A solider meets an ugly witch, who promises him gold if he'll just go down into a hollow tree and bring her a tinderbox. Inside the tree are three rooms filled with coins, and each has a dog with huge eyes inside. The soldier fills his pockets and boots with gold coins and then goes back to the witch.
But when he asks the witch what she wants with the tinderbox, she refuses to tell him. So he kills her. Because, um, why not?
Then the soldier goes to town and lives it up, Gangnam Style. Dude doesn't spare any expenses, so he ends up so poor that he can't even afford candles. Instead, he strikes the tinderbox. Bam! One of the huge-eyed dogs appears and asks what he commands. The soldier wishes for more gold so he can keep living the good life.
There's a princess, but she's locked up because of a prophecy that said she'd marry a common soldier. Of course the soldier we've come to know and love in this tale is curious about her, so he orders the dog to bring her to him in her sleep. He looks at her and begins to fall in love with her.
The queen figures out a way to trace the princess's nocturnal visits, and when they find out the soldier's behind it, he's thrown in jail and condemned to death.
At the last minute, the soldier gets his hands on his tinderbox and strikes it three times. All three huge-eyed dogs appear, and they throw the king, queen, and a bunch of higher-ups into the air and they're never seen again. Poof! The royal guards say that the solider can marry the princess, so our soldier ends up with a pretty sweet deal… despite the fact that he seemingly just murdered a bunch of people.
The princess marries the solider and becomes the queen. The dogs attend the wedding feast and stare at everyone with their weirdly large eyes. Nonetheless, everyone is pleased. The end.
Tale 2: Little Claus and Big Claus
Two dudes living in a village have the same name: Claus. The rich one is nicknamed Big Claus, and the poor one Little Claus. Kinda harsh, right?
Little Claus works for Big Claus, and once a week gets to borrow all his horses to drive them in his fields. Just for kicks, Little Claus refers to all the horses as "his," which makes Big Claus so angry that he kills Little Claus's horse.
Little Claus takes this grim opportunity to make a buck. He skins his horse and sets out to sell the hide at market. He camps out in a haystack near a house where he watches a farmer's wife entertaining a deacon and serving him all sorts of delicious foods.
Suddenly, the farmer comes home, and so the deacon hides in a chest and the wife puts all the good food into the empty oven. Presto, all evidence of the other man is gone!
The farmer sees Claus and invites him in. Claus's sack makes a noise, and he lies and says there's a wizard inside it, telling him that there are hidden foods that they should be eating instead of the plain food the wife puts out for them. And by golly, there's much more exciting grub in the oven.
The more the farmer, his wife, and Claus drink, the bolder the farmer gets. He asks Claus if his sack can summon the Devil. Claus says yes, though the Devil looks like a deacon (and for some reason, the farmer hates deacons).
Of course, the deacon's inside the chest, so the farmer becomes convinced that the wizard in the sack is the real deal. He buys it off of Claus for a bunch of money. Like, Publisher's Clearing House kinda money for fairy-tale times. Claus takes the chest with him when he leaves, and threatens to dump it in the river until the deacon also offers him money.
Riding high on his success, Little Claus goes home and tricks Big Claus into thinking he got all his newly exploited cash for that one horse hide. Suddenly Big Claus isn't feeling so big anymore, so he kills all his horses and tries to sell their hides. But he quickly learns he can't make too much dough from his hides; in fact, he gets a beating because people think he's making fun of them by asking for so much money for his measly little horse hides.
Then Little Claus's grandmother dies, and Little Claus puts her in his bed thinking it might bring her back to life. Cuz that always works, right? But big Claus comes in and bashes her head in, thinking she's Little Claus. Not quite what Little Clause was hoping for there.
You'd think Little Claus might take his grandma's death as a cue to stop his scheming, but he doesn't. He takes his grandmother with him to an inn, and tricks an innkeeper into thinking that he's killed her, even though she's already dead. The innkeeper bribes Little Claus to keep quiet about the "murder." Little Claus is clearly amazing at bluffing; if he were alive today, he could probably make even more money as a professional poker player or even a magician.
Anyway, when Little Claus tells Big Claus that he sold his grandmother's body for a bunch of money, Big Claus goes and kills his grandmother and tries to sell her. But that doesn't work, and Big Claus gets angry about it.
Big Claus grabs Little Claus and throws him into a sack so he can be drowned, but ever the trickster, Little Claus switches places with a herdsman so he can survive. When he sees Big Claus again, he invents a story about the bottom of the river being filled with cows. And look, Little Claus brought some cows back with him as proof!
Big Claus asks to be thrown in the river so he, too, can take advantage of this cow racket. We all know that imitation is the finest form of flattery, but man, Big Claus really doesn't learn from his mistakes. So Little Claus helps throw Big Claus into the river. Now that he's the only Claus in town, we here at Shmoop like to think that from then on, Little Claus asked to be referred to as simply, "The Claus."
Tale 3: The Princess and the Pea
There's this prince who wants to marry a princess, but only a real one. He travels around a bunch, but can't find any to his liking, so he comes home.
One night, a princess knocks on the castle door during a storm. She's drenched from the rain, so she doesn't look very princess-like.
But the queen knows she's a true princess, so she puts a pea under twenty mattresses and twenty quilts and tells the princess to sleep on top of them. The next morning, the princess says she couldn't sleep at all and was bruised by something in the bed.
Her sleepless night apparently proves that she's a real princess, because only real princesses are so sensitive (to peas in their beds…?). She marries the prince, and the pea is placed in the royal museum.
Tale 4: Little Ida's Flowers
Little Ida is bummed because her flowers are all dying. She complains about this to a visiting student. He spins a story about the flowers going to dance at night in the castle. Ida witnesses this at night, and then holds a funeral for her dead flowers. Isn't that sweet?
Tale 5: Inchelina
If you're thinking, "shouldn't that be Thumbelina?" You'd be right, but apparently "Inchelina" is the more accurate translation of Andersen's title.
In this story, a woman asks a witch to help her get a tiny child. The witch gives her a grain of barley to plant in a flowerpot. It grows into a tulip, and inside is nestled a tiny little girl. The woman decides to name her Inchelina since she's exactly one inch long.
A toad sees Inchelina napping on the windowsill, and kidnaps her as a bride for her son. Inchelina feels pretty torn up about this when she wakes up. Luckily, some fish hear her crying and set her free.
While she's drifting down a river on a leaf, a May bug kidnaps her, but leaves her by a tree. She lives in the forest by herself. In the winter, a mouse takes her in so she doesn't starve. The mouse wants her to marry his buddy, the mole. What's with everyone trying to marry off little Ms. Inchelina? We guess being inch-sized makes you a hot commodity.
While visiting the mole's house, Inchelina sees a sparrow that looks like it froze to death, but is actually alive. Inchelina sees the sparrow as a way out of having to marry yet another groom she didn't choose. She nurses the sparrow back to health, and before the dreaded marriage, he takes her away with him.
In the sparrow's home, she sees a tiny man sitting inside one of the flowers—he's exactly her size, and human-shaped, like her! He's the king of all the angels who live inside flowers. He proposes to Inchelina and gives her a new name, Maja.
The sparrow peaces out because he has to follow the migration of the other sparrows back to Denmark. He sings about this story to a man who writes the whole thing down.
Tale 6: The Naughty Boy
An old poet is just sitting around, being all poet-y, when a boy bangs on his door and asks to be let in.
The boy is naked, wet, and cold. He's also holding a bow and arrows. Hm, sounds suspicious to us. The poet invites him in to get warm. The stranger then identifies himself as Cupid. Aha!
Cupid shoots an arrow into the old man's heart. The poet writhes in agony on the floor, and later he warns all the boys and girls to beware of Cupid because he's so naughty, with his going around and shooting people in the heart and all.
But Cupid is clever. So he still manages to find and shoot pretty much everyone in the heart. Even your grandmother. Yes, the story actually says that; it's like the 19th century version of a "your mom/yo momma" joke.
Tale 7: The Traveling Companion
Johannes is feeling down 'n' out because his dad has just died. That night, he dreams of his father being alive and introducing him to a beautiful maiden, saying she's to be his bride.
Johannes takes his small inheritance and sets out to see the world. He spends a night in a church, and gives all his money to some dudes who want to throw a poor guy's corpse into the street, because the guy had died before repaying his debts.
Soon after that, a stranger asks if he can travel with Johannes. He agrees, so they become traveling companions. As they travel, the companion picks up various items: some bundles of branches, a sword, and a pair of wings from a dead swan (ew, right?).
They reach a kingdom where the princess is amazingly beautiful, but anyone who wants to marry her must answer three questions. And the stakes are high; if the suitor fails to answer the questions correctly, it's "off with his head!" Johannes recognizes her as the girl from his dream, so he decides to try for her hand.
The companion puts on the swan wings that night, becomes invisible, and follows the princess as she flies on black wings to visit an ugly old troll. The troll advises the princess to ask Johannes what she's thinking about, and to think of something mundane like her shoes.
The companion beats the princess with the branches while flying there and back, and then tells Johannes the answer to the first riddle. The princess gets annoyed at this, and goes back to the troll a second time. This time she's supposed to think of her gloves. Same result.
On the third night, the troll flies back to the palace with the princess, and tells her to think of his head. When he leaves, the companion beheads him with the sword, and tells Johannes to bring the troll's head, all wrapped up, with him to the palace.
Since Johannes has answered all three questions correctly, he gets to marry the princess. The companion advises him that she's still evil, though, so on their wedding night Johannes has to dunk her under water three times to disenchant her. Then she thanks him for breaking the spell.
The companion tells Johannes that now he must leave, since he is the spirit of the dead man whose corpse Johannes had protected. Johannes and the princess rule the kingdom and have kids and all that happily ever after stuff.
Tale 8: The Little Mermaid
Ready to see what this story looked like before Disney got their hands on it? Read on, brave Shmoopers!
So, mer-people live at the bottom of the sea. The mer-king has six daughters, and their grandma helps raise them. When they turn fifteen, they can journey to the water's top to check out the strange land-people (what kinda freak lives on land, anyway?).
The youngest daughter is quiet and beautiful, and she waits eagerly for her turn to go up top. When she does, she sees a handsome human prince on a ship, celebrating his birthday.
A storm destroys the ship, but the little mermaid saves the prince and gets him to land. She hides to make sure people find him. A group of girls discover him, so the mermaid goes home.
She becomes even more quiet and thoughtful after this, till one of her sisters helps her find the kingdom where he came from, so she can watch him as he lives in the palace (stalker much?).
One day, during a friendly chitchat with her grandma, she asks what happens to humans that ends their lives besides drowning. Grandma answers that humans have a short lifespan, whereas mer-people live for 300 years. Plus, when humans die, their immortal souls rise up into the sky to a super coolio other world. Mer-people just become sea foam after dying. Wamp wamp.
The little mermaid is not too thrilled about this sea foam business. According to her grandma, a mer-person can only acquire an immortal soul if a man falls in love with her and marries her. This marriage somehow gives the mer-woman a part of the human's soul, even though he keeps some of the soul for himself.
Of course, the little mermaid has to try to make a man fall in love with her now, but she doesn't think she can do it on her own. So the little mermaid sneaks away from a swank undersea party to go find the sea witch and ask her for help. The entrance to her home is filled with icky grasping polyps, and she hangs out with eels, so those parts made it into the movie.
The sea witch says she will give the little mermaid legs and grace, but every step she takes will feel like she's walking on knives. If the prince marries someone else, the mermaid will die the next day. And, as if that's not scary enough, the witch will also cut out her tongue as payment. Undeterred, the mermaid agrees to the whole enchilada.
She swims to shore, takes the sea witch's potion, and passes out from the pain. The prince finds her, now in a human body, and says she reminds him of the girl who saved him (who was just a random chick from a temple who happened to be there when he woke up). But the mermaid can't tell him that she was actually the one who'd saved him. Life's not easy when you've got no tongue.
Still, the little mermaid becomes a favorite companion of the prince's, meaning she gets to tag along with him everywhere like a puppy dog. Then he's supposed to marry the princess of a nearby kingdom. Turns out she's the same chick who "rescued" him while she was at the temple for her education.
The mermaid witnesses all of this, and she's starting to get anxious about her impending death. Then her sisters swim up to her. The sisters have cut off all their hair to trade with the sea witch for a special a knife. If the mermaid kills the prince with this knife, his blood will turn her legs back into a tail. One man's death is another (wo)man's... tail?
But she looks at the sleeping prince and bride, and decides she can't do it. She throws the knife into the sea. She expects to turn into sea foam, but instead she becomes a spirit of the air. The other daughters of the air explain that because of her kindness—i.e., not murdering the prince and his bride in cold blood, awww!—she has become one of them instead of turning into sea foam.
As a spirit of the air, she'll have a shot at gaining an immortal soul so that she can go to heaven… in 300 years! But every time she visits the house of a good child, that time will be lessened. Isn't that nice?
Tale 9: The Emperor's New Clothes
This emperor is really vain: all he cares about is having beautiful new clothes.
Two strangers arrive and tell the emperor that they can weave a beautiful cloth that is actually invisible to anyone who is stupid or unfit for their position. The emperor thinks that having some of this cloth sounds like a great idea, since it'll help him weed out the idiots.
The emperor sends some of his councilors to check on their progress, and they go along with the sham because they don't want to admit that they're either stupid or not supposed to be in their offices. Even the emperor pretends to be able to see the cloth.
The swindlers dress the emperor in his new set of clothing, and he goes out in a procession to show off to the whole town... naked as the day he was born. No one is willing to admit that they don't see the cloth, until one child shouts that the emperor doesn't have anything on!
Now that the cat's out of the bag, everyone begins to shout that the emperor has nothing on. But he keeps going until the procession is over. What else could he do, admit his mistake? Nuh-uh. He's the emperor, not the court jester or the town drunk.
Tale 10: The Magic Galoshes
Two fairies are talking outside a fancy party. One of them is a serving-maid to another fairy, and the other one is the Fairy of Sorrow. The minor fairy says she gets to give humanity a present because it's her birthday.
The present? A pair of magic galoshes (rainboots) that will grant the wish of anyone wearing them. The Fairy of Sorrow doubts that this will go well. And she has to live up to her name, after all.
A councilman inside the party has been talking all night about how he thinks it'd be better to have lived in the past, in the times of King Hans. He puts on the magic galoshes while leaving the party. Still thinking that he'd rather be there than in contemporary times, he ends up a few centuries in the past.
Spoiler: there are no sidewalks in olden-time Denmark. The councilman gets muddy and after talking to some people, becomes convinced that he's hallucinating and/or sick. He accidentally wishes himself home.
A night watchman finds the galoshes, puts them on, and wishes that he were in the lieutenant's life, because surely he's rich and happy. But he finds that's not the case, and the lieutenant envies the night watchman for having a wife and children. So he ends up back in his own body.
But the night watchman isn't done with his adventures, since he looks up at the moon and wishes he could see it closer. So he travels at the speed of light, lands on the moon, walks around, and meets some of its inhabitants. His body is found and declared dead, but as soon as they remove the galoshes from the body, his soul rushes back into it.
A medical student puts on the galoshes and tries to sneak out of the hospital where he's supposed to keep watch. After getting his head stuck in a fence and wishing it free again, he goes to a poetry recital that gives him the idea to wish he could see inside people's hearts. But he finds out that seeing inside people's hearts is confusing and sad.
The next person to get the galoshes is a copyist who works for the police. He wishes he were a poet, and then he's having all these creative, melancholy thoughts. While observing nature, he wishes he were a lark. He gets captured, put in a cage, and finally wishes he were human again.
A young theological student comes to the copyist to borrow a pair of galoshes so he can smoke in the wet grass. He wishes that he were traveling, but then finds himself so miserable that he wishes he were dead.
Both fairies stand at the student's coffin, and the Fairy of Sorrow pulls the galoshes off his feet, saying she'll do the poor guy a favor. The student comes back to life, and Sorrow claims the galoshes for herself. All in all, this story is kinda like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, only these galoshes bring nuttin' but trouble to whomever puts them on.