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Holger Danske
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Holger Danske - Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Andersen

Reading time for children: 13 min

In Denmark there stands an old castle named Kronenburg, close by the Sound of Elsinore, where large ships, both English, Russian, and Prussian, pass by hundreds every day. And they salute the old castle with cannons, „Boom, boom,“ which is as if they said, „Good-day.“ And the cannons of the old castle answer „Boom,“ which means „Many thanks.“ In winter no ships sail by, for the whole Sound is covered with ice as far as the Swedish coast, and has quite the appearance of a high-road. The Danish and the Swedish flags wave, and Danes and Swedes say, „Good-day,“ and „Thank you“ to each other, not with cannons, but with a friendly shake of the hand; and they exchange white bread and biscuits with each other, because foreign articles taste the best. But the most beautiful sight of all is the old castle of Kronenburg, where Holger Danske sits in the deep, dark cellar, into which no one goes. He is clad in iron and steel, and rests his head on his strong arm. His long beard hangs down upon the marble table, into which it has become firmly rooted. He sleeps and dreams, but in his dreams he sees everything that happens in Denmark. On each Christmas-eve an angel comes to him and tells him that all he has dreamed is true, and that he may go to sleep again in peace, as Denmark is not yet in any real danger; but should danger ever come, then Holger Danske will rouse himself, and the table will burst asunder as he draws out his beard. Then he will come forth in his strength, and strike a blow that shall sound in all the countries of the world.

An old grandfather sat and told his little grandson all this about Holger Danske, and the boy knew that what his grandfather told him must be true. As the old man related this story, he was carving an image in wood to represent Holger Danske, to be fastened to the prow of a ship. For the old grandfather was a carver in wood, that is, one who carved figures for the heads of ships, according to the names given to them. And now he had carved Holger Danske, who stood there erect and proud, with his long beard, holding in one hand his broad battle-axe, while with the other he leaned on the Danish arms.

The old grandfather told the little boy a great deal about Danish men and women who had distinguished themselves in olden times, so that he fancied he knew as much even as Holger Danske himself, who, after all, could only dream; and when the little fellow went to bed, he thought so much about it that he actually pressed his chin against the counterpane, and imagined that he had a long beard which had become rooted to it.

But the old grandfather remained sitting at his work and carving away at the last part of it, which was the Danish arms. And when he had finished he looked at the whole figure, and thought of all he had heard and read, and what he had that evening related to his little grandson. Then he nodded his head, wiped his spectacles and put them on, and said, „Ah, yes; Holger Danske will not appear in my lifetime, but the boy who is in bed there may very likely live to see him when the event really comes to pass.“ And the old grandfather nodded again; and the more he looked at Holger Danske, the more satisfied he felt that he had carved a good image of him. It seemed to glow with the color of life. The armor glittered like iron and steel. The hearts in the Danish arms grew more and more red. While the lions, with gold crowns on their heads, were leaping up.

„That is the most beautiful coat of arms in the world,“ said the old man. „The lions represent strength; and the hearts, gentleness and love.“ And as he gazed on the uppermost lion, he thought of King Canute, who chained great England to Denmark’s throne; and he looked at the second lion, and thought of Waldemar, who untied Denmark and conquered the Vandals. The third lion reminded him of Margaret, who united Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. But when he gazed at the red hearts, their colors glowed more deeply, even as flames, and his memory followed each in turn.

The first led him to a dark, narrow prison, in which sat a prisoner, a beautiful woman, daughter of Christian the Fourth, Eleanor Ulfeld, and the flame became a rose on her bosom, and its blossoms were not more pure than the heart of this noblest and best of all Danish women.

„Ah, yes. That is indeed a noble heart in the Danish arms,“ said the grandfather.

And his spirit followed the second flame, which carried him out to sea, where cannons roared and the ships lay shrouded in smoke, and the flaming heart attached itself to the breast of Hvitfeldt in the form of the ribbon of an order, as he blew himself and his ship into the air in order to save the fleet.

And the third flame led him to Greenland’s wretched huts, where the preacher, Hans Egede, ruled with love in every word and action. The flame was as a star on his breast, and added another heart to the Danish arms.

And as the old grandfather’s spirit followed the next hovering flame, he knew whither it would lead him. In a peasant woman’s humble room stood Frederick the Sixth, writing his name with chalk on the beam. The flame trembled on his breast and in his heart, and it was in the peasant’s room that his heart became one for the Danish arms. The old grandfather wiped his eyes, for he had known King Frederick, with his silvery locks and his honest blue eyes, and had lived for him, and he folded his hands and remained for some time silent. Then his daughter came to him and said it was getting late, that he ought to rest for a while, and that the supper was on the table.

„What you have been carving is very beautiful, grandfather,“ said she. „Holger Danske and the old coat of arms. It seems to me as if I have seen the face somewhere.“

„No, that is impossible,“ replied the old grandfather. „But I have seen it, and I have tried to carve it in wood, as I have retained it in my memory. It was a long time ago, while the English fleet lay in the roads, on the second of April, when we showed that we were true, ancient Danes. I was on board the Denmark, in Steene Bille’s squadron. I had a man by my side whom even the cannon balls seemed to fear. He sung old songs in a merry voice, and fired and fought as if he were something more than a man. I still remember his face, but from whence he came, or whither he went, I know not. No one knows. I have often thought it might have been Holger Danske himself, who had swam down to us from Kronenburg to help us in the hour of danger. That was my idea, and there stands his likeness.“

The wooden figure threw a gigantic shadow on the wall, and even on part of the ceiling. It seemed as if the real Holger Danske stood behind it, for the shadow moved; but this was no doubt caused by the flame of the lamp not burning steadily. Then the daughter-in-law kissed the old grandfather, and led him to a large arm-chair by the table; and she, and her husband, who was the son of the old man and the father of the little boy who lay in bed, sat down to supper with him. And the old grandfather talked of the Danish lions and the Danish hearts, emblems of strength and gentleness, and explained quite clearly that there is another strength than that which lies in a sword, and he pointed to a shelf where lay a number of old books, and amongst them a collection of Holberg’s plays, which are much read and are so clever and amusing that it is easy to fancy we have known the people of those days, who are described in them.

„He knew how to fight also,“ said the old man; „for he lashed the follies and prejudices of people during his whole life.“ Then the grandfather nodded to a place above the looking-glass, where hung an almanac, with a representation of the Round Tower upon it, and said „Tycho Brahe was another of those who used a sword, but not one to cut into the flesh and bone, but to make the way of the stars of heaven clear, and plain to be understood. And then he whose father belonged to my calling,– yes, he, the son of the old image-carver, he whom we ourselves have seen, with his silvery locks and his broad shoulders, whose name is known in all lands;– yes, he was a sculptor, while I am only a carver. Holger Danske can appear in marble, so that people in all countries of the world may hear of the strength of Denmark. Now let us drink the health of Bertel.“

But the little boy in bed saw plainly the old castle of Kronenburg, and the Sound of Elsinore, and Holger Danske, far down in the cellar, with his beard rooted to the table, and dreaming of everything that was passing above him. And Holger Danske did dream of the little humble room in which the image-carver sat. He heard all that had been said, and he nodded in his dream, saying,

„Ah, yes, remember me, you Danish people, keep me in your memory, I will come to you in the hour of need.“

The bright morning light shone over Kronenburg, and the wind brought the sound of the hunting-horn across from the neighboring shores. The ships sailed by and saluted the castle with the boom of the cannon, and Kronenburg returned the salute, „Boom, boom.“ But the roaring cannons did not awake Holger Danske, for they meant only „Good morning,“ and „Thank you.“ They must fire in another fashion before he awakes; but wake he will, for there is energy yet in Holger Danske.

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „Holger Danske“

„Holger Danske,“ also known as „Ogier the Dane,“ is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen first published in 1845. The story is based on the legendary Danish hero, Holger Danske, who is said to be sleeping until the day Denmark is in grave danger, at which point he will awaken and save the country.

Backgrounds and Influences:

Danish folklore and legends: The character of Holger Danske has its roots in Danish folklore and legends, specifically as a figure in the medieval chivalric romance „The Song of Roland.“ Andersen was inspired by these traditional tales and sought to create a story that would resonate with Danish readers and instill a sense of national pride.

Romanticism: The Romantic movement in literature, which emphasized emotion, individualism, and the beauty of nature, also influenced Andersen’s writing of „Holger Danske.“ The tale’s focus on heroic deeds and the mysterious, slumbering figure of Holger Danske reflects the romantic ideal of the noble and powerful hero.

Nationalism and patriotism: During the time Andersen wrote „Holger Danske,“ Denmark was undergoing political and social changes, which led to a growing sense of nationalism and patriotism. Andersen tapped into these sentiments by creating a story centered on a legendary Danish hero who would rise to defend the country in times of need.

Historical context: The character of Holger Danske is based on Ogier the Dane, a historical figure from the 12th century who served under Charlemagne. The story combines elements of history and legend to create a compelling narrative that celebrates Danish heritage and history.

The power of storytelling: Andersen’s „Holger Danske“ underscores the importance of storytelling in preserving cultural heritage and instilling a sense of national pride. By retelling the story of this legendary hero, Andersen aimed to inspire and unite his readers in their love for Denmark.

In summary, „Holger Danske“ is a fairy tale that draws from Danish folklore, legends, and history to create a narrative that celebrates Danish heritage and the power of storytelling. The story is influenced by the Romantic movement, as well as the growing sense of nationalism and patriotism in Denmark during Andersen’s time.

Interpretations to fairy tale „Holger Danske“

„Holger Danske“ by Hans Christian Andersen is a fairy tale that weaves together elements of Danish folklore, history, and legend. There are several interpretations of the story that highlight different themes and messages:

Nationalism and patriotism: One of the primary interpretations of „Holger Danske“ is as a tale of nationalism and patriotism. The story presents Holger Danske as a legendary hero who will rise to defend Denmark in times of need, instilling a sense of pride and unity among the Danish people.

The power of storytelling and cultural heritage: Andersen’s tale emphasizes the importance of storytelling in preserving and passing on cultural heritage. By retelling the story of Holger Danske, Andersen aimed to inspire a sense of national pride and a connection to Danish history and folklore.

The romantic hero: The character of Holger Danske embodies the romantic ideal of the noble and powerful hero. As a legendary figure who slumbers until his country needs him, Holger Danske represents the romantic notion of the heroic individual who is ready to sacrifice for the greater good.

Hope and resilience: The story of Holger Danske can be seen as a symbol of hope and resilience. The belief that Holger Danske will awaken in times of crisis to save the nation offers comfort and reassurance to the people, reminding them that they have a powerful protector who will always come to their aid.

The connection between history and legend: „Holger Danske“ explores the relationship between history and legend by presenting a character who is rooted in both historical fact and folklore. This blending of history and legend serves to create a compelling narrative that celebrates Danish heritage while also acknowledging the power of storytelling in shaping cultural identity.

In summary, „Holger Danske“ is a rich and evocative fairy tale that offers multiple interpretations, touching on themes such as nationalism, patriotism, the power of storytelling, the romantic hero, and the connection between history and legend. Through the story of the legendary Danish hero, Andersen invites readers to reflect on their own cultural heritage and the importance of preserving and celebrating these stories for future generations.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „Holger Danske“

„Holger Danske“ by Hans Christian Andersen is not as widely known as some of his other works, but it has inspired a few adaptations and references in various forms of media. Here are some specific examples:

Literature adaptations:
Retellings and illustrated books: „Holger Danske“ has been retold and illustrated in various collections and anthologies featuring Andersen’s works or Danish folklore. These adaptations aim to introduce the story and its themes to younger audiences, often with accompanying illustrations to help visualize the tale.

Sculptures and monuments:
Holger Danske statue: In the casemates of Kronborg Castle in Helsingør, Denmark, there is a statue of Holger Danske by sculptor Hans Peder Pedersen-Dan, created in 1907. The statue represents the legendary hero as described in Andersen’s story, asleep and waiting to defend Denmark.

Film and television references:
While there are no direct film or television adaptations of Andersen’s „Holger Danske,“ the legendary figure has appeared or been referenced in various Danish films and TV series, often as a symbol of national pride and unity.

Music: Composers have occasionally been inspired by the tale of Holger Danske, creating musical pieces or operas based on the story. These works often focus on the themes of heroism, nationalism, and the power of storytelling.

Theater and stage performances: Some theater groups have adapted „Holger Danske“ as a stage play or incorporated the character into performances celebrating Danish culture and heritage. These productions often use the story as a foundation for exploring themes of nationalism, patriotism, and the importance of cultural preservation.

While „Holger Danske“ has not been adapted as extensively as some of Andersen’s more famous works, its themes of heroism, national pride, and cultural heritage continue to resonate with audiences, particularly within Denmark. These adaptations and references serve to keep the story alive and introduce it to new generations of readers and audiences.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „Holger Danske“

The fairy tale „Holger Danske“ by Hans Christian Andersen has been adapted into various forms of media over the years. Here are some examples:

Plays and Operas: „Holger Danske“ has been adapted into plays and operas, including a play by August Strindberg and an opera by Danish composer Peter Heise. These adaptations often emphasize the dramatic elements of the story, including the awakening of Holger Danske and his subsequent battle against invaders.

Comics and Graphic Novels: The story of „Holger Danske“ has also been adapted into comics and graphic novels, including a version by Danish artist Palle Schmidt. These adaptations often use the visual medium to emphasize the fantastical elements of the story, such as the awakening of Holger Danske and his supernatural powers.

Children’s Books: The story of „Holger Danske“ has been adapted into children’s books, including a version by Danish author H.C. Andersen. These adaptations often simplify the story for younger readers, emphasizing the heroic elements of the story and the importance of national pride.

Films and TV Shows: „Holger Danske“ has been adapted into films and TV shows, including a 1961 Danish film directed by Erik Balling. These adaptations often emphasize the cinematic and visual elements of the story, including the grandeur of Kronborg Castle and the epic battle scenes.

Music: The story of „Holger Danske“ has inspired musical works, including a song by Danish band Nephew and a symphony by Danish composer Carl Nielsen. These adaptations often use music to evoke the heroic and patriotic elements of the story.

Overall, the story of „Holger Danske“ has inspired numerous adaptations in different forms of media, reflecting its enduring popularity and cultural significance in Denmark.

Summary of the plot

„Holger Danske,“ also known as „Ogier the Dane,“ is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen that centers around the legendary Danish hero, Holger Danske. The story is based on the popular belief that Holger Danske is in a deep slumber, waiting to awaken when Denmark is in grave danger to save the nation.

The tale begins with a description of the beautiful and historic Kronborg Castle, where Holger Danske is said to be resting. The hero sits in the castle’s underground chambers, fast asleep, with his long beard growing through a marble table. He is clad in full armor, with his sword by his side, ready to awaken at a moment’s notice to defend Denmark.

The story recounts Holger Danske’s past adventures and heroic deeds, which include battles against enemies and feats of bravery that have earned him his legendary status. It also mentions the hero’s connection to Charlemagne and the French epic, „The Song of Roland,“ where Holger Danske is known as Ogier the Dane.

Throughout the tale, Andersen emphasizes the enduring nature of Holger Danske’s legend and its importance to Danish national identity. The story serves as a reminder of the hero’s unwavering loyalty to his homeland and his readiness to protect it in times of crisis.

In the end, the narrative returns to the present day, with Holger Danske still slumbering in the underground chamber. The tale concludes with the reassurance that the legendary hero will one day awaken when Denmark needs him most, symbolizing the nation’s resilience and the power of its cultural heritage.

In summary, „Holger Danske“ is a fairy tale that draws upon Danish folklore, history, and legend to celebrate the nation’s cultural heritage and the power of storytelling. The story is centered on the legendary hero, Holger Danske, who embodies national pride, loyalty, and the enduring spirit of the Danish people.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „Holger Danske“

„Holger Danske,“ also known as Ogier the Dane, is a legendary Danish hero originating from medieval chivalric literature. While the character has roots in French and Scandinavian folklore, the fairy tale version written by Hans Christian Andersen, a Danish author, was first published in 1845. Andersen is famous for his other works, such as „The Little Mermaid,“ „The Ugly Duckling,“ and „The Emperor’s New Clothes.“

In the original chivalric legend, Holger Danske, or Ogier the Dane, was a knight of Charlemagne and fought alongside the Frankish emperor during the wars against the Saracens and Saxons. Over time, the character was adopted into Danish folklore, and his story evolved to reflect Danish national identity and pride.

Hans Christian Andersen’s version of the story places Holger Danske in the deep cellar of Kronenburg Castle, a real castle located in Helsingør, Denmark. The castle was built in the 1420s by King Eric of Pomerania and served as a stronghold and strategic defense point for Denmark during various periods in history. The castle is also known for being the setting of William Shakespeare’s play „Hamlet.“

In Andersen’s tale, Holger Danske becomes a symbol of Danish national identity and pride, embodying the virtues of strength, loyalty, and the ability to rise when the nation is in danger. This fairy tale version emphasizes the power of storytelling and the importance of remembering and honoring one’s history and culture.

Interpretations to fairy tale „Holger Danske“

„Holger Danske“ can be interpreted in several ways, touching on themes such as national identity, loyalty, and the power of storytelling.

National pride and identity: The tale is centered around the legend of Holger Danske, a powerful figure who symbolizes the strength and resilience of Denmark. The story emphasizes the country’s rich history and its heroic figures, evoking a sense of national pride and identity. The grandfather’s stories about Danish heroes show how the past can inspire and give meaning to the present.

Loyalty and dedication: The character of Holger Danske represents unwavering loyalty and dedication to his country. Even in his sleep, he remains ever-ready to defend Denmark in its time of need. The grandfather’s emotional connection to the stories of Danish heroes and his own memories of King Frederick demonstrate the importance of remaining loyal and dedicated to one’s roots.

The power of storytelling: The fairy tale shows how storytelling can connect generations and preserve the memory of historical figures and events. Through the grandfather’s stories, the grandson learns about Danish history and culture, allowing these legends to live on in his imagination. The wooden carving of Holger Danske serves as a tangible representation of this oral tradition, further emphasizing the power of storytelling.

Balance of strength and gentleness: The tale highlights the importance of balancing strength with gentleness and love. The Danish coat of arms, with its lions and hearts, symbolizes both power and tenderness. The story suggests that true strength lies not only in physical prowess but also in wisdom, love, and compassion.

Hope and belief in a brighter future: The legend of Holger Danske provides a sense of hope and optimism for the future, as the hero will awaken when needed to protect Denmark. The grandfather’s belief that his grandson might witness the awakening of Holger Danske suggests a faith in the continued strength and resilience of the Danish people.

Summary of the plot

„Holger Danske“ is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen that tells the story of an ancient Danish warrior, Holger Danske, who lies asleep in the cellar of Kronenburg Castle. He dreams of everything happening in Denmark, and every Christmas Eve, an angel informs him that all is well in the kingdom, and he can continue to rest. However, if Denmark ever faces grave danger, Holger Danske will awaken and strike a blow so powerful it will be heard across the world.

The tale unfolds as a grandfather tells the story to his grandson while carving a wooden figure of Holger Danske for the prow of a ship. The grandfather shares stories of other Danish heroes and legends, highlighting their courage, gentleness, and love. As the evening progresses, the grandfather thinks about these figures and becomes emotional, especially when remembering King Frederick, a wise and gentle leader he once knew. The old man expresses hope that the sleeping Holger Danske will awaken in the future to protect Denmark.

The grandson, inspired by these stories, goes to bed dreaming of Holger Danske, while the grandfather completes his carving. As the family shares supper, the wooden figure casts a large, lifelike shadow on the wall, as if Holger Danske is standing among them. The tale ends with a reaffirmation that Holger Danske will indeed awaken in the hour of Denmark’s need, proving that strength and energy remain within the legendary hero.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, NL
Readability Index by Björnsson36.4
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index71.8
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level9.5
Gunning Fog Index11.8
Coleman–Liau Index8.4
SMOG Index9.8
Automated Readability Index10.5
Character Count9.326
Letter Count7.226
Sentence Count70
Word Count1.757
Average Words per Sentence25,10
Words with more than 6 letters199
Percentage of long words11.3%
Number of Syllables2.276
Average Syllables per Word1,30
Words with three Syllables91
Percentage Words with three Syllables5.2%
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