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The Candles
Grimm Märchen

The Candles - Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Andersen

Reading time for children: 7 min

There was once a big wax candle who had the highest opinion of his merits. „I,“ he said, „am made of the purest wax, cast in the best mold. I burn more brilliantly than any other candle, and I outlast them all. I belong in the high chandelier or the silver candlestick.“

„What a delightful life you must lead,“ the tallow candle admitted. „I am only tallow. Just a tallow dip. But it’s a comfort to think how much better off I am than the taper. He’s only dipped twice, while I am dipped eight times to make a thick and respectable candle of me. I’m satisfied. To be sure it would be better to be born of wax than of tallow, and a lucky thing to be shaped in a mold, but one isn’t asked how he wants to be born.

Your place is in the big rooms with glass chandeliers. Mine is in the kitchen. But kitchen is a good place too. All the food in the house comes from there.“ -„There are more important things in the world than food,“ the wax candle boasted. „There’s the glitter of good society in which I shine. Why, I and all my family are invited to a ball that’s being given here this very evening.“

No sooner had he said this than all the wax candles were sent for. But the tallow candle was not left behind. The mistress of the house took it in her own hand and carried it to the kitchen, where a poor boy waited with his basket full of potatoes and a few apples that she had given him. „And here’s a candle for you too, my little friend,“ she told him. „Your mother can use it to work by when she sits up late at night.“

The lady’s small daughter stood close beside her mother, and when she heard the magic words „late at night,“ she forgot to be shy. “ I’m going to stay up late tonight too!“ she exclaimed. “ We are to have a ball this evening, and I’m to wear my big red ribbon.“ No candle ever could shine like the eyes of a child. „Happiness is a blessed thing to see,“ the tallow candle thought to himself. „I mustn’t forget how it looks, for I certainly shan’t see it again.“ They put him in the basket and closed the lid. Away the boy went with it.

„Where can he be taking me?“ the candle wondered. „I may have to live with poor people who don’t even own a brass candlestick, while the wax candle sits in silver and beams at all the best people. How fine it must be to shine in good company. But this is what I get for being tallow, not wax.“ And the candle did come to live with poor people. They were a widow and her three children, who had a low-ceilinged room across the way from the well-to-do house.

„God bless our neighbor for all that she gave us,“ the widow said. „This good candle will burn far into the night.“ She struck a match to it. „Fut, fie,“ he sputtered. „What a vile smelling match she lights me with. Would anyone offer such a kitchen match to the wax candle, in the well-to-do house across the way?“ There the candles were lighted too. They made the street bright as carriages came rumbling with guests dressed in their best for the ball. The music struck up.

„Now the ball’s beginning.“ The tallow candle burned brighter as he remembered the happy little girl whose face was more shining than the light of all those wax candles. „I’ll never see anything like that again.“ The smallest of the poor children reached up, for she was very small, and put her arms around the necks of her brother and sister. What she had to tell them was so important that it had to be whispered. „Tonight we’re going to have – just think of it – warm potatoes, this very night.“

Her face beamed with happiness and the candle beamed right back at her. He saw happiness again, and a gladness as great as when the little girl in the well-to-do house said, „We’re having a ball this evening, and I’m to wear my red ribbon.“ – „Is it such a treat to get warm potatoes?“ the candle wondered. „Little children must manage to be happy here too.“ He wept tallow tears of joy, and more than that a candle cannot do.

The table was spread and the potatoes were eaten. How good they tasted! It was a real feast. There was an apple for everyone, and the smallest child said grace: „Now thanks, dear Lord, I give to Thee. That Thou again hast filled me. Amen.“ – „And didn’t I say it nicely?“ the little girl asked. „Don’t say such things,“ her mother told her. „Just thank the good Lord for filling you up.“

The children went to bed, were kissed good night, and fell fast asleep. Their mother sat up late and sewed to make a living for them and for herself. From the well-to-do house came light and music. But the stars overhead shone on all the houses, rich or poor, with the same light, clear and kind. „This has been a wonderful evening,“ the tallow candle told himself. „Can the wax candle have had any better time of it in his silver candlestick? I’d like to know that before I’m burned out.“

He remembered the two happy children, one face lighted up by the wax candle, the other shining in the tallow candle’s light. One was happy as the other. Yes, that is the whole story!

Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Candles“

„The Candles“ is a lesser-known fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, a Danish author who lived from 1805 to 1875. Andersen is renowned for his extensive collection of fairy tales that have captivated readers worldwide. He is best known for classics such as „The Little Mermaid,“ „The Ugly Duckling,“ „The Emperor’s New Clothes,“ and „The Snow Queen.“

Andersen’s tales often blend elements of folklore, fantasy, and morality, conveying lessons about life and human nature. Many of his stories explore themes of beauty, love, sacrifice, and self-discovery, and they are known for their emotional depth and symbolism. His works have been translated into numerous languages and adapted into various forms, including plays, films, and ballets.

„The Candles“ is no exception, as it provides a simple yet profound lesson on humility, happiness, and the significance of finding joy and contentment in everyday life. The story, like many of Andersen’s other works, reflects the social norms and values of the 19th-century Danish society in which he lived. This was a time when social class distinctions were evident, and people’s lives were greatly influenced by their socioeconomic status.

Despite being a product of its time, „The Candles“ remains relevant today as it encourages readers to appreciate the simple joys in life, embrace their unique qualities, and understand the universal nature of happiness.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The Candles“

„The Candles“ by Hans Christian Andersen can be interpreted in several ways, with themes that are still relevant today. Some of the interpretations include:

The Importance of Humility: The wax candle’s arrogance and pride in its material composition and social standing serve as a reminder that humility is essential. The tallow candle, though aware of its humble origins, embraces its purpose and finds fulfillment in it. This message encourages readers to be grateful for their unique qualities and contributions to the world, regardless of their social status or wealth.

The Universality of Happiness: The tale illustrates that happiness is not exclusive to wealth or social standing. The wax candle brings joy to the rich family, while the tallow candle illuminates the simple, yet profound happiness of the poor family. This interpretation emphasizes that genuine happiness can be found in modest circumstances and that material wealth is not a prerequisite for contentment.

The Equality of Purpose: Both the wax and tallow candles ultimately serve the same purpose – providing light and warmth. Despite their different social standing and composition, they each play a significant role in bringing joy and happiness to the people around them. This interpretation suggests that every individual, regardless of their background or circumstances, can contribute to the greater good and impact the lives of others positively.

The Power of Perspective: The tallow candle’s ability to see the beauty in the happiness of the poor family highlights the importance of perspective. It teaches the lesson that the ability to appreciate and find joy in the present moment, regardless of the circumstances, is vital for achieving contentment.

In summary, „The Candles“ carries several interpretations that encourage humility, appreciation for the universality of happiness, recognition of the equal importance of individuals despite their background, and the power of perspective in shaping one’s outlook on life.

Summary of the plot

„The Candles“ is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen that revolves around two candles: a grand wax candle and a humble tallow candle. The wax candle boasts about its superiority, destined to shine brightly in the chandelier or silver candlestick. The tallow candle acknowledges its humbler origin but appreciates its purpose in the kitchen. Both candles find themselves witnessing happiness that evening.

The wax candle illuminates a grand ball at a well-to-do house, while the tallow candle is given to a poor boy by the house’s mistress. It ends up in a small room inhabited by a widow and her three children. The candle observes the simple joys of their life, like the excitement of warm potatoes for dinner and the happiness of the children.

As the night unfolds, the tallow candle ponders if the wax candle is experiencing a better time. It reflects on the happiness it has witnessed in both the rich and the poor households and concludes that happiness is not dependent on material wealth or grandeur. Both candles, despite their differences, brought light and happiness to the lives of the children they encountered, proving that joy and contentment can be found in the most modest of circumstances.

Informations for scientific analysis


Fairy tale statistics
Value
Translations DE, EN, DA, ES,
Readability Index by Björnsson20.8
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index88.2
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level3.9
Gunning Fog Index6.3
Coleman–Liau Index7.6
SMOG Index7.1
Automated Readability Index3.2
Character Count5.015
Letter Count3.799
Sentence Count80
Word Count957
Average Words per Sentence11,96
Words with more than 6 letters85
Percentage of long words8.9%
Number of Syllables1.205
Average Syllables per Word1,26
Words with three Syllables37
Percentage Words with three Syllables3.9%

Image sources: © Andrea Danti / Shutterstock

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