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Hans Christian Andersen's The Tinderbox: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will summarize Hans Christian Andersen's 'The Tinder-Box.' This is a fairy-tale about a soldier who is rewarded when he outsmarts a witch and a king.

Fairytale Heroes

Think about the types of characters that typically live 'happily ever after' in modern fairytales. Generally, the heroes are noble, pure, victimized, or otherwise thought of as deserving of a happy ending. That is not the case in Hans Christian Andersen's The Tinder-Box. The soldier in this story is manipulative and self-serving, yet in the end prevails. Let's learn more about this story.

A portrait of Hans Christian Andersen, writer of
portrait of hans christian andersen

The Witch

On the way home from war, a soldier encounters a witch. She offers him riches if he climbs down into the hollow of a tree to retrieve the riches. She promises to lower him down and pull him back up. In exchange, all she wants is a tinder-box she claims that her grandmother left there. She also gives him a blue checked apron to place each of the three dogs he encounters on so that they will allow him to take his fill.

After the soldier takes all the copper, silver, and gold coins he can carry, he takes the tinder-box and is pulled up by the witch. When the witch refuses to tell him what she will do with the tinder-box, the man cuts off her head and takes it for himself.

The Wealthy Soldier

In the next town, the soldier rents beautiful rooms in the finest inns, wears fine clothes, eats the best food, and earns many friends with his generosity. Eventually, he runs out of money, has to move into an attic, and is abandoned by his friends.

When he's down to his last candle, the soldier opens the tinder-box to use the candle stump that is there. As he strikes a light, one of the dogs appears and offers to grant him a wish. When the soldier asks for money, the dog disappears for a moment and returns with a bag of money. The man learns that when he strikes the box once, the first dog appears; when he strikes it twice, the second dog appears; when he strikes it three times, the third dog appears. Each of the dogs grants him whatever he wishes.

The Princess

In the kingdom, there is a beautiful princess who is kept locked away because it has been predicted that she will marry a soldier and her father does not approve. The soldier decides he wants to see this princess, so he wishes for her. One of the dogs appear with the princess and the soldier kisses her.

The next day, she tells her mother about her dream, so an old lady-in-waiting is sent to watch her. That night when the dog comes for the princess, the lady follows the dog and draws a cross on the door with a piece of chalk so she can identify where the dog has gone. The dog draws crosses on all the houses so the woman is unable to identify the correct one. The following night, the queen attaches a bag filled with buckwheat to the princess' back. There is a hole in the bag so that wherever the princess goes, she will leave a trail. The next morning, royal soldiers found the soldier and arrested him.

The king orders that the soldier be hanged and while waiting to be executed, the soldier pays a cobbler boy four shillings to retrieve the tinder-box. As the soldier is about to be hanged, he asks the king to give him the dying wish of smoking a pipe. When the soldier strikes a light on his tinder-box, the dogs appear and destroy the soldiers, judges, king, and queen.

Following this, the soldier is made the new king and given the princess' hand in marriage.

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