Skip to 0 minutes and 14 seconds The Tinder-box is one of Hans Christian Andersen’s earliest and best-known fairy tales. It’s about a soldier, who is on his way home from war but stumbles upon a witch who sets the story in motion. As such, the fairy tale seems to follow traditional folktale structures. Initially, this can be seen in the focus on the number three. There are three dogs helping the soldier, and the king and queen use three attempts trying to find out, who is behind the nightly abductions of the princess. In his introduction to this series of lectures Johannes Noerregaard Frandsen presented the beginning of this fairy tale to show, how the narrator transports the readers directly into the logic of the story.
Skip to 0 minutes and 59 seconds This is a specifically Andersen-like trait. He frequently uses direct speech, exclamations and repetitions. I’d like to focus on the passage where the soldier moves from room to room down the old tree. Specifically, I’d like you to characterise the writing style in the passage and discuss what importance the stylistic factors may carry. The Tinder-box He now opened the first door. Uh! There sat the dog with eyes as big as saucers glaring at him. You’re a nice-looking chap! the soldier said, placed him on the witch’s apron and took just as many copper coins as would fit into his pockets, closed the chest, put the dog back on it again and went into the second room. Ooh!
Skip to 1 minute and 55 seconds There sat the dog with eyes as big as mill-wheels. You shouldn’t stare at me so much! the soldier said, it might hurt your eyes! And he placed the dog on the witch’s apron, but when he saw the many silver coins in the chest, he threw away all the copper coins he had and filled his pockets and his knapsack with pure silver. Now he went into the third room! Oh no, how ghastly! The dog there really did have two eyes each as big as the Round Tower. And they spun round in his face, just like wheels! When first reading the story, it might seem in sync with the structures of the folk tales as laid out in the actantial model.
Skip to 2 minutes and 48 seconds We meet a hero who goes on a quest; he meets helpers and antagonists but overcomes the challenges and wins the princess in the end. But on a closer look, there are some things that don’t add up. For instance, we have no idea where the soldier is coming from. The classic structure of the hero is home-away-home. But in The Tinder-box, we seem to have skipped the first part, and now we meet the soldier on his way back home. But he never reaches this home. On the contrary, he is side-tracked by the witch, and this unplanned digression from the beaten path ends up being the actual story - definitely not textbook folktale material. Let’s focus on the witch for a moment.
Skip to 3 minutes and 36 seconds How would you characterise her helping function in the fairy tale? With your knowledge of helpers, how do you find the witch fits into this role? And how does she deviate from it? Have you got the tinder-box with you? the witch asked. Oh yes, that’s right, the soldier said, I’d completely forgotten about that! and he went and took it. The witch hauled him up, and there he was again on the highway, with his pockets, boots, knapsack and cap full of money. What are you going to use the tinder-box for? the soldier asked. None of your business! the witch said, you’ve got all your money! Just give me the tinder-box! Stuff and nonsense!
Skip to 4 minutes and 25 seconds the soldier said, tell me at once what you’re going to use it for, or I’ll draw my sword and cut off your head! No! the witch said. Then the soldier cut off her head. There she lay! But he bound up all his money in her apron, took it as a bundle on his back, stuffed the tinder-box into his pocket and went straight off to the town. Of course, this story isn’t a folktale, but only inspired by its structures. I’d like you to see if you can find further digressions from the genre. It might be in the themes of the content or in the style of writing.
Skip to 5 minutes and 8 seconds One aspect that might be worth attention is the use of humour and irony in the narration of the story. Try, for instance, to consider the humour in the passage where the soldier spends all his money. He now led a gay life, went to the theatre, drove in the Royal Gardens and gave the poor lots of money - and that was nobly done! He knew from his own past how terrible it was not to have a penny! now he was rich, had splendid clothes, and gained a great number of friends as well, and all of them said what a fine fellow he was, a real gentleman - and the soldier liked all of this!
Skip to 5 minutes and 53 seconds But since he spent money every day and did not have any money coming in, he finally ended up with only a couple of small coins left and had to move out of the fine rooms where he had been living up into a tiny attic room, polish his own boots and sew them with a darning needle, and none of his friends came to see him, for there were so many stairs to climb. What kind of moral values may be extracted from this passage? How does the humour work in relation to that? And what are we to think about the narrator, who suddenly steps forward and makes explicit judgments about the generosity of the soldier?
Skip to 6 minutes and 37 seconds So, The Tinder-box is a fairy tale that takes it’s point of departure in folktale material but reconfigures its components in ways that add a lot of humour and personality to the story and complicates the overall meaning of the text. If you would like to discuss these themes further, please have a look at the extra assignment in this module that questions the ending of the fairy tale. I look very much forward to following your online discussions on the topics raised in this video. Bye for now
‘The Tinderbox’ and the folk tale
‘The Tinderbox’ takes its point of departure in the folk tale, but at the same time it breaks its genre conventions.
In the video, PhD student Torsten Bøgh Thomsen, applying the actantial model to the fairy tale, will invite you to think about in what way its narrative structure resembles and differs from the typical narrative structure of the folk tale.
You will also hear storyteller Kari Brinch read extracts from ‘The Tinderbox’. She will read two text passages that are especially important for the analysis and interpretation of the text. Torsten will use these extracts to try to characterize the special writing style that became Hans Christian Andersen’s stamp of genius.
© The Hans Christian Andersen Centre