by Hans Christian Andersen
(about 2900 words)
The Tinder-Box is a fairy tale, and has all the trappings of fairy-tales: a witch, a downtrodden soldier, copper, silver, gold, three guardians, and a princess trapped in a tower and a king who has seen her marriage unfavorably prophesied to–you guessed it–a common soldier.
So this soldier is returning home form the wars when he comes upon a witch who asks him to go down into a big tree. Inside, she says, he will find three doors guarded by three dogs, containing chests filled with copper, gold and silver and he can take as much as he wants but all she wants is a tinder-box. So, the soldier goes, loads up his pockets with gold but refuses to let the witch have the tinder-box until she tells him what she’s going to to with it. Being just as stubborn as the soldier, she refuses to tell him. Unfortunately for her, he has a sword and is so fresh from the wars that committing homicide in the middle of the road over the usage of a tinder-box doesn’t strike him for a moment as morally reprehensible. So, after punting the witch’s head into a ditch, he goes into town with his new wealth, spends freely and amasses a huge number of friends who all abandon him when the money runs out. Despondent, he stokes a flame on the tinder-box and POOF! the first guardian dog appears and offers him any wish that he wants. Well, of course the soldier wants more money. Soon he is rich and all his friends come back to him. He then learns about a beautiful princess trapped in a copper castle by her father who doesn’t want her to marry as the insanely specific prophecy has foretold. With one murder under his belt, the soldier thinks nothing about sending his dog to kidnap sleeping beauty (who seriously doesn’t wake up the whole time riding on the dog’s back) and kisses her before sending her back. Just add one count of sexual assault onto that tally. This continues nightly until finally the queen finds away to catch him and really, it’s no wonder that he’s sentenced to hang for all that he’s done. Fortunately he has some kid go grab him his tinder-box, and on the day of his execution calls his three dogs who proceed to straight up murder everyone: judge, jury, king and queen, everyone, until the remaining, unmauled towns people declare that the soldier shall be king and the imprisoned princess shell be his queen. The princess comes out of the tower (presumably stepping over the intestines of her still warm parents) and says she’s totally OK with this outcome. Fairy tale.
Hans Christian Andersen was born in Odense, Denmark on April 2, 1805. Though his family was lower class, his father had been told that the family had once come from high society and his father held onto this belief firmly. It seems, however, that this was untrue. Andersen was an only child and received his education at a school for impoverished children. While attending school he worked as an apprentice, before moving to Copenhagen at the age of fourteen to study to be an actor. When one of the theater hands suggested that Andersen was a poet, he switched his goals in life and began writing in earnest. The director of the Royal Danish Theater petitioned King Frederick VI to pay in part for Andersen’s grammar schooling, where he was an average student. The schools at which he studied were abusive, wouldn’t let him write, and in general made him depressed. During his writing career, he wrote many of the fairy tales that are common to most childhoods in the west, including The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, and The Princess and the Pea. He had a personal and professional friendship which Charles Dickens, as they both wrote about the common theme of under-privileged children and poor workers of the industrial revolution. Unfortunately this friendship was taxed to the breaking point when he overstayed his welcome by five weeks at Dickens’s home, and never received another letter from the great author again. Andersen had many romantic obsessions with both men and women, but none of them were returned. He died of liver cancer on 4 August 1875.