The Swineherd: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Erica Schimmel

Erica has taught college English writing and literature courses and has a master's degree in children's literature.

A prince goes undercover to learn more about the princess he wants to marry. Find out what he learns, and what we learn in the process, in this summary and analysis of Hans Christian Andersen's 'The Swineherd'.

Looking For Love

You probably expect to date your future potential spouse for at least a little while in order to get to know them, right? That's the usual course of action nowadays, but the courtship in Hans Christian Andersen's ''The Swineherd'' doesn't follow a traditional path. Let's take a trip down that path in this summary of the fairy tale. We'll also take note of some of the lessons in the story.

A Spurned Proposal

It all starts when a handsome prince decides he's ready to find his princess. Even though his kingdom is small and not very rich, this prince could have his pick of plenty of princesses. Instead, he pursues the emperor's daughter. Now, if you are going to woo an emperor's daughter, the first thing you want to do is make a good impression. The prince plans to accomplish this by giving her two gifts: a rose and a nightingale.

He's not planning to give her just any old flower and bird. The rose comes from a lovely rose tree that grows by the prince's father's grave. The rose tree only grows a single flower once every five years, but what it lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in quality. That single rose smells ''so sweet that all cares and sorrows were forgotten by those who inhaled its fragrance.'' The nightingale is just as special as the rose: when it sings, it ''seemed as if all sweet melodies dwelt in her little throat.''

You might be thinking these gifts sound pretty priceless, and you're right. Unfortunately, the emperor's daughter doesn't quite see it that way. She's excited when she hears she's getting presents, but when it turns out the first gift is a ''natural'' rose rather than something made or a kitten, she is disgusted and on the verge of tears. The second gift doesn't go any better. The nightingale sings beautifully and completely charms everyone in the court. Everyone, that is, except the princess. Once she learns it's a real bird, she insists it be set free and refuses to meet with the prince.


Most people might be turned off by the princess's behavior, but the prince decides to give it another go. He disguises himself by smearing his face with dirt and goes to ask the emperor for a job. The emperor happens to have an opening taking care of his pigs, and hires the prince to be the ''imperial swineherd.'' The job doesn't come with a lot of perks. His tiny room near the pigsty is pretty awful, but the prince doesn't complain. It turns out he's a pretty creative craftsman, and spends his time making a saucepan decorated with small bells. When the saucepan is hot, those bells play the song ''Dear Augustine.'' As if that's not enough, when a person puts a finger into the steam coming from the pan, they can smell whatever anyone was cooking anywhere in the city.

''Dear Augustine'' happens to be the one song the princess can play on piano. When she hears the saucepan, she immediately wants to own it and orders her ladies to ask the swineherd the price. You can imagine how scandalized all the women are when he says the price is ''ten kisses from the princess.'' He won't accept kisses from any of her ladies instead, either. The princess decides she'll grant him the kisses - but only if all her ladies block them by forming a ring around them.

The ladies form a ring around the princess and swineherd.
The Swineherd saucepan

The prince isn't done yet. His next creation is a rattle that can play ''all the waltzes and jig tunes which have been heard since the creation of the world.'' If the emperor's daughter was interested in the saucepan, she is even more enchanted by this rattle. This time, though, the price is one hundred kisses! She tries again to get her ladies to give the kisses for her. Not only are her ladies less than enthusiastic about the idea, but the swineherd insists the kisses must be from the princess. She is overcome by her desire for the rattle, and finally agrees as long as her ladies hide them from view again.

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