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by Hans Christian Andersen
The original, squashed down to read in about 30 minutes
Hans Christian Andersen suffered the early loss of his father, bullying at school in Elsinore, and rejection by all his loves including the opera singer Jenny Lind and Edvard Collin, the son of his benefactor. Yet he was honoured by Royalty and acclaimed by authors the world over. His, nearly 200, tales are still published in their millions and his birthday, 2nd April, is celebrated as International Children's Book Day.
THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES
Many years ago, there was an Emperor who was quite excessively fond of new clothes. He did not trouble himself about his soldiers, or care for the theatre or the chase.
One day, two rogues calling themselves weavers appeared and gave out that they knew how to make the most beautiful stuffs with the wonderful property of remaining invisible to everyone who was unfit for the office he held, or who was stupid.
Thought the Emperor, "Had I such a suit of such stuff, I would find out what men in my realms are unfit for their office!"
Illustration by Edmund Dulac
So the two set up looms, and affected to work very busily, though in reality they did nothing at all. They asked for the most delicate silk and the purest gold thread, and put both into their own knapsacks.
"I should like to know how the weavers are getting on," said the Emperor after some time, and sent off his faithful old minister to them, thinking "he will be best able to see how the cloth looks, for he is a man of sense, and entirely suitable for his office."
So the old minister went, and the knaves asked him to look at their looms, pointing to the empty frames. The poor minister looked and looked, but he could not see anything, for a very good reason, viz: there was nothing there. "What!" thought he, "is it possible that I am a simpleton?"
"Minister!" said one of the knaves, "Does it please you?"
"Oh, it is excellent!" replied the old minister, "I will tell the Emperor without delay."
And then the Emperor himself wished to see the costly manufacture, and went to the crafty impostors. "Is not the work absolutely magnificent?" said his officers.
Said the Emperor to himself. "I can see nothing! Perhaps I am a simpleton, or unfit to be an Emperor? "Oh! the cloth is charming," said he, aloud, and presented the impostors with a riband of knighthood.
When the day came to prepare a suit from the fabulous cloth, the rogues pretended to roll it off the looms, they cut the air with their scissors, and sewed with needles without any thread in them. "See!" cried they, "The Emperor's new clothes are ready!"
The Emperor was dressed, and walked out under his high canopy in the midst of a procession through the streets of his capital. All the people stood by crying out, "Oh! How beautiful are our Emperor's new clothes!" No one would allow that he could not see these clothes, because he would have declared himself either a simpleton or unfit for his office. None of the Emperor's various suits had ever made so great an impression as these invisible ones.
"But the Emperor has nothing at all on!" said a little child.
"Listen to the voice of innocence!" exclaimed his father. But what the child said was whispered from one to another.
"But he has nothing at all on!" at last cried out all the people. The Emperor was vexed, for he knew that the people were right, but he thought the procession must go on now! And the lords of the bedchamber took greater pains than ever, to appear holding up a train, although, in reality, there was no train to hold.
THE UGLY DUCKLING
In the midst of the summer sunshine, by the moat of an old manor house, a duck sat on her nest, hatching her ducklings.
At last the eggshells began to crack, and, one after another, the little things poked out their heads.
"How wide the world is," said all the young ducks.
"Do you think this is the whole world?" their mother asked. "Why the world extends on and on, clear across to the other side of the garden and right on into the parson's field."
"How goes it?" asked an old duck who came by.
"This last egg won't crack, but the others are the cutest little ducklings ever. They look exactly like their father, the wretch! He hasn't come to see me at all."
"That's a turkey egg," the old duck said. "Let it lie, and go teach your other children to swim."
"Oh, I'll sit a little longer," she said.
At last the big egg did crack. "Peep," said the young one, and out he tumbled, but he was so big and ugly.
Next day the mother duck led her family down to the moat. Splash! And the other ducks looked at the ugly one and said out loud, "What an ugly fellow! We won't stand for him." One duck charged up and bit his neck.
The poor duckling was sad because he was so desperately ugly, and because he was the laughing stock of the whole yard. So he ran away over the fence to the great marsh. There he lay all night long, weary and disheartened.
When morning came, the wild ducks flew up to have a look at their new companion. "What sort of creature are you?" they asked, "You are terribly ugly."
Then, Bing! Bang! Shots rang in the air, and those two ducks fell dead among the reeds. The bird dog came, splash, splash! He opened his wide jaws, flashed his sharp teeth, and - splash, splash - on he went without touching the duckling.
"Thank heavens," he sighed, "I'm so ugly that the dog won't even bother to bite me." He scurried away from that marsh as fast as he could go.
It grew winter and so bitterly cold that the duckling had to swim to and fro in the water to keep it from freezing over. At last, too tired to move, he was frozen fast in the ice.
Then, early next morning a farmer came by, and broke away the ice with his wooden shoe, and carried the duckling home to his wife. But when the children wished to play with him he thought they meant to hurt him. Luckily the door was open, and the duckling escaped.
It would be too sad to tell of all the hardships he had to endure during this cruel winter. But, when the warm sun of springtime shone once more, the duckling was still alive among the reeds.
Then, quite suddenly, he lifted his wings. They swept through the air much more strongly than before and soon he found himself in a great garden where apple trees bloomed, and from the thicket before him came three lovely white swans.
"I shall fly near these royal birds, and they will peck me to bits because I am so very ugly. But I don't care."
The splendid swans saw him, and swept down upon him. "Kill me!" said the poor creature. But what did he see there, mirrored in the clear stream? He beheld his own image, not a clumsy, dirty, grey bird, ugly and offensive. He himself was a swan! Being born in a duck yard does not matter, if only you are hatched from a swan's egg.
Several little children came into the garden and threw bread and cake upon the water, while they all agreed, "The new one is the most handsome of all." The old swans bowed in his honour.
He felt so very happy, but he wasn't at all proud, for a good heart never grows proud. He rustled his feathers and held his slender neck high, as he cried out with full heart: "I never dreamed there could be so much happiness, when I was the ugly duckling."
THE SNOW QUEEN
FIRST STORY. The Mirror and the Splinters
You should listen to this story, for when we get to the end we shall know more than we do now.
Once upon a time there was a mischievous sprite who made a mirror with the power of causing everything reflected in it to look poor and mean and ugly In this mirror the most beautiful landscapes looked like boiled spinach, and the best persons were turned into terrors.
All the little sprites who went to his school -for he kept a sprite school- thought it would now be possible to see how the world really looked. So they flew up into the sky with it, but it fell out of their hands to earth and was dashed in a hundred million pieces. And some of these pieces were hardly so large as a grain of sand, and they got into people's eyes. And now we shall hear what happened next.
SECOND STORY. A Little Boy and Girl
Above the roofs of a large town there lived two little children. They were not brother and sister; but they cared for each other as much as if they were. Their garrets were exactly opposite and had some tubs in which vegetables and little rose trees were planted.
His name was Kay, hers was Gerda, and today there was quite a snow-storm. They heated coins on the stove and pressed them to the icy glass, so they could see out through round peep-holes.
"The white bees are swarming," said Kay's grandmother.
"Do the white bees choose a queen?" asked the little boy.
"Yes," said the grandmother. And then she patted his head and told him other stories.
And then the spring came; the sun shone, and the little children sat in their pretty garden, high up at the top of the house. The little girl had learned a hymn, and she sang the verse to the little boy, who then sang it with her:
"The rose in the valley is blooming so sweet,
And angels descend there the children to greet."
And the children held each other by the hand, kissed the roses, looked up at the clear sunshine, and spoke as though they really saw angels there. What lovely summer-days those were!
It was then that Kay said, "Oh! I feel such a sharp pain in my heart; and now something has got into my eye!"
"I think it is out now," said he; but it was not. It was one of those pieces of glass from the magic mirror.
He said, "You look so ugly! These roses are ugly! And he pulled the roses up and he hastened away.
In the market-place, the boys used to tie their sledges to carts as they passed by, and so they were pulled along. As they were playing, a large sledge came along, painted quite white, with someone in it wrapped up in a white fur. Kay tied his sledge on to the white one and they drove off. Quicker and quicker they went, into the next street, and on beyond the gates of the town. He was quite frightened, and he tried to repeat the Lord's Prayer; but he was only able to remember the multiplication table.
Suddenly the large sledge stopped, and the person who drove rose up. It was a lady; her cloak and cap of snow. She was tall and slender, and of a dazzling whiteness. It was the Snow Queen.
"It is freezingly cold," she said, "come under my bearskin." Ah! it was colder than ice. The Snow Queen kissed Kay, and then he forgot little Gerda, grandmother, and all he had left at his home, and the Snow Queen appeared beautiful and wise. They flew over woods and lakes, over seas, beneath them the chilling storm rushed fast, the wolves howled, and Kay slept at the feet of the Snow Queen.
THIRD STORY. Of the Old Woman Who Understood Witchcraft
At last spring came, with its warm sunshine.
"Is Kay dead and gone!" said little Gerda.
"That I don't believe," said the Sunshine and the Swallows.
"I'll ask the river where he is. I will give the river my red shoes as a gift," said she. So she clambered into a boat which lay among the rushes, and went to the farthest end, and threw out her shoes. But before she could return, the boat was gliding quickly onward.
She sailed by a cherry-orchard, by a little thatched cottage and by two wooden soldiers who presented arms when anyone went past.
Illustration by Edmund Dulac
Gerda called out and an old woman came out of the cottage, leaning upon a crooked stick. She had a large broad-brimmed hat on, painted with splendid flowers.
"Poor child!" said the old woman, and caught hold of the boat with her crooked stick, and drew it to the bank.
"Tell me who you are, and how you came here," said she.
Gerda told her all; and the old woman gave her cherries and, as she combed little Gerda's hair, the child forgot her Kay, for the old practised witchcraft a little for her own private amusement, and now she wanted very much to keep little Gerda. So Gerda stayed.
Then one morning Gerda went to play with the flowers, and kissed the roses, and thought of her own dear roses at home, and with them of little Kay.
"Oh, how long I have stayed!" said the little girl. "Don't you know where Kay is?" she asked of the roses.
"Dead he certainly is not," said the Roses. "We have been in the earth where the dead are, but Kay was not there."
"Many thanks!" said little Gerda; and she went and she asked the other flowers.
The Tiger-Lily told her of the drum that goes Bum! Bum! and of a Hindoo woman in her long robe upon the funeral pyre of her dead husband, whose loving heart burns hotter than the flames which will burn her to ashes.
The Convolvulus told her of a mountain-path and an old castle. The Snowdrops told her of two little girls and of a boy and a pipe of bubbes. The Narcissus told her of a littler dancer in a white dress.
But none of them told of Kay.
So Gerda ran to the very, very end of the garden, and shook the rusted gate open; and little Gerda ran off barefooted into the wide world.
FOURTH STORY. The Prince and Princess
It became winter and Gerda was obliged to rest, when a large Raven came hopping over the white snow and said, "Caw! Caw! Good day!"
Gerda asked if he had seen Kay.
Said the Raven. "In this kingdom the Princess is so extraordinarily clever that she has read all the newspapers in the whole world. With her your Kay lives, I will take you there."
That evening the Raven led Gerda to the palace and along a little back stair and into a great bedchamber. The ceiling of the resembled a large palm-tree with leaves of glass, and from a thick golden stem hung two beds, like lilies. In one lay the Princess; in the other Gerda was to look for little Kay. She called him quite loud by name, he awoke, turned his head, and - it was not little Kay!
The Princess awoke, and asked what was the matter. Then little Gerda cried, and told her her whole history.
"Poor little thing!" said the Prince and the Princess. And the Prince let Gerda sleep in his bed, and she folded her little hands and thought, "How good men and animals are!" and then fell asleep and slept soundly.
The next day they dressed her from head to foot in silk and velvet, and gave her a little carriage with a horse in front, and a small pair of shoes, to go forth again in the wide world and look for Kay.
"Farewell! Farewell!" cried Prince and Princess; and Gerda wept, and the Raven wept.
FIFTH STORY. The Little Robber Maiden
As they drove through the dark wood the bright carriage caught the eyes of robbers, who pulled little Gerda out.
"She shall play with me," said a little robber child. "Doubtless she is a Princess?"
"No," said little Gerda; who then related all that had happened to her, and about little Kay.
At length the carriage stopped at the robber's castle.
"You shall sleep here with me to-night, and with my animals," said the little robber maiden, taking her in.
Her pets were wood-pigeons and a reindeer called Bac, with a bright copper ring round its neck.
"Every evening I tickle his neck with my sharp knife", said the robber maiden, "he is so frightened at it!" And she pulled Gerda into bed with her and fell asleep.
The Wood-pigeons spoke softly to Gerda; "Coo! Coo! We have seen little Kay! He is with the Snow Queen, who passed here. She blew upon us young ones; and all died except we two. Coo! Coo!"
Cried little Gerda. "Where did the Snow Queen go to?"
The Reindeer said, "She is gone to Lapland. Her summer-tent there; but her real home is towards the North Pole, on the Island of Spitzbergen."
"Oh, poor little Kay!" sighed Gerda.
In the morning Gerda told the robber maiden all that the Wood-pigeons had said; and the little maiden looked very serious, and said to the reindeer, "I will untether you. You may go home to Lapland, and you must take this little girl to the palace of the Snow Queen"
SIXTH STORY. The Lapland Woman and the Finland Woman
After many miles they stopped before a miserable little house. The roof reached to the ground and the door was so low, that the family were obliged to creep in and out upon their stomachs. At home was an old Lapland woman, dressing fish; the Reindeer told her the whole of Gerda's history, but first of all his own.
"Poor thing," said the Lapland woman, and she gave Gerda a few words written on a dried cod-skin, she having no paper.
At last they came to Finland. They knocked at the chimney of the Finland woman; for a door, she had none.
The Finland woman was diminutive and dirty. She loosened little Gerda's clothes, laid a piece of ice on the Reindeer's head, and read what was written on the fish-skin.
"Little Kay is at the Snow Queen's, and he thinks it the very best place in the world; but the reason is, he has a splinter of glass in his eye, and in his heart. "
Asked the reindeer, "Can you not give little Gerda some special power to help her on her way?"
"I can give her no more power than what she has already. Don't you see how great it is? Don't you see how men and animals serve her; how well she gets through the world barefooted? Her power lies in her heart, because she is a sweet and innocent child! Carry her to the bush with red berries, for there garden of the Snow Queen begins.
Gerda spoke out the Lord's Prayer, and they set off.
But now we shall see how Kay fared.
SEVENTH STORY. In The Palace of the Snow Queen, and what Happened Afterwards.
The hundred halls of the palace were of driving snow, and the windows and doors of cutting winds. Each hall was many miles long, each lit by the Aurora Borealis, and all so icy cold, and so magnificent! Mirth never reigned there; nor was there ever a dance for the polar bears nor a little tea-party of white young lady foxes.
In the middle of the empty, endless halls was a frozen lake, cracked in a thousand pieces. In the middle of this lake sat the Snow Queen.
Little Kay was quite blue with cold; but he did not know it, for she had kissed away all feeling from his body, and his heart was a lump of ice. Kay spent his days arranging ice pieces into all sorts of shapes, which seemed to him, with the grain of glass in his eye, to be a gtreat and important work. But he never could manage to represent "eternity", for the Snow Queen had said, "If you can discover that figure, you shall be your own master, and I will make you a present of the whole world and a pair of new skates."
"I am going now to warm lands," said the Snow Queen. "I must give the volcanoes of Vesuvius and Etna a coating of white, which is good for the oranges and the grapes." And then away she flew, and Kay sat benumbed and motionless, quite alone in the empty halls of ice.
Suddenly little Gerda stepped through the great portal into the cold palace and the little maiden beheld Kay, She flew to embrace him, and cried out, "Kay, sweet little Kay! Have I then found you at last?"
But he sat quite still and cold. Then little Gerda shed burning tears; and they fell on his bosom, they penetrated to his heart, they thawed the lumps of ice, and consumed the splinters of the looking-glass; he looked at her, and she sang the hymn:
"The rose in the valley is blooming so sweet,
And angels descend there the children to greet."
Hereupon Kay burst into tears; he wept so much that the splinter rolled out of his eye, and he recognised her, and shouted, "Gerda, sweet little Gerda! And he held fast by Gerda, who laughed and wept for joy. It was so beautiful, that even the blocks of ice danced about for joy.
And Kay and Gerda looked in each other's eyes, and all at once they understood the old hymn:
"The rose in the valley is blooming so sweet,
And angels descend there the children to greet."
There sat the two grown-up persons; grown-up, and yet children; children at least in heart; and it was summer-time; summer, glorious summer!
THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL
Most terribly cold it was, on the last evening of the year. Along in the darkness there went a poor little girl, bareheaded, and with naked feet. When she left home she had slippers on, very large slippers of her mother's, but one had been lost and the other taken by an urchin as a cradle for his one-day children. She carried some matches in an old apron, but nobody had bought anything of her the whole livelong day.
The snow covered her beautiful long fair hair, while, from all the windows the candles were gleaming, and it smelt so deliciously of roast goose, for you know it was New Year's Eve.
In a corner by two houses, she sat down and pulled her little feet close up to her. She dared not go home for she had taken no money, which would certainly mean blows from her father, and at home it was cold too, even though the largest cracks in the roof were stopped up with rags.
Her little hands were almost numbed with cold. Oh! a match might afford a little comfort, so she drew one out. "Rischt!" how it blazed! It seemed as though she were sitting before an iron stove with burnished brass feet. which warmed so delightfully! But too quickly the small flame went out, and the stove vanished.
She rubbed another against the wall: it burned brightly, and the wall became transparent like a veil, so that she could see into the room to a table loaded with roasted goose and stuffing. And, wonder! The goose hopped down from the dish, reeled about on the floor with knife and fork in its breast, when the match went out.
She lighted another match. Now there she was sitting under the most magnificent Christmas tree: larger than the one she had seen through the glass door in the rich merchant's house. Thousands of lights were burning on the green branches, and gaily-coloured pictures looked down upon her. Then the match went out.
But the lights of the Christmas tree rose higher and higher, like the stars of heaven. Then one fell down with a long trail of fire.
"Someone has just died!" said the little girl; for her old grandmother, the only person who had loved her, and who was now no more, had told her that when a star falls, a soul ascends to God.
She drew another match against the wall, and in the lustre there stood the old grandmother, bright and radiant, with such an expression of love.
"Grandmother!" cried the little one. "Oh, take me with you!" And she rubbed the whole bundle of matches quickly against the wall, as grandmother took the little maiden on her arm, and both flew off in brightness and in joy so high, to where there was neither cold, nor hunger.
In the cold dawn they found the girl, smiling and frozen to death, with a bundle of burned matches in her hand. "She wanted to warm herself," they said. But they did not know what beautiful things she had seen, nor how, with her grandmother, she had entered into the joys of a new year.
● Copyright © 2014 Glyn Hughes.
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