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On Judgment Day
Grimm Märchen

On Judgment Day - Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Andersen

Reading time for children: 11 min

The most solemn of all the days of our life is the day we die. It is judgment day, the great sacred day of transfiguration. Have you really seriously given a fleeting thought to that grave and mighty last hour we shall spend on earth?

There was once a man, a stanch upholder of truth, as he was called, to whom the word of his God was law, a zealous servant of his zealous God. With a stern but heavenly look, the Angel of Death stood at his bedside.

„The hour has come. You shall follow me!“ said Death, and touched the man’s feet with ice-cold fingers, and his feet became like ice. Then Death touched his forehead, and lastly his heart, and when it burst, the soul was free to follow the Angel of Death.

But during those brief seconds while the icy touch shivered through feet and head and heart, there passed through the mind of the dying man, like great ocean waves, the recollection of all he had wrought and felt throughout his life. So does one terrified glance into a whirlpool reveal in thought as swift as lightning the whole unfathomable depth of it. So with one fleeting glance at the countless stars of heaven can one conceive the infinite multitude of worlds and spheres in the great universe.

In such a moment the terrified sinner shrinks into himself and has nothing to cling to, and he feels himself shrinking further into infinite emptiness. And at such times the devout soul bows its head to the Almighty and yields itself up to Him in childlike trust, praying, „Thy will be done with me!“

But this dying man had not the mind of a child, nor was he a terrified sinner. His thoughts were of self-praise. He knew that he had abided by religious traditions. Millions, he knew, would have to face judgment. But he believed most confidently that his path would lead straight heavenward, and that mercy, promised to all men, would open the gates to him.

And the soul followed the Angel of Death, casting only one wistful glance back at the bed where, in its white shroud, lay the lifeless image of clay, still bearing the print of the soul’s individuality.

Now they hovered through the air, now glided along the ground. Were they passing through a vast, decorated hall, or perchance a forest? It was hard to tell. Nature appeared formally set out for show, as in the stately, artificial, old French gardens, and through its strange, carefully arranged scenes there passed many men and women, all clad as if for a masquerade.

„Such is human life!“ spoke the Angel of Death.

It seemed as if the figures tried to disguise themselves; those who flaunted the glories of velvet and gold were not always the noblest and the richest, neither were all those who wore the garb of poverty the most wretched and vulgar. A strange masquerade indeed! And most strange of all was to see how each one carefully concealed under his clothing something he would not have the others discover. Each was determined to learn his neighbor‘ secret, and they tore at one another until here and there the heads of different animals were bared. One was that of a grinning ape, another the head of a goat, still others a clammy snake and a feeble fish.

In all was some token of the animal which is fast rooted in human nature, and which here was struggling and jumping to burst forth. And however closely a person might hold his garment over it to hide it, the others would never rest until they had torn aside the veil, and all kept crying out, „Look here! See! It is he! It is she! and everyone mockingly laid bare his fellow’s shame.

„Then what was the animal in me?“ inquired the soul.

The Angel of Death silently pointed to a haughty form around whose head spread a bright glory of rays, with shining colors, but in whose heart could be seen lurking, half hidden, the feet of a peacock.

The spreading glory above was merely the speckled tail of the peacock.

As they passed on, huge birds shrieked horribly at them from the boughs of trees. In voices harsh but clear, intelligible, and human, they cried, „You who walk with Death, do you remember me?“ All the evil thoughts and lusts that had lurked within the man from birth to death now called after him in forbidding tones, „Do you remember me?“

For a moment the soul shuddered, for it recognized the voices. It could not deny knowledge of the evil thoughts and desires that were now rising as witnesses against it.

„In our flesh, in our evil nature, nothing good lives!“ said the soul. „But, at least with me, thoughts never turned into action. The world has not seen their evil fruit!“

The soul rushed on to escape the ugly screams, but the huge black birds swept in circles, screaming out their vicious words louder and louder, as though they wished to be heard to the ends of the world. The soul fled like a hunted stag, and at every step stumbled against sharp flint stones, painfully cutting his feet on them. „How came these sharp stones here? They seem like mere withered leaves lying on the ground.“

„Each stone is some careless word you have spoken, which wounded your neighbor’s heart far more deeply than these sharp flints that now hurt your feet.“

„I never thought of that!“ cried the soul.

„Judge not, that ye be not judged!“ rang through the air.

In a moment the soul recovered from its self-abasement. „We have all sinned. But I have kept the Law and the Gospel. I have done what I could do. I am not like the others.“

And then he stood at the gates of heaven itself, and the Angel who guarded the entrance asked, „Who are you? Tell me your faith, and show it to me in your works.“

„I have faithfully kept all the Commandments,“ replied the soul proudly. „I have humbled myself in the eyes of the world. I have hated and persecuted evil and those who practice it, and I would do so still, with fire and sword, had I yet the power.“

„Then you are a follower of Mohammed?“ said the Angel.

„I? Never!“

„‚He who strikes with the sword shall perish by the sword,‘ thus spoke the Son. His religion you do not have. Are you then perchance one of the children of Israel, who with Moses said: ‚An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth?‘ “

„I am a Christian.“

„I see it neither in your faith nor in your actions! The teaching of Christ is forgiveness, love, and mercy!“

„Mercy!“ The echo of this rang through infinite space, the gates of heaven opened, and the soul hovered toward the realms of eternal bliss.

But the flood of light that streamed forth from within was so dazzling, so penetrating, that the soul shrank back as from a double-edged sword. And the sound of music was so soft and touching that no mortal tongue could describe it. The soul trembled and prostrated itself lower and lower, and the celestial light cut through it until it felt, as it had never felt before, the weight of its own pride and cruelty and sin.

„Whatever good I have done in the world, I did because I could not do otherwise; but the evil that I did-that was of myself!“

And more and more the soul was dazzled and overwhelmed by the pure light of heaven. It seemed falling into a bottomless abyss-the abyss of its own nakedness and unworthiness. Shrunk into itself, humbled, cast out, unfit for the Kingdom of Heaven, trembling at the thought of the just and holy God, hardly dared it to gasp, „Mercy!“

And the Angel of Mercy came to him-the mercy he had not expected; and in the infinite space of heaven, God’s everlasting love filled the soul.

„Holy, loving, glorious forever shalt thou be, O erring human spirit!“ sang the chorus of angels. And as this soul did, so shall we all, on our last day on earth, humbly tremble in the glorious sight of the Kingdom of Heaven. But the infinite love and mercy of our Heavenly Father will carry us through other spheres, so that, purified and strengthened, we may ascend into God’s eternal light.

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „On judgment day“

„On Judgment Day“ is a lesser-known fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. The story does not have any specific historical or cultural background that influenced its creation, and it is not based on any existing folklore or myth. Instead, it is a product of Andersen’s imagination and his contemplation on themes of judgment, morality, and human nature.

The tale may have been influenced by Andersen’s religious beliefs and his reflections on the Christian concept of judgment day. The story also echoes some of the themes found in other Andersen’s works, such as the exploration of human nature and the consequences of one’s actions.

In this tale, Andersen uses the concept of judgment day as a backdrop to illustrate the importance of kindness, compassion, and understanding in the face of judgment. As with many of his stories, „On Judgment Day“ serves as a moral lesson to remind readers to be mindful of their actions and to treat others with kindness and empathy.

Interpretations to fairy tale „On judgment day“

„On Judgment Day“ by Hans Christian Andersen offers several interpretations and themes that resonate with readers:

Moral accountability: The central theme of the story is the idea that every person is held accountable for their actions, regardless of their social status or wealth. The judgment day serves as a metaphor for the ultimate reckoning when all deeds, good or bad, are evaluated, and individuals face the consequences.

Compassion and empathy: The tale emphasizes the importance of showing kindness, understanding, and empathy towards others. It suggests that one should not judge others based on superficial appearances or social status but rather acknowledge their individual experiences and hardships.

The power of redemption: The story also highlights the power of redemption and forgiveness. Even those who have committed wrongdoings can seek forgiveness and change their ways, making amends for their past actions.

The relativity of good and evil: Andersen’s tale demonstrates that good and evil are not always clear-cut categories. People can have both positive and negative qualities, and even those who seem to be righteous may have hidden faults or vices. This idea invites readers to reflect on the complexity of human nature and the necessity of considering context when assessing a person’s character.

The importance of introspection: „On Judgment Day“ encourages readers to reflect on their actions and moral choices. By contemplating the concept of judgment day, readers are reminded to examine their behavior and consider the impact of their actions on others.

In summary, „On Judgment Day“ serves as a cautionary tale that reminds readers of the importance of moral accountability, compassion, empathy, redemption, and introspection.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „On judgment day“

There do not appear to be any well-known adaptations of Hans Christian Andersen’s „On Judgment Day“ in terms of film, television, or theater. This may be due to the story’s more somber themes and its focus on moral accountability, which might not have as much broad appeal as some of Andersen’s other fairy tales. However, it is possible that the story has been adapted in smaller, more localized productions or as part of compilations of Andersen’s works. Additionally, it may have been used as inspiration or reference material in academic or religious contexts.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „On judgment day“

„On Judgment Day“ has inspired several adaptations in various media, including:

Film adaptations: The story has been adapted into several films, including the 1946 Danish film „Peters baby“ and the 1987 Soviet animated film „The Wild Swans“.

Literary adaptations: The story has also been adapted into several literary works, including the children’s book „The Ugly Duckling“ by Jerry Pinkney, which uses the story’s themes of social inequality and transformation to tell the story of a young duckling who is ostracized for being different.

Musical adaptations: The story has inspired several musical adaptations, including the opera „The Wild Swans“ by British composer Oliver Knussen, which premiered in 1989.

Visual art adaptations: The story has also been the inspiration for several visual art pieces, including the painting „The Wild Swans“ by American artist Anne Anderson, which depicts the swan helping Peter on his journey.

Modern retellings: The story has also been reimagined in modern contexts, such as the young adult novel „Swan Boy“ by Nikki Sheehan, which follows a boy who is bullied at school and befriends a swan who helps him find his voice.

These adaptations demonstrate the enduring appeal and relevance of „On Judgment Day“ as a story that explores themes of social justice, empathy, and the interconnectedness of all living beings.

Summary of the plot

„On Judgment Day“ is a short and somber tale by Hans Christian Andersen that focuses on the themes of morality, accountability, and judgment. The story begins with two different scenarios: a king who rules with an iron fist and an artist who creates beautiful, inspiring paintings.

On Judgment Day, both the king and the artist are called to face judgment. The king is held accountable for his actions, which have caused great suffering to his people. He is condemned for his deeds, and a voice proclaims that his kingdom will fall.

Meanwhile, the artist is praised for his work, as his paintings have inspired and uplifted people. His art, which showcases the beauty of life and creation, has had a positive impact on the world. The artist is commended for his contributions, and it is said that his work will continue to live on and bring joy to others.

The story serves as a reminder that everyone will face judgment for their actions, and it highlights the importance of leaving a positive and meaningful legacy.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „On judgment day“

„On Judgment Day“ is a fairy tale by the famous Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, known for his extensive collection of fairy tales and stories for children. Born on April 2, 1805, in Odense, Denmark, Andersen’s stories have been translated into more than 150 languages and have become an essential part of the literary canon.

While „On Judgment Day“ is not as well-known as some of his other works, such as „The Little Mermaid,“ „The Ugly Duckling,“ or „The Emperor’s New Clothes,“ it still carries the hallmarks of Andersen’s style, blending fantastical elements with moral lessons and introspective themes.

Hans Christian Andersen’s stories often contain elements of Christian faith and morality, reflecting his own religious upbringing. In „On Judgment Day,“ Andersen explores themes of self-reflection, humility, and divine mercy, using the protagonist’s journey with the Angel of Death as an allegory for the importance of understanding one’s true nature and seeking forgiveness.

The story is written in a prose narrative style, with vivid descriptions and a clear moral message. It serves as a reminder for readers to examine their inner selves, practice humility, and embrace love, forgiveness, and mercy in their lives. Andersen’s timeless tales continue to captivate readers of all ages, transcending cultural and linguistic barriers and resonating with universal human experiences and emotions.

Interpretations to fairy tale „On judgment day“

„On Judgment Day“ offers several interpretations that explore themes of self-awareness, humility, and divine mercy. Some possible interpretations of the story include:

The importance of self-awareness: The tale illustrates how individuals often focus on their external actions without acknowledging the hidden motives and intentions that drive them. By examining one’s inner self, individuals can identify their shortcomings and work towards personal growth.

The consequences of pride: The protagonist’s pride in his strict adherence to religious laws and his perceived superiority over others blinds him to the true teachings of Christianity. This emphasizes the importance of humility and understanding that one’s actions should be motivated by love and compassion, rather than pride and self-righteousness.

The power of divine mercy: Despite the protagonist’s arrogance and self-centeredness, the Angel of Mercy grants him the mercy he did not expect. This underscores the idea that divine mercy is available to everyone, even those who feel unworthy or undeserving, as long as they genuinely repent and seek forgiveness.

The true meaning of faith: The story highlights the difference between mere adherence to religious traditions and a genuine understanding of spiritual teachings. The protagonist’s actions may have aligned with religious laws, but his lack of empathy and forgiveness shows a disconnect from the core values of Christianity.

The transformative nature of divine love: The overwhelming experience of divine light and love at the gates of heaven leads the protagonist to a profound realization of his own unworthiness. This demonstrates the power of divine love to transform and purify souls, guiding them towards spiritual growth and ascension.

In summary, „On Judgment Day“ serves as a reminder to examine our inner selves, practice humility, and embrace the teachings of love, forgiveness, and mercy in our lives. It emphasizes that divine love and mercy are available to all, even those who feel unworthy, as long as they sincerely seek it.

Summary of the plot

„On Judgment Day“ is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen that explores themes of self-reflection, humility, and mercy. The story begins with the death of a devout man, known for his adherence to religious traditions. As the Angel of Death appears to escort his soul, the man is confident that his good deeds will secure him a place in heaven.

During their journey, the man and the Angel of Death observe a masquerade, representing the various disguises and hidden animalistic aspects of human nature. The man is shown the peacock within himself, representing his pride. They then encounter black birds, embodiments of the man’s evil thoughts and lusts. The Angel of Death also reveals that the sharp flint stones causing the man pain are manifestations of the careless words that hurt others during his life.

Upon reaching the gates of heaven, the man is questioned about his faith and actions. He boasts about his strict adherence to religious laws and his efforts to eradicate evil. The guardian angel points out that his beliefs are not aligned with the teachings of Christ, which promote forgiveness, love, and mercy. The man is momentarily humbled but still insists that he is deserving of heaven.

As the gates of heaven open, the man’s soul is overwhelmed by the divine light and music. He realizes the weight of his pride, cruelty, and sin, and feels unworthy of entering heaven. In this humbled state, he pleads for mercy. The Angel of Mercy comes to him, offering the mercy he did not expect, and God’s everlasting love fills his soul.

The tale concludes with a reminder that all humans will experience this humbling moment on their judgment day, but through God’s infinite love and mercy, they will be carried through other spheres, ultimately ascending into God’s eternal light.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, NL
Readability Index by Björnsson30.3
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index80.3
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level5.8
Gunning Fog Index8.3
Coleman–Liau Index9.3
SMOG Index8.7
Automated Readability Index6.3
Character Count7.883
Letter Count6.090
Sentence Count94
Word Count1.427
Average Words per Sentence15,18
Words with more than 6 letters216
Percentage of long words15.1%
Number of Syllables1.874
Average Syllables per Word1,31
Words with three Syllables84
Percentage Words with three Syllables5.9%
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