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This is a slightly new treatment of "The Tinderbox," Andersen's
most tellable tale, and his most folkloric tale. He may have heard it somewhere,
but it seems likely that he spun it out of the types and motifs he grew
up with. It has not a hint of the preciousness that infects some of his
work. Of course, it doesn't have any of the depth of emotion, either. But
it is a great tellable Marchen, and it is that great rarity: a real folktale
whose probable author is known.
Andersen has not been well served by his translators. His great impact on Danish literature was to restore an easy, conversational tone to a prose style that had become very rigid and formal. I've tried for transparancy and immediacy-- I don't like having to explain too much while I'm telling. Kids like this version, and some older kids are able to tell it. Use it freely. The links are to notes about telling.
new translation copyright © 1996 by Tim Jennings all rights reserved.
A soldier came marching down the road-- Hup two three four, hup two three four!-- He had his pack on his back, and his sword at his side; he'd been in the wars, and he wanted to go home. And on the way, he met a witch; she was horribly ugly, and her lower lip hung down over her chin half-way to the ground. She said--
"Hey there, soldier. Nice sword! Big backpack! You're a real soldier, all right! Now you're going to get all the money you ever wanted."
"Thanks, old witch." says the soldier.
"Look at this tree," said the witch. "It's completely hollow inside. Just climb up to the top there, and you'll see a hole where you can let yourself in, and go way down inside. I'll tie a rope around you, first, so I can pull you up again when you're ready to come back."
"What am I supposed to down there?" said the soldier.
"Get money!" said the witch. "Listen to me:
"Not too bad," said the soldier. "But what's in it for you, witch? I guess you want something out of this."
"Oh, no. No money for me," said the witch. "All I want is the old lighter my granny forgot there the last time she was down that way."
"Then tie the rope around me," said the soldier.
"Here it is," said the witch, "and here's my blue-check apron."
The soldier climbed up the tree, let himself slip down the hole, and stood, as the witch had told him, in the great hallway with the three hundred lamps. He opened the first door. Ik! there sat the dog with eyes as big as teacups, staring at him. "You're a cute doggy," said the soldier; and he put him on the witch's apron, and took as many copper pennies as his pockets would hold, then locked the chest, set the dog back on it, and went into the second room. Yikes! there stood the dog with eyes as big as bicycle wheels.
"Stop staring so hard at me" said the soldier. "It's rude-- and you might hurt your eyes." And he set the dog on the witch's apron. When he saw all the silver dollars in the chest, he dumped out his copper money, and filled his pockets with silver, and his backpack too. Then he went into the third room. And that was the worst-- the dog there really had eyes as big as ferris wheels, and they went round and round and round.
"Good evening sir" said the soldier, and he touched the brim of his cap, for he had never seen a dog that big. But after a moment he thought, "enough of this," and lifted him down to the floor, and opened the chest. An unbelievable amount of gold was in there. He could buy the whole town, and [all the blank, blank and blank] and anything else he wanted in the whole world. Yes, that was a lot of money! Now the soldier dumped out the silver dollars out of his pockets and backpack, and took gold instead. In fact, his pockets, his backpack, his hat, and his boots were all filled up, so he could barely walk. Now he had all the money he ever wanted. He put the dog back up on the chest, shut the door, wrapped the rope around his waist, and called up through the tree: "PULL ME UP, OLD WITCH!"
"HAVE YOU GOT THE LIGHTER?" said the witch.
"Curse!" said the soldier. "I forgot." and he went and got it.
Then the witch pulled him up, and he stood on the road again, with his pockets, boots, backpack, and cap full of gold.
"What are you going to do with the lighter?" asked the soldier.
"None of your business." said the witch. "You got your money-- now give me my lighter."
"Forget it!" said the soldier. "You don't get it until you tell me why you want it."
"Give it!" said the witch.
"Tell me right now, or I'll pull out my sword and chop your head off!" said the soldier.
"I won't!" said the witch.
So the soldier pulled out his sword cut off her head-- shchlop! And that was the end of her. But he tied up all his money in her apron, and carried it like a bundle, and went straight into town.
Well, that was one great town! And he stayed at the fanciest rooms in the ritziest hotel. And he got his favorite foods, room service, every meal, because he was rich. The shoe-shine guy thought he had a pretty beat-up pair of boots for such a rich gentleman; but only for the first day, after that, everything he wore was new, and expensive. So now our soldier was one of the finer element, and people told him about all the finer things in their fair city, including the King, and the King's pretty daughter.
"Where can you see her?" said the soldier.
"You can't see her at all," they told him. "She lives in a great copper castle, with walls and towers and moats. Nobody but the King gets to go in, because the royal psychic predicted she was going to marry a common soldier, and the King can't stand it."
"I'd like to see her, though," thought the soldier, but he couldn't get permission.
He went on living the high life, going to plays, driving in the Royal Gardens, having parties, and giving lots of money to the poor. (He remembered how it was to be broke.) He was rich, and dressed well, and had lots of friends, who called him a true gentleman, which was nice to hear. But since he spent money all day every day, and never got any back, he ended up with just two dollars left. So he had to leave his fancy suite, and live in an attic, and shine his own shoes, and mend them himself with a darning needle. None of his friends came to see him, because there were too many stairs to climb.
One dark night after they'd cut off his electricity, he found a bit of candle-end, and wanted to light it, but it was too dark to find matches. Then he remembered the lighter, and as soon as he flicked the wheel, and the sparks flew out, his door slammed open, and there stood the dog with eyes as big as teacups, and it said: "What are your highness's commands?"
"This is a great lighter!" said the soldier. "-- Bring me some money," he told the dog, and whoosh! the dog was gone, and whoosh! he was back again, with a big bag of money in his mouth.
Now the soldier knew what a truly great lighter this was. If he flicked the wheel once, in came the dog with the chest of copper money; if he flicked it twice, in came the dog who had the silver, and if he flicked it three times, in came the dog with the gold. The soldier moved back into his fancy suite in the ritzy hotel, and all his friends knew him again, and cared about him very much.
A time came when he thought to himself, "It's a very odd thing that nobody can see the Princess. They say she's very beautiful, but what good is that if she always has to sit in a copper castle with towers and walls and moats. Why shouldn't I see her? Where's my lighter?" So, he flicked his lighter, and whoosh! came the dog with eyes as big as teacups.
"I know it's late-- midnight, anyway-- but I want to see the princess, just for a minute."
And the dog was out the door immediately, and before the soldier even thought twice, there it was back again, with the princess. She sat on the dog's back, and thought she was asleep. Anybody could see she was a real princess, and lovely. And the soldier-- he was a real soldier all right-- couldn't help giving her a kiss. Then the dog ran back again with the princess. But next morning, while the King and Queen were having their coffee, the princess said, "I had such a strange dream last night."
"I dreamed that a dog took me to a soldier, and he kissed me."
"That's worse than strange," said the Queen, and the next night she had an old Dutchess watch by the Princess's bed to see if it really was a dream or what.
The soldier longed to see the Princess again; so the dog came in the night, took her away, and ran just as fast as he could. But the old lady put on her sneakers and ran just as fast after him. When she saw that they both entered a great house, she thought, "Now I know where it is," and with a little piece of chalk she drew a big cross on the door. Then she went home and lay down, and the dog came out with the princess; but when he saw the cross on the door, the dog took out another piece of chalk, and drew crosses on all the doors in the town.
So in the morning, bright and early, the King, and Queen and the old Dutchess, and all the officers came to see where the Princess had been. The King saw a door with an cross and said,"Here it is!" "No," said the Queen, "it's over here!" "But it's over here-- and here-- and here!" said everybody, for wherever they looked there were crosses on the doors. So they saw it was no good, and went home.
But the Queen was a very clever woman; she could do more than ride in a coach. She took out her big gold scissors, cut a piece of silk, and made a neat little bag. She filled the bag with flour, and tied it to the Princess's waist, and when that was done, she made a little hole in the bottom of the bag, so that flour would leak out all along the way wherever the Princess went.
That night, the dog came again, took the Princess on his back, and ran with her to the soldier, who loved her very much. The dog didn't notice that, with every step he took, a little flour jounced out of the bag, making a trail all the way from the copper castle to the windows of the soldier's hotel, where he ran up the wall with the Princess. In the morning it was easy enough for the King and Queen to find where their daughter had been, and they took the soldier and threw him into prison.
And there he sat. And, Oh! it was dark and nasty in there. They said to him, "Never mind, it'll soon be over; tomorrow you'll hang." That was no fun to hear, and he'd left his lighter at the hotel. In the morning, he looked through the iron bars of his tiny window, and he could see how all the people were hurrying out of town to see him get hanged. He heard the drums beat and saw the soldiers marching. All the people were running out, including a shoemaker's boy, with leather apron and slippers, and he ran by so fast that one of his slippers flew off and up and went whap! right against the wall where the soldier sat looking through the bars.
"Hey! You! Shoemaker's boy! You don't have to hurry so fast," cried the soldier. "Nothing's going to happen till I get there. But if you'll run to my rooms and bring me my lighter I'll give you five bucks. But you've got to go fast!"
The shoemaker's boy wanted the five dollars, so he did go fast, and- well, now we'll find out what happened.
On the outside of town, they'd built a great big gallows. All around it stood the soldiers, and many thousands of people. The King and Queen sat on a magnificent throne, on another platform, with their judges and the Council. The soldier stood on the trap door and just as they were about to put the rope around his neck, he asked for one last wish. He wanted to smoke his pipe one more time. The King couldn't say no to this-- any condemned man gets a last smoke-- so the soldier filled his pipe, took out his lighter and-- flick-- flick flick-- flick flick flick-- there suddenly stood all three dogs: the one with eyes big as teacups, the one with eyes big as bicycle wheels, and the one with eyes like ferris wheels that went round and round and round.
"Help, don't let them hang me," said the soldier.
And the dogs threw themselves on the judges and all the Council, took this one by the leg and that one by the nose, and threw them so far up into the air that when they came down they were broken all to bits.
"Stop that!" said the King; but the biggest dog took him and the Queen and threw them after the others. Then the soldiers were afraid, and the people all cried out:
"Soldjey! Soldjey! You can marry the Princess, and then you'll be King!"
So they put the soldier into the King's coach, and all three dogs raced in front shouting "Hooray!" And the people whistled and clapped, and the soldiers stood at attention.. The Princess came out of the copper castle, and got to be Queen, and she liked that well enough. The wedding lasted a week, and the dogs sat at the table with everybody else and what they saw there made them open their eyes