly in the window crack?

No, it was Mrs. Toothache herself! Her Awfulness Satania infernalis. 2 God deliver and preserve us from her visits!

“It’s nice to be here,” she hummed. “These are good lodgings. Swampy ground, boggy ground. The mosquitoes have been buzzing around here with poison in their sting, and now I have the stinger. It has to be sharpened on human teeth, and they’re shining so whitely on him in the bed. They have held their own against sweet and sour, hot and cold, shells of nuts and stones of plums! But I am going to rock them and shock them, nourish their roots with a drafty wind, and give them cold feet!”

It was a horrible speech from a horrible guest.

“So you’re a poet!” she said. “Well, I’ll teach you all the meters of agony. I’ll give you iron and steel in your body, and put wires in all your nerves.”

It was as if a glowing awl plunged into my cheekbone. I twisted and turned.

“An excellent set of teeth!” she said. “An organ to play upon—a mouth-organ concert, splendid, with kettledrums and trumpets, a piccolo, and a trombone in the wisdom tooth! Great music for a great poet!”

She struck up her music, and she looked horrible, even though I saw no more of her than her hand—a shadow grey, ice-cold hand with long thin awl-like fingers. Each of them was a tool of torture. The thumb and index finger were pliers and a thumbscrew. The middle finger ended in a sharp awl. The ring finger was a drill, and the little finger a needle injecting mosquito poison.

“I’ll teach you to write poetry!” she shouted. “A great poet shall have a great toothache. A small poet, a small toothache.”

“Oh, let me be a small one!” I begged. “Or not be at all! And I’m not a poet. I only have bouts of writing, like I have bouts of toothache. Go away! Go away!”

“Then do you acknowledge that I am more powerful than poetry, philosophy, mathematics, and all music?!” she asked. “More powerful than all the feelings and sensations painted and carved in marble? I am older than all of them. I was born right beside the Garden of Eden, outside where the wind blew, and the soggy toadstools grew. I got Eve to put on clothing in cold weather, and Adam too. You’d better believe there was power in that first toothache!”

“I believe all of it!” I said. “Go away! Go away!”

“Well, if you’ll give up being a poet, never set verse on paper, blackboard or any other writing material again, then I’ll let you go. But I’ll come back if you start writing.”

“I swear!” I said. “Just never let me see or sense you ever again!”

“You will see me, but in a plumper figure, more dear to you than I am now! You will see me as Aunt Mille, and I’ll say ‘Write, my sweet boy! You are a great poet, perhaps the greatest we have!’ But if you believe me and start writing, then I’ll set your verses to music and play them on your mouth organ! You sweet child!—Remember me when you see Aunt Mille!”

And then she disappeared.

As she left, I felt a glowing stab of the awl in my cheekbone, but it soon subsided. I felt like I was gliding on soft water, saw white water lilies with their wide green leaves bending, sinking down under me, then withering, dissolving—and I sank with them, dissolving in peace and rest.

“Die, melt away like snow” sang and clang in the water. “Dissolve into the clouds, drift away like the clouds!”

Great lighted names shone down to me through the water, inscriptions on waving victory banners—Immortality’s patent applications—written on Mayfly wings.

My sleep was deep, sleep without dreams. I didn’t hear the whistling wind, the slamming gate, the neighbor’s ringing portal bell, or the lodger’s heavy exercising.

Such bliss!

Then a gust of wind blew open the locked door to where Auntie was sleeping. She leapt up, put on her shoes and clothes, and came in to me.

I was sleeping like an angel of God, she said, and she didn’t have the heart to wake me.

I awoke on my own, opened my eyes and had completely forgotten that Auntie was in the house. But I soon remembered it, and remembered my toothache vision. Dream and reality merged together.

“I don’t suppose you wrote anything last night, after we said good night to each other?” she asked. “I wish you had! You’re my poet, now and always.”

It seemed to me that she smiled so cunningly. I wasn’t sure if it was the good Auntie Mille, who loved me, or the terrible figure I had sworn to in the night.

“Did you write anything, dear child?”

“No, no!” I cried. “You are Aunt Mille, aren’t you?”

“Who else?” she said. And it was Aunt Mille.

She kissed me, got a cab, and went home.

I wrote down what’s written here. It’s not in verse, and it will never be printed—.

Here the manuscript ended.

My young friend, the future greengrocer apprentice, couldn’t procure the missing pages. They had gone into the world as wrapping paper around salt herring, butter and green soap. They had fulfilled their destiny.

The brewer is dead. Auntie is dead. And the student is dead, he whose sparks of poetry went into the waste barrel.

Everything goes to waste.

And that’s the end of the story, the story about Auntie Toothache.


1 Pen name of German writer Johann Paul Friedrich Richter (1763-1825).

2 Equating the toothache with the devil, Andersen adds the Latin infernalis (of hell) to create his title for the personified toothache.


THERE WAS AN OLD estate with an excellent young master and mistress. They had blessings and riches. They enjoyed themselves, and they also did a lot of good. They wanted everyone to be as happy as they themselves were.

On Christmas Eve a beautiful, decorated Christmas tree stood in the old great hall. Fires were burning in the fireplaces, and the old portraits were decorated with spruce branches. The master and mistress and their guests gathered here, and there was singing and dancing.

There had already been Christmas joy in the servants’ hall earlier in the evening. Here too was a big spruce tree with lighted red and white candles, small Danish flags, cut-out paper swans, and paper hearts woven of colorful paper filled with goodies. The poor children of the district were invited, and each had its mother along. They didn’t look at the tree much, but at the tables with gifts. There was wool and linen cloth for sewing dresses and trousers. That’s what the mothers and older children looked at. Only the very little ones stretched out their hands towards the candles, gold tinsel, and flags.

The gathering took place early in the afternoon. Everyone ate Christmas pudding and roast goose with red cabbage. And when the tree had been looked at, and the gifts distributed, everyone got a little cup of punch and apple fritters filled with apples.

Then they went home to their poor rooms and talked about “the good way of life,” that is to say, the good food, and the gifts were once again carefully inspected.

Garden-Kirsten and Garden-Ole were a married couple who kept their home and made their living by weeding and tending the garden on the estate. At each Christmas celebration they always got their share of presents. They had five children, and all five were clothed by the master and mistress.

“They are generous people, our master and mistress,” they said. “But they can afford it, and they take pleasure in it.”

“There’s good clothing for four of the children,” said Garden-Ole. “But why isn’t there anything here for the cripple? They usually remember him too, even though he can’t go to the party.”

It was their oldest child they called “the cripple.” His name was actually Hans.

When he was little he was the quickest and most lively of children, but he had suddenly became “limp legged” as they called it. He could not stand or walk, and he had been bedridden for five years.

“Well, I did get something for him too,” said his mother. “But it’s nothing much, just a book for him to read.”

“He won’t get much out of that,” said his father.

But Hans was happy to get it. He was a really bright boy who liked to read, but he also spent his time working. He did as much as someone who’s always in bed could to make himself useful. He had busy hands and used them to knit wool stockings, even whole bedspreads. The mistress on the estate had praised them and bought them.

The book that Hans had received was a book of fairy tales. There was much to read and much to think about in it.

“That’s of no use in this house!” said his parents. “But let him read. It will pass the time, and he can’t always be knitting stockings.”

Spring came, and flowers and greenery began to sprout. Weeds too, as you can certainly call the nettles, even if they are so nicely talked about in the hymn:“Tho’ all the kings on earth did show

Their upmost strength and power,

They could not make a nettle grow

Nor mend a broken flower ”1

There was a lot to do in the manor garden, not just for the gardener and his apprentices, but also for Garden-Kirsten and Garden-Ole.

“It’s total drudgery,” they said, “and when we have raked the paths and gotten them really nice, they immediately are walked on again and messed up. There’s a constant stream of strangers here on the estate. What a lot it must cost! But the master and mistress are rich.”

“Things are oddly distributed,” said Ole. “The pastor says we’re all the Lord’s children. Why is there such a difference between us then?”

“It’s because of the fall from grace,” said Kirsten.

They talked about it again in the evening, where cripple Hans was lying with his fairy tale book.

Straitened circumstances, drudgery, and toil had hardened the parents’ hands and also hardened their judgment and opinions. They couldn’t manage, couldn’t deal with things, and the more they talked, the more disgruntled and angry they became.

“Some people have wealth and good fortune, others only poverty! Why should we have to suffer for our first parents’ disobedience and curiosity. We wouldn’t have behaved the way those two did!”

“Yes, we would have!” cripple Hans said at once. “It’s all here in this book.”

“What’s in the book?” asked his parents.

And Hans read them the old fairy tale about The Woodcutter and His Wife.2 They also complained about Adam and Eve’s curiosity, the cause of their misfortune. Then the king of the country came by. “Come home with me,” he said, “And you’ll live as well as I do. Seven course meals and a dish for show. That one’s in a closed tureen and you mustn’t touch it, or your life of luxury will be over.” “What can be in the tureen?” asked the wife. “It isn’t our business,” said the husband. “Well, I’m not curious,” said his wife. “I would just like to know why we can’t lift the lid. It must be some delicacy. ”Just so there’s no booby trap about it,” said the man, “like a pistol shot that would go off and wake the whole house.” “Uff!” said the wife and didn’t touch the tureen. But during the night she dreamed that the lid lifted by itself, and there was the fragrance of the most lovely punch like you get at weddings and funerals. There was a big silver shilling lying there with the inscription : ”If you drink of this punch you’ll become the richest in the world and everyone else will become beggars.” And she woke up right away and told her husband her dream. ”You’re thinking too much about that thing!” he said. ”We could just lift it slightly and gently,” said the wife. “Very gently,” her husband answered. And the wife lifted the lid very slowly. Two nimble little mice jumped out and ran away into a mouse hole. “Good bye!” said the king. ”Now you can go home to your own bed. Don’t berate Adam and Eve any longer. You yourselves have been just as curious and ungrateful!”

“Where did that story come from and how did it get into the book?” asked Garden-Ole. “It’s just as if it pertains to us. It gives you a lot to think about.”

They went to work again the next day. They were scorched by the sun and soaked to the skin by rain. They were filled with grumpy thoughts and chewed them over in their minds.

It was still daylight that evening when they had eaten their milk porridge, and Garden-Ole said, “Read that story about the woodcutter for us again.”

“There are so many delightful stories in this book,” said Hans. “So many that you haven’t heard.”

“Well, I don’t care about them,” said Garden-Ole. “I want to hear the one I know.”

And he and his wife listened to it again, and more than one evening they came back to the same story.

“But I don’t really understand the whole thing,” said Garden-Ole. “People are like milk that curdles. Some become fine cottage cheese and others thin, watered whey. Some people are lucky in everything, always given the place of honor, and never knowing sorrow or want.”

Cripple Hans was listening to this. His legs were weak, but his mind was sharp. He read a story for them from the book of fairy tales. He read about The Man without Sorrow or Want.3 Well, where could he be found? Because he had to be found.

The King lay ill and could not be cured except by wearing a shirt that had been worn and worn out by a person who could truthfully say that he had never known sorrow or want.

Messengers went out to all the countries of the world, to all palaces and estates, to all wealthy and happy people, but when it came right down to it, they had all known sorrow and want.

“I haven’t!” said the swineherd, sitting by the ditch, laughing and singing. “I am the happiest person.”

“Then give us your shirt,” said the messengers. “You’ll be paid half a kingdom for it.”

He didn’t have a shirt, and yet he called himself the happiest person.

“That was a fine fellow!” exclaimed Garden-Ole, and he and his wife laughed like they hadn’t laughed for years.

Just then the schoolteacher came by.

“How merry you all are,” he said. “That’s rare in this house. Did you pick a lucky number in the lottery?”

“No, nothing like that,” said Garden-Ole. “It’s Hans. He read a story for us from his fairy tale book. He read about The Man without Sorrow or Want, and the fellow had no shirt. You laugh till you cry hearing something like that, and from a printed book, too. Everyone has his burdens to bear. We’re not alone in it, and there’s a comfort in that.”

“Where did you get that book?” asked the schoolteacher.

“Hans got it at Christmas over a year ago from the master and mistress. You know he loves to read, and he’s a cripple, of course. At that time we would rather he’d gotten a couple of everyday shirts, but the book is remarkable. It answers your questions somehow.”

The schoolteacher took the book and opened it.

“Let’s hear the same story again,” said Garden-Ole. “I don’t quite have a grasp of it yet. And then he will have to read the other one about the woodcutter.”

Those two stories were enough for Ole. They were like two sunbeams that shone into the simple cottage and into the downtrodden thoughts that had made them grumpy and cross.

Hans had read the whole book, read it many times. The fairy tales carried him out into the world, there where he couldn’t go since his legs couldn’t carry him.

The schoolteacher sat by his bed. They talked together, and it was pleasant for both of them.

From that day on the schoolteacher came more often to see Hans when his parents were working. It was like a celebration for the boy every time he came. How he listened to what the old man told him! About the earth’s size and about many other countries, and that the sun was almost a half million times the size of the earth and so far away that a cannonball would take twenty five years to travel from the sun to earth, while light rays could reach the earth in eight minutes.

Every capable schoolboy knows all this now, but for Hans it was new and even more marvelous than everything written in the book of fairy tales.

A couple of times a year the schoolteacher was invited to dinner at the manor house, and on one such occasion he told them how important the fairy tale book had been in the poor cottage, where just two stories had resulted in revival and blessings. The weak, clever little boy had brought reflection and joy to the house through his reading.

When the schoolteacher went home from the manor, the mistress pressed a couple of shiny silver dollars in his hand for little Hans.

“Father and mother must have those!” said the boy when the schoolteacher brought him the money.

And Garden-Ole and Garden-Kirsten said, “Cripple Hans is, after all, a benefit and a blessing.”

A few days later when the parents were at work on the estate, its family coach stopped outside. It was the tender-hearted mistress who came, happy that her Christmas present had been such comfort and brought such pleasure to the boy and his parents.

She brought along some fine bread, fruit, and a bottle of sweet syrup, but what was even better, she brought him a little black bird in a gilded cage. It could whistle so beautifully. The cage with the bird was placed on the old chest of drawers, not far from the boy’s bed. He could see the bird and hear it, and even people way out on the road could hear the bird singing.

Garden-Ole and Garden-Kirsten didn’t come home until the mistress had left. They saw how happy Hans was, but thought that such a gift could only bring inconvenience.

“Rich people don’t consider things!” they said. “Now we’ll have that to take care of too. Cripple Hans can’t do it, and the cat will end up taking it.”

A week went by, and then another. During that time the cat had been in the room many times without scaring the bird, let alone harming it. Then something great occurred. It was in the afternoon. His parents and the other children were working, and Hans was quite alone. He had the fairy tale book in his hands and was reading about the fisherman’s wife, who had all her wishes fulfilled.4 She wanted to be King, and she became it. She wanted to be emperor, and she became it. But then she wanted to be God and so ended up in the muddy ditch, where she had come from. This story has nothing to do with the bird and the cat, but it happened to be the story he was reading when the event happened. He always remembered that.

The cage was standing on the bureau. The cat was standing on the floor staring hard with its yellow-green eyes at the bird. There was something in the cat’s face—as if it wanted to tell the bird, “How beautiful you are! I would really like to eat you!

Hans understood this. He could read it in the cat’s face.

“Scram, cat!” he shouted. “Get out of here!”

It was as if the cat was readying itself to spring.

Hans couldn’t reach it. He had nothing to throw at it except his dearest treasure, the fairy tale book. He threw it, but the cover was loose and flew to one side, and the book itself with all the pages flew to the other side. The cat slowly retreated a little bit and looked at Hans, as if it wanted to say: “Don’t involve yourself in this matter, little Hans. I can walk, and I can spring, and you can do neither.”

Hans kept his eye on the cat and was very uneasy. The bird became uneasy too. There was no person to call upon, and it was as if the cat knew this. It once again readied itself to spring. Hans could use his hands, and he waved his bedspread, but the cat didn’t care about the bedspread and when this too was thrown at it, to no avail, it leaped up on the chair and then into the windowsill, where it was closer to the bird.

Hans sensed the warm blood flowing in his veins, but he didn’t think about that. He only thought about the cat and the bird. He couldn’t get out of bed, couldn’t stand on his legs, much less walk. It was as if his heart turned over in his chest when he saw the cat jump from the window right onto the bureau and push the cage so it tipped over. The bird was fluttering around confusedly in there.

Hans gave a cry. His body jerked, and without thinking, he sprang from the bed, towards the chest of drawers. He threw the cat down and grasped the cage firmly. The bird was scared to death. With the cage in his hand he ran out the door and onto the road.

The tears were streaming down his face. He shouted for joy and screamed loudly, “I can walk! I can walk!”

He had regained the use of his limbs. Such things can happen, and it happened to him.

The schoolteacher lived close by, and the boy came running in to him in his bare feet, wearing only his shirt and bed jacket and carrying the bird in the cage.

“I can walk!” he shouted. “Lord, my God!” and he sobbed tearfully from pure joy.

And there was joy in the home of Garden-Ole and Garden-Kirsten. “We’ll never see a happier day!” they both said.

Hans was summoned to the manor house. He hadn’t walked that way for many years. It was as if the trees and hazelnut bushes that he knew so well nodded to him and said, “Hello, Hans. Welcome back out here.” The sun shone into his face and right into his heart.

At the manor the young, kind master and mistress had him sit by them, and looked as happy as if he were one of their own family.

Happiest of all was the mistress, who had given him the book of fairy tales, and the little songbird. It was, true enough, dead now. It had died of fright, but in a way it had been the means to his recovery, and the book had been an awakening for him and his parents. He still had it, and he would keep it and read it, no matter how old he became. And now he could also be useful to them at home. He would learn a trade, preferably become a bookbinder, “because,” he said, “then I can read all the new books.”

In the afternoon the mistress summoned Hans’ parents. She and her husband had talked about Hans. He was a good and clever boy, had a love of reading and good aptitude. Our Lord always approves a worthy cause.

That evening the parents came home happy from the manor, especially Kirsten, but the next week she cried because little Hans was going away. He had new clothes and was a good boy, but now he was going over the sea, far away, to go to school, a classical education. It would be many years before they would see him again.

He didn’t take the book of fairy tales along with him. His parents wanted it as a keepsake. And father often read it, but only the two stories that he knew.

And they received letters from Hans, one happier than the next. He lived with nice people in good circumstances, but the very best thing was going to school. There was so much to learn and know. He wanted only to live to be a hundred and become a schoolteacher sometime.

“If we could live to see that!” said his parents, and they held each other’s hands, as if they were at communion.

“Think what’s happened to Hans,” said Ole. “It shows that our Lord also thinks of poor people’s children. And that it happened to a cripple! It’s just like something Hans could read to us from his book of fairy tales!”


1 The second stanza of H. A. Brorson’s hymn “Arise All Things That God Has Made” (Op! al den ting, som Gud har gjort) . This translation is by Anton M. Andersen from the Hymnal for Church and Home (fourth edition), published in 1849 by the Lutheran Publishing House in Blair, Nebraska. Here the word Andersen translated as “leaflet” appears as “nettle.”

2 A fairy tale by Madame Leprince de Beaumont that Andersen could have known from Christian Molbech’s Udvalgte Eventyr og Folkedigtninger from 1843, published under the title “Den nysgierrige Kone” (“The Curious Wife”).

3 Andersen may have known this motif from A. F. E. Langbein’s poem Das Hemd des Glücklichen (The Shirt of the Happy [One]); 1805), which appeared in Neue Gedichte (1812), according to Poul Høybye.

4 This refers to the common fairy tale The Fisherman and His Wife, found in the collections made by the Brothers Grimm.



A SOLDIER CAME MARCHING along the road: One, two! One, two! He had his knapsack on his back and a sword by his side, for he had been to war, and now he was on his way home. As he was striding along the road, he met an old hag. She was so disgusting that her lower lip hung down on her chest. “Good evening, soldier,” she said. “What a handsome sword and big knapsack you have! You’re a real soldier! And now you’re going to get as much money as you could ever want.”

“Thanks very much, old hag,” the soldier replied.

“Do you see that big tree?” asked the hag, and pointed at a tree beside them. “It’s completely hollow inside. Climb up to the top, and you’ll see a hole that you can slide through. I want you to go deep down inside the tree, and I’ll tie a rope around your waist so that I can pull you up when you call me.”

“And what should I do down in the tree?” asked the soldier.

“Get money!” said the hag, “Listen, when you reach the bottom of the tree, you’ll be in a big passage. It will be quite bright there because there are over a hundred burning lamps. You’ll see three doors, and you can open them because the keys are in the locks. When you go into the first room, you’ll see a large chest in the middle of the floor with a dog sitting on top of it. He has eyes as big as a pair of teacups, but don’t worry about that. I’ll give you my blue-checkered apron that you can spread out on the floor, but move quickly, take the dog, and set him on the apron. Then open the chest and take as many coins as you want. They’re all made of copper, but if you would rather have silver, go into the next room where you’ll see a dog with eyes as big as a mill wheel, but don’t worry about that. Set him on my apron and take the money! On the other hand, if you want gold, you can have that too, and as much as you can carry, if you go into the third room. But the dog that is sitting on the money chest in there has two eyes, each as big as the Round Tower,1 and that’s quite a dog, I can tell you, but don’t worry about it! Just set him on my apron, and he won’t do anything to you, so you can take as much gold as you want from the chest.”

“And what should I do down in the tree?” asked the soldier.

“That doesn’t sound too bad,” said the soldier, “but what am I to give you, you old hag? For you want something, I imagine.”

“No,” said the hag, “I don’t want a single penny. Just bring me an old tinderbox that my grandmother forgot the last time she was down there.”

“Very well! Let’s wrap that rope around my waist,” said the soldier.

“Here it is,” said the hag, “and here’s my blue-checkered apron.”

Then the soldier climbed into the tree, slid down the hole, and found himself, as the hag had said, in the big passageway, where hundreds of lamps were burning.

He opened the first door. Oh! There sat the dog with eyes as big as teacups, glaring at him.

“You’re a fine fellow!” said the soldier, and he set him on the hag’s apron and took as many copper coins as he could pack into his pockets. Then he closed the chest, put the dog back, and went into the second room. Yikes! There sat the dog with eyes as big as mill wheels.

“Stop staring at me so much!” said the soldier. “You might hurt your eyes!” and he set the dog on the hag’s apron. When he saw so many silver coins in the chest, he threw away the copper money and filled his pockets and his knapsack with the silver coins. Then he went into the third room!—Oh, the dog was so repulsive! It really did have two eyes as big as the Round Tower that rolled around in its head like wheels!

“Good evening,” said the soldier and tipped his cap, for he had never seen such a dog before. But after he had looked at him a little, he thought, enough of that! He lifted him down to the floor and opened up the chest. Oh, bless me! How much gold there was! He could buy all of Copenhagen and all the pastry-women’s candied pigs, all the tin soldiers, riding crops and rocking horses there were in the world! Now there was money!—Then the soldier threw away all the silver coins he had poured into his pockets and knapsack and took gold instead. All his pockets, the knapsack, his cap and boots were so full that he could barely walk! Now he had money! He put the dog on the chest, locked the door and called up through the tree, “Hoist me up now, old hag!”

There sat the dog with eyes as big as teacups, glaring at him.

“Do you have the tinderbox with you?” asked the hag.

“Oh, that’s right,” said the soldier, “I’d completely forgotten it,” and he went and got it. The hag hoisted him up, and there he was once again standing on the road with his pockets, boots, knapsack and cap full of money.

“What do you want that tinderbox for?” asked the soldier.

“That doesn’t concern you,” said the hag, “Now that you’ve got your money, just give me the tinderbox!”

“Nothing doing!” said the soldier. “Tell me right now what you want it for, or I’ll pull out my sword and chop off your head!”

“No,” said the hag.

So the soldier chopped her head off, and there she lay. But he wrapped all his money up in her apron, stuck it into his knapsack on his back, put the tinderbox in his pocket, and walked into town.

It was a lovely town, and he went to the very best inn, asked for the very best rooms, and ordered his most favorite foods because now he was rich.

The servant who polished his boots thought that they were rather funny old boots for such a rich man to have, but the soldier hadn’t bought new ones yet. The next day he did indeed buy boots and beautiful clothes! Now the soldier was a distinguished gentleman, and the people told him all about the fine things to be found in their town, and about their king, and what a lovely princess his daughter was.

“Where can I see her?” asked the soldier.

“You can’t see her at all,” they all answered. “She lives in a big copper castle, surrounded by walls and towers. No one but the king is allowed to go in and out of there, because he was told by a fortuneteller that the princess is going to marry a common soldier, and the king can’t bear the thought that this might happen.”

“I would like to see her though!” thought the soldier, but of course he wouldn’t be allowed to do that.

Now he lived merrily, went to the theater, took drives in the king’s garden, and gave away lots of money to the poor, which was kind of him. He knew from the old days how bad it was not to have a cent to one’s name.—Now he was rich, had fine clothes, and made many friends. Every one said that he was a nice fellow, a proper cavalier, and the soldier liked this very much. But since he gave away money every day, and did not have any coming in, he finally had only two coins left and had to move away from the handsome rooms where he had lived, into a tiny little chamber, right beneath the roof, and had to brush his boots himself and sew them up with a darning needle, and none of his friends came to see him because there were too many steps to climb.

One evening it became very dark, and he couldn’t even buy himself a candle. But then he remembered there was a little stump of one in the tinderbox that the hag had asked him to take from the hollow tree. So he took out the tinderbox and the candle stump, and just as he struck the flint, causing sparks to fly from the stone, the door sprang open, and the dog that had eyes as big as teacups and whom he had seen beneath the tree, stood in front of him and said, “What does my master command?”

“What’s this!” cried the soldier. “This is certainly an interesting tinderbox if it will give me what I want like this! Get me some money,” he said to the dog, and presto it was gone! Then presto it returned and held a big bag full of coins in its mouth.

Now the soldier understood what a wonderful tinderbox it was. If he struck once, the dog who sat on the chest with copper coins came. If he struck twice, the dog who had silver money appeared, and if he struck three times, the one with the gold coins came.-The soldier moved back into his handsome rooms and wore beautiful clothes once again. Suddenly all his friends recognized him, and once more they were so terribly fond of him.

Then one day he thought: it’s really odd that no one gets to see the princess. She’s supposed to be so beautiful, they all say, but what good is that when she always sits inside the big copper castle with all the towers?—Can’t I get to see her somehow? —Where’s my tinderbox! And then he struck the flint, and presto the dog with eyes as big as teacups came.

“Even though it’s the middle of the night,” the soldier remarked, “I very much want to see the princess, just for a little moment!”

The dog was out the door at once, and before the soldier could think about it, the dog was back again with the princess. She sat sleeping on the dog’s back and was so lovely that it was clear for all to see that she was a real princess. The soldier couldn’t help himself. He had to kiss her, for he was a true soldier.

Then the dog ran back with the princess, but when morning came, and the king and queen were having tea, the princess said that she was disturbed by a strange dream that she had in the night about a dog and a soldier. She had ridden on the dog, and the soldier had kissed her.

“That’s quite some story!” said the queen.

So one of the old ladies-in-waiting was ordered to keep watch over the princess the next night to see if it was a real dream, or what it could be.

The soldier longed so frightfully to see the lovely princess again and had the dog go to her in the night. The dog took her and ran as fast as he could, but the old lady-in-waiting put on high boots and ran just as fast after them. When she saw that they disappeared into a big house, she thought, “Now I know where it is,” and she marked a large cross on the door with a piece of chalk. Then she hurried home and went to bed, and the dog also came back with the princess. When he saw the cross on the door where the soldier lived, however, he took a piece of chalk and marked crosses on all the doors in the whole town, and that was smart of him because now the lady-in-waiting could not find the right door. Indeed, there were crosses on all of them.

Early in the morning the king and queen, the old lady-in-waiting, and all the officers came to see where the princess had been.

“There it is!” said the king, when he saw the first door with a cross on it.

“No, there it is, my dear,” said the queen, who saw another door with a cross on it.

“But there’s one, and there’s one!” they all cried out. Wherever they looked, there were crosses on the doors. So then they realized that there was no use in searching further.

However, the queen was a very wise woman, who could do more than just ride in a coach. She took her big golden scissors, cut a large piece of silk into pieces, and sewed a lovely little bag. She filled it with fine little grains of buckwheat, tied it to the back of the princess, and when that was done, she cut a little hole in the bag, so the grains could sprinkle out wherever the princess would go.

During the night the dog came again, took the princess on his back, and ran with her to the soldier, who was so very fond of her, and dearly wished he were a prince so that he might marry her.

When the dog ran back to the castle with the princess, he failed to notice that the grain had spilled out all the way from the castle to the soldier’s window. In the morning the king and queen could easily see where their daughter had been, and they ordered the soldier to be arrested and put into prison.

There he sat. Oh, how dark and boring it was! And then they told him: “Tomorrow you’ll be hanged.” That wasn’t pleasant to hear. Moreover, he had forgotten his tinderbox which he had left at the inn. In the morning, through the bars of the little window, he could see people hurrying from all parts of the town to see him hanged. He heard the drums and saw the soldiers marching. All the people were running along, and among them was also a shoemaker’s boy wearing a leather apron and slippers. He was running so fast that one of his slippers flew off and landed right by the wall where the soldier was peering through the iron bars.

“Hey, boy! Don’t be in such a hurry,” the soldier told him. “Nothing will happen until I get there! So, if you’ll run to where I live and bring me my tinderbox, I’ll give you four silver coins. But don’t let the grass grow under your feet.”

The shoemaker’s boy was eager to get the four silver coins and rushed off to fetch the tinderbox. He gave it to the soldier, and—Well, listen to what happened!

Outside the town a big gallows had been built, and all around stood the soldiers and thousands of people. The king and queen sat on a beautiful throne right opposite the judge and the entire council.

The soldier was already standing up on the ladder, but when they wanted to place the noose around his neck, he said that a condemned man was always granted a last wish before his punishment. He wanted so very much to smoke his pipe—it would be the last smoke he would get in this world.

The king didn’t want to deny him this wish, and so the soldier took his tinderbox and struck the flint, one, two, three! And there stood all three dogs: the one with eyes like teacups, the one with eyes like mill wheels, and the one who had eyes as big as the Round Tower!

“Help me!” the soldier cried out. “Don’t let them hang me!”

Immediately the dogs tore into the judges and all the councilors. They grabbed some by their legs and some by their noses and threw them high up into the air so that they fell down and were dashed to pieces.

“Not me!” screamed the king, but the largest dog took both him and the queen and threw them after all the others. Now the soldiers became frightened, and all the people shouted, “Little soldier, you will be our king and marry the beautiful princess!”

Then they placed the soldier in the king’s coach, and all three dogs danced in front and roared “hurrah!” and boys whistled through their fingers, and the soldiers presented arms. The princess came out of the copper castle and became the queen and was very pleased with that! The wedding lasted for eight days, and the dogs sat at the table in wide-eyed wonder.


1. Astronomical observatory, 118 feet tall, in the heart of Copenhagen. King Christian IV laid the first stone in 1637; the observatory was completed in 1642.


IN THIS ONE TOWN there were two men who both had the same name. Both were called Claus, but one of the men owned four horses, and the other had only one horse. In order to distinguish between them, they called the one who had four horses Big Claus, and the one who had only one horse, Little Claus. Now listen to what happened, for it’s quite a story!

All week long Little Claus had to plow for Big Claus and lend him his only horse. Then Big Claus paid him back with all his horses, but only one day a week, and that was on Sunday. Whew! How Little Claus cracked the whip over all five horses! After all, they were as good as his on that one day. The sun shone so brightly, and the church bells chimed for services. People were all dressed up and walked with their psalm books under their arms to hear the pastor preach. They all looked at Little Claus, plowing with his five horses, and he was so pleased with himself that he cracked the whip again and called out, “Giddy-up, all my horses!”

“You mustn’t say that,” said Big Claus. “Only one horse is yours, you know.”

But when some more people went by on their way to church, Little Claus forgot he wasn’t supposed to say that and yelled, “Giddy-up, all my horses!”

“Now cut that out!” said Big Claus. “If you say that one more time, I’ll hit your horse on the head so it drops dead on the spot! It’ll be all over for him.”

“I certainly won’t say it again,” promised Little Claus, but then when people walked by again and nodded to him, he thought having five horses to plow his field was so impressive that he cracked the whip and called out, “Giddy-up, all my horses!”

“I’ll giddy-up your horse!” said Big Claus, and took his tethering mallet and whacked Little Claus’ only horse on the head so it fell down quite dead.

“Oh! Now I don’t have a horse anymore,” said Little Claus and started to cry. Afterwards he skinned the horse, dried the skin in the wind, put it in a bag on his shoulder, and headed into town to sell his horse-skin.

It was a long way to walk. He had to go through a big dark forest, and a dreadful storm arose. He became completely lost, and before he found the right road, evening came, and it was too far to get to town or home again before nightfall.

There was a big farm right by the road. The windows were shuttered, but light could and did shine out the top. “I imagine they will let me stay here overnight,” thought Little Claus, and went up and knocked on the door.

The farmer’s wife opened the door, but when she heard what he wanted, she told him to leave because her husband wasn’t home, and she wouldn’t let a stranger in.

“Well then, I’ll have to sleep outside,” Little Claus said, and the farmer’s wife shut the door on him.

Close by was a big haystack, and between that and the house was a little shed with a flat thatched roof.

“That’s where I’ll sleep!” said Little Claus when he saw the roof. “That’s a lovely bed indeed. I’m sure the stork won’t fly down and bite my legs.” You see, there was a live stork up on the roof, where he had his nest.

So Little Claus climbed up onto the shed, where he lay and twisted about to get comfortable. The wooden shutters on the windows didn’t close completely at the top, and so he could look right into the room. There was a big table set with wine, a roast, and such a lovely fish. Only the farmer’s wife and the sexton were at the table, and she poured wine for him, and he stuffed himself with fish because that was something he really liked.

“Oh, if only I could have a bite of that!” Little Claus said and stretched his head way over by the window. God, what a beautiful cake he could see there! Here was luxury for sure!

Then he heard someone riding towards the house on the road. It was the woman’s husband, who was coming home. He was a kind man, but he had the most remarkable malady—he could not tolerate the sight of sextons. If a sexton came into view, he became absolutely furious. And that was why the sexton had come to visit the woman when he knew the farmer was not at home, and why the good woman treated him to all the best food she had in the house. When they heard the husband coming, they became very frightened, and the woman told the sexton to get into a big empty chest in the corner. He did that at once because he knew, of course, that the poor man couldn’t tolerate the sight of sextons. The farmer’s wife hurried to hide the scrumptious food and wine in the oven, because if the husband saw it, he would certainly have asked what the meaning of this was.

Up on the shed, Little Claus sighed, “Oh well,” when he saw all the good food disappear.

“Is there somebody up there?” asked the farmer and peered up at Little Claus. “What are you doing up there? Come down into the house instead.”

So then Little Claus explained how he had gotten lost and asked if he could spend the night.

“Sure!” the farmer said. “But first we’ll have a bite to eat!”

The woman welcomed them both warmly, set the long table, and gave them a big bowl of porridge. The farmer was hungry and ate with a good appetite, but Little Claus couldn’t help but think about the lovely roast, fish, and cake that he knew was in the oven.

He had put the bag with his horse-skin under the table by his feet, because we know, of course, that’s why he left home—to sell it in town. The porridge didn’t taste very good to him, and so he stepped on the bag, and the dry skin in the sack creaked pretty loudly.

“Hush!” Little Claus said to the bag, but at the same time he stepped on it again, so it creaked much louder than before.

“Say, what do you have in your bag?” asked the farmer.

“Oh, it’s a wizard,” answered Little Claus. “He says that we shouldn’t eat porridge because he has conjured up the whole oven full of roast and fish and cake.”

“What’s that!” the farmer cried, and he quickly opened the oven where he saw all the lovely food his wife had hidden, but which he now thought the wizard had conjured up for them. The woman didn’t dare say a thing, but put the food on the table right away, and they ate fish and roast and cake. Then Little Claus stepped on the bag again, so the skin creaked.

“What’s he saying now?” asked the farmer.

“He says,” Little Claus said, “that he has also conjured up three bottles of wine for us. They are over in the corner by the oven.” So then the woman had to bring out the wine she had hidden, and the farmer drank, became very merry, and said that he would really like to own a wizard like the one Little Claus had in the bag.

“Could he conjure up the devil, too?” asked the farmer. “I would really like to see him because I’m in such a good mood.”

“Yes,” Little Claus answered. “My wizard can do anything I want. Isn’t that right?” he said and stepped on the bag so it creaked. “Can you hear him answer, ‘yes?’ But the devil is so disgusting, it’s not worth seeing him.”

“Oh, I’m not a bit afraid no matter what he looks like.”

“Well, he looks just like a real live sexton!”

“Whew!” the farmer said, “that’s bad. You see I can’t tolerate the sight of sextons. But never mind. As long as I know it’s the devil, maybe I can stand it better. I’m brave now, but he mustn’t come too close to me.”

“Well, I’ll ask my wizard,” Little Claus said, stepped on the bag, and held his ear close.

“What does he say?”

“He says you can go over and open that chest in the corner. You’ll see the devil sitting there pondering, but you have to hold on to the lid so he doesn’t slip out.”

“Will you help me hold it?” asked the farmer, who went over to the chest where the woman had hidden the real sexton, who was sitting in there terrified.

The farmer lifted the lid a little bit and peeked in: “Ugh—!” he screamed and sprang backwards. “I saw him there all right. He looked just like our sexton! Oh, it was terrible!”

They had to drink to that, and they kept drinking way into the night.

“You have to sell me that wizard,” the farmer said. “Just name your price. I’ll give you a whole bushel of money right now!”

“No, I can’t do that,” answered Little Claus. “Just think of all the uses I have for this wizard.”

“Oh, I really really want it,” said the farmer and continued to beg.

“Well,” Little Claus finally said, “Since you’ve been kind enough to put me up tonight, then never mind. I’ll give you the wizard for a whole bushel of money, but I want a heaping bushel.”

“You’ll have it,” the farmer said. “But you have to take the chest with you. I don’t want it in the house a minute longer. He might still be sitting in there.”

Little Claus gave the farmer the bag with the dried skin inside and received a heaping bushel full of money for it. The farmer also gave him a big wheelbarrow to carry the money and chest.

“Good bye!” said Little Claus, and he took off with his money and the big chest, with the sexton still inside.

On the other side of the forest there was a big deep river. The water ran so swiftly that it was almost impossible to swim against the current. A big new bridge had been built across it, and Little Claus stopped right in the middle of it and said so loudly that the sexton could hear every word: “Well, what am I going to do with this dumb old chest? It’s as heavy as if it had stones in it. I’m tired of hauling it further so I’ll just throw it into the river. If it sails home to me, fine, and, if not, that’s all right too.”

So he grabbed the chest with one hand and lifted it a little, as though he were going to throw it into the water.

“No! Stop!” yelled the sexton inside the chest. “Just let me out of here!”

“Yikes!” Little Claus shouted, and acted afraid. “He’s still in there! I’ll have to throw it into the river right away so that he’ll drown.”

“Oh no, oh no!” the sexton screamed. “I’ll give you a whole bushel of money if you don’t.”

“Well, that’s another matter,” Little Claus said, and he opened the chest. The sexton climbed out right away, pushed the empty chest into the water, went home, and gave Little Claus a whole bushel full of money. Since he already had one from before from the farmer, remember, his wheelbarrow was now completely full of money!

“Where have you gotten all that money from?”

“Well, I was pretty well paid for that horse,” Little Claus said to himself when he got back to his own house and dumped all the money in a big pile on the floor. “Big Claus will be annoyed when he finds out how rich I’ve become from my one horse, but I’ll be darned if I tell him about it right away.”

Then he sent a boy over to Big Claus’ place to borrow a bushel scale.

“I wonder what he wants that for?” Big Claus thought and spread some tar under the bottom so something would remain of whatever was measured. And it did too because when he got the scale back, there were three new silver coins stuck on it.

“What’s this?” said Big Claus and ran right over to Little Claus’ house. “Where have you gotten all that money from?”

“Oh, it’s from my horse-hide. I sold it last night.”

“That was really a good deal!” Big Claus said, ran right home, took an axe, struck all four of his horses in the head, skinned them, and drove off with them to town.

“Hides! Hides! Who wants hides?!” he shouted through the streets.

All the shoemakers and tanners came running and asked what he wanted for them.

“A bushel full of money each,” Big Claus said.

“Are you nuts?” they all asked him, “Do you think we have bushels of money?”

“Hides! Hides! Who wants hides?!” he shouted again, but to everyone who asked how much they cost, he answered, “A bushel full of money.”

“He’s making fun of us,” they all agreed. Then the shoemakers took their straps, and the tanners took their leather aprons, and they started to beat Big Claus.

“Hides! Hides!” they mimicked him. “We’ll give you a hide that’ll be both black and blue! Out of town with you!” they shouted, and Big Claus had to ski-daddle out of there as fast as he could, for he had never been thrashed so much in his life.

“Little Claus is going to get it!” he said when he got home. “I’m going to kill him for this.”

But back at Little Claus’ house, his old grandmother was dead. Even though she had been cross and mean to him, he was pretty sad anyway, and he took the dead woman and laid her in his warm bed to see if she would come back to life. She could lie there the whole night, and he himself would sit on a stool in the corner and sleep. He had done that before.

As he sat there during the night, the door opened, and Big Claus came in with his axe. He must have known exactly where Little Claus’ bed was because he went right over to it and hit the dead grandmother on the head, thinking it was Little Claus.

“So there!” he said. “You won’t fool me again!” and then he went home.

“That is really a bad and mean man,” said Little Claus, “He wanted to kill me. It’s a good thing for the old lady that she was already dead, or he would have killed her.”

Then he dressed the old grandmother in her best Sunday clothes, borrowed a horse from his neighbor, hitched it to the carriage, and set the grandmother up in the backseat, so that she couldn’t fall out while he was driving, and away they went through the forest. When the sun came up, they were outside a large inn. Little Claus stopped there and went inside to get something to eat.

The innkeeper had lots of money and was also a very kind man, but he was quick-tempered, as if he were full of pepper and tobacco.

“Good morning,” he said to Little Claus, “You’re out early in your fancy clothes today.”

“Yes,” Little Claus said, “I’m on my way to town with my old grandmother. She’s sitting out there in the carriage, and I can’t get her into the inn. Would you please take her a glass of mulled wine? But you have to speak loudly because she’s very hard of hearing.”

“Yes, I’ll do that,” said the innkeeper and poured a large glass of wine that he took out to the dead grandmother, who was propped up in the carriage.

“That is really a bad and mean man. ”

“Here’s a glass of wine from your son,” said the innkeeper, but the dead woman didn’t say a word, just sat completely still.

“Can’t you hear?” shouted the innkeeper as loudly as he could. “Here’s a glass of wine from your son.”

He shouted it again and again, but when she didn’t budge an inch, he got mad and threw the glass right into her face so the wine ran down over her nose, and she fell over backwards in the carriage since she was just propped up, not tied.

“What’s this!” yelled Little Claus. He ran out of the door and grabbed the innkeeper, “You’ve killed my grandmother! Look here—she has a big hole in her forehead!”

“Oh, it was an accident!” cried the innkeeper and clasped his hands together. “It’s all because of my quick temper. Oh, sweet Little Claus, I’ll give you a whole bushel of money and have your grandmother buried as if she were my own, but just don’t say anything about it, or they’ll chop my head off, and that’s so unpleasant.”

Then Little Claus got a whole bushel of money, and the innkeeper buried the old grandmother as if she had been his own.

When Little Claus got home with all the money, he immediately sent his boy over to Big Claus to ask whether he could borrow his scale.

“What?!” said Big Claus. “Didn’t I kill him? This I have to see for myself,” and so he took the scale over to Little Claus in person.

“Now where did you get all that money from?” he asked, his eyes open wide at the sight of all the additional money.

“You killed my grandmother, not me,” said Little Claus. “Now I have sold her and got a bushel of money for her.”

“That was really a good deal,” Big Claus said and hurried home. He took an axe and immediately killed his old grandmother, laid her in his wagon, and drove into town to the drug store, and asked the druggist if he wanted to buy a dead body.

“Who is it, and where have you gotten it?” asked the druggist.

“It’s my grandmother,” said Big Claus. “I’ve killed her for a bushel of money!”

“God save us!” said the druggist. “You’re out of your mind! Don’t say something like that, or you’ll lose your head!”

Then the druggist told him sternly what a terrible thing he had done, and what a dreadful person he was, and that he should be punished. Big Claus became so frightened that he ran out and sprang into his wagon, whipped the horses, and hurried home, but the druggist and all the other people thought he was crazy, and therefore let him go wherever he wanted.

“You’re going to pay for this!” said Big Claus when he was out on the road. “Yes, you’re going to pay for this, Little Claus!” And when he got home he took the biggest sack he could find and went over to Little Claus and said, “You’ve fooled me again. First I killed my horses, then my old grandmother! It’s all your fault, but you’ll never fool me again.” Then he took Little Claus by the waist and put him into the sack, threw the sack on his back, and yelled, “Now I’m going to drown you!”

It was a long walk to the river, and Little Claus was not so easy to carry. The road went right by the church. The organ was playing, and people were singing so beautifully inside. Big Claus set the sack holding Little Claus right beside the church door. He thought that it might be a good idea to go in and hear a hymn before he went any further. After all, Little Claus would not be able to get out, and all the people were inside the church. So he went in.

“Oh no! Oh no!” sighed Little Claus inside the sack. He turned and twisted but it was impossible for him to loosen the rope. Just then an old, old shepherd with grey hair and a big walking stick came by. He was driving a herd of cattle in front of him, and they ran into the sack Little Claus was in and tipped it over.

“Oh poor me!” Little Claus sighed, “I’m so young, and I’m already going to heaven!”

“And poor me,” said the shepherd, “who’s so old and can’t get there yet.”

“Open the sack,” shouted Little Claus, “take my place, and you’ll soon be in heaven!”

“Yes, I would really like that,” said the shepherd and untied the sack for Little Claus, who jumped out at once.

“Will you take care of the animals?” asked the old man, and climbed into the sack. Little Claus tied it up and went on his way with the cows and oxen.

A little later Big Claus came out of the church, took the sack on his back again, and thought it had become lighter because the old shepherd wasn’t more than half as heavy as Little Claus. “How light he’s become! It must be because I listened to a hymn.” He went to the river, which was wide and deep, threw the sack with the old shepherd into the water, and shouted after him, “So there! You won’t fool me again!” because he thought it was Little Claus, of course.

Then he went home, but when he got to the crossroads, he met Little Claus, who was herding his cattle.

“What’s this!” said Big Claus, “Didn’t I drown you?”

“Sure,” said Little Claus. “You threw me in the river about half an hour ago, you know.”

“But where did you get all those nice cattle?” asked Big Claus.

“They’re sea cattle,” Little Claus said. “I’ll tell you the whole story, and thank you for drowning me. Now I’m on top of things, and I’m really rich, I can tell you. I was so afraid when I was inside the sack, and the wind was blowing around my ears when you threw me off the bridge into the cold water. I sank right to the bottom, but I didn’t even get bumped because the most lovely, softest grass grows down there. I fell on that, and right away the sack opened, and the loveliest girl, wearing white clothes and a green wreath on her wet hair, took my hand. She said, ‘Are you Little Claus? Here are a few cattle for you to start with, and a mile up the road is a whole herd that I want to give you!’ Then I saw that the river was a big highway for the people of the sea. They walked and drove down there on the bottom, all the way from the ocean up the countryside to where the river ends. It was so beautiful with flowers and the freshest grass, and the fish that swam in the water slipped by my ears just like the birds do in the air here. What splendid people they were and what fine cattle were grazing in the fields and ditches there!”

“But then why did you come back up here again right away?” asked Big Claus, “I wouldn’t have done that if it was so lovely there.”

“Well,” said Little Claus, “it was clever of me, you see. You heard that the mermaid told me that a mile up the road there was a whole herd of cattle for me. And by road she meant the river, of course, because there’s nothing else she can walk on. But I know how the river winds around, first this way, then that, a really roundabout way, you know. So it’s much shorter to come up here on land and go straight across to the river again. I save almost a half mile by doing that and will get to my herd quicker.”

“Oh, you’re a lucky man!” said Big Claus, “Do you think I would get a herd of sea cattle too if I went down to the bottom of the river?”

“Well, I would think so,” said Little Claus, “but I can’t carry you in the sack all the way to the river because you’re too heavy for me. If you’ll go there yourself and climb into the sack, I will throw you in with the greatest pleasure.”

“Oh, thank you!” Big Claus said, “but if I don’t get a herd of sea cattle when I get down there, I will beat you up for sure, you know.”

“Oh no! Don’t be so mean to me!” And they went to the river. When the cattle, who were thirsty, saw the water, they ran as fast as they could to get down to drink.

“Look how they are hurrying,” said Little Claus, “They are yearning to get down to the bottom again.”

“Well, help me first,” said Big Claus, “otherwise I’ll beat you up!” and he crawled into the big sack, which had been lying across the back of one of the oxen. “Put a stone in,” Big Claus said, “otherwise I’m afraid I won’t sink.”

“It’ll work out,” said Little Claus, but he put a large rock in the sack, tied the rope tightly, and pushed it over. Plop! Big Claus was thrown into the river and sank to the bottom right away.

“I’m afraid he won’t find the cattle,” said Little Claus, and then he drove home with the ones he had.


ONCE UPON A TIME there was a prince. He wanted a princess, but she had to be a real princess. He traveled all around the world to find one, but there was always something wrong. There were enough princesses, but he couldn’t quite find out if they were real—there was always something that wasn’t quite right. So he came home again and was very sad because he wanted a real princess so very much.

One evening there was a terrible storm. There was lightning and thunder. Rain was pouring down, and it was quite frightening. Then someone knocked at the town gates, and the old king went to open them.

There was a princess standing out there. But what a sight she was in the rain and terrible weather! Water was streaming from her hair and clothes, and it ran in at the toe of her shoes and out at the heel. She said she was a real princess.

“Well, we will find out about that!” thought the old queen, but she didn’t say anything. She went into the bedroom, took off all the sheets and blankets, and placed a pea on the bed-spring. Then she laid twenty mattresses on top of the pea, and on the mattresses she placed twenty down comforters.

The princess was to sleep there for the night.

In the morning they asked her how she had slept.

“Oh, just terribly!” said the princess. “I almost didn’t close my eyes the whole night! God knows what could have been in the bed? I was lying on something hard, so I am completely black and blue all over my body. It’s quite dreadful!”

So they knew that she was a real princess since she had felt the pea through twenty mattresses and twenty down comforters. Only a real princess could have such sensitive skin.

The prince married her because he knew that now he had a real princess, and the pea was displayed in the art museum, where it can still be seen if no one has taken it.

See, that was a real story!


POOR JOHANNES WAS TERRIBLY sad, because his father was very sick and would not live much longer. Only the two of them were in the little room. The lamp on the table was about to burn out, and it was very late at night.

“You’ve been a good son, Johannes,” said his sick father. “The Lord will surely help you further in this life,” and he looked at him with serious gentle eyes, drew a deep breath, and died. It was as if he were sleeping. But Johannes wept. Now he had no one in the world, neither mother nor father, sister nor brother. Poor Johannes! He lay on his knees beside his father’s bed, kissed his hand, and cried a great many salty tears, but finally his eyes closed, and he fell asleep with his head on the hard edge of the bed.

Then he had a strange dream. He saw the sun and moon bow down to him, and he saw his father hale and hearty again, and he heard him laugh, the way he always laughed whenever he was really pleased. A lovely girl with a gold crown on her long beautiful hair reached out her hand to Johannes, and his father said, “Look at the bride you have! She is the most wonderful in the world.” Then he woke up, and all the splendor was gone. His father lay dead and cold in the bed, and there was no one else there. Poor Johannes!

The burial was the next week, and Johannes followed the coffin closely. He could no longer see his kind father, who had loved him so much. He heard the earth falling on the coffin, and saw the last corner of it, but then the next shovelful covered it, and the coffin was gone. He was so sad that he thought his heart would break to pieces from grief. Those around him were singing a beautiful hymn, and tears came to his eyes. He cried, and it felt good to cry in his sorrow. The sun shone brightly on the green trees, as if it wanted to say, “You mustn’t be so sad, Johannes! Can’t you see how blue the sky is? Your father is up there now and is asking the good Lord to watch out for you.”

“I’ll always be good,” Johannes said, “then I’ll also go to heaven and be with my father, and what a joy it’ll be when we see each other again! There’s so much I have to tell him, and he’ll show me many things again, and teach me about the splendors of heaven, just as he taught me here on the earth. Oh, what a joy that will be!”

Johannes imagined this so clearly that he smiled, although the tears were still streaming down his face. Little birds sat in the chestnut trees and chirped, “tweet, tweet.” They were happy even though they were at a burial, but they probably knew that the dead man was in heaven now and had wings much more beautiful and larger than theirs. They knew he was happy because he had been good on earth, and that pleased them. Johannes saw how they flew from the green trees, way out into the world, and he felt a great desire to fly away with them. But first he cut a big wooden cross to place on his father’s grave, and when he brought it there in the evening, the grave was decorated with sand and flowers. Other people had done that, because they were all very fond of his dear departed father, who now was dead.

Early the next morning Johannes packed a little bundle. He put his inheritance in his belt—fifty dollars1 and a couple of silver coins. He was ready to wander out into the world. But first he went to the cemetery to his father’s grave, said the Lord’s Prayer, and then, “Good bye, dear father! I will always be a good person so you can ask God to take care of me.”

In the meadow where Johannes walked, all the flowers looked so beautiful in the warm sunshine, and they nodded in the wind as if they were saying, “Welcome into the green fields, isn’t it nice here?” But Johannes looked back one more time, to see the old church where he had been baptized as a little child, and where he and his old father had gone every Sunday to sing hymns. Way up in one of the little windows in the tower he saw the church pixie with his little pointed red cap. He was shielding his face with his bent arm, so the sun wouldn’t shine in his eyes. Johannes nodded good bye to him, and the little pixie waved his red cap, laid his hand on his heart, and blew kisses again and again to show that he wished him luck and a happy journey.

Johannes thought about all the wonders he would now see in the big marvelous world and walked further and further, further than he had ever been before. He didn’t know the towns he passed through, or the people he met. He was far away among strangers.

The first night he had to sleep in a haystack in a field; he had no other bed. But he thought it was just lovely. The king couldn’t have it any better. The whole field with the river, the haystack, and the blue sky above was a beautiful bedroom. The green grass with the small red and white flowers was the carpet, and the elderberry bushes and the wild rose hedges were flower bouquets. For a wash basin he had the whole river with the clear, fresh water where the rushes curtsied with both evening and morning greetings. The moon was a really big nightlight, high up under the blue roof, and it wouldn’t set the curtains on fire. Johannes could sleep peacefully, and that’s what he did. He didn’t wake up until the sun rose, and all the little birds were chirping, “Good morning! Good morning! Aren’t you up yet?”

The bells rang for church. It was Sunday, and people were going to hear the minister. Johannes went with them, sang a hymn, and heard the word of God. It was as if he were in his own church, where he had been baptized and where he had sung hymns with his father.

There were many graves in the churchyard, and tall grass was growing on some of them. Johannes thought of his father’s grave and that it would look like these too, now that he wasn’t there to weed and tend it. So he sat down and pulled the grass, set up wooden crosses that had fallen over, and laid the wreaths, which the wind had torn from the graves, back in place again. He thought that perhaps someone else would do the same for his father’s grave, now that he couldn’t.

Outside the cemetery gate an old beggar was standing supported by his crutch. Johannes gave him the silver coins he had and went happily on his way into the wide world.

Towards evening a terrible storm came up, and Johannes hurried to find a place of shelter, but soon it was completely dark. He finally reached a small church, standing quite apart on a hill. Fortunately the door was ajar, and he slipped inside. He would stay there until the storm passed.

“I’ll sit down here in a corner,” he said. “I’m pretty tired and need to rest a little.” He sat down, folded his hands, and said his evening prayers, and before he knew it, he slept and dreamed, while thunder and lightning raged outside.

When he awoke, it was the middle of the night, but the storm had passed, and the moonlight came shining through the windows. There was an open casket standing in the middle of the church floor with a dead man in it, soon to be buried. Since he had a clear conscience, Johannes wasn’t afraid at all, and he knew that the dead hurt no one; it’s evil living people who cause harm. Two such living, wicked people were standing by the casket, which had been placed in the church before the burial. They wanted to cause harm by throwing the poor dead man out of his casket and out the church doors.

“Why would you do that?!” asked Johannes. “That’s evil and wicked. Let him sleep in Jesus’ name.”

“Oh, rubbish!” said the two wicked men. “He fooled us and owes us money that he couldn’t repay. Now he’s dead as a doornail, and we won’t get a penny. We want revenge, and so he’ll lie like a dog outside the church doors!”

“I only have 50 dollars,” Johannes said. “That’s my whole inheritance, but I’ll gladly give it to you if you’ll promise me to leave the poor dead man in peace. I’ll manage without the money. I’m healthy and strong, and the Lord will surely help me.”

“Well,” the nasty men said, “If you’ll pay his debt, then we won’t do anything to him, you can be sure of that.” They took the money that Johannes gave them, laughed loudly at his kindness, and went on their way, but Johannes arranged the corpse again in the casket, folded its hands, said good bye, and went quite contentedly further into the big forest.

All around, where the moon shone in through the trees, he could see the lovely little elves playing happily. They weren’t bothered by him because they knew well enough that he was an innocent good person, and only wicked people aren’t allowed to see the elves. Some of them were no bigger than a finger, and their long yellow hair was fastened with golden combs. They seesawed two by two on the large dewdrops that lay on the leaves and high grass. Sometimes the dewdrops rolled so that they fell down between the long blades of grass, and then there was hilarious laughter from the other little ones. It was great fun! They sang, and Johannes recognized very well all the beautiful melodies he had learned as a small boy. Big motley spiders with silver crowns on their heads spun long suspension bridges from one hedge to another, and palaces that looked like glistening glass when the moonshine struck the dew. All this continued until sunrise. Then the little elves crept into the flower buds, and the wind took the bridges and castles, which flew up as great cobwebs into the air.

Johannes had just come out of the forest when he heard a man’s loud voice behind him. “Hello, comrade! Where are you headed?”

“Into the wide world!” Johannes said. “I have neither father nor mother and am a poor lad, but the Lord will surely help me.”

“I’m going into the wide world too,” the stranger said. “Shall we join forces?”

“Yes, let’s do that,” said Johannes, and so they did. They soon came to think very highly of each other since they were both good people. Johannes couldn’t help but notice that the stranger was much more clever than he was. He had been almost everywhere and could tell about all sorts of things that existed in the world.

The sun was already high in the sky when they sat down under a large tree to eat breakfast. All at once an old woman came by. She was very old and quite bent over, supporting herself with a crutch, and on her back she had a bundle of firewood that she had gathered in the forest. Her apron was folded up, and Johannes saw that three big bunches of ferns and willow branches stuck out from it. When she was quite close to them, her foot slipped, and she fell and uttered a loud cry, for she had broken her leg, the poor old thing.

Johannes immediately wanted to carry the old woman to her home. But the stranger opened his knapsack, took out a jar, and said that he had a salve that would heal her leg right away, so that she could walk home herself as though the leg had never been broken. But he wanted her to give him the three bundles she had in her apron.

“I’m going into the wide world too,the stranger said.

“That’s a stiff fee,” said the old woman and nodded her head oddly. She didn’t want to part with her bundles, but it wasn’t pleasant lying there with a broken leg either. So she gave him the bundles, and as soon as he smeared the salve on her leg, the old woman got up and walked better than before. That’s how well the salve worked, but you couldn’t get it at the drugstore either.

“What are you going to do with those bundles?” Johannes asked his traveling companion.

“These are three nice bouquets!” he said, “I like them because I’m an odd fellow.”

Then they walked quite a distance.

“There’s a storm brewing,” Johannes said and pointed straight ahead, “Those are some awfully thick clouds!”

“No,” the traveling companion said. “Those aren’t clouds, they’re mountains. Big beautiful mountains, where we’ll come way up over the clouds into the fresh air! You can imagine how marvelous that is! Tomorrow we’ll be that far up in the world!”

They were not as close as they looked. It took them a whole day of walking before they came to the mountains, where the dark forests grew right up towards the sky, and there were rocks as big as whole towns. It would be a long and hard journey over the mountains, so Johannes and his traveling companion went into an inn to rest and gather their strength for the next day’s march.

A whole group of people were gathered down in the big bar in the inn because there was a man there who was going to put on a puppet show. He had just set up his little theater, and people were sitting around waiting to see the play, but an old fat butcher had taken the best place right in front. His big bulldog—Oh, he looked so ferocious!—sat by his side wide-eyed like everyone else.

Then the play started, and it was a fine piece with a king and a queen. They sat on beautiful thrones and had gold crowns on their heads and long trains on their robes because they could afford it. The most gorgeous wooden puppets with glass eyes and big handlebar moustaches stood by all the doors and opened and closed them to let in fresh air. It was a lovely play, and not at all sad, but just as the queen stood up and walked across the floor, then—God knows what the bulldog was thinking, but since the big butcher didn’t keep a hold of him—he leaped right into the scene, and took the queen by her thin waist so it went “crack, crunch!” It was just terrible!

The poor man who directed the play was very frightened and upset about his queen, since it was the most beautiful puppet he had, and now the nasty bulldog had bitten her head off. But when all the people had left, Johannes’s traveling companion said that he could repair her, and he took out his jar and smeared the puppet with the salve he had used on the old woman with the broken leg. As soon as the salve was applied, the puppet was good as new. In fact, it could move its own arms and legs, and it wasn’t necessary to pull the strings any longer. The puppet was like a living person, except that it couldn’t talk. The man who owned the puppet show was very pleased that he didn’t have to hold that puppet any more; it could dance by itself. None of the others could do that.

Later during the night, when all the people in the inn had gone to bed, there was someone who was sighing so loudly and who kept it up for so long that everybody got up to see who it could be. The man who had produced the play went to his lit tle theater because the sighing was coming from there. All the puppets were lying there piled together, the king and all the henchmen, and they were the ones who were sighing so pitifully and starring with their big glass eyes because they desperately wanted to be smeared with the salve like the queen so that they could move by themselves. The queen got down on her knees and held her gold crown into the air, while she begged, “Just take this, but treat my consort and the courtiers!” The poor man who owned the puppet theater and all the puppets could not help crying because he felt so badly for them. He promised to give the traveling companion all the money from the next night’s performance if he would just smear the salve on four or five of the prettiest puppets, but the traveling companion said that he didn’t want anything except the big sword the man had at his side. After he had received it, he smeared the salve on six of the puppets, who right away began dancing, and so beautifully that all the girls, the living human girls, who were watching, started to dance along. The coachman danced with the cook, the waiter and the parlor maid danced, all the guests danced, and the fire shovel danced with the fire tongs, but those two fell over when they made their first leap—Oh, it was a merry night!

The next morning Johannes and his traveling companion left them all and climbed up the high mountains and through the deep spruce forests. They climbed so high up that at last the church steeples down below looked like small red berries, down among the greenery, and they could see far, far away, many, many miles, to where they had never been! Johannes had never seen so much of the beauty of the world at one time, and the sun shone warm in the fresh blue air, and he heard the hunters blowing on their horns in the hills, so gloriously that his eyes filled with tears of joy, and he could not help exclaiming : “Oh my dear God! I could kiss you because you are so good to us all and have given us all the beauties of the earth!”

The traveling companion also stood with his hands folded, looking out over the forests and towns, lying in the warm sunshine. Just then a delightful sound rang out right above their heads, and they looked up to see a big white swan hovering in the air. It was beautiful and sang like they had never heard a bird sing before. But the song became softer and softer as the swan bowed its head and sank quite slowly down by their feet, where the beautiful bird then lay quite dead.

“Two such beautiful wings as white and big as those the bird has are worth a lot,” said the traveling companion. “I’ll take them with me. See, it’s a good thing I have a sword!” Then with one stroke he cut both wings from the dead swan, for he wanted to keep them.

Then they traveled for many, many miles over the mountains until they finally saw a big city with over a hundred towers shining like silver in the sunshine. In the middle of the city was a magnificent marble castle with a roof of red gold, and that’s where the king lived.

Johannes and the traveling companion didn’t enter the city right away. Instead they stayed at an inn on the outskirts because they wanted to get dressed up before appearing in the streets. The innkeeper told them that the king was a very good man, who never did harm to anyone at all. However, his daughter, God help us, was a very wicked princess. She was marvelously beautiful. Indeed, no one was as beautiful and lovely as she was, but what good did that do when she was an evil, wicked witch, who was responsible for the deaths of so many fine princes? She had allowed all sorts of men to court her. Anyone could come, whether he was a prince or a tramp; it didn’t make any difference. He only had to guess three things she was thinking about. If he could do that, she would marry him, and he would become king of the whole country when her father died. But if he couldn’t guess the three things, then she would have him hanged or beheaded. That’s how wicked and evil the beautiful princess was.

Her father, the old king, was very sad about all this, but he couldn’t forbid her from being so bad because he had once said that he didn’t want to have anything to do with her suitors. So, she could do as she pleased. Every time a prince came to claim the princess and make a guess to win her, he would lose, and so he was hanged or beheaded. He had been warned in time, after all. He didn’t have to court her! The old king was so upset about all the sorrow and misery that he kneeled with all his soldiers one whole day every year and prayed that the princess would become good and kind, but this she absolutely refused to do. Old women who drank strong spirits dyed their drinks quite black before they drank them. That’s how grieved they were, and more than that they couldn’t do.

“What a hideous princess!” Johannes said. “She really should have a spanking. That would be good for her. If I were the old king, I’d beat her till she bled!”

Just then they heard the people outside shouting “hurrah!” The princess was riding by, and truly she was so beautiful that everyone forgot how evil she was. That’s why they shouted “hurrah.” Riding beside her on coal-black horses were twelve lovely maidens, all in white silk dresses and holding a gold tulip. The princess herself was riding a chalk-white horse, decorated with diamonds and rubies, her riding outfit was made of pure gold, and the whip she had in her hand looked like a sunbeam. The gold crown on her head was like little stars from the sky, and her coat was sewn from thousands of lovely butterfly wings, but she was even more beautiful than all her clothes.

When Johannes saw her, his face turned as red as dripping blood, and he couldn’t say a word because the princess looked just like the lovely girl with the golden crown that he had seen in his dream the night his father died. He thought she was so beautiful that he couldn’t help falling in love with her. It couldn’t be true, he said, that she was an evil witch who had men hanged or beheaded if they couldn’t guess what she asked of them. “Everyone has the right to propose to her, after all, even the poorest tramp. I’m going up to the castle. I just can’t help myself!”

They all told him not to do it; he would meet the same fate as all the others. The traveling companion also advised him against it, but Johannes was sure it would turn out well. He polished his shoes and brushed his clothes, washed his face and hands, combed his lovely yellow hair, and went quite alone into the city and to the castle.

“Come in!” said the old king when Johannes knocked on the door. He opened the door and saw the old king come towards him, wearing a robe and embroidered slippers. He had a gold crown on his head, a scepter in one hand, and a golden apple in the other. “Just a minute,” he said and put the apple under his arm, so he could shake hands with Johannes. But as soon as he heard that Johannes was a suitor, he began to cry so violently that the scepter and apple fell on the floor, and he had to dry his eyes on his robe. The poor old king!

“Don’t do it!” he said. “It will go badly for you like it has for all the others. Just look at this,” and he led Johannes into the princess’ flower garden, which was frightful! From every tree four or five princes, who had proposed to the princess but were unable to guess her thoughts, were hanging. Whenever it was windy, the bones rattled and scared the little birds so much that they didn’t dare fly into that garden. All the flowers were tied up with human bones, and skulls sat grinning in the herb pots. That was some garden for a princess!

“Just look,” said the king. ”You’ll have the same fate as all these others you see here. Please give it up! You’re really making me unhappy because I take it all to heart.”

Johannes kissed the good, old king on the hand and assured him that it would surely go well, since he was so fond of the lovely princess.

Just then the princess came riding into the castle grounds with all her attendants, and they went out to greet her. She was so lovely and gave Johannes her hand, and now he thought even more of her than before. She certainly couldn’t be the evil, wicked witch that everyone said she was! They went up to the hall, and the little pages brought peppernut cookies and jam for them, but the old king was so sad that he couldn’t eat anything, and the peppernut cookies were too hard for him anyway.

It was decided that Johannes would come back to the castle the next morning, when the judges and the entire council would be gathered, and they would hear how he’d fare at guessing. If it went well, he would come again two more times, but so far no one had guessed the first time, and so they had all lost their lives.

Johannes was not at all worried about how it would go. He was happy thinking only about the lovely princess and believed firmly that the good Lord would help him. He didn’t have the slightest idea how, but he didn’t want to think about it either. He danced along the country road on his way back to the inn, where the traveling companion was waiting for him.

Johannes couldn’t say enough about how nicely the princess had greeted him, and how beautiful she was. He was already longing for the next day when he would return to the castle and try his luck at guessing.

But the traveling companion shook his head and was pretty sad. “I’m really fond of you,” he said, “and we could have been together for a long time yet, but now I’m already going to lose you. Poor, dear Johannes! I could cry, but I don’t want to disrupt your joy on what might be the last evening we’re together. We’ll be merry, really merry. Tomorrow when you’re gone, I’ll allow myself to cry.”

All the people in the city soon found out that a new suitor for the princess had arrived, so there was great sadness. The theater was closed, and all the bakery women put black ribbons on their candied pigs. The king and queen prayed on their knees in church, and there was great misery because it couldn’t turn out any different for Johannes than it had for all the other suitors.

In the evening the traveling companion made a big bowl of punch and told Johannes that they were going to be very merry and drink a toast to the princess. But when Johannes had drunk two glasses, he became so sleepy that he couldn’t hold his eyes open. He had to sleep. The traveling companion lifted him slowly from the chair and put him to bed, and when it was dark, he took the two big wings he had cut from the swan and fastened them to his shoulders. In his pocket he put the largest bundle he had gotten from the old woman who had broken her leg, opened the window, and flew over the city, right to the castle, where he sat in a corner under the window that led to the princess’ bedroom.

It was very quiet throughout the city. When the clock struck 11:15, the window opened, and the princess, dressed in a big white coat and with long black wings, flew out over the city to a large mountain. The traveling companion made himself invisible so she couldn’t see him, flew after her, and whipped the princess with his switch so that blood ran where he struck. They rushed through the air. The wind caught her coat and spread it out on all sides, like a big sail, and the moon shone through it.

“What a hailstorm! What a hailstorm!” the princess cried with every stroke from the whip, and it served her right. Finally she got to the mountain and knocked. It sounded like thunder as the mountain opened, and the princess went inside. The traveling companion followed, for no one could see him; he was quite invisible. They walked through a large, long hallway whose walls sparkled strangely; over a thousand glowing spiders ran up and down the wall, lighting like fire. Then they went into a large chamber, built of silver and gold where red and blue flowers as big as sunflowers shone from the walls, but no one could pick those flowers because the stems were awful, poisonous snakes, and the flowers themselves were fire coming from their mouths. The whole ceiling was bedecked with shining glow worms and sky-blue bats that flapped their thin wings—it looked very strange. There was a throne in the middle of the floor, carried by four horse skeletons that had harnesses of red fire spiders. The throne itself was made of milk-white glass, and the pillows to sit on were small black mice, that bit each other in the tails. There was a canopy over it of rose-colored spider-webs, decorated with the most beautiful little green flies that shone like gemstones. In the middle of the throne sat an old troll with a crown on his ugly head, and a scepter in his hand. He kissed the princess on the forehead, let her sit beside him on the precious throne, and then the music started. Big black grasshoppers played the harmonica, and the owl struck himself on the stomach because he didn’t have a drum. It was a weird concert. Small black pixies with fireflies on their caps danced around the hall. No one could see the traveling companion for he had positioned himself right behind the throne and heard and saw everything. The courtiers, who entered at that point, were so stately and elegant, but anyone with eyes in his head could notice what they were. They were nothing other than broomsticks with cabbage heads that the troll had conjured into life and given embroidered clothes. But it didn’t matter, for they were only for decoration.

When the dancing had gone on for a while, the princess told the troll that a new suitor had arrived, and so she asked what question she should put to him the next morning when he came to the castle.

“Listen,” said the troll, “I’ll tell you something. Think of something really easy, then he won’t come up with it. Think about one of your shoes. He won’t guess that. Then have his head chopped off, but don’t forget to bring me his eyes when you come out here tomorrow night because I want to eat them.”

“Then have his head chopped off. ”

The princess curtsied deeply and said that she wouldn’t forget the eyes. Then the troll opened the mountain, and she flew home again, but the traveling companion followed after her and whipped her strongly with the whisk so that she sighed deeply about the terrible hail, and hurried as fast as she could to get through the window into her bedroom. Then the traveling companion flew back to the inn, where Johannes was still sleeping, took off his wings, and lay down on the bed, for he had reason to be tired.

Johannes woke up very early in the morning. The traveling companion got up too and said that he’d had a very strange dream about the princess and her shoes, and told Johannes to be sure to ask if the princess was thinking about her shoe. Of course that was what he had heard the troll say in the mountain, but he didn’t want to tell Johannes anything about that. So he just told him to ask if she was thinking about her shoe.

“I can just as well ask about that as about something else,” Johannes said. “Maybe what you dreamed is right because I’ve always believed that the Lord will help me. But I’ll say good bye anyway because, if I guess wrong, I’ll never see you again.”

They kissed each other, and Johannes went into the city and to the castle. The whole chamber was quite full of people. The judges were sitting in their easy chairs and had goose-down pillows under their heads because they had so much to think about. The old king stood up and dried his eyes with a white handkerchief. Then the princess walked in. She was even more beautiful than the day before and greeted everyone very warmly. However, to Johannes she gave her hand and said, “Good morning to you!”

Then Johannes had to guess what she had thought about. God, how friendly she looked at him. But when she heard him say the one word “shoe,” her face turned chalk-white, and she trembled all over. Of course, it didn’t do her any good because he had guessed correctly!

Hallelujah! How happy the old king was! He turned a somersault with a vengeance, and all the people clapped their hands for him and for Johannes, who had guessed right the first time.

The traveling companion was also very happy when he heard how well it had gone, but Johannes folded his hands and thanked God, whom he was sure would help him again the next two times. Indeed, he had to go back the very next day to guess again.

The evening went by the same as the one before. While Johannes slept, the traveling companion followed the princess out to the mountain, beating her even harder than the last time, because he had taken two of the switches along. No one saw him, and he heard everything. The princess was going to think about her glove, and he told Johannes all about this as if it had been a dream. So Johannes was able to guess correctly, and there was great joy at the castle. All the courtiers turned somersaults, as they had seen the king do the first time, but the princess just lay on the sofa and would not say a single word. Now it would all depend on whether or not Johannes could guess the third time. If all went well, he would marry the lovely princess and inherit the kingdom when the old king died. If he guessed incorrectly, he would lose his life, and the troll would eat his beautiful blue eyes.

That night, Johannes went to bed early, said his prayers, and slept quite peacefully. Meanwhile the traveling companion strapped the wings to his back, tied the sword to his side, took all three switch bundles with him, and flew away to the castle.

It was a dark and stormy night. It was so stormy that the roof tiles flew off the houses, and the trees in the garden where the skeletons were hanging swayed like rushes in the wind. Lightning struck every minute, and thunder was rolling as though it were a single thunderclap that lasted all night. Then the window flew open, and the princess soared into the air. She was pale as death, but laughed at the terrible weather; she didn’t think it was bad enough. Her white coat swirled around in the air like a huge ship-sail, and the traveling companion beat her with the three switches until blood was dripping on the ground, and until she could barely fly. But at last she came to the mountain.

“It’s hailing and stormy,” she said. “Never have I been out in such weather.”

“Yes, it’s possible to get too much of a good thing,” the troll said. Then she told him that Johannes had guessed correctly the second time too. If he did the same tomorrow, he would win, and she could never come to the mountain again or do witchcraft as before. She was very saddened by this.

“He won’t be able to guess!” the troll said. “I’ll come up with something that he has never imagined, or he’s a better magician than I am. But now we’ll be merry!” He took the princess in both hands and they danced around with all the little pixies and will-o-wisps that were in the hall. The red spiders ran merrily up and down the walls, and the fire flowers were sparkling. The owl played the drum; the crickets chirped; and the black grasshoppers played the harmonica. It was a very merry ball!

When they had danced long enough, the princess had to go home because she could be missed at the castle. The troll said that he would accompany her so they could be together for a while yet.

They flew away in terrible weather, and the traveling companion wore out his three switches on their backs. The troll had never been out in such a hailstorm. Outside the castle the troll said good bye to the princess and whispered to her, “Think about my head,” but the traveling companion heard it all right, and the moment the princess slipped through the window into her bedroom, and the troll turned to go, he grasped him by his long black beard and chopped his nasty troll head off at the shoulders with the sword, so quickly that the troll didn’t even see it. He threw the body out into the ocean for the fish, but he dipped the head in the water. Then he wrapped it up in his silk handkerchief, took it back to the inn, and went to bed.

The next morning he gave Johannes the handkerchief, but told him not to open it until the princess asked what she had thought about.

There were so many people in the big chamber at the castle that they were standing on top of each other like radishes tied in a bunch. The councilors sat in their chairs with their soft pillows, and the old king was wearing new clothes. His gold crown and scepter were polished and looked beautiful, but the princess was quite pale and was wearing a coal-black dress, as though she were going to a funeral.

“What have I been thinking about?” she asked Johannes, and he immediately opened the handkerchief and became frightened himself when he saw the terrible troll head. Everyone shivered because it was dreadful to see, but the princess sat like a statue and could not utter a single word. Finally, she stood up and gave Johannes her hand because he had guessed correctly. She didn’t look at anyone, but sighed deeply and said, “Now you are my master! We’ll have the wedding this evening.”

“I like that!” said the old king, “That’s what we’ll do.” All the people shouted “hurrah,” the guard played music in the streets, bells rang, and the bakery women took the black ribbons off the candied pigs, for now there was joy! Three whole grilled oxen stuffed with ducks and hens were set up in the marketplace; everyone could cut off a piece. The fountains flowed with the most delectable wine, and if you bought a little pastry at the bakery, you got six big buns thrown in, and with raisins in them at that.

In the evening the entire city was lit up, and soldiers fired cannons and boys fired caps, and there was eating and drinking, toasting and dancing at the castle, where all the elegant men and lovely women danced with each other; you could hear their song from far away:“Here’s many a lovely girl

Who wants to take a swirl,

Shoo shoo—shoo fly shoo.

They prefer a lively tune,

Pretty girls, swing and swoon

Shoo shoo—shoo fly shoo.

Dance and carouse

Until your soles wear out!”

Shoo fly shoo—and shoe fly—!”

But the princess was still a witch, of course, and didn’t care about Johannes at all. The traveling companion knew this, and so he gave Johannes three of the swan feathers and a little flask filled with some liquid and told him that he should have a large tub set by the bridal bed. When the princess was ready to climb into bed, he was to give her a little push so she fell into the water, where he was to dunk her three times after throwing in the feathers and the drops. Then she would be free of her spell and would fall in love with him.

Johannes did everything the traveling companion told him to do. The princess shrieked loudly when he dunked her under the water and squirmed under his hands in the shape of a big black swan with flashing eyes. When she came up the second time, the swan was white except for a black ring around its neck. Johannes prayed piously to the Lord, and let the water for the third time slip over the bird, and in that instant it changed into the most beautiful princess. She was even lovelier than before and thanked him with tears in her marvelous eyes because he had broken the spell.

The next morning the king came with all the court, and the receiving line went on until late in the day. At the very end came the traveling companion. He had his walking stick in his hand and his knapsack on his back. Johannes kissed him over and over and asked him not to go away—he wanted him to stay with them since he was responsible for all his happiness. But the traveling companion shook his head and said mildly and gently, “No, my time is up. I have only repaid my debt. Do you remember the dead man plagued by those wicked men? You gave everything you had so that he could have peace in his grave. That dead man is me!”

He disappeared at once.

The wedding feast lasted for an entire month. Johannes and the princess were very much in love, and the old king lived many happy days. He bounced their little children on his knee and let them play with his scepter. But Johannes was the king of the whole country.


1. In 1820 a typical wage for a tradesman would be about ten dollars (Danish rigsdaler) for three weeks’ work; in 1850 wages were about a dollar a day.


FAR AWAY FROM HERE, where the swallows fly during the winter, there lived a king who had eleven sons and one daughter, Elisa. The eleven brothers, who were princes, went to school with stars on their breasts and swords by their sides. They wrote on gold slates with diamond pencils and knew their lessons by heart, and you could tell right away that they were princes. Their sister Elisa sat on a little footstool of plate glass and had a picture book that had cost half the kingdom.

Oh, those children had a good life, but it wasn’t going to stay that way!

Their father, who was the king of the entire country, married an evil queen, who was not good to the poor children; they noticed it already on the first day. There was a big celebration at the castle, and the children were playing house, but instead of the cookies and baked apples they usually got plenty of, she gave them sand in a teacup and told them to pretend it was something else.

The next week she farmed little sister Elisa out to some peasants in the country, and it wasn’t long before she was able to get the king to imagine all sorts of wicked things about the princes so that finally he didn’t care about them anymore.

“Fly out in the world and take care of yourselves!” said the evil queen. “Fly as great voiceless birds!” but she wasn’t able to make it quite as bad as she wanted—they became eleven lovely wild swans. With a strange cry they flew out of the castle windows and over the park and the forest.

It was still early morning when they flew over the peasant’s cottage where their sister Elisa was sleeping. They hovered over the roof, twisted their long necks, and flapped their wings, but no one saw or heard them. They flew away again, high up towards the clouds and far away into the wide world and into a big dark forest that stretched all the way to the sea.

Poor little Elisa stood in the peasant’s cottage playing with a green leaf because she didn’t have any other toys. She pierced a hole in the leaf and peeked up at the sun through it, and it was as if she saw her brothers’ clear eyes, and each time the sunshine hit her cheek, she thought about their many kisses.

One day passed like another. When the wind blew through the big rose hedges outside the house, it whispered to the roses, “Who can be more beautiful than you?” but the roses shook their heads and answered, “Elisa.” And when the old woman sat by the door reading her hymnal on Sundays, the wind turned the pages and said to the book, “Who can be more pious than you?” “Elisa,” said the hymnal, and what the roses and the hymnal said was the solemn truth.

When she was fifteen years old, she was to return home, and as soon as the queen saw how beautiful she was, she became angry and hateful to her. She would have liked to turn Elisa into a wild swan, like she did to her brothers, but she didn’t dare do it right away since the king wanted to see his daughter.

Early in the morning the queen went into her bathroom, which was built of marble and was decorated with soft cushions and the loveliest carpets. She took three toads, kissed them, and said to the first, “Sit on Elisa’s head when she gets into the bath, so that she will become sluggish, like you.”

“Sit on her forehead,” she said to the second one, “so she will become ugly like you, and her father won’t recognize her.”

“Sit on her heart,” she whispered to the third. “Give her a bad disposition, so she’ll suffer from it.”

Then she put the toads into the clear water, which immediately took on a greenish hue, called Elisa, undressed her, and had her step into the bath, and as she went under the water, the first toad sat on her hair, the second on her forehead, and the third on her breast, but Elisa didn’t seem to notice. As soon as she rose up, there were three red poppies floating on the water. If the animals hadn’t been poisonous and kissed by the witch, they would have been changed to red roses, but they became flowers anyway by resting on her head and on her heart. She was too pious and innocent for the black magic to have any power over her.

When the evil queen saw this, she rubbed walnut oil on Elisa so she became dark brown. Then she spread a stinking salve over the beautiful face and left her lovely hair tangled and matted. It was no longer possible to recognize the lovely Elisa at all.

When her father saw her, he became quite alarmed and claimed that she wasn’t his daughter. No one else would acknowledge her either, except the watchdog and the swallows, but they were just poor animals and didn’t count.

Poor Elisa wept and thought about her eleven brothers, all of whom were gone. She crept sadly out of the castle and wandered the whole day over moor and meadow and into the big forest. She didn’t know where she wanted to go, but she felt so sad and longed for her brothers, who had been chased out into the world like her. Now she would search them out and find them.

She had only been in the woods for a short time before night fell. She had wandered clear away from the path, so she lay down on the soft moss, said her prayers, and rested her head on a stump. It was so quiet, the air was so mild, and around about her in the grass and on the moss there were hundreds of glowworms shining like green fire. When she gently touched one of the branches with her hand, the shining insects fell down to her like falling stars.

All night she dreamed about her brothers. They were children playing again, writing with the diamond pencil on golden slates, and looking at the lovely picture book that had cost half the kingdom. But they didn’t draw only circles and lines on the slates, like before, rather they wrote about the most daring deeds that they had done, everything they had experienced and seen. Everything in the picture book was alive. Birds sang and the people came out of the book and talked to Elisa and her brothers, but when she turned the page, they leaped back in again, so that the pictures wouldn’t get mixed up.

When she awoke, the sun was already high in the sky. She couldn’t see it because the branches of the tall trees were spread across the sky, but the rays danced up there in the treetops like a fluttering veil of gold. All the green plants gave off a fragrance, and the birds almost perched on her shoulders. She heard water splashing from a great many large springs that all pooled into a pond with a lovely sand bottom. All around the pond bushes were growing densely, but in one spot the deer had cleared a big opening, and Elisa was able to get to the water, which was so clear that if the wind hadn’t stirred the branches and bushes so they moved, you would have thought that they were painted on the bottom, so vividly was every leaf reflected there, both in sunshine and in shade.

When she saw her own face, she was frightened because it was so brown and ugly, but when she took water in her little hand and rubbed her eyes and forehead, the white skin shone through again. Then she took off all her clothes and went into the refreshing water, and there was no more beautiful princess anywhere.

When she was dressed and had braided her long hair, she went to the bubbling spring, drank from the hollow of her hand, and wandered further into the forest, not knowing where she was going. She thought about her brothers and about the good Lord, who wouldn’t desert her. He let the wild crab apples grow, to feed the hungry, and He showed her such a tree with branches heavy with fruit. She had her dinner here, propped up the branches of the tree, and then walked into the darkest part of the forest. It was so quiet that she could hear her own footsteps, hear every little shriveled leaf that crunched under her feet. Not a bird could be seen, and not a ray of sunshine could shine through the big thick tree branches. The tall trunks stood so close together that when she looked straight ahead, it was as if she had a fence of thick posts all around her. Oh, here was a loneliness such as she’d never known!

The night became pitch dark, and there was not a single little glowworm shining on the moss. Sadly she lay down to sleep. Then she thought that the tree branches above her parted, and the Lord with gentle eyes looked down on her, and small angels peered out over his head and under his arms.

When she awoke in the morning she didn’t know if it had been a dream or if it had really happened. After walking a short way, she met an old woman who had some berries in her basket. The old woman gave her some of these, and Elisa asked if she had seen eleven princes riding through the forest.

“No,” said the old woman, “but yesterday I saw eleven swans with gold crowns on their heads swimming in the river not far from here.”

And she led Elisa a little further to a steep slope with a river winding below it. The trees on each bank stretched out their long leafy branches towards each other, and wherever they couldn’t reach with natural growth, they had torn their roots out from the soil and were leaning out over the water with branches woven together. Elisa said goodbye to the old woman and walked alongside the river until it flowed out onto a wide open shore.

The whole beautiful ocean lay there in front of the young girl, but neither a sail nor a boat could be seen out there. How was she to get any further? She looked at all the innumerable little stones on the shore; the water had polished them smooth. Glass, iron, stone—everything that was washed up on the beach had been shaped by water, water that was softer still than her white hand. “They roll tirelessly, and so they smooth out the roughness; I’ll be just as tireless! Thank you for your wisdom, you clear rolling waves. My heart tells me that some day you’ll carry me to my dear brothers.”

Lying in the washed-up seaweed there were eleven white swan feathers that she gathered in a bouquet. There were water drops on them, but no one could tell if it was dew or tears. It was lonely there on the beach, but she didn’t feel it since the ocean changed constantly—more in a few hours than a lake would change in a whole year. If a big black cloud came over, it was as if the ocean said, “I can also look dark,” and then the wind blew, and the waves showed their white caps. If the clouds were glowing red and the wind was sleeping, then the sea was like a rose petal. First it was green, then white, but no matter how quietly it rested, there was always a slight movement by the shore; the water swelled softly, like the chest of a sleeping child.

Just before the sun went down, Elisa saw eleven white swans with gold crowns on their heads flying towards land. They were gliding across the sky one after the other like a long white ribbon. Elisa climbed up on the slope and hid behind a bush while the swans landed close by her and flapped with their great white wings.

After the sun had set, the swan skins suddenly slipped off, and there stood eleven handsome princes, Elisa’s brothers. She gave a loud cry, because even though they had changed a lot, she knew that it was them. Indeed, she felt that it must be them and ran into their arms, calling them by name, and they became so happy when they saw and recognized their little sister, who had grown so big and beautiful. They laughed and they cried, and soon told each other how badly their step-mother had treated them all.

The eldest brother said, “We brothers fly as wild swans so long as the sun is up, but when it sets, our human shapes are returned to us. That’s why we always have to be careful to be on land at sunset because, if we were to be flying up in the clouds, then we would fall to the ground. We don’t live here, but in a land just as beautiful as this one on the other side of the sea. It’s far far away, and we have to cross the ocean. There is no island on our route where we can spend the night except a lonely little rock that sticks up way out in the middle of the sea. It’s so small that we have to rest there side by side. In high seas the waves spray over us, but still we thank God for it. We spend the night there in our human shape, and without it we could never visit our dear fatherland because it takes two of the longest days of the year to make the flight. We can only visit our homeland once a year, and we don’t dare stay more than eleven days. We fly over this huge forest, from where we can see the castle where we were born, and where father lives. We can see the high tower of the church, where mother is buried.—We feel related to the trees and bushes here. The wild horses run over the plains here, as we saw them in our childhood. The coal-burners still sing the same old songs here that we danced to as children. Our fatherland is here. We’re drawn here, and here we have found you, dear little sister! We can only stay two more days, and then we have to fly over the sea to that lovely country that isn’t our native land. How can we bring you with us? We have neither ship nor boat.”

“How can I save you?” their sister responded.

They spoke together almost the whole night and slept only a few hours.

Elisa awoke to the sound of swans’ wings whistling over her. Her brothers were once again transformed, and they flew in a big circle and finally far away, but one of them, the youngest, stayed behind and laid his head in her lap. She patted his white wings, and they spent the whole day together. Towards evening, the others came back, and when the sun went down, they stood there in their natural form.

“We have to fly away tomorrow and don’t dare come back for a whole year, but we can’t leave you! Do you have the courage to come with us? My arm is strong enough to carry you through the forest. Together we should have strong enough wings to fly with you across the sea.”

“Yes! Take me along!” said Elisa.

They spent the whole night braiding a net of the supple willow bark and thick rushes, and it was of great size and strength. Elisa laid down on this, and after the sun came up, and the brothers were changed to swans, they took hold of the net with their beaks and flew high up towards the clouds with their dear sister, who was still sleeping. When the rays of the sun shone on her face, one of the swans flew over her head so that his wide wings shaded her.

They were far from land when Elisa woke up. She thought she was still dreaming because it was so strange for her to be carried high in the air above the ocean. By her side lay a branch with delicious ripe berries and a bunch of tasty roots. Her youngest brother had gathered them and placed them there for her, and she smiled her thanks at him. She knew that it was he who was flying right above her head, shading her with his wings.

They were so high up that the first ship they saw under them looked like a white seagull floating on the water. There was a huge cloud behind them like a mountain, and on it Elisa could see the enormous shadows of herself and the eleven swans as they flew. It was a picture more magnificent than anything she had seen before, but as the sun rose higher and the cloud receded behind them, the floating shadow picture disappeared.

All day they flew, like a rushing arrow through the air.

All day they flew, like a rushing arrow through the air, but it was slower than usual since they had to carry their sister. A storm was gathering, and evening was coming. Anxiously, Elisa saw the sun sink, and the lonely rock in the sea was not in sight. It seemed to her that the swans were strengthening their wing strokes. Alas! It was her fault that they weren’t moving faster! When the sun set, they would change into men, fall into the sea, and drown. Deep in her heart she said a prayer to the Lord, but she still couldn’t see the rock. The black cloud came closer, and strong gusts of wind told of the storm’s approach. The clouds came rolling towards them like a single big threatening wave of lead, and lightning bolt followed lightning bolt.

The sun was just at the rim of the sea, and Elisa’s heart trembled. The swans shot downward so quickly that she thought she was falling—then they glided again. The sun was halfway down in the sea when she first saw the little rock below her. It didn’t look any bigger than a seal sticking its head up from the water. The sun sank quickly and was now no bigger than a star. Then her foot felt the hard rock as the sun went out like the last spark in a piece of burning paper. She saw her brothers standing around her, arm in arm, but there wasn’t room for anyone else. The sea crashed against the rock and splashed over them like a cloudburst of rain. The sky was shining like never-ending fire, and clap after clap of thunder rolled by, but the sister and her brothers held hands and sang a hymn, which gave them comfort and courage.

At dawn the air was clear and still, and as soon as the sun came up, the swans flew away from the rock with Elisa. There was still a high sea, and when they were high in the air, the white foam on the dark green sea looked like millions of swans floating on the water.

When the sun climbed higher, Elisa saw ahead of her, half floating in the air, a mountainous land with shining glaciers on the mountains, and in the middle was a mile-long castle with one bold colonnade on top of the other. Below there were waving palm forests and gorgeous flowers big as mill wheels. She asked if that was their destination, but the swans shook their heads. What she saw was a mirage, Fata Morgana’s1 lovely sky castle that was constantly changing, and they didn’t dare bring humans there. As Elisa stared at it, the mountain, forests, and castle collapsed and twenty splendid churches stood there, all alike, with high steeples and arched windows. She thought she heard the organ playing, but it was the ocean she heard. When she was quite close to the churches, they changed to an entire fleet of ships that sailed below her. She looked down, and it was only sea-fog chasing across the water. She was watching an ever-changing scene, and then she saw the real country that was their destination. There were lovely blue mountains with cedar forests, towns and castles. Long before sunset, she was sitting on a mountain in front of a big cave, overgrown with fine green twining plants, which looked like embroidered carpets.

“Now we’ll see what you dream about here tonight,” said the youngest brother and showed her to her bedroom.

“I wish I would dream about how I could rescue you all!” she said, and this thought occupied her so vividly that she prayed fervently to God for help. Even in sleep she continued her prayer; and it seemed to her that she flew high up in the air to Fata Morgana’s sky castle, and a fairy came towards her, lovely and glittering, but she looked exactly like the old woman who had given her berries in the forest and told her about the swans wearing the gold crowns.

“Your brothers can be rescued,” she said, “if you have the courage and perseverance. It’s true that the sea is softer than your fine hands and can shape the hard stones, but it doesn’t feel the pain your fingers will feel. It has no heart and doesn’t suffer the dread and terror you must tolerate. Do you see this stinging nettle I’m holding in my hand? Many of these grow around the cave where you’re sleeping. Only those and those that grow on the graves in the churchyard can be used—take note of that. You have to pick them, although they will burn your skin to blisters. Then you must tramp the nettles with your feet to get flax, and with that you must spin and knit eleven thick shirts with long sleeves. Throw these over the eleven wild swans, and the spell will be broken. But remember this: from the moment you begin this work and until the day it is finished you cannot speak, even if your work takes years. The first word you speak would be like a dagger in your brothers’ hearts, and it would kill them. Their lives hang upon your tongue. Pay attention to all that I’ve told you!”

And she touched Elisa’s hand with the nettle, which like a burning fire, woke her up. It was bright day, and right next to where she had been sleeping, lay a nettle like the one she had seen in her dream. Then she fell on her knees and thanked God, and went out of the cave to begin her work.

With her fine hands, she reached down into the nasty nettles, which were like scorching fire. They burned big blisters on her hands and arms, but she bore it gladly, to rescue her dear brothers. And so she broke each nettle with her bare feet and spun the green flax.

When the sun went down, her brothers came, and they were frightened to find her so silent. They thought their evil step-mother had cast a new spell, but when they saw her hands, they realized what she was doing for their sakes, and the youngest brother burst into tears. Wherever his tears fell, the pain left her, and the burning blisters disappeared.

She worked all night because she could have no rest until she had saved her beloved brothers. All the next day, while the swans were away, she sat there alone, but time had never flown so quickly. One shirt was already finished, and she started on the next one.

Then she heard a hunting horn echo through the hills, and it scared her. The sound came closer, and she heard dogs barking. Frightened, she ran into the cave and wound the nettles and her knitting into a bundle and sat down on it.

Just then a big dog sprang from the thicket, and then another and another; they barked loudly and ran back and forth. Within a few minutes all the hunters were standing outside the cave, and the most handsome of them all was the king of the country. He went into the cave, and never had he seen a more beautiful girl than Elisa.

“How did you get here, you beautiful child?” he asked.

Elisa shook her head. She didn’t dare speak, of course, since her brothers’ lives and safety were at stake, and she hid her hands under her apron, so the king would not see what she was suffering.

“Come with me!” he said, “You can’t stay here! If you’re as good as you are beautiful, I’ll dress you in silk and velvet and set a gold crown on your head, and you’ll live in my richest castle.”

He lifted her up onto his horse, and she cried and wrung her hands, but the king said, “I only want your happiness. Some day you’ll thank me for this.” Then he galloped away through the hills with her in front of him on the horse, and the hunters followed after them. As the sun was setting, the magnificent royal city with its churches and domes was lying before them, and the king led her into the castle, where enormous fountains splashed under the high ceilings in rooms of marble. The walls and ceilings were decorated with paintings, but she had no eye for them. She cried and grieved, and passively let the women dress her in royal clothing, braid pearls in her hair, and draw fine gloves over her burned fingers.

When she stood there in all her glory, she was so dazzlingly beautiful that the court bowed down deeply to her, and the king chose her for his queen, even though the arch-bishop shook his head and whispered that the beautiful forest maiden must be a witch, who had bedazzled their eyes and bewitched the king’s heart.

But the king didn’t listen to him. Instead he had the musicians play and had the most splendid dishes served. The most beautiful girls danced around Elisa, and she was led through fragrant gardens into magnificent chambers, but not a smile crossed her lips, or appeared in her eyes, where sorrow seemed to have taken up eternal residence. Then the king opened a door to a tiny room, close by her bedroom; it was decorated with expensive green carpets and resembled the cave where she had been. The bundles of flax she had spun from the nettles were lying on the floor, and hanging up by the ceiling was the shirt she had finished. One of the hunters had brought all this along as a curiosity.

“You can dream about your former home here,” said the king. “Here’s the work that you used to do. It’ll amuse you to think back to that time now that you’re surrounded with luxury.”

When Elisa saw these things that were so close to her heart, a smile came to her lips, and the blood returned to her cheeks. She thought about her brothers’ salvation and kissed the king’s hand. In return he pulled her to his heart and had all the church bells proclaim the wedding feast. The beautiful silent girl from the forest was to be queen of the land.

The arch-bishop whispered evil words into the king’s ear, but they did not reach his heart. The wedding was set, and the arch-bishop himself had to place the crown on her head. Although he pressed the narrow band down on her forehead with evil resentment so that it hurt, there was a heavier band pressing on her heart—the sorrow she felt about her brothers, and she did not feel the bodily pain. Since a single word would kill her brothers, her mouth was silent, but in her eyes lay a deep love for the good, handsome king, who did everything he could to please her. Day by day she grew to love him more and more. Oh, if only she dared to confide in him, to tell him of her suffering! But she had to remain silent, and in silence she had to finish her work. Night after night she stole away from his side and went into her little closet that resembled the cave. She knit one thick shirt after the other, but when she started on the seventh one, she ran out of flax.

She knew that the nettles that she should use grew in the churchyard, but she had to pick them herself. How was she going to get there?

“Oh, what is the pain in my fingers compared to the agony in my heart!” she thought. “I must risk it. God won’t desert me!” With terror in her heart, as if she were on her way to do an evil deed, she stole down to the garden in the moonlit night. She went through the long avenues of trees and out on the empty streets, to the churchyard. On one of the widest tombstones she saw a ring of vampires—hideous witches, who took off their rags as if they were going to bathe and then dug down into the fresh graves with their long, thin fingers, pulled the corpses out, and ate their flesh. Elisa had to pass right by them, and they cast their evil eyes on her; but she said her prayers, gathered the burning nettles, and carried them home to the castle.

Only a single person saw her—the arch-bishop. He was awake when others slept. Now he felt vindicated, for the queen was not what she seemed. She was a witch, who had bewitched the king and all the people.

In the confessional he told the king what he had seen, and what he feared, and when the harsh words came from his tongue, the images of the carved saints shook their heads as if they wanted to say, “It isn’t so. Elisa is innocent!” But the arch-bishop explained it differently. He said they were witnessing against her and shaking their heads over her sin. Two heavy tears rolled down the king’s cheeks, and he went home with doubt in his heart. He pretended to sleep that night, but remained wide awake. He noticed how Elisa got up, and how she repeated this every night, and every night he followed her quietly and saw her disappear into her little chamber.

Day by day his face grew more troubled. Elisa saw this and didn’t know why, but it worried her, and she was still suffering in her heart for her brothers. Her salty tears streamed down and fell upon her royal velvet and purple clothing. They lay there like glimmering diamonds, and everyone who saw the rich magnificence wished to be the queen. In the meantime she had finished her work. Only one shirt was left, but she was again out of flax and didn’t have a single nettle. One last time she would have to go to the churchyard and pick a few handfuls. She thought about the lonely trip and about the terrible vampires with dread, but her will was firm, as was her faith in God.

Elisa went, but the king and arch-bishop followed her. They saw her disappear at the wrought iron gate of the cemetery, and when they came closer to the gravestones, they saw the vampires, as Elisa had seen them. The king turned away because he thought she was among them—his wife whose head had rested against his breast this very night!

“The people must judge her,” he said, and the people judged that she should be burned in the red flames.

From the splendid royal chambers she was led into a dark, damp hole, where the wind whistled through the barred windows. Instead of velvet and silk they gave her the bundle of nettles she had gathered; she could rest her head on those. The hard, burning shirts she had knit were to be her bedding, but they couldn’t have given her anything dearer to her. She started her work again and prayed to God while outside the street urchins sang mocking ditties about her, and not a soul consoled her with a friendly word.

Toward evening a swan wing whistled right by the window grate. It was the youngest brother who had found his sister, and she sobbed aloud in joy, even though she knew that the approaching night could be the last she would live. But now the work was almost done, and her brothers were here.

The arch-bishop came to spend the last hours with her, as he had promised the king he would do, but she shook her head and asked him to leave with expressions and gestures. She had to finish her work this night, or everything would be to no avail—everything: pain, tears and the sleepless nights. The arch-bishop went away with harsh words for her, but poor Elisa knew that she was innocent and continued her work.

Little mice ran around on the floor, and pulled the nettles over to her feet, to help a little. By the barred window the thrush sat and sang all night long, as merrily as he could, so she wouldn’t lose her courage.

It was an hour before dawn when the eleven brothers stood by the gate to the castle and asked to see the king, but they were told that they couldn’t because it was still night. The king was sleeping, and they didn’t dare wake him. They begged, and they threatened. The guards came, and even the king himself appeared and asked what this meant. At that moment the sun came up, and there were no brothers to be seen, but over the castle flew eleven wild swans.

All the people in the town streamed out of the gates. They wanted to see the witch burn. A miserable horse pulled the cart she was sitting in. They had given her a smock of coarse sackcloth, and her lovely long hair hung loosely around her beautiful head. Her cheeks were deathly pale, and her lips moved slowly while her fingers twined the green flax. Even on her way to her death she did not stop the work she had started. Ten shirts lay by her feet, and she was knitting the eleventh. The mob insulted her.

“Look at the witch! See how she’s mumbling. And she doesn’t have her hymnal in her hands! She is sitting with her magic things. Let’s tear them into a thousand pieces!”

And the crowd approached her and wanted to tear her things apart, but then eleven white swans flew down and sat around her on the cart and flapped with their huge wings. The mob fell back terrified.

“It’s a sign from heaven! She must be innocent!” many whispered, but they didn’t dare say it aloud.

As the executioner grabbed her hand, she hastily threw the eleven shirts over the swans. There stood eleven handsome princes, but the youngest one had a swan’s wing instead of one arm, since there was a sleeve missing in the shirt. She hadn’t been able to finish it.

“Now I dare speak!” she said, “I am innocent!”

And the people who saw what had happened bowed down before her as if for a saint, but she sank lifeless into the arms of her brothers. The tension, terror, and pain had affected her this way.

“Yes, she’s innocent!” said the eldest brother, and he told them everything that had happened. While he was speaking, the people could smell the scent as of a million roses because all of the logs in the bonfire had sprouted roots and branches. There was a fragrant hedge standing there, big and tall with red roses. At the top was a flower, white and shining that lit up like a star. The king picked it and set it on Elisa’s breast, and she awoke with peace and happiness in her heart.

Then all the church bells rang by themselves, birds came flying in big flocks, and the bridal procession that led back to the castle was like no other seen before by any king.


1. A mirage (an optical phenomenon, often characterized by distortion) that appears near an object, often at sea; named after the sorceress Morgan le Fay, sister to King Arthur, who was said to be able to change her shape.


ONCE UPON A TIME there was a poor prince. He had a kingdom that was quite small, but it was big enough so he could afford to get married, and that’s what he wanted to do.

Now it was pretty fresh of him to ask the emperor’s daughter, “Do you want to marry me?” But he dared it because his name was known far and wide, and there were hundreds of princesses who would have accepted him, but we’ll see if she does.

Now listen to what happened.

On the grave of the prince’s father there grew a rose tree, and a lovely rose tree it was! It only flowered every five years and then only with a single rose, but it was a rose that smelled so sweet that when you smelled it, you forgot all your sorrows and worries. The prince also had a nightingale that could sing as if all the most beautiful melodies sat in its little throat. That rose and that nightingale were to be given to the princess, and so they were both placed in big silver cases and were sent to her.

The emperor had the cases brought into the big room where the princess was playing house with her chambermaids, and when she saw the big cases with the gifts inside, she clapped her hands in joy.

“If only it’s a little pussycat!” she said, but then the rose tree with the lovely rose was unveiled.

“Oh, how beautifully it’s made,” said all the chambermaids.

“It’s more than beautiful,” the emperor said. “It’s neat!”

But the princess felt it and then was ready to cry.

“Oh yuck, pappa!” she said. “It’s not artificial, it’s real!

“Yuck!” all the chambermaids said. “It’s real!”

On the grave of the prince’s father there grew a rose tree, and a lovely rose tree it was!

“Let’s see what’s in the other case before we get angry,” said the emperor, and then the nightingale was brought forth. It sang so beautifully that it would be impossible to say anything against it.

“Superbe! Charmant!” said the chambermaids for they all spoke French, one more badly than the next.

“How that bird reminds me of the saintly old empress’s music box,” said an old gentleman-in-waiting. “Oh yes, it’s just the same tone, the same delivery!”

“Yes indeed!” said the emperor, and he cried like a little child.

“But I don’t believe it’s real,” said the princess.

“Yes, it’s a real bird,” said those who had brought it.

“So let the bird fly away with the ideas of that prince,” said the princess, and she would not allow him to come under any circumstances.

But he kept his spirits up and smeared his face brown and black, pulled a peaked cap low on his head, and knocked at the door.

“Hello, emperor,” he said. “Do you have a job for me here at the castle?”

“Sure,” said the emperor. “I need someone to take care of the pigs because we have a lot of them.”

So the prince was hired as the royal swineherd. He was given a humble little room down by the pig sty, and that’s where he had to stay, but all day he sat and worked, and when it was evening, he had made a lovely little pot. There were bells all around it, and as soon as the pot boiled, they rang beautifully and played the old melody:Ach, Du lieber Augustine,

Alles ist weg, weg, weg. 1

But the most wonderful thing of all was that when you held your finger in the steam from the pot, you could immediately smell what food was being cooked at each chimney in town. See, this was really something different than that rose!

The princess came walking by with all her chambermaids, and when she heard the melody she stopped and looked so contented because she could also play “Ach, Du lieber Augustine.” It was the only thing she could play, and she played it with one finger.

“That’s the one I know!” she said. “That swineherd must be a cultivated man! Listen, go down and ask him what that instrument costs.”

So one of the chambermaids had to go into the pigpen, but she put on clods first.

“What do you want for that pot?” asked the attendant.

“I want ten kisses from the princess,” said the swineherd.

“God save us!” said the attendant.

“Well, I won’t take less,” answered the swineherd.

“Well, he is certainly rude,” said the princess, and she walked away, but when she had walked a little distance, the bells rang so lovely:Ach, Du lieber Augustine,

Alles ist weg, weg, weg.

“Listen,” said the princess, “ask him if he’ll take ten kisses from my chambermaids.”

“No thanks!” said the swineherd. “Ten kisses from the princess, or I keep the pot.”

“How unpleasant this is!” said the princess to the chambermaids, “but you’ll have to stand in front of me so no one sees it!”

And the chambermaids lined up and spread out their skirts, and the swineherd got his ten kisses, and she got the pot.

Well, what an amusing thing that was! All evening and all day the pot had to cook, and there wasn’t a chimney in the whole town where they didn’t know what was cooking, both at the mayor’s and the shoemaker’s. The chambermaids danced and clapped their hands.

“We know who’s having soup and spam! We know who’s having leg of lamb! How interesting this is!”

“Yes, but watch your mouths. I’m the emperor’s daughter!”

“God save us!” they all said.

The swineherd, that is to say, the prince—but they didn’t know he wasn’t a real swineherd—didn’t let the day go by without doing something, and so now he made a rattle. When you swung it around, it played all the waltzes and lively dances known since the start of time.

“But that’s superb,” said the princess when she went by. “I have never heard a more delightful composition. Listen! Go in and ask him what that instrument costs, but I won’t kiss for it!”

“He wants a hundred kisses from the princess,” said the chambermaid who had been sent to ask.

“I believe he’s crazy,” said the princess, and she walked away, but when she had walked a short distance, she stopped. “One has to support art!” she said. “I am the emperor’s daughter! Tell him that he can have ten kisses like yesterday, the rest he can take from my chambermaids.”

“Well, but we don’t want to do that,” the chambermaids said.

“Oh, fudge!” said the princess. “If I can kiss him, so can you. Remember I give you room and board and a salary,” and then the chambermaid had to go back into the pig sty again.

“A hundred kisses from the princess,” he said, “or no deal.”

“Stand around!” said she, and so all the chambermaids stood in front of her and he started kissing.

“What is that crowd doing down there by the pig sty?” asked the emperor, who had stepped out on the balcony. He rubbed his eyes and put on his glasses. “Why it’s the chambermaids at it again! I’d better go down and see.” And he pulled his slippers up in back because they were just shoes that he had worn down.

My heavens how he hurried!

As soon as he came into the yard, he slowed way down, and the chambermaids were so busy counting the kisses to be sure it was accurate that they didn’t notice the emperor, who stood up on his tiptoes.

“What’s this!?” he said when he saw them kissing, and then he hit them on their heads with his slipper, just as the swineherd got the eighty-sixth kiss. “Get out of here!” said the emperor, for he was very angry, and both the princess and the swineherd were banished from the kingdom.

She stood there crying, while the swineherd scolded, and the rain came pouring down.

“Alas, I’m a miserable person,” said the princess. “If only I’d accepted that lovely prince! Oh, how unhappy I am!”

The swineherd went behind a tree, wiped the black and brown colors from his face, threw away the dirty clothes, and stepped out in his prince outfit, so handsome that the princess had to curtsy before him.

“I have come to despise you, you see,” he said. “You didn’t want an honorable prince! You didn’t appreciate the rose or the nightingale, but you kissed a swineherd for the sake of a plaything! Now it serves you right.”

Then he went back to his kingdom and locked her out so she truly could sing:Ach, Du lieber Augustine,

Alles ist weg, weg, weg.


1. From an eighteenth-century German folksong; the lines translate as: “Oh, my dearest Augustine / Everything is gone, gone, gone.”


ONCE UPON A TIME there was a little boy who had a cold. He had been out and gotten wet feet. No one could understand how he had done that because the weather was quite dry. So his mother undressed him and put him to bed, and she brought in the tea urn to make him a good cup of elderberry tea because that warms you up! Just then the old amusing gentleman who lived on the top floor of the house came through the door. He lived quite alone because he had neither a wife nor children, but he was very fond of children and knew so many good fairy tales and stories that it was a delight.

“Now drink your tea,” said the mother, “and maybe you’ll get a fairy tale.”

“If I just knew a new one,” said the old man and nodded gently. “But where did the little guy get his feet wet?” he asked.

“Where indeed?” said his mother. “No one knows.”

“Are you going to tell me a story?” asked the boy.

“Well, first you have to tell me exactly how deep the gutter is in that little street where you go to school. I must know that.”

“Exactly to the middle of my boots,” said the boy, “but that’s when I walk in the deepest hole.”

“See, that’s where the wet feet came from,” said the old man. “Now I should really tell a fairy tale, but I don’t know any new ones.”

“You can make one up,” said the little boy. “Mother says that everything you look at can become a fairy tale, and that you can get a story from everything you touch.”

“But those fairy tales and stories are no good! No, the real ones come by themselves. They knock at my forehead and say, ‘Here I am!’”

“Won’t one knock soon?” asked the little boy, and his mother laughed as she put the tea in the pot and poured boiling water over it.

“A story! a story!”

“Well, if one would just come by itself, but they are so uppity that they only come when they want to—stop!” he said suddenly. “There it is! Look now, there’s one in the teapot.”

The little boy looked at the teapot. The lid raised itself higher and higher, and elderberry blooms came out so fresh and white. They shot out big, long branches, even out of the spout. They spread to all sides and became bigger and bigger. It was the most beautiful elderberry bush—a whole tree. It protruded onto the bed and shoved the curtains to the side. Oh, how it flowered and smelled! And in the middle of the tree sat a friendly old woman wearing an odd dress. It was quite green like the leaves of the elderberry tree and covered with white elderberry blossoms. You couldn’t tell right away whether it was cloth or real greenery and flowers.

“What’s that woman’s name?” asked the little boy.

“Well, the Romans and Greeks called her a dryad,”1 said the old man, “but we don’t understand that. Over in Nyboder2 they have a better name for her. They call her Mother Elderberry. Now keep your eye on her and on the beautiful elderberry tree while you listen:

“A tree just like this one stands blooming over there in Nyboder in the corner of a poor little garden. One afternoon two old people sat under that tree in the beautiful sunshine. They were a very old seaman and his very old wife. They were greatgrandparents, and they were soon going to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary, but they couldn’t quite remember the date. Mother Elderberry sat in the tree and looked self-satisfied, like she does here. ‘I certainly know when your anniversary is,’ she said, but they didn’t hear her. They were talking about the old days.

“‘Can you remember the time when we were small children?’ said the old seaman, ‘And we ran around in this same garden where we’re now sitting. We stuck sticks in the ground to make a garden.’

“‘Yes,’ said the old woman. ‘I remember it well. And we watered the sticks, and one of them was an elderberry branch which took root and shot out shoots. Now it’s the big tree we’re sitting under as old people.’

“‘Yes indeed,’ he said, ‘And over there in the corner was a water tub where my little boat sailed. I had carved it myself, and how it sailed! But soon I had sailing of a different kind!’

“‘But first we went to school and learned a few things,’ she said, ‘and then we were confirmed. We both cried, but in the afternoon we walked hand in hand up to the top of the Round Tower and looked out over Copenhagen and the water.3 Then we went to Fredericksberg where the king and queen were sailing on the canals in their splendid boat.’

“‘But my sailing for many years was of a different kind. Far away on big trips!’

“‘And I often cried for you,’ she said. ‘I thought you were dead and gone and lying down there in the deep waters. Many a night I got up to see if the weather vane had shown a wind change. And it did turn, but you didn’t come! I remember so clearly how the rain was pouring down one day when the garbage man came where I was working. I came down with the garbage pail and was standing by the door. What terrible weather! And as I stood there, the mailman was by my side and gave me a letter. It was from you! And how it had been around! I tore right into it and read—laughed and cried. I was so happy! You wrote that you were in the warm countries where the coffee beans grow. What a wonderful land that must be! You described so much, and I saw it all, while the rain was pouring down and I was standing with the garbage pail. Just then someone put his arm around my waist—’

“‘And you gave him such a box on the ears that his head spun around!’

“‘I didn’t know it was you! You came home as fast as your letter, and you were so handsome—as you still are, and you had a long yellow silk handkerchief in your pocket, and you were wearing a shiny hat. You were dressed up so fine. But dear God, what weather there was, and how the street looked!’

“‘Then we got married.’ he said, ‘Do you remember? And we had our first little boy, and then Marie, and Niels, and Peter, and Hans Christian.’

“‘And they all grew up to be decent people that everyone likes.’

“‘And their children have children!’ said the old sailor, ‘And those great grand-children have some spirit in them!—But it seems to me it was this time of year that we got married.’

‘“Yes, today is your Golden Anniversary,’ said Mother Elderberry and stuck her head right down between the two old people. They thought it was their neighbor who had popped in. They looked at each other and held hands. A little later their children and grandchildren came. They knew very well that it was the Golden Anniversary day. They had, in fact, been around with congratulations in the morning, but the old couple had forgotten that, although they remembered very well everything that had happened many years before. The elderberry tree gave off such a lovely fragrance and the sun, that was about to set, shone right into the old ones’ faces. They both looked so red-cheeked, and the smallest of the grandchildren danced around them and yelled happily that tonight there would be a feast—they were going to have roasted potatoes! And Mother Elderberry sat in her tree nodding and cheering ‘hurray’ along with everyone else.”

“But that wasn’t a fairy tale,” said the little boy who had listened to it.

“Well, that’s what you think, but let’s ask Mother Elderberry,” said the story-teller.

“That wasn’t a fairy tale,” said Mother Elderberry, “but here it comes! The most wonderful fairy tales grow right out of reality, otherwise my lovely elderberry tree couldn’t have sprouted from the teapot!” And then she took the little boy out of the bed, held him by her breast, and the elderberry branches, full of flowers, closed around them. They sat as if in a completely enclosed garden pavilion, and it flew away with them through the air. Oh, it was marvelous! Mother Elderberry had at once become a beautiful young girl, but her dress was still the same green, white-flowered one that Mother Elderberry had worn. On her breast was a real elderberry flower, and on her curly yellow hair was a wreath of elderberry blossoms. Her eyes were so big and so blue. Oh, how beautiful she was! She and the boy kissed, and then they were the same age and felt the same.

They walked hand in hand out of the arbor of leaves and into the lovely garden of the boy’s home. His father’s walking cane was tethered to a stick on the lawn. There was life in that cane for the little ones. As soon as they put a leg over it, the shiny button changed to a magnificent neighing head with a long black flowing mane, and four slender, strong legs pushed out. The animal was strong and lively. They rushed around the lawn at a gallop. Giddy-up! “Now we’ll ride for many miles,” said the boy, “we’ll ride to the big manor house where we were last year,” and they rode and rode around on the grass. The little girl, whom we know was no one other than Mother Elderberry, called out, “Now we’re in the country. Do you see the farmer’s house? There’s a big baking oven—it was a big lump like an egg in the wall out towards the road. The elderberry tree is holding its branches out above it, and the rooster is scratching about in front of the hens. See, how he’s swaggering! Now we’re at the church! It stands high on a hill between the big oak trees. One of them is partly dead. Now we’re at the smithy’s, where the fire is burning, and half-naked men are hammering so sparks are flying. Away! Away to the magnificent manor house!” Everything the little girl mentioned went flying by. She was sitting behind him on the cane. The boy saw it all, but still they were just riding on the lawn. Then they played in the side yard and scratched out a little garden in the soil. She took the elderberry flower from her hair and planted it, and it grew just as it had for the old people in Nyboder when they were little, like the story we heard earlier. They walked hand in hand like the old couple had done as children, but they didn’t go up to the top of the Round Tower or out to Fredericksberg. No, the little girl put her arm around the boy’s waist, and they flew around all over Denmark. Spring turned to summer, then autumn, followed by winter. A thousand pictures were mirrored in the little boy’s eyes and heart, and the entire time the little girl sang for him, “you’ll never forget this,” and the whole time the sweet and lovely scent of the elderberry blossoms was with them. He noticed the roses and the fresh beech trees, but the elderberries’ perfume was even more wonderful because the blossoms were fastened by the little girl’s heart, and his head often rested there during the flight.

“How lovely it is here in the spring!” said the young girl, and they stood in the newly green sprouted beech woods where the green sweet woodruff wafted under their feet, and the pale pink anemones looked so lovely in the open air. “Oh, if it could always be spring in the fragrant Danish beech forests!”

“How lovely it is here in the summer!” she said, and they sped past old manor houses from the age of chivalry where the red walls and notched gables were reflected in the canals where the swans were swimming and looking up at the old cool avenues of trees. In the fields the grain was billowing as if it were a sea. There were red and yellow flowers in the ditches, and the fences were covered with wild hops and flowering bindweed. And in the evening the moon rose round and huge, and the scent of cut hay in the meadows filled the air. “This will never be forgotten!”

“How lovely it is here in the fall!” said the little girl, and the sky seemed doubly high and blue. The forest had the most lovely colors of red, yellow, and green. The hunting hounds bounded away, and big flocks of screeching wild birds flew over the burial mound where blackberry vines hung on the old stones. The sea was dark blue with white sails, and old women, girls, and children sat on the threshing floor picking hops into a big vat. The young sang songs, but the old told fairy tales about gnomes and trolls. It couldn’t get better than this!

“How lovely it is here in the winter!” said the little girl. And all the trees were heavy with frost. They looked like white coral. The snow crunched under your feet as if you were always wearing new boots, and from the sky fell one falling star after another. The Christmas tree was lit in the living room, and there were presents and good cheer. In the country the fiddle was played in the farmer’s living room. Little apple cakes were everywhere, and even the poorest child said, “it really is lovely in winter!”

It was lovely! And the little girl showed the boy everything, and the smell of elderberry flowers was always with them. The red flag with the white cross, under which the old sailor in Nyboder had sailed, waved everywhere. And the boy became a young man and was going out into the wide world, away to the warm countries where coffee beans grow. At parting the little girl took an elderberry flower from her bosom and gave it to him to keep. It was placed in his hymnal, and in foreign lands, whenever he opened the book, it always opened to the place where the keepsake flower was lying. The more he looked at it, the fresher it became, and it was as if he smelled the fragrance of the Danish forests, and he saw clearly the little girl with her clear blue eyes peer out from between the petals. And she whispered, “how lovely it is here in spring, in summer, in fall and in winter!” and hundreds of pictures passed through his mind.

Many years passed, and then he was an old man and sat with his old wife under a flowering tree. They were holding hands, like great-grandfather and great-grandmother in Nyboder did, and they talked like they had about the old days and about their Golden Anniversary. The little girl with the blue eyes and the elderberry flowers in her hair sat up in the tree, nodded at them both and said, “today is your Golden Anniversary,” and then she took two flowers from her wreath and kissed them. First they shone like silver, then like gold, and when she placed them on the old folks’ heads, each flower became a golden crown. There they sat like a king and a queen under the fragrant tree that looked absolutely just like an elderberry tree. And he told his old wife the story about Mother Elderberry as it had been told to him when he was a little boy. They both thought there was much in it that reminded them of their own story, and those were the parts they liked best.

“That’s the way it is!” said the little girl in the tree. “Some call me Mother Elderberry, others call me a dryad, but my real name is Memory. I’m the one who sits in the tree that grows and grows. I can remember, and I can tell stories! Let me see if you still have your flower.”

And the old man opened his hymnal. The elderberry flower was lying there as fresh as if it were just placed there, and Memory nodded, and the two old people with the gold crowns sat in the rosy evening sunshine. They closed their eyes—and—and then the fairy tale was over!

The little boy lay in his bed. He didn’t know if he had been dreaming, or if he had heard a story. The teapot stood on the table, but there was no elderberry tree growing from it, and the old man who had told the story was just going out the door, and that’s what he did.

“How beautiful it was,” said the little boy. “Mother, I’ve been in the warm countries!”

“That I can well believe,” said his mother. “When you drink two brimming cups of elderberry tea you surely do come to warm countries!” And she tucked him in so he wouldn’t get cold. “You must have been sleeping while we sat and argued about whether it was a story or a real fairy tale.”

“And where is Mother Elderberry?” asked the boy.

“She’s in the teapot,” his mother said, “and there she can stay!”


1 In Greek and Roman mythology, dryads are wood nymphs that live in trees.

2 Section of Copenhagen founded by Christian IV as a neighborhood for seamen; it is characterized by small gardens with elderberry trees.

3 It was a custom for confirmands to climb to the top of the Round Tower the day after their confirmation.


SOME FIDGETY LIZARDS WERE running around in the cracks of an old tree. They could understand each other very well because they spoke lizard language.

“My, how it’s rumbling and humming in the old elf hill!” said one lizard. “I haven’t been able to close my eyes for two nights because of the noise. I could just as well be lying there with a toothache because then I don’t sleep either!”

“There’s something going on in there,” said the second lizard. “They had the hill standing on four red pillars up until cockcrow. They’re really airing it out, and the elf maidens have learned some new dances that have stamping in them. Something is going on.”

“I’ve talked to an earthworm of my acquaintance,” said the third lizard. “He was right up at the top of the hill, where he digs around night and day. He heard quite a bit. Of course he can’t see, the miserable creature, but he can feel around and understands how to listen. They are expecting guests in the elf hill, distinguished guests, but who they are he wouldn’t say, or he probably didn’t know. All the will-o’-the-wisps have been reserved to make a torchlight procession, as it’s called, and the silver and gold—and there’s enough of that in the hill—is being polished and set out in the moonlight.”

“But who in the world can the guests be?” all the lizards asked. “I wonder what is going on? Listen to how it’s humming! Listen to the rumbling!”

Just then the hill of the elves opened up, and an old elf lady came toddling out. She had a hollow back, but was otherwise very decently dressed. She was the old elf king’s housekeeper and a distant relative. She had an amber heart on her forehead. Her legs moved very quickly: trip, trip. Oh, how she could get around, and she went straight down in the bog to the nightjar!

“You’re invited to the elf hill tonight,” she said, “but first will you do us a tremendous favor and see to the invitations? You must make yourself useful since you don’t have a house yourself. We’re having some highly distinguished guests—very important trolls—and the old elf king himself will be there.”

“Who’s to be invited?” asked the nightjar.

“Well, everyone can come to the big ball, even people, so long as they can talk in their sleep or do one or another little bit in our line. But for the main banquet the guests are very select. We are only inviting the absolutely most distinguished. I have argued with the elf king about this because I’m of the opinion that we can’t even let ghosts attend. The merman and his daughters have to be invited first. They aren’t crazy about coming onto dry land, but each of them will have a wet rock or better to sit on, so I don’t think they’ll refuse this time. We must have all the old trolls of the highest rank with tails, the river sprite, and the pixies. And I don’t think we can exclude the grave-hog, the hell-horse, or the church-shadow. Strictly speaking they belong to the clergy, not our people, but it’s just their jobs after all, and they are close relatives and visit us often.”

“Suuuper!” croaked the nightjar and flew away to issue invitations.

The elf maidens were already dancing on the elf hill, and they danced in long shawls woven from mist and moonlight, which is lovely for those who enjoy this type of thing. Way inside the middle of the elf hill the big hall had been fixed up. The floor had been washed with moonlight, and the walls were polished with witches’ wax, so they shone like tulip petals in the light. The kitchen was full of frogs on the spit, little children’s fingers rolled in grass snake skins, and salads of mushroom seeds, wet snouts of mouse, and hemlock. There was beer from the bog woman’s brewery, and saltpeter wine from the tomb cellar. It was hearty fare. Desert was rusted-nail hard candy, and church window glass tidbits.

They danced in long shawls woven from mist and moonlight.

The old elf king had his golden crown polished in slate pencil powder. It was deluxe powder, from the smartest boy’s pencil, and it’s very hard for the elf king to get hold of that. They hung up curtains in the bedroom and fastened them up with snake spit. Yes, there was quite a hustle and bustle!

“Now we’ll fumigate with curled horsehair and pig bristles, and then I think my share of the work will be done,” said the old elf maid.

“Dear daddy,” said the smallest daughter, “Won’t you tell who the distinguished guests are?”

“Well,” he said, “I guess I must tell you. Two of you daughters must prepare to get married—because two of you are going to get married. The troll king from Norway—the one who lives in the Dovre mountain and has many granite mountain castles and a gold mine that’s worth more than people think1—is coming with his two boys. Each of them is looking for a wife. The troll king is one of those down-to-earth, honest old Norwegian fellows, cheerful and straightforward. I know him from the old days when we were on familiar terms with each other. He had come down here for a wife. She is dead now. She was the daughter of the chalk cliff king from Moen.2 You could say she was chalked up to be his wife. Oh, how I’m looking forward to seeing him! They say that his boys are a couple of bratty conceited fellows, but that may not be true, and the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree. They’ll straighten out when they get older. You girls will whip them into shape!”

“When are they coming?” one daughter asked.

“It depends on the wind and weather,” the elf king said. “They are traveling by the cheapest method and will come when they can obtain passage on a ship. I wanted them to come by way of Sweden, but the old fellow wouldn’t think of it! He doesn’t keep up with the times, and I don’t like that!”3

Just then two will-o’-the-wisps came hopping, one faster than the other, and so one came first.

“They’re coming! They’re coming!” they shouted.

“Give me my crown, and I’ll go stand in the moonlight!” said the elf king.

His daughters lifted their long shawls and curtsied right down to the ground.

There was the troll king from Dovre with a crown of stiff icicles and polished pinecones. In addition he was wearing a bearskin coat and sleigh boots. In contrast his sons were bare-necked and weren’t wearing suspenders because they were strapping fellows.

“Is that a hill?” the smallest of the boys asked and pointed at the elf hill. “We’d call it a hole up in Norway.”

“Boys!” said their father. “Holes go inward, hills go upward. Don’t you have eyes in your heads?”

The only thing that surprised them here, they said, was that they could understand the language right away!

“Don’t carry on now!” said the old king, “one would think you’re still wet behind the ears.”

Then they went into the elf hill, where there really was a fine company assembled. They had been gathered in such haste that you would think they had been blown together. It was just lovely and neatly arranged for everyone. The sea folks sat at the table in big vats of water and said that they felt right at home. All of them had good table manners except the two young Norwegian trolls. They put their feet up on the table, but then they thought that everything they did was becoming.

“Feet out of the food!” said the old troll, and they obeyed him but not right away. They tickled the elf maidens next to them with pinecones that they had in their pockets, and then they took their boots off to be comfortable and gave them to the elf maidens to hold. But their father, the old Dovre troll, was completely different. He told lovely stories about the glorious Norwegian mountains, and about the waterfalls that rushed down in white foam with a roar like thunder and organ music. He told about the salmon that jumped up the rushing waters when the water sprite played its gold harp. He told about the glistening winter nights when the sleigh bells rang out, and the lads ran with burning torches over the shiny ice that was so transparent that they could see the fish swim away in fright underneath their feet. He could tell stories so that you could see and hear what he talked about: it was as if the sawmills were going, as if the boys and girls sang folksongs and danced the hailing. Suddenly the old troll gave the old elf maiden a hearty familial smack—it was a real kiss—and they weren’t even related!

“Don’t carry on now!” said the old king.

Then the elf maidens had to dance, and they danced both slowly and the tramping dance, and it suited them very well. Then they did the hardest dance, the one that’s called “stepping out of the dance.” Oh my! How they kicked up their legs. You couldn’t tell what was the beginning or what was the end. You couldn’t tell arms from legs. They swirled around each other like sawdust, and then they twirled around so that the hell-horse got sick and had to leave the table.

“Prrrr ... they can surely shake a leg,” said the troll king, “but what else can they do besides dance, do high kicks, and make whirlwinds?”

“You’ll see,” said the elf king, and he called his youngest daughter forward. She was very slender and as clear as moonlight. She was the most delicate of all the sisters. She put a white twig in her mouth, and then she disappeared. That was her skill.

But the old troll said that he wouldn’t tolerate such a skill in his wife, and he didn’t think his boys would like it either.

The second one could walk beside herself as if she had a shadow, and trolls don’t have those.

The third was quite different from the others. She had been in training at the bog woman’s brewery, and she knew how to garnish elder stumps with glowworms too.

“She’ll be a good housewife!” said the old troll, and he drank to her with his eyes because he didn’t want to drink too much.

Then the fourth elf maiden came to play a big golden harp. When she played the first string, they all lifted their left legs because trolls are left-legged, and when she played the second string, they all had to do what she wanted.

“That’s a dangerous woman,” said the old troll, but both of his sons left the hill because they were bored.

“What can the next daughter do?” asked the troll king.

“I have become so fond of Norwegians,” she said, “and I’ll never marry unless I can come to Norway.”

But the smallest daughter whispered to the old troll, “It’s just because in a Norwegian song she heard that when the world comes to an end, the Norwegian mountains will stand like a monument, and she wants to get up there because she’s afraid of dying.”4

“Ho, ho,” laughed the troll king. “So that’s the scoop. But what can the seventh and last daughter do?”

“The sixth comes before the seventh,” said the elf king because he could count, but the sixth didn’t want to come out.

“All I can do is tell people the truth,” she said. “Nobody cares about me, and I have enough to do sewing my burial shroud.”

Now came the seventh and last, and what could she do? Well, she could tell fairy tales, and as many as she wanted to.

“Here are my five fingers,” said the old troll. “Tell me one about each of them.”

And the elf maiden took him by the wrist, and he laughed so hard he gurgled, and when she came to the ring finger that had a golden ring around its middle as if it knew there was going to be an engagement, the troll king said, “Hold on to what you have! My hand is yours! I want to marry you myself.”

And the elf maiden said there were still stories to hear about the ring finger and a short one about little Per Pinkie.

“We’ll hear those in the winter,” said the old troll, “and we’ll hear about the spruce trees and the birch and about the gifts of the hulder people and the tinkling frost. You will be telling stories for sure because nobody up there can do that very well yet. And we’ll sit in the stone hall by the light of the blazing pine chips and drink mead from the golden horns of the old Norwegian kings. The water sprite has given me a couple of them. And as we’re sitting there, the farm pixie will come by for a visit. He’ll sing you all the songs of the mountain dairy girls. That’ll be fun. The salmon will leap in the waterfalls and hit the stone wall, but they won’t get in! Oh, you can be sure it’s wonderful in dear old Norway. But where are the boys?”

Well, where were the boys indeed? They were running around in the fields blowing out the will-o’-the-wisps, who had come so good-naturedly to make the torchlight parade.

“What’s all this gadding about?” said the troll king. “I’ve taken a mother for you, now you can take wives among your aunts.”

But the boys said that they would rather give a speech and drink toasts. They had no desire to get married. And then they gave speeches, drank toasts, and turned the glasses over to show that there wasn’t a drop left. Then they took off their coats and lay down on the table to sleep because they weren’t a bit self-conscious. But the troll king danced all around the hall with his young bride, and he exchanged boots with her because that’s more fashionable than exchanging rings.

“The rooster’s crowing!” said the old elf who was the housekeeper. “Now we have to shut the shutters so the sun doesn’t burn us to death.”

And the elf hill closed.

But outside the lizards ran up and down the cracked tree, and one said to the other:

“Oh, I really liked that old Norwegian troll king!”

“I liked the boys better,” said the earthworm, but of course he couldn’t see, the miserable creature.


1 Andersen likely took this motif from Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe’s famous Norwegian folktale collection Norske folkeeventyr, the first volume of which appeared in 1841. Dovrefjell is a mountain range south of Trondheim.

2 According to folklore, a supernatural creature was thought to live inside the chalk cliffs on Moen, an island in the Baltic Sea off the Danish coast.

3 Reference to Norwegian opposition to the 1814 union with Sweden.

4 Reference to the first line of the poem “Til mit födeland” (“To My Native Land”), by S. O. Wolff (1796-1859), which appeared in Samlede poetiske forsög lst. volume, published in Christiania in 1833. The first line is “Hvor herligt er mit Fødeland” (“How splendid is my native land”).


IN AN OLD MANOR house in the country, there lived an old squire who had two sons, who were too clever by half. They wanted to propose to the king’s daughter, and they dared to do so because she had announced that she would marry the man who could speak up the best for himself.

The two prepared themselves for a week, which was all the time they had for it, but it was enough too because they had previous knowledge, and that’s useful. One of them knew the entire Latin dictionary by heart and three years’ worth of the town’s newspaper, both forward and backwards. The other one had learned all the articles of the guilds, and what every alderman had to know. He thought he could discuss state affairs. In addition he knew how to embroider suspenders because he was quick fingered and deft.

“I’ll get the princess,” they both said, and their father gave each of them a lovely horse. The one who knew the dictionary and newspapers got a coal-black one, and he who was up on the alderman’s rules and who embroidered got a milk-white one. They smeared cod liver oil on the corners of their mouths so they could speak more smoothly. All the servants were in the courtyard to watch them depart. Just then the third brother came down, for there were three of them, but nobody counted him since he didn’t have the knowledge of the other two. They just called him Clod-Hans.

“Where are you going all dressed up?” he asked.

“To Court to win the princess with our wit. Haven’t you heard what’s been announced all over the country?” And they told him about it.

“Gee, I’d better go along too!” said Clod-Hans, and his brothers laughed at him and rode away.

“Father, let me have a horse!” shouted Clod-Hans. “I’ve got a fancy to get married! If she’ll take me, she’ll take me. And if she won’t take me, I’ll take her anyway.”

“What nonsense!” said his father. “I won’t give you a horse. You have nothing to talk about! But your brothers are splendid fellows!”

“If I can’t have a horse,” said Clod-Hans, “then I’ll take the goat. He’s mine, and can easily carry me.” Then he straddled the goat, stuck his heels in its sides, and took off down the road. Wow, what speed! “Here I come,” said Clod-Hans, and he sang shrilly.

The brothers rode silently in front. They didn’t say a word. They had to think over all the good ideas they would talk about because they had to be clever.

“Hey, hallo,” shouted Clod-Hans. “Here I come! Look what I found on the road!” and he showed them a dead crow he’d found.

“Clod!” they said, “What do you want that for?”

“I’m going to give it to the princess!”

“Yes, you do that!” they said, as they laughed and rode on.

“Hey, hallo! Here I come! Look what I found now—You don’t find something like this on the road every day!”

And the brothers turned back again to see what it was. “Clod!” they said, “It’s just an old wooden shoe with the top missing. Is that for the princess too?”

“Yes, it is,” said Clod-Hans, and the brothers laughed and rode far ahead of him.

“Hey, hallo. Here I am!” shouted Clod-Hans. “Oh no, it’s getting worse and worse! Hey, hallo! This is marvelous!”

“What did you find now?” asked the brothers.

“Oh!” said Clod-Hans. “It’s unbelievable! How happy the princess will be!”

“Ugh!” said the brothers. “It’s just mud thrown up from the ditch!”

“Yes, that’s what it is!” said Clod-Hans, “and it’s the finest kind. It’s so fine you can’t keep a hold of it,” and he filled his pocket.

But the brothers rode away as fast as they could, and they came an hour early to the city gates. There the suitors received a number as they arrived, and were lined up in a row, six in each rank and so close together that they couldn’t even move their arms. That was a good thing though; otherwise they would have stabbed each other in the back just because one was ahead of the other.

All the inhabitants stood around the castle, right up to the windows, in order to see the princess receive the suitors, and as soon as one came into the room, his powers of speech failed him.

“Won’t do!” said the princess. “Scoot!”

Now the brother who knew the dictionary came, but he had completely forgotten it while waiting in line, and the floor creaked, and the ceiling was a mirror so that he saw himself upside down. And at each window stood three reporters and a guild master, who wrote up everything that was said, so that it could be printed in the papers right away and be sold for two shillings on the corner. It was horrible, and they had fired up the stove so that it was red hot!

“It’s awfully hot in here!” said the suitor.

“That’s because my father is roasting roosters today,” said the princess.

“Duh!” There he stood—he hadn’t expected that. He couldn’t think of a word to say because he wanted to say something amusing. Duh!

“Won’t do!” said the princess. “Scoot!” And so he had to leave. Then came the second brother.

“It’s terribly hot in here,” he said.

“Well, we’re roasting roosters today,” said the princess.

“Excuse—what?” he said, and all the reporters wrote “Excuse—what?”

“Won’t do,” said the princess. “Scoot!”

Then Clod-Hans came. He rode his goat right into the room. “What a terrific heat!” he said.

“That’s because I’m roasting roosters!” said the princess.

“That’s lucky,” said Clod-Hans. “I should be able to get a crow roasted then, shouldn’t I?”

“Yes, you certainly may,” said the princess, “but do you have something to roast it in? Because I have neither a pot nor a pan.

“But I have!” said Clod-Hans. “Here’s a cooker with a handle.” And he took out the old wooden shoe and set the crow in the middle of it.

“That’s an entire meal,” said the princess, “but where will we get the sauce?”

“I have it in my pocket!” said Clod-Hans. “I have a lot of it so I can waste some,” and he poured a little mud out of his pocket.

“I like this!” said the princess. “You sure can answer! And you can talk, and I want you for my husband. But do you know that every word we say and have said is being written up and will appear in the papers tomorrow? There are three reporters and a guild master by each window, and the guild master is the worst because he can’t understand anything!” She said this to scare him. And all the reporters giggled and spilled ink on the floor.

“That must be the gentry,” said Clod-Hans, “and I must give the guild master the best,” and he turned his pocket inside out and threw mud in his face.

“That was well done!” said the princess, “I couldn’t have done that, but I’ll learn.”

And then Clod-Hans became king. Indeed, he got a wife of his own, a crown, and a throne. And we have it right from the guild master’s newspaper—but you can’t rely on that!


Now I’M GOING TO tell you a story that I heard when I was little, and every time I’ve thought about it since, I think it becomes more lovely. Stories are like many people—they get more and more lovely with age, and that’s a good thing!

Of course you’ve been out in the country? Then you’ve seen a really old farmhouse with a straw roof where moss and herbs grow by themselves. There’s a stork nest on the ridge of the roof—you’ve got to have a stork. The walls are crooked, the windows are low, and there’s only one that can be opened. The oven sticks out like a little chubby stomach, and the elder bush leans over the fence where there’s a tiny pond of water with a duck or ducklings right under the gnarled willow tree. And there’s always a tied watchdog that barks at each and all.

In just such a farmhouse in the country there lived a couple, a farmer and his wife. Even with as little as they had, they could have gotten along without one thing, and that was a horse that grazed in the road ditch. The farmer rode it to town, and the neighbors borrowed it, and gave a favor in return, but they thought it would be more worthwhile to sell the horse or trade it for something even more useful. But what could that be?

“You’ll understand what’s best, father,” said his wife. “There’s a fair in town. Go ahead and ride in there and sell the horse, or make a good trade. Whatever you do is always right. Ride to the fair.”

And she tied his neckerchief because she could do that better than he could. She tied a double knot—it looked elegant—and she brushed his hat with the flat of her hand, and kissed his warm mouth. And then he rode away on the horse that was to be sold or traded. Oh yes, father knew what to do.

The sun was burning hot, and there were no clouds. The road was dusty because there were so many going to the fair, in wagons, on horses, or on foot. It was hot, and there was no shade on the road.

There was one man leading a cow that was as lovely as a cow can be. “It must give delicious milk,” thought the farmer. “That would make a pretty good trade.”

“Say, you there with the cow,” said the farmer. “Let’s have a chat. You know a horse costs more than a cow, I believe, but that doesn’t matter. I have more use for the cow. Shall we trade?”

“Sure,” said the man with the cow, and so they traded.

That was done, and now the farmer could have turned around. After all, he had accomplished what he wanted to do, but since he had decided to go to the fair he wanted to go to the fair, just to look, and so he continued with his cow. He walked fast, and the cow walked fast, and soon they were walking side by side with a man leading a sheep. It was a good sheep, in good shape and with lots of wool.

“I wouldn’t mind owning that,” though the farmer. “It would have plenty to eat grazing in the ditch, and in the winter we could bring it into the house with us. It really makes more sense for us to have a sheep than a cow.”

“Shall we trade?”

Yes, the man who had the sheep wanted to do that. The exchange was made, and the farmer walked along the road with his sheep. By a stile he saw a man with a big goose under his arm.

“That’s a big one you’ve got there,” said the farmer. “It’s got both feathers and fat. It would look good tied up by our pond. That would be something for mother to gather peelings for. She has often said, ‘If only we had a goose!’ Now she can have one, and she shall have one! Will you trade? I’ll give you the sheep for the goose and throw in a thank-you.”

Well, the other man certainly wanted to trade, and so they did. The farmer got the goose. He was close to town, and the road got more crowded. What a throng of man and beast! They walked on the road and in the ditch right up to the toll-keeper’s potato field, where his hen was tied up so she wouldn’t get scared and run away. It was a short-tailed hen that blinked with one eye and looked like a good one. “Cluck, cluck,” it said. What it meant by that I can’t say, but the farmer thought when he saw her: “She’s the prettiest hen I have ever seen. She is prettier than the minister’s brood hen. I’d love to own her! A hen can always find grain, and can almost take care of itself. I think it would be a good trade if I get her for the goose. Shall we trade?” he asked. “Trade?” said the other man, “Well, that wouldn’t be too bad,” and so they traded. The toll-keeper got the goose, and the farmer got the hen.

He had accomplished a lot on his trip to town, but it was warm, and he was tired. He needed a drink and a bite to eat. He was near an inn and was about to go in, but the innkeeper’s servant was just coming out the door. The man had a big bag full of something.

“What have you got there?” asked the farmer.

“Rotten apples,” said the fellow, “a whole bag full for the pigs.”

“That’s an awful lot! I wish mother could see that. Last year we only had one apple on the old tree by the peat shed. That apple had to be saved, and it stood on the chest until it burst. ‘There’s always something,’ said mother. Here she could see something! Yes, I wish she could see this.”

“Well, what will you give me for them?” asked the fellow.

“Give? I’ll trade my hen for them,” and so he gave the hen in exchange, got the apples, and went into the inn, right to the counter. He put his bag with apples up against the stove and didn’t think about the fire burning in it. There were many strangers in the room—horse and cattle dealers, and two Englishmen. They are so rich that their pockets are bursting with gold coins, and they like to gamble. Now listen to this!

“Sizz, sizz!” What was that noise by the stove? The apples were starting to bake.

“What’s that?” Well, they soon heard the whole story about the horse that was traded for a cow, and right down to the rotten apples.

“Well, you’ll get knocked about by your wife when you get home!” said the Englishmen. “She’ll raise the roof!”

“I’ll get kisses, not knocks,” said the farmer. “My wife will say, ‘What father does is always right. ”’

“Shall we bet on that?” they asked. “Pounds of gold coins. A barrel full.”

“A bushel will be enough,” said the farmer, “I can only bet my bushel of apples, and I’ll throw in my wife and me, but that’ll be more than even—a heaping measure.”

“Done! Done!” they said, and the bet was made.

The innkeeper’s wagon was brought out. The Englishmen got in, the farmer got in, the rotten apples were gotten in, and then they got to the farmer’s house.

“Good evening, mother!”

“Welcome home, father!”

“I’ve been trading!”

“Well, you know how to do it,” said his wife and put her arms around his waist. She forgot both the sack and the strangers.

“I traded the horse for a cow!”

“Thank God for the milk!” said his wife. “Now we can have dairy products—butter and cheese on the table. That was a lovely trade!”

“I like that, ” said the Englishmen.

“Yes, but then I traded the cow for a sheep.”

“That’s even better!” said his wife. “You’re always thinking. We have enough grazing for a sheep. Now we can have sheep’s milk and cheese and woolen stockings. Even woolen night-shirts ! A cow can’t give that. She loses her hair. How you think things through!”

“But I traded the sheep for a goose.”

“Will we really have a Martinmas goose this year, dear father ? You always think of pleasing me! What a delightful thought. The goose can be tethered and fattened up for Martinmas.”

“But I traded the goose for a hen,” said the husband.

“Hen! That was a good trade,” said his wife. “A hen will lay eggs, and they’ll hatch. We’ll have chicks, a henyard! That’s something I’ve really wished for.”

“Well, I traded the hen for a sack of rotten apples.”

“I must kiss you!” said his wife. “Thank you, my own dear husband! Now I’ll tell you something. While you were gone, I thought about making you a really good meal—an omelet with chives. I had the eggs, but not the chives. So I went over to the school master’s. I know they have chives, but that woman is stingy, the troll. I asked to borrow—‘borrow?’ she said. Nothing grows in our garden, not even a rotten apple! I can’t even loan her that. Now I can lend her ten, yes, a whole bag full! Isn’t that fun, father!” And then she kissed him right on the lips.

“I like that,” said the Englishmen. “From bad to worse, but always just as happy. That’s worth the money!” And then they paid a bushel of gold coins to the farmer, who got kisses, not knocks.

Yes, it always pays off for a wife to realize and admit that father is the wisest and what he does is always right.

See, there’s the story! I heard it as a child, and now you have heard it too, and know that what father does is always right.



THE SUN REALLY BURNS in the warm countries! People become quite mahogany brown there, and actually in the warmest countries they burn completely black. Now it was to one of these warm countries that a scholar had come from a cold one. He thought that he could run around there like he did at home, but that habit soon changed. He and all other sensible people had to remain indoors. The window shutters and doors had to be closed the entire day. It seemed as if everyone was sleeping, or no one was at home. The small street with the high houses where he lived was built so that the sun shone on it from morning till night. It was really intolerable! The scholar from the cold country—he was a young man, a smart man—felt like he was sitting in a red-hot oven. The heat really took a lot out of him. He became quite thin, and even his shadow shrank. It became much smaller than it was at home. The sun was hard on it as well. The man and his shadow didn’t perk up until evening, after the sun had set.

It was really a pleasure to watch: as soon as the light was brought into the living room, the shadow stretched way up the wall, even onto the ceiling. It had to stretch way out like that to regain its strength. The scholar went out onto the balcony to stretch there, and as the stars came out in the beautiful clear sky, it was as if he came to life again. People came out on all the balconies on the street—and in the warm countries every window has a balcony—because they had to have air even if they were used to being mahogany brown! What life there was up and down the street! Shoemakers and tailors, all the people flowed out into the street. They set up tables and chairs and lit candles, over a thousand candles, and one person talked and another one sang, and people walked about. Coaches went by, the donkeys walked: cling-a-ling-a-ling because they wore bells. Hymns were sung for funerals, the street urchins shot fire crackers, and the church bells rang. Oh yes, there was plenty of life down in the street. Only one house, straight across from where the scholar lived, was completely quiet. But someone did live there because there were flowers on the balcony. They grew so beautifully in the hot sun and couldn’t have done that unless they had been watered, and someone had to do that. There had to be people there. The balcony door was partly open during the evening, but it was dark in there, at least in the first room. From further inside you could hear music. The foreign scholar thought it was quite incredible, but perhaps he was imagining things because he found everything incredible there in the warm countries. If only it hadn’t been for that sun! The foreigner’s landlord said that he didn’t know who had rented the neighbor’s house. You never saw anyone, and as far as the music was concerned, he thought it was terribly boring. “It’s as if someone is practicing a piece he can’t master, and all the time it’s the same one. ‘I’ll get it,’ he is probably saying, but he won’t get it no matter how long he plays!”

One night the foreigner woke up. He was sleeping by the open balcony door, and the curtain in front of it was fluttering in the wind. It seemed to him that a remarkable radiance was coming from the neighbor’s balcony. All the flowers were shining like flames in the most beautiful colors, and in the middle of the flowers stood a slender, lovely young woman. It was as if she was shining too. It actually hurt his eyes, and then he opened them wide and woke up. He leaped to the floor and slowly moved behind the curtain, but the maiden was gone—the radiance was gone. The flowers weren’t shining at all but stood as they always had. The door was ajar and from deep inside the music played so softly and beautifully that it could really sweep you into sweet dreams. It was almost like magic—but who lived there? Where was the entrance? The entire ground floor was just shops, and people couldn’t constantly be running through them.

One evening the foreigner was sitting on his balcony. In the room behind him the light was burning, so naturally his shadow fell on the neighbor’s wall. It was sitting right in between the flowers on the balcony. And when the foreigner moved, the shadow moved too, because that’s what shadows do.

“I believe my shadow is the only living thing over there,” said the scholar. “See how nicely it’s sitting amongst the flowers. The door is ajar—now my shadow should be kind enough to go inside, look around, and then come tell me what it’s seen. You should make yourself useful!” he said jokingly. “Please step inside! Well, are you going?” and he nodded at the shadow, and the shadow nodded back. “Ok, go but don’t get lost.” The foreigner got up, and his shadow that was cast on the neighbor’s balcony got up too. The foreigner turned around and the shadow turned around too. And if someone had paid close attention to it, he would clearly have seen that the shadow went into the partly opened balcony door at the neighbor’s, just as the foreigner went into his room and let the long curtain fall down behind him.

The next morning the scholar went out to drink coffee and read the papers. “What’s this?” he asked when he got out into the sunshine. “I don’t have a shadow! So it really went over there last night and hasn’t come back. This is really awkward!”

It annoyed him, but not so much because the shadow was gone, but because he knew that there was another story about a man without a shadow.1 Everyone at home in the cold countries knew the story, and if he were now to show up and tell his, then everyone would say that he was just a copy-cat, and he didn’t need that. He just wouldn’t talk about it, and that was sensible of him.

In the evening he went out on his balcony again. He had quite rightly set the light behind him because he knew that the shadow always wants his master for a screen, but he couldn’t coax it out. He made himself short, he made himself tall, but there was no shadow. No shadow at all! “Hm, hm!” he said, but that didn’t help.

It was irritating, but in the warm countries everything grows so quickly, and after a week went by he noticed to his great pleasure that a new shadow was growing out from his legs when he was in the sunshine. The root must have remained behind. After three weeks he had a quite passable shadow that, when he traveled home to the cold countries, grew more and more on the trip so that at last it was too tall and too big by half.

So the scholar went home, and he wrote books about what was true in the world, and about what was good and what was beautiful. And days and years went by. Many years passed.

One evening he was sitting in his study when he heard a soft knock at the door.

“Come in,” he called, but no one came. He opened the door, and there in front of him stood an extraordinarily skinny person. It made him feel quite odd. For that matter the person was very well dressed, evidently a distinguished man.

“Whom do I have the honor of addressing?” asked the scholar.

“Just as I thought!” said the elegant gentleman. “You don’t recognize me! I have become so solid. I really have flesh—and clothes too. You probably never expected to see me so well off. Don’t you recognize your old shadow? Well, you probably didn’t think that I would come back. Things have gone very well for me since I was last with you. I have in all respects become very well-off. If I’m to buy my freedom, I can do so!” And he shook a whole bundle of valuable seals that were hanging by his pocket watch, and he thrust his hand into the thick golden chain that hung around his neck. My, how all his fingers were dazzling with diamond rings! And everything was real.

“I can’t fathom any of this,” said the scholar, “What’s going on here?”

“Well, it is extraordinary,” said the shadow, “but you yourself aren’t ordinary either, and you know perfectly well that I have followed in your footsteps ever since childhood. As soon as you felt I was mature enough to be alone in the world, I went my own way. I am in the most brilliant of circumstances now, but a kind of longing came over me to see you once again before you die. You will die of course! I also wanted to see these parts again because one always cares about one’s fatherland. I know you have another shadow now. Do I owe him something or owe you something? Please just tell me if I do.”

“Is it really you?” said the scholar. “This is most remarkable! I never thought that one’s old shadow could return as a human being!”

“Tell me what I owe,” said the shadow, “because I don’t want to be in debt to anyone.”

“How can you talk like that?” asked the scholar. “What debt is there to talk about? You are as free as anyone, and I’m very happy about your success. Sit down, my old friend, and tell me a little about how things have happened, and what you saw over at the neighbor’s place in that warm country.”

“Yes, I’ll tell you about it,” said the shadow and sat down, “but you must promise me that you won’t tell anyone here in town, if you meet me, that I used to be your shadow! I have a mind to get engaged. I can support more than one family.”

“Don’t worry,” the scholar said, “I won’t tell anyone who you really are. Here’s my hand on it. I promise, and a man is as good as his word.”

“And a word’s as good as its shadow,” said the shadow. He had to talk like that.

Otherwise, it was really very remarkable how human the shadow was. He was dressed all in black made of the very best black cloth with patent leather boots and a hat that could be collapsed to only the crown and the shadowing brim, not to mention the seals, gold necklace, and diamond rings mentioned before. The shadow was indeed very well dressed, and it was just this that made him so very human.

“Now I’ll tell you all about it,” said the shadow, and he put his legs with the patent leather boots down as hard as he could on the sleeve of the scholar’s new shadow that was lying like a poodle by its master’s feet. Maybe it was from arrogance, or maybe he wanted him to stick, and the lying shadow stayed so quiet and calm, in order to listen. It undoubtedly wanted to know how it could get free and earn its way to independence.

“Do you know who lived in the neighbor’s house across the street?” asked the shadow. “It was the most beautiful of all things. It was Poetry! I was there for three weeks, and that had the same effect as living for three thousand years and reading everything that has been written. This I say, and it’s true. I’ve seen everything, and I know everything!”

“Poetry!” exclaimed the scholar. “Well, well—she is often a recluse in big cities! Poetry! Well, I saw her for just a short moment, but sleep was in my eyes. She stood on the balcony shining like the northern lights do. Tell me more! Go on! You were on the balcony, you went through the door, and then—”

“I was in the vestibule,” said the shadow. “You were always sitting and looking over at the vestibule. There wasn’t any light there, just a kind of twilight, but one door after another stood open in a long row of rooms and halls. And in those there was lots of light. I would have been killed by the radiance if I had gone all the way to her room. But I was cool-headed. I took my time, as one should do.”

“And what did you see then?” asked the scholar.

“I saw everything, and I’m going to tell you about it, but—it isn’t a matter of pride for me, but—as a free man and with the knowledge I have, not to mention my good position and my excellent circumstances—I really wish you would address me formally! ”2

“Oh, excuse me!” said the scholar, “it’s just an old habit, and I can’t get rid of it all that easily. But you’re completely right. And I’ll remember it! But now tell me everything that you saw.”

“Everything!” said the shadow, “because I saw everything, and I know everything!”

“What did it look like in the innermost room?” asked the scholar. “Was it like being in the fresh forest? Was it like a holy church? Were the halls like the clear starry sky when one stands on a mountain?”

“Everything was there,” the shadow said. “I didn’t go completely in, you know. I stayed in the vestibule in the twilight, but I had a good position there. I saw everything, and I know everything! I have been to the vestibule of Poetry’s court.”

“But what did you see? Did all the ancient gods walk through the great halls? Did the old heroes do battle there? Were sweet children playing and telling their dreams?”

“I tell you, I was there and believe me, I saw everything that there was to see! If you had gone over there, you would not have become human, but I did! And I got to know my inner nature as well, my innate qualities, the relationship I had to Poetry. I didn’t think about it when I was with you, but you know, whenever the sun came up or the sun set, I always became so strangely large. In moonlight I was almost easier to see than you. I didn’t understand my nature at that time, but in the vestibule it became clear to me, and I became human! I came out of there fully developed, but you weren’t in the warm country any longer. I was ashamed as a human being to walk around like I was. I needed boots, clothes, all the human veneer that makes a person recognizable. I found a way, well I can tell you—you won’t write it in any book—I hid under the baker woman’s skirts. The woman had no idea what she was hiding, and I didn’t come out until evening. I ran around on the street in the moonlight and stretched myself tall against a wall that tickled my back so beautifully. I ran up and down, peeked into the highest windows, into rooms and on the roof. I peeked where no one else could, and I saw what no others saw, what no one should see! All things considered, it’s a mean world. I wouldn’t want to be human, if it weren’t considered the thing to be! I saw the most unbelievable things in the wives and husbands, in parents and in the sweet exceptional children. I saw,” said the shadow, “what people shouldn’t know, but what all people want to know: their neighbor’s dirty laundry. If I had published everything I saw in a newspaper, it would have been read, let me tell you! But I wrote to the people themselves, and that caused consternation in all the towns I visited. They were so afraid of me! And they were so fond of me! The professors made me a professor. The tailors gave me new threads, so that I’m well turned out. The master of the mint made money for me, and the women said I was so handsome! And so I became the man I am! And now I’ll say farewell. Here’s my card. I live on the sunny side of the street, and I’m always home when it rains.” And then the shadow went away.

“How very odd,” said the scholar.

A long time passed, and then the shadow came again.

“How’s it going?” he asked.

“Alas!” said the scholar. “I write about truth and about the good and about the beautiful, but no one wants to hear about that. I’m really in despair because I take it too much to heart.”

“But I don’t!” said the shadow. “I’m getting fat, and that’s what one ought to do. You don’t understand the world, and it’s making you sick. You should take a trip! I’m taking a trip this summer. Do you want to come with me? I’d like to have a traveling companion. Would you like to come along as my shadow? It would really be a great pleasure for me to have you along, and I’ll pay for the trip!”

“That’s going too far!” said the scholar.

“It depends on how you look at it,” said the shadow. “It would be really good for you to take a trip. If you’ll be my shadow, you’ll get everything on the trip for free!”

“That’s really too much!” said the scholar.

“But that’s how the world is,” said the shadow, “and how it will remain.” And then the shadow went away.

Things went badly for the scholar. He was plagued by sorrow and troubles, and what he said about truth, goodness, and the beautiful was for most people like giving roses to a cow. Finally he was really ill.

“You look like a shadow,” people told him, and it made the scholar shudder when he thought about it.

“You should go to a spa,” said the shadow, who had come to visit him. “That’s the clear ticket. I’ll take you along for old time’s sake. I’ll pay for the trip, and you can write and talk about it, and amuse me on the trip. I want to get to a spa because my beard isn’t growing the way it should, and that’s an illness. You have to have a beard, you know! Be sensible now and accept my offer. We’ll travel as friends, of course.”

And so they went. The shadow was the master now, and the master was the shadow. They drove together, they rode and walked together, side by side, in front or back of each other, depending on the sun. The shadow was always careful to be on the controlling side, and the scholar didn’t think much about it at all. He had a very kind heart, was gentle and friendly, and one day he said to the shadow, “Now that we’ve become traveling companions as we are, and since we’ve grown up together from childhood, shouldn’t we say ‘du’ to each other? It’s more intimate.”

“There’s something in what you say,” said the shadow, who was now really the master. “What you say is very frank and well meant, and I will be just as straight-forward and well meaning. You know, as an educated man, how strange nature is. Some people can’t tolerate touching grey paper; they get sick from it. Others get a shiver up their spine from hearing a nail scratch glass. I get the same feeling when you say ‘du’ to me. I feel as if I’m pressed flat to the ground as in my first position with you. It’s a feeling, you see, it’s not pride. I can’t let you say ‘du’ to me, but I’ll gladly say ‘du’ to you. I’ll meet you halfway.”

And then the shadow started addressing his former master with “du.”

“This really is the limit,” thought the scholar, “that I have to say ‘De’ and he says ’du,’” but he couldn’t do anything about it.

Then they came to the spa where there were many foreigners and among them a lovely princess, who was afflicted by a sickness that caused her to see too sharply, and it was very worrying to her.

Right away she noticed that the man who had just arrived was a quite different kind of person than anyone else. “They say he’s here to get his beard to grow, but I see the real reason: He can’t cast a shadow.”

She had become curious, and so she immediately engaged him in conversation while on her walk. As a princess, she didn’t need to stand on ceremony, so she said, “Your illness is that you can’t cast a shadow.”

“Your royal majesty must be much improved,” said the shadow. “I know that your failing is that you see too well, but you’re improving. You must be cured. I just happen to have a very unusual shadow. Do you see that person who is always with me? Other people have an ordinary shadow, but I don’t go in for ordinary things. Often you give your servants better clothes for uniforms than you wear yourself, and I have had my shadow dressed up like a human being. You can see that I have even given him a shadow. It’s very expensive, but I like having something unique.”

“What?” the princess thought. “Have I really gotten better? This spa is the best in the world! The waters certainly have quite remarkable powers these days. But I won’t leave, because now it’s going to be amusing here. I think a lot of this stranger, and I just hope his beard doesn’t grow because then he’ll leave.”

That evening the princess and the shadow danced in the big ballroom. She was light on her feet, but he was even lighter. She had never had such a dancing partner. She told him what country she was from, and he was familiar with that land. He had been there, but she hadn’t been at home then. He had peeked through the windows above and below and had seen both this and that so he could answer the princess and throw out hints so that she was quite surprised. He must be the world’s wisest man! She gained such a respect for his knowledge, and when they danced again, she fell in love with him. The shadow noticed this because she almost looked through him with her gaze. Then they danced once again, and she almost told him, but she was cautious. She thought about her country and kingdom and about the many people she would rule over. “He’s a wise man,” she said to herself, “and that’s good. And he’s a wonderful dancer, and that’s also good, but I wonder if he’s truly very knowledgeable. That’s just as important! He must be tested.” And so she started ever so gradually to ask him about some of the most difficult things she couldn’t have answered herself, and an odd expression came to his face.

“You can’t answer that!” said the princess.

“I learned that as a child,” said the shadow. “I think even my shadow over there by the door could answer that!”

“Your shadow!” exclaimed the princess. “That would really be extraordinary!”

“Well, I’m not saying that he can for sure,” said the shadow, “but I should think so. He has followed me and listened for so many years—I would think so. But your royal highness must allow me to remind you that since he is so proud of passing as a human, he must be in a good mood in order to answer well for himself. He has to be treated as a human being.”

“That’s fine,” said the princess.

She went over to the scholar by the door and talked to him about the sun and the moon, and about people, both their insides and out, and he answered everything so cleverly and well.

“What a man he must be to have a shadow like that!” she thought. “It would be a true blessing for my people and kingdom if I were to choose him as my husband—I’ll do it!”

And they soon agreed upon it, both the princess and the shadow, but no one was to know about it before she was back in her own kingdom.

“No one, not even my shadow,” said the shadow, and he had his own reason for that!

And then they arrived in the country where the princess reigned when she was home.

“Listen to this, my good friend,” said the shadow to the scholar. “Now I have become as happy and as powerful as anyone can be, and I want to do something special for you. You’ll always live with me at the castle, drive in my royal coach with me, and have a hundred thousand dollars a year. But you must allow yourself to be called shadow by each and all. You mustn’t tell anyone that you were ever a human being, and once a year when I sit on the balcony in the sunshine to be admired, you must lie by my feet as a shadow does. I’ll tell you: I am going to marry the princess. The wedding will be this evening.”

“No, this is really over the top!” said the scholar. “I don’t want to do that, and I won’t do that. It would be deceiving the whole kingdom, as well as the princess. I’ll reveal everything! That I’m the human being and that you are the shadow. You’re only dressed up as a man.”

“No one will believe that,” said the shadow. “Be sensible, or I’ll call the guard.”

“I’m going right to the princess,” the scholar said. “But I’m going first,” said the shadow, “and you’ll be arrested.” And so he was because the sentries obeyed the man the princess was going to marry.

“You’re shaking,” said the princess when the shadow came to her room. “Has something happened? You mustn’t get sick tonight, when we’re having the wedding.”

“I’ve been through the most terrible experience possible!” said the shadow. “Just think! The poor mind of a shadow can’t bear much! Imagine! My shadow has gone insane. He thinks he’s a human being and that I’m—imagine this—that I’m his shadow!”

“That’s dreadful!” said the princess. “He’s locked up, right?”

“Yes, he is. I’m afraid he’ll never recover.”

“Poor shadow,” said the princess. “He’s very unfortunate. It would truly be a good deed to free him from the little life that he still has, and when I really think it over, I believe it’ll be necessary to dispose of him quietly.”

“But it’s very hard,” said the shadow, “because he’s been a faithful servant,” and he gave what sounded like a sigh.

“You have such a noble nature,” said the princess.

That night the whole town was illuminated, the cannons were fired—boom!—and the soldiers presented arms. It was quite a wedding! The princess and the shadow went out on the balcony to be seen by the people and to receive yet another “hurrah!”

But the scholar heard nothing of it, for his life had been taken.


1 Reference to Peter Schlemihls wundersame Geschichte (1814; The Wonderful History of Peter Schlemihl), by Adelbert von Chamisso.

2 “I really wish you would address me formally!” Here the shadow is asking his former master to use the Danish formal form of address.


WAY OUT AT SEA the water is as blue as the petals on the loveliest corn-flower, and as clear as the purest glass, but it’s very deep, deeper than any anchor rope can reach. Many church steeples would have to be placed end to end to reach from the bottom up to the surface and beyond. Down there the sea people live.

You mustn’t think that it’s just a bare white sand bottom. No, the most wonderful trees and plants grow there, and they have such supple stems and leaves that they move as if they were alive with the slightest motion of the water. All the big and little fish slip between the branches like the birds do in the air up here. The sea king’s castle is at the very deepest point. The walls are made of coral, and the long sharp windows of the clearest amber, but the roof is made of sea shells that open and close with the water currents. It looks lovely because there are glittering pearls in each shell; just one of them would be a fine ornament for a queen’s crown.

The sea king had been a widower for many years, but his old mother kept house for him. She was a wise woman, but proud of her nobility, and so she wore twelve oysters on her tail; the other aristocracy could only carry six. Apart from that she deserved a lot of praise, especially since she was so fond of the little sea princesses, her grandchildren. There were six beautiful children, all lovely, but the youngest was the most beautiful. Her skin was as clear and delicate as a rose petal, and her eyes were as blue as the deepest sea, but just like all the others, she had no feet. Her body ended in a fish tail.

All day long they could play in the castle, in the big hall where living flowers grew out of the walls. Whenever the big amber windows were opened up, the fish swam in, like swallows fly into our windows when we open them, but the fish swam right up to the little princesses and ate from their hands and allowed themselves to be petted.

Outside the castle was a big garden with fire-red and dark blue trees where the fruit shone like gold, and the flowers like a flaming fire, because the stems and petals were always moving. The ground itself was the finest sand, but blue, like a flame of sulphur, and there was a strange blue cast over everything down there. Rather than being on the bottom of the ocean, you could imagine yourself high up in the air, with sky both above and below you, and if it was very still, you could glimpse the sun for it appeared as a scarlet flower with all light streaming from its center.

Each of the little princesses had a plot in the garden, where she could dig and plant as she wished. One gave her flower garden the shape of a whale, another thought that hers should resemble a mermaid, but the youngest princess made hers quite round, like the sun, and only had flowers that shone just as red as it did. She was an odd child, quiet and thoughtful, and while her sisters decorated their gardens with all sorts of strange things they had found in sunken ships, she only wanted, except for the red flowers that resembled the sun, a beautiful marble statue of a lovely boy, carved from white, clear stone that had sunk to the sea bottom from a shipwreck. Beside the statue she planted a rose red weeping willow, which grew beautifully and whose branches hung over the statue and down towards the blue sand bottom, where its shadow was violet and moved like the branches. It looked as if the tree and the roots were playing at kissing each other.

Nothing gave her greater pleasure than hearing about the human world above them. The old grandmother had to tell all she knew about ships and towns, people and animals. She especially thought it was strange and splendid that up on the earth the flowers gave off a fragrance that they didn’t do on the bottom of the ocean; and that the forests were green; and that the fish that one saw among the branches could sing so loudly and delightfully that it was a joy. The grandmother called the little birds fish because otherwise they couldn’t understand her since they had never seen a bird.

“When you turn fifteen,” grandmother said, “you’ll be allowed to swim up from the ocean, sit in the moonlight on the rocks, and see the big ships sail by, and forests and towns you’ll see, too!” The following year, one of the sisters would turn fifteen, but the others—well, they were all one year younger than the next, so the youngest had five whole years left before she could rise up from the bottom of the sea to see how we have it up here. But each promised to tell the others what she had seen, and what she had found the most beautiful on the first day, for their grandmother hadn’t told them enough—there was so much they wanted to know!

None of them yearned as much as the youngest, the very one who had the longest time to wait, and who was so quiet and thoughtful. Many a night she stood by the open windows and looked up through the dark blue water, where the fish flapped their fins and tails. She could see the moon and stars, although they shone dimly, but through the water they looked much bigger than to our eyes; and if it seemed like a dark cloud slipped under them, she knew that either a whale was swimming above her, or it was a ship with many people on-board. Little did they know that there was a lovely little mermaid standing below them, reaching her white hands up towards the ship.

Then the eldest princess turned fifteen and was permitted to go above the surface.

When she came back, she had hundreds of things to tell, but the most lovely thing, she said, was to lie in the moonlight on a sand bank in the calm sea, and see the big city right by the coast, where lights were twinkling like hundreds of stars; to hear the music, and the noise and commotion of carts and people; to see the many church towers and spires, and hear how the bells rang. Just because she couldn’t get there, she longed the most for all these things.

Oh, how intently the youngest sister listened to all this, and afterwards, when she stood by the open window in the evenings and looked up through the dark blue water, she thought about the big city with its noise, and then she thought she could hear the church bells ringing all the way down to where she was.

The next year the second sister was allowed to rise to the surface of the water and swim wherever she wanted. She broke the surface just as the sun set, and that was the sight she found the most beautiful. The whole sky had looked like gold, she said, and she couldn’t describe how wonderful the clouds were. They had sailed over her, red and violet, but even more quickly than the clouds, a flock of wild swans had flown like a long white ribbon over the water towards the setting sun, and she swam towards it, but it sank, and the rosy hue faded from the sea and the clouds.

The following year the third sister ascended. She was the boldest of them all, so she swam up a wide river that ran out to sea. She saw splendid green hills with grapevines; castles and farms peeked out from magnificent forests. She heard how all the birds were singing, and the sun was so warm that she often had to dive under the water to cool her burning face. In a little inlet she met a group of small human children who were quite naked, and they were running and playing in the water. She wanted to play with them, but they ran away frightened, and a little black animal came and barked terribly at her. It was a dog, but since she had never seen a dog before she became frightened and swam out to the open sea, but she never forgot the magnificent forests, the green hills, and the beautiful children who could swim in the water, even though they didn’t have a fish tail.

The fourth sister was not so bold. She stayed out in the wild sea and explained how that was the most beautiful sight. You could see around for many miles, and the sky above was like a huge glass bell jar. She saw ships, but they were so far away that they looked like seagulls. The amusing dolphins had turned somersaults, and the big whales had sprayed water from their blow holes so that it looked like a hundred fountains all around.

Then it was the fifth sister’s turn. Her birthday was during the winter, and so she saw what the others had not seen the first time. The sea appeared quite green, and there were big icebergs floating around. Each one looked like a pearl, she said, and they were even bigger than the church steeples that people built. They had the most fantastic shapes and glittered like diamonds. She had sat on one of the biggest ones, and all the sailing ships gave her a wide berth where she sat with the wind blowing her long hair, but later in the evening it became overcast, and there was lightning and thunder while the black sea lifted the icebergs so high up that they shone red in the strong flashes of lightning. All the ships took in sail, and there was fear and dread, but she sat calmly on her floating iceberg and watched the blue bolts of lightning zigzag into the shining sea.

The first time each of the sisters came up to the surface, she was enthusiastic about all the new and lovely things she saw, but when they now were grown up and could go up there whenever they wanted, they became indifferent to it. They longed for home, and at the end of a month they said that it was, after all, most beautiful down there, and that’s where you felt at home.

On many evenings the five sisters took each other’s arms and rose up over the water in a row. They had lovely voices, more beautiful than any person, and when a storm was brewing so that they thought ships could be lost, they swam in front of the ships and sang so soulfully about how lovely it was on the floor of the ocean and told the sailors not to be afraid to come down there. Of course, the sailors could not understand their words. They thought it was the storm, and they also did not see the wonders of the sea, because when the ship sank, the people drowned and only came as dead men to the sea king’s castle.

When the sisters rose up in the evenings, arm in arm, to the surface of the sea, the little sister stood quite alone and looked after them, and she felt that she was going to cry, but mermaids have no tears, and so she suffered even more.

“Oh, if only I were fifteen!” she said. “I know that I’ll love that world up there and the people who live in it.”

Finally she turned fifteen.

“Now we’re getting you off our hands,” said her grandmother, the old widowed queen. “Come and let me dress you up, like your sisters,” and she placed a wreath of white lilies on her head, but every petal of the flower was half a pearl, and the old queen let eight big oysters clamp onto the princess’ tail to indicate her high rank.

“That really hurts!” said the little mermaid.

“No pain, no gain,” her grandmother said.

Oh, how she wanted to throw off all the finery and take off the heavy wreath! The red flowers in her garden suited her much better, but she didn’t dare change anything. “Good bye,” she said, and floated so easily and lightly, like a bubble, up through the water.

The sun had just gone down as she lifted her head over the sea, but all the clouds were still shining red and gold, and in the middle of the pale pink sky the evening star shone clearly and beautifully. The air was mild and fresh, and the sea was dead calm. There was a large ship with three masts on the sea, but only one sail was up because there wasn’t a breath of wind, and sailors were sitting in the rigging and on the yardarms. There was music and singing, and as the evening grew darker, hundreds of multi-colored lanterns were lit. It looked as if the flags of all nations were waving in the air. The little mermaid swam right up to the cabin porthole, and every time the waves lifted her up, she could see in through the clear panes where she saw many people in evening dress, but the most beautiful was a young prince with big black eyes. He could not have been much over sixteen years old. It was his birthday, and that was the reason for all the festivities. The sailors danced on the deck, and when the young prince appeared, over a hundred rockets were fired into the air and lit up the sky like daylight, so the little mermaid became frightened and dove down into the water. But she soon stuck her head up again, and it seemed as if all the stars in the sky fell down to her. She had never seen such fireworks. Big suns swirled around; magnificent fire-fish were swaying in the blue air; and everything was reflected in the clear, calm sea. It was so light on the ship itself that you could see each little rope, let alone the people. Oh, how gorgeous the little prince was! And he shook hands with people and laughed and smiled, while the music played through the lovely night.

It grew late, but the little mermaid couldn’t take her eyes from the ship and the wonderful prince. The colorful lanterns were extinguished. There were no more rockets shooting into the air, and the cannons were silent, but deep in the sea there was humming and buzzing. She floated on the water and rocked up and down, so she could look into the cabin, but the ship increased its speed; one sail after another filled; and the waves became bigger. Great clouds gathered, and far away there was lightning. A terrible storm was coming! The sailors pulled in the sails. The big ship rocked ahead at a furious pace on the wild sea; the water rose like big black mountains, wanting to break over the masts, but the ship dove like a swan down between the huge waves and let itself be lifted high up again on the towering waters. The little mermaid thought it was a pleasing ride, but the sailors didn’t think so. The ship creaked and groaned as the thick planks bulged from the strong thrusts as the sea pushed against it. The mast cracked in the middle, as though it were a reed, and the ship listed on its side, while water came rushing into the hold. Now the little mermaid realized that they were in danger. She herself had to watch out for beams and pieces of the ship that were drifting on the water. One moment it was so coal black that she couldn’t see a thing, but in a flash of lightning, it became so clear that she could see all of them on the ship; each was doing the best he could for himself. She was especially looking for the young prince, and as the ship fell apart, she saw him sink down into the deep sea. At first, she was very happy because now he would come down to her, but then she remembered that people could not live in the sea, and the only way he could come to her father’s castle was as a dead man. No, he must not die! So she swam between beams and planks, drifting on the sea, forgetting entirely that they could crush her. She dove deep into the water and rose again high between the waves and came at last to the young prince, who could hardly swim any longer in the surging sea. His arms and legs were beginning to go limp, the beautiful eyes closed; he would surely have died if the little mermaid had not come. She held his head above the water and let the waves drive them where they would.

In the morning the storm was over; there was not a sliver to be seen of the ship. The sun rose red and shining from the water, and it was as if the prince’s cheeks took life from it, but his eyes remained closed. The mermaid kissed his lovely high forehead and stroked his wet hair. She thought he looked like the marble statue down in her little garden. She kissed him again, and wished that he would live.

Then she saw land ahead, high blue mountains with white snow shining on top like a flock of swans. Down by the seashore there were lovely green forests, and in front of the woods was a church or a convent. She wasn’t exactly sure which, but it was a building. There were lemon and orange trees growing there in the garden, and in front of the gate there were tall palm trees. There was a little bay in the sea, where it was completely calm, but very deep, all the way to the rocks, where the fine white sand washed up. She swam there with the handsome prince, laid him on the sand, and made sure that his head was up in the warm sunshine.

Then the bells rang out from the big white building, and many young girls came through the grounds. The little mermaid swam out behind some high rocks that protruded from the water, covered her hair and breast with sea foam so no one could see her little face, and watched to see who would come and find the poor prince.

It wasn’t long before a young girl came. She seemed quite frightened, but only for a moment. Then she hurried to bring other people, and the mermaid saw that the prince was alive, and that he smiled at all those around him, but he didn’t smile at her. Of course he didn’t know that she had saved him. She felt very sad, and when he was carried into the big building, she dove sorrowfully down into the water and found her way home to her father’s castle.

She had always been quiet and thoughtful, but now she became even more so. Her sisters asked her what she had seen on her first trip to the surface, but she didn’t tell them anything.

Many evenings and mornings she swam up to the place where she had left the prince. She saw how the fruits in the garden ripened and were picked. She saw how the snow melted on the high mountains, but she didn’t see the prince, and so she always returned home sadder than before. Her only consolation was to sit in her little garden with her arms around the marble stature who looked like the prince, but she neglected her flowers. They grew as in a wilderness, over the pathways, and braided their long stems and petals into the tree branches so it became quite dark there.

Finally she couldn’t stand it any longer and told one of her sisters. So, immediately the other sisters knew about it, but no one else, except a couple other mermaids, who didn’t tell anyone but their closest friends. One of them knew who the prince was. She had also seen the festivities on the ship and knew where he was from and where his kingdom was.

“Come, little sister,” the other princesses said, and with their arms around each other’s shoulders, they swam in a long row up in the water in front of the prince’s castle, which was built of a pale yellow shiny type of rock with big marble staircases; one went way down into the water. There were magnificent gilded domes rising from the roof, and between the pillars that went all around the building there were life-like marble carvings. Through the clear glass in the tall windows, you could see into the most marvelous rooms, where expensive silk curtains and tapestries were hanging, and all the walls were decorated with large paintings that were a pleasure to look at. In the middle of the main chamber, a large fountain was spraying; the jets of water rose high up to the glass cupola in the roof, through which the sun shone on the water and on all the lovely plants that were growing in the big basin.

Now that she knew where he lived, she swam in the water there many nights and evenings, and swam much closer than any of the others had dared to do. She even went way into the narrow channel under the magnificent marble balcony that cast a long shadow over the water. She sat there and watched the young prince, who thought he was all alone in the clear moonlight.

Many evenings she saw him sailing in his fine boat with music playing and flags waving. She peeked out from between the green rushes, and if the wind caught her long silvery veil, anyone seeing it would think it was a swan stretching its wings.

Many a night when the fishermen were at sea in the torchlight, she heard them tell so many good things about the young prince that it made her happy she had saved his life when he was tossed half-dead in the waves, and she thought about how firmly his head had rested against her breast, and how fervently she had kissed him. But he knew nothing about it and couldn’t even dream about her.

She became more and more fond of human beings, and more and more she wished she could live among them. She thought their world was much bigger than her own because they could sail on the oceans in ships and climb on the high mountains over the clouds, and the lands they owned with forests and fields stretched farther than her eyes could see. There was so much she wanted to know, but her sisters couldn’t answer everything she asked, so she asked her old grandmother, who was well acquainted with the higher world, which is what she quite correctly called the lands above the sea.

“If people don’t drown,” asked the little mermaid, “do they live forever? Don’t they die like us down here in the sea?”

“Oh yes,” said the old woman, “they must also die, and their lifetime is shorter than ours too. We can live for three hundred years, but when we cease to exist, we become only foam on the water and don’t even have a grave amongst our dear ones down here. We have no immortal soul, and can never live again. We are like the green rushes that can’t become green again once they are cut down. Human beings, on the other hand, have a soul that lives forever. It lives after the body has become dust and rises up through the clear air, up to the shining stars! Just as we surface from the sea and see the human’s land, so they surface to unknown lovely places that we can never see.”

“Why didn’t we get an immortal soul?” asked the little mermaid sadly, “I would give all the three hundred years I have to live for just one day as a human and then to share in the world of heaven!”

“You mustn’t think about that!” said her old grandmother. “We are much happier and much better off than the people up there.”

“So I shall die and float as foam on the sea, not hear the music of the waves, nor see the lovely flowers or the red sun! Isn’t there anything at all I can do to win an immortal soul?”

“No!” said the old queen. “Only if you became so dear to a human that you meant more to him than his father and mother, if he clung to you with all his mind and heart, and if you let the minister lay his right hand in yours with promises of faithfulness here and for all eternity, then his soul would flow into your body and you would share in the happiness of humanity. He would give you a soul and yet keep his own. But that can never happen! What is so lovely here in the sea—your fish tail—they find ugly up there on earth. They don’t know any better because there you must have two clumsy props that they call legs to be considered beautiful!”

The little mermaid sighed and looked sadly at her tail.

“Let’s be satisfied with what we have,” said the old grandmother. “We’ll spring and skip about during the three hundred years we have to live. It’s a good long time. Later we can so much the better rest in our graves.1 This evening we are going to have a court ball!”

That was also a splendor you never see on the earth. The walls and ceiling of the big dance hall were made of thick clear glass. Several hundred colossal sea shells, rosy red and grass green, stood in rows on each side with burning blue fire that lit up the whole hall and shone out through the walls so that the sea outside was quite illuminated. You could see all the countless fish, big and small, swim towards the glass walls. On some of them the scales glistened a purplish red, on others silver and gold. Straight through the hall a wide stream flowed, and mermen and mermaids were dancing on it to their own lovely song. People on the earth do not have such beautiful voices. The little mermaid sang more beautifully than all the others, and they clapped for her so that she felt joy in her heart for a moment because she knew she had the prettiest voice on earth or in the sea! But soon she began thinking of the world above once again, and she couldn’t forget the charming prince and her sadness over not having an immortal soul like he did. So she sneaked out of her father’s castle, and while there was nothing but joy and song inside there, she sat sad and alone in her little garden. She heard a horn sound down through the water, and she thought, “Now I guess he’s sailing up there, he whom I love more than my father and mother, he who holds all my thoughts, and in whose hands I would place my happiness in life. I would risk everything to win him and an immortal soul! While my sisters are dancing there in father’s castle, I’ll go to the sea witch. I’ve always been so afraid of her, but maybe she can advise and help me.”

Then the little mermaid went out from her garden to the roaring whirlpools; the sea witch lived behind them. She had never gone this way before. There were no flowers growing there, no sea grass, only the bare gray sand bottom that stretched towards the whirlpools, where the water swirled around like roaring mill wheels and pulled everything they grasped down into the deep. She had to walk right between these crushing eddies to enter the sea witch’s property, and for most of the way there was no other approach than over a warm bubbling mud that the witch called her bog moss. Her house lay behind it in a strange forest. All the trees and bushes were polyps, half animal and half plant. They looked like snakes with hundreds of heads growing out of the ground. The branches were long slimy arms with fingers like supple worms, and from joint to joint they moved from the root to the outermost tip. They wrapped themselves around everything they could grasp in the sea and never released them. The little mermaid was terrified as she stood outside. Her heart beat fast from fear, and she would have turned around, but then she thought about the prince and about the human soul, and these thoughts gave her courage. She tied her long streaming hair tightly to her head so the polyps couldn’t grasp it, folded her arms across her chest, and darted ahead. She moved as fish swim through the water, in between the awful polyps, who stretched out their elastic arms and fingers after her. She saw how they all had something they had caught with their hundreds of small arms holding on like strong bands of iron. People who had died at sea and sunk deep down to the sea bottom peered as white skeletons from the polyps’ arms. They were holding fast to ship rudders and chests, skeletons of land animals, and a little mermaid, whom they had caught and strangled. That was almost the most frightful for her.

Then she came to a big slimy clearing in the forest, where large, fat water grass snakes slithered around and showed their ugly whitish-yellow bellies. In the middle of the clearing there was a house built from the white bones of shipwrecked people. The sea witch was sitting there, letting a toad eat from her mouth, much like people let little canaries eat sugar. She called the hideous fat grass snakes her little chicklets and let them squirm around on her large, swampy breast.

“I know what you want,” said the sea witch. “It’s stupid of you! Nevertheless, you’ll get your way because it will just lead to catastrophe for you, my lovely princess. You want to be rid of your fish tail, and instead have two stumps to walk upon just like people do so that the young prince will fall in love with you, and so that you can win him and gain an immortal soul!” Then the sea witch laughed so loudly and dreadfully that the toad and the snakes fell down writhing on the ground. ”You came just in time,” said the witch. ”After sunrise tomorrow, I wouldn’t have been able to help you for a year. I’m going to fix you a drink, and before the sun rises, you are to swim to land with it, sit on the bank there, and drink it. Then your tail will separate and turn into what people call lovely legs, but it will hurt. It will be as if a sharp sword were cutting through you. All who see you will say that you’re the most beautiful child of man they’ve ever seen. You’ll keep your floating gait; no dancer will float like you, but every step you take will be like stepping on a sharp knife so the blood flows. If you’ll suffer all this, I’ll help you.”

“I know what you want, ” said the sea witch.

“Yes!” said the little mermaid with a trembling voice as she thought about the prince and about winning an immortal soul.

“But remember,” said the witch, “when you have taken a human shape, you can never again become a mermaid. You can never sink down through the water to your sisters and to your father’s castle, and if you don’t win the prince’s love, so that he forgets his father and mother for your sake, thinks of you constantly, and has the minister place your hands in each other’s as man and wife, you won’t gain an immortal soul! The first morning after he marries someone else, your heart will break, and you’ll become foam on the water.”

“I want to do it!” said the little mermaid, pale as death.

“But you’ll have to pay me too,” the witch said, “and it’s not a small thing I demand. You have the most beautiful voice here on the ocean floor, and you think you’re going to bewitch him with it, but you must give that voice to me. I want the most precious thing you have for my priceless drink. After all, I have to add my own blood so the drink will be as sharp as a double-edged sword!”

“But if you take my voice,” said the little mermaid, “what will I have left?”

“Your beautiful appearance,” said the witch, “your graceful gait, and your expressive eyes. You should be able to capture a human heart with those. Well, have you lost your courage? Stick out your little tongue so I can cut it off in payment, and then you’ll get the potent drink.”

“Let it happen,” the little mermaid said, and the witch prepared the kettle to cook the potion. “Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” she said and scrubbed the kettle with the snakes, which she tied into a knot. Then she slashed her breast and let her black blood drip into the kettle. The steam made the most remarkable figures so that you had to be anxious and afraid. The witch kept putting ingredients into the kettle, and when it was boiling rapidly, it sounded like a crocodile crying. Finally the drink was done, and it looked like the clearest water!

“There you are,” said the witch as she cut out the tongue of the little mermaid, who now was mute and could neither sing nor speak.

“If the polyps should grab you when you go back through my forest,” the witch said, “just throw a single drop of this drink at them, and their arms and fingers will crack into a thousand pieces.” But the little mermaid didn’t have to do that because the polyps pulled back in fear when they saw the drink shining in her hand like a sparkling star. So she quickly made it through the forest, the moss, and the roaring whirlpools.

She could see her father’s castle. The lights were out in the big dance hall, and they were probably all sleeping in there, but she didn’t dare seek them out since she was mute now and was leaving them forever. She felt as if her heart would break in two from grief. She crept into the garden, and took one flower from each of her sister’s flowerbeds, blew a thousand kisses towards the castle, and then rose up through the dark blue sea.

The sun wasn’t up yet when she saw the prince’s castle and crept up the marvelous marble steps. The moon was shining beautifully clear. The little mermaid drank the sharply burning drink, and it was as if a sharp double-edged sword cut through her fine body so that she fainted from it and lay as if dead. When the sun shone over the sea, she woke up and felt a stinging pain, but there in front of her was the wonderful young prince. He fastened his coal black eyes on her, and she cast hers downward and saw that her fish tail was gone, and that she had the finest little white legs any girl could have, but she was quite naked, so she wrapped herself in her thick, long hair. The prince asked who she was and how she had gotten there, but she just looked mildly and sadly at him with her dark blue eyes. After all, she couldn’t speak. Then he took her by the hand and led her into the castle. As the witch had warned, she felt like she was stepping on sharp awls and knives with each step, but she gladly tolerated it. Holding the prince’s hand, she moved as lightly as a bubble, and he and everyone else marveled at her charming, floating gait.

She was dressed in precious clothes of silk and muslin, and she was the most beautiful one in the castle, but she was mute, could neither sing nor speak. Beautiful slave girls dressed in silk and gold came out and sang for the prince and his royal parents. One sang more sweetly than the others, and the prince clapped his hands and smiled at her. This made the little mermaid sad because she knew that she herself had sung much better! She thought, “Oh, if he only knew that I gave my voice away for all eternity to be with him!”

The slave girls danced in a lovely floating dance to the most marvelous music, and then the little mermaid raised her beautiful white arms, stood on tiptoe, and floated across the floor, and danced as no one else had danced. Her loveliness became more evident with every movement, and her eyes spoke deeper to the heart than the songs of the slave girls.

Everyone was delighted with it, especially the prince, who called her his little foundling, and she danced more and more, even though every time her feet touched the floor, it was like stepping on sharp knives. The prince said that she must always be with him, and she was allowed to sleep outside his door on a velvet pillow.

He had a man’s outfit sewed for her so she could go horseback riding with him. They rode through the fragrant forests, where the green branches hit her shoulders and the small birds sang behind the new leaves. She climbed up the high mountains with the prince, and even though her fine feet bled so all could see, she laughed at it and followed him until they saw the clouds sailing below them, as if they were a flock of birds flying to distant lands.

She floated across the floor, and danced as no one else had danced.

At home at the prince’s castle, when the others slept at night, she went down the wide marble steps, and cooled her burning feet in the cold sea water, and then she thought about those down in the depths of the sea.

One night her sisters came arm in arm and sang so sadly, as they swam across the water, and she waved at them, and they recognized her and told her how she had made all of them so sad. They visited her every night after that, and one night far out at sea she could see her old grandmother, who hadn’t been to the surface for many years, and the sea king, with his crown on his head. They stretched their arms out to her, but didn’t dare come so close to land as her sisters did.

Every day she became dearer to the prince, who loved her as one would a good, dear child, but it certainly didn’t occur to him to make her his queen, and his queen she had to become, or she wouldn’t gain an immortal soul, but would turn to sea foam the morning after his wedding.

“Don’t you love me most of all?” the little mermaid’s eyes seemed to ask, when he took her in his arms and kissed her lovely forehead.

“Yes, I love you best,” said the prince, “because you have the kindest heart of all of them. You’re the most devoted to me, and you look like a young girl I once saw, but will never find again. I was on a ship that sank. The waves drove me ashore to a holy temple, where several young girls were serving. The youngest found me on the shore and saved my life. I only saw her twice, but she’s the only one I could love in this life. You look like her and have almost replaced her memory in my heart. She belongs to the holy temple, and so good fortune has sent you to me. We’ll never part!”

“Oh, he doesn’t know that I saved his life,” thought the little mermaid. “I carried him through the sea to the temple by the forest, and I hid behind the foam and watched for someone to come. I saw the beautiful girl whom he loves more than me,” and the mermaid sighed deeply, since she couldn’t cry. “He said that the girl belongs to the holy temple, and she’ll never leave there so they won’t meet again. I’m with him and see him every day. I’ll take care of him, love him, and offer him my life.”

Then rumor had it that the prince was to be married to the beautiful daughter of the neighboring king, and because of that he was preparing a splendid ship for a voyage. He was supposedly traveling to see the neighboring king’s country, but people knew that he really was going to see the daughter. A large party was to accompany him, but the little mermaid just shook her head and laughed because she knew the prince’s thoughts much better than anyone else. “I have to go,” he had told her. “I have to go see the lovely princess, my parents insist, but they can’t force me to bring her back here for my wife. I can’t love her! She doesn’t look like the beautiful girl in the temple, like you do. If I ever do choose a bride, it would sooner be you, my silent foundling with the speaking eyes!” He kissed her red mouth, played with her long hair, and laid his head against her heart, so she dreamed of human happiness and an immortal soul.

“You aren’t afraid of the sea, my silent child?” he asked, when they climbed aboard the magnificent ship that was to take them to the neighboring kingdom. And he told her about storms and calm seas, about strange fish in the depths and what divers had seen, and she smiled at his stories since she knew better than anyone what the ocean floor was like.

In the moonlit night when everyone was sleeping, the little mermaid sat close to the helmsman, who was at the wheel, and stared down into the clear water, and thought she saw her father’s castle. On the highest tower stood her old grandmother with her silver crown on her head, starring up at the keel of the ship through the currents. Then her sisters came up to the surface, stared sadly at her, and wrung their white hands. She waved to them and smiled, and wanted to tell them that she was well and happy, but then the ship’s boy approached, and the sisters dove down, and he thought that the white that he had seen was foam on the sea.

The next morning the ship sailed into the magnificent port in the neighboring kingdom. All the church bells rang, and trombones were played from the high towers while soldiers marched with waving banners and dazzling bayonets. There was a party every day. One festivity followed another, but the princess wasn’t there yet. She was being educated far away in a holy temple, they said, where she was learning all the royal virtues. But at last she came.

The little mermaid waited eagerly to see her beauty, and she could not deny it. She had never seen a more lovely creature. Her skin was so clear and fine, and behind the long dark eyelashes smiled a pair of faithful dark-blue eyes!

“It’s you!” exclaimed the prince, “you, who saved me, when I lay like a corpse on the beach!” And he gathered his blushing bride in his arms. “Oh, I’m so incredibly happy!” he said to the little mermaid. “The best thing I could wish for has come true. You’ll share my joy since you love me better than any of the others.” And the little mermaid kissed his hand, and thought she felt her heart breaking already, for his wedding night would bring her death and change her to foam upon the sea.

All the church bells rang, and heralds rode through the streets, proclaiming the engagement. Fragrant oils burned in precious silver lamps on all the altars. The priests waved their censers, and the bride and groom grasped hands and received the blessing of the bishop. The little mermaid was dressed in silk and gold and was holding the bride’s train, but her ears did not hear the festive music; her eyes didn’t see the sacred ceremony. She was thinking about her last night of life and about everything she had lost in this world.

That same evening the bride and groom went aboard the ship. The cannons boomed, all the flags were waving, and in the center of the ship a precious tent of gold and purple with the loveliest cushions had been raised. The bridal couple were going to sleep there in the cool, quiet night.

The sails swelled in the wind, and the ship glided smoothly and almost motionlessly across the clear sea.

When it became dark, colorful lamps were lit, and the sailors danced merrily on the deck. The little mermaid had to think about the first time she peered above the waves and saw the same splendor and joy, and she whirled in the dance, swaying as a swallow when it’s being chased. Everyone cheered her, and never had she danced so well before. It was as if sharp knives cut into her fine little feet, but she didn’t feel it; the pain was sharper in her heart. She knew it was the last evening she would see the man for whom she had left her home and family, and for whom she had given her beautiful voice and suffered unending agony without him having the least idea. It was the last night she would breathe the same air as him, would see the deep sea, and the starry blue sky. An eternal night without thought or dreams awaited her, she who had no soul and could not win one. And there was joy and merriment on the ship until long past midnight; she laughed and danced with the thought of death in her heart. The prince kissed his lovely bride, and she played with his black hair, and arm in arm they went to bed in the magnificent tent.

It became hushed and still on the ship, only the helmsman was on deck. The little mermaid laid her white arm on the railing and looked to the east towards dawn. She knew that the first sunbeam would kill her. Then she saw her sisters rise up from the sea, and they were as pale as she was, their long beautiful hair no longer streaming in the wind. It had all been cut off.

“We have given it to the sea witch so she would help you, so that you won’t die tonight! She has given us a knife. Here it is! Do you see how sharp it is? Before the sun rises, you must stab the prince in the heart, and when his warm blood drips on your feet, they will grow together into a fish tail, and you’ll become a mermaid again, and come back into the sea with us and live your three hundred years before you become dead, salty sea foam. Hurry! Either you or he must die before the sun rises. Our old grandmother is grieving so much that all her white hair has fallen out, as ours fell to the witch’s scissors. Kill the prince and come back! Hurry, don’t you see the red streak in the sky? In a few minutes the sun will rise, and then you must die!” and they heaved a strange, deep sigh and sank in the waves.

The little mermaid drew the purple curtain away from the tent and saw the beautiful bride sleeping with her head on the prince’s chest. Then she bent down and kissed him on his handsome forehead, looked at the sky, where the morning glow was increasing, looked at the sharp knife, and cast her eyes again upon the prince, who in his dreams said his bride’s name. Only she was in his thoughts, and the knife quivered in her hand, but then she threw it far out into the waves that turned red where it fell, like drops of blood trickling up from the water. One last time she looked at the prince with her partly glazed eyes, dove from the ship into the sea, and felt her body dissolving into foam.

The sun rose from the sea. The rays fell warmly and gently upon the deadly cold sea foam, and the little mermaid did not feel death. She saw the clear sun, and above her swirled hundreds of beautiful, transparent creatures. Through them she could see the ship’s white sails and the red clouds in the sky. Their voices were melodies, but so unearthly that no human ear could hear them, just as no earthly eye could see them. They swayed though the air on their own lightness without wings. The little mermaid saw that she had a shape like them that rose up more and more from the foam.

“To whom am I going?” she said, and her voice sounded like the others and so heavenly that no earthly music could express it.

“To the daughters of the air!” the others answered. “The mermaid has no immortal soul and can never win one unless she wins the love of a human. Her eternal existence depends on an outside power. Daughters of the air don’t have an eternal soul either, but they can shape one through their good deeds. We fly to the warm countries, where pestilence kills people, and we bring cool breezes. We spread the scent of flowers through the air and send peaceful rest and healing knowledge. After we have struggled to do all the good we can for three hundred years, we can earn an immortal soul and share in the human’s eternal joy. You, poor little mermaid, have striven with all your heart for the same thing we have. You have suffered and endured and raised yourself to the world of the air spirits. Through good deeds you can earn yourself an immortal soul in three hundred years.”

The little mermaid lifted her clear arms up towards God’s sun, and for the first time she felt tears. There was noise and life on the ship again, and she saw the prince with his beautiful bride searching for her. They stared mournfully at the bubbling foam, as if they knew she had thrown herself on the waves. Invisibly she kissed the bride’s forehead, smiled at the prince and rose with the other children of the air up into the rosy cloud sailing in the sky.

“In three hundred years we’ll sail into God’s kingdom like this.”

“We can get there even faster,” whispered one. “We swirl unseen into a human home, where there are children, and every day we find a good child who brings joy to his parents and deserves their love, God reduces our time of testing. A child doesn’t know when we fly through the room, and if we smile with joy at him, a year is subtracted from the three hundred years, but if we see a naughty child, then we must cry in sorrow, and every tear adds a day to our time of trial.”


1. Andersen evidently forgot that the grandmother has just explained that mermaids do not have graves.


MANY YEARS AGO THERE lived an emperor who was so tremendously fond of stylish new clothes that he used all his money for dressing himself. He didn’t care about his soldiers, didn’t care about the theater, or driving in the park, except to show off his new clothes. He had an outfit for each hour of the day, and as they say about a king that he’s “in council,” here they always said, “The emperor’s in the dressing room!”

There were lots of amusements going on in the big city where he lived. Many strangers came every day, and one day two swindlers arrived. They said they were weavers, and that they could weave the most beautiful material one could imagine. Not only were the colors and patterns unusually lovely, but the clothes sewn from the fabric had a remarkable characteristic: they were invisible to any person who was incompetent in his job, or who was simply grossly stupid.

“The emperor’s in the dressing room!”

“Those would be some wonderful clothes,” the emperor thought, “by wearing them I could find out which men in my kingdom aren’t fit for their jobs, and I’d be able to tell the wise from the stupid! That fabric must be woven into some clothing for me at once!” and he gave the two swindlers a big deposit so that they could start their work.

They set up two looms and pretended to work, but they had absolutely nothing on the loom. Right away they demanded the finest silk and the most splendid gold. And they put these things into their bags, and worked on the empty looms long into the night.

“I would really like to know how far they’ve come with the material,” thought the emperor, but he was a little uneasy with the thought that those who were dumb, or not at all fit for their jobs, couldn’t see it. Of course, he knew very well that he didn’t have to worry about himself, but he decided to send someone else first to see how it was going. All the people in town knew about the power of the fabric, and everyone was eager to see how incompetent or stupid his neighbor was.

“I’ll send my honest old envoy over to the weavers,” the emperor thought, “He can best determine how the fabric is turning out because he’s smart, and no one is better suited to his job than he is.”

So the dependable old envoy went to the hall where the two swindlers were working on the empty looms. “Good God!” thought the old envoy as his eyes flew wide open, “I can’t see anything!” But he didn’t say that.

Both swindlers asked him to come closer and asked him if it wasn’t a beautiful pattern and lovely colors. They pointed at the empty loom, and the poor old envoy continued to stare, but he couldn’t see anything because nothing was there. “Dear God!” he thought. “Could it be that I’m stupid? I never thought that, and no one must find out! Is it possible I’m not fit for my job? It’s just totally impossible to admit that I can’t see the fabric!”

“Well now, you’re not saying anything about it,” said one who was pretending to weave.

“Oh, it’s beautiful! Absolutely too awesome for words!” the old envoy said and peered through his glasses. “What a pattern and what colors! Yes, I’ll tell the emperor that I like it very much!”

“We’re pleased to hear that,” both weavers said, and then they pointed out the strange pattern and colors by name. The old envoy paid close attention so he could repeat the information when he came back to the emperor, and that’s what he did.

Then the swindlers demanded more money and more silk and gold, needed for the weaving. They put it all in their own pockets, and not a shred appeared on the loom, but they continued as before to weave on the empty loom.

Soon the emperor sent another competent official to see how the weaving was progressing, and if the fabric would soon be finished. The same thing happened to him: he peered and stared, but since there wasn’t anything on the empty loom, he couldn’t see a thing.

“Well, isn’t this a beautiful piece of material?” both swindlers asked him, and pointed out and explained the lovely pattern, which wasn’t there.

“I’m not stupid!” the man thought. “So then I’m not fit for my excellent job? That’s odd enough, but no one must find out about it.” So he praised the fabric he didn’t see and assured them that he was delighted with the beautiful colors and the lovely pattern. “It’s just marvelous,” he told the emperor.

Everyone in town was talking about the beautiful fabric.

So then the emperor wanted to see the fabric while it was still on the loom. With a large group of selected advisers, among them the two who had already been there, he went off to see the clever crooks, who wer