Study Guide

Andersen's Fairy Tales Tales 81-90

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Tales 81-90

Tale 81: How to Cook Soup Upon a Sausage Pin

  • In Danish, the phrase "to cook soup upon a sausage pin" means to make a big deal out of nothing. But some mice interpret the phrase literally, and the king of the mice says he'll only marry someone who can make soup on a sausage pin. Four mice go out to learn how to do this and have adventures, and one of them tricks the king into agreeing to marry her by making him stir the soup with his tail. Get it, a "sausage pin"? Nudge nudge, wink wink.

Tale 82: The Pepperman's Nightcap

  • A "pepperman" is a guy who sells pepper on behalf of a merchant, and usually they're not allowed to marry so that they stay loyal to their employer (or something like that). This one pepperman, Anton, is sad and lonely because his childhood love didn't want to marry him. He remembers the apple tree they'd planted together and a bunch of other stuff that happened to them, and then he dies in his sleep, clutching his nightcap.

Tale 83: "Something"

  • Five brothers each want to make something of themselves. The first becomes a brick-maker, the second a mason, the third an architect, the fourth an inventor, and the fifth a critic. Eventually they all die, and the critic's waiting to be let into heaven. He talks to an old lady who sacrificed herself to save a bunch of other people. The angel wants to let her into heaven but not the critic, even though she pleads with the angel that the critic's brother had given her some bricks to build her house with. So that should count for something, right? The angel says he needs to do a good deed before she'll let him into heaven. And, unlike any critic ever, this critic decides to keep his mouth shut for once… but only because his immortal soul is on the line.

Tale 84: The Old Oak Tree's Last Dream

  • On Christmas Eve, an oak tree dreams about all the plants and critters that it knew over its long, long lifetime. Then a storm tears up the oak tree and it dies. All's well that ends well, or something.

Tale 85: The Talisman

  • A prince and princess who've just married each other go to a wise hermit to ask for a talisman to make sure their marriage is always happy. He advises them to find a couple that's perfectly happy and ask for a piece of the linen they wear next to their bodies. Every couple they encounter is not-quite-happy (no children, too many kids, whatever), until they find a shepherd and his wife who are perfectly happy. But, the kicker is that they're so poor they can't afford to wear linen clothing. So the prince and princess return to the hermit saying they learned their lesson: contentment is a rare blessing, and it only requires being content.

Tale 86: The Bog King's Daughter

  • Storks have this story they tell their kids. It's a really, really old story, and the first storks to tell it were actually a part of the story.
  • A long time ago, in a Danish bog, a mother stork and father stork are arguing when they see three swans fly down. One casts off her swan skin and becomes a maiden—but the other two tear up her swan skin and leave her there. The bog king comes up from the bog and drags her under.
  • Time passes, and then the storks see a stalk growing from the bog with a baby girl inside. They decide to bring her to the Viking chief's wife, who really wants a kid.
  • The problem with this kid—who is the child of the princess who'd been in the swan skin and the bog king—is that by day, she's a beautiful human child with an evil temperament, and by night, she looks like an ugly frog but has the sweetness of her mother. Still, the chief's wife loves her and raises her, hiding her nighttime appearance from her husband.
  • The storks migrate down to Egypt, and learn that the princess had been sent north to get a remedy for her ailing father. The two chicks who had betrayed her told a lie about how she'd been slain by a hunter, which annoys the storks since they know the truth. When the storks return north, they steal the two traitorous girls' swan skins and bring them along.
  • The girl, who's named Helga, grows up. She's a bloodthirsty little terror. When the Vikings capture a Christian priest, Helga asks if she can kill him. The night before that's supposed to happen, though, she sneaks out in her frog shape and releases the priest from prison.
  • The priest flees and takes Helga with him. When she turns back into a girl, he prays over her and she stops acting evil. He tells her about Christ and she wants to be baptized. Then some robbers attack them, and the priest and their horse die. In frog-shape, Helga builds a burial mound for them, and this act of kindness turns her into a human for good.
  • The ghost of the priest returns to tell her that she must go back to the bog, and together they ride the ghostly horse. When they reach the bog, she sees a form like hers under the water—it's her mother! She pulls her out, and they embrace.
  • The storks drop off the swan skins, and they all fly back to Egypt. Helga is the flower of the deep waters that her mother had been sent to find, and so when they get back, Helga's presence heals the king, her grandfather.
  • It's all good, and Helga is going to marry a prince. But on her wedding night, a vision of the priest appears, and Helga asks if the priest if he can show her the face of God. The priest agrees, and Helga is so awed that she asks for more time.
  • When Helga returns to the celebration, everyone is gone. She sees some storks and addresses them as her friends, but they don't know who she is. Turns out she was gone for centuries. She falls on her knees, and as the rays of the rising sun touch her, she turns to dust.

Tale 87: The Winners

  • A bunch of animals on a committee argue over who's to receive first prize and second prize for a race involving the hare and the snail. All of the animals have different standards for what they consider the winning-est behavior, surprise, surprise.

Tale 88: The Bell Deep

  • In Odense River, there's a bell from a church that sank down into the river, but still continues to ring (which is why it's called the bell deep). The bell tells stories about the acts, many of them cruel, that it witnessed back when it was hanging in the church.

Tale 89: The Evil King

  • With the subtitle, "a legend," this tale is told as though it really happened somewhere, at some point. There was this evil king who conquered tons of lands and erected statues of himself everywhere. He even wanted statues of himself in church, but the priests said, "no can do, God is greater." So the king decides to wage war on God, which turns out to be a terrible idea. He builds airships to ascend to heaven, but when a mosquito bite drives him mad and poisons him, his soldiers mock him and the whole heaven invasion plan presumably fails.

Tale 90: What the Wind Told About Valdemar Daae and His Daughters

  • The wind tells a tale about a castle, and a dude who used to live in it, Valdemar Daae, along with his daughters. Valdemar Daae goes mad in his pursuit for gold and loses everything. He and his daughters are condemned to wander and die as paupers.

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