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The Child in the Grave
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The Child in the Grave - Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Andersen

Reading time for children: 13 min

It was a very sad day, and every heart in the house felt the deepest grief. For the youngest child, a boy of four years old, the joy and hope of his parents, was dead. Two daughters, the elder of whom was going to be confirmed, still remained: they were both good, charming girls; but the lost child always seems the dearest; and when it is youngest, and a son, it makes the trial still more heavy. The sisters mourned as young hearts can mourn, and were especially grieved at the sight of their parents‘ sorrow. The father’s heart was bowed down, but the mother sunk completely under the deep grief. Day and night she had attended to the sick child, nursing and carrying it in her bosom, as a part of herself. She could not realize the fact that the child was dead, and must be laid in a coffin to rest in the ground. She thought God could not take her darling little one from her; and when it did happen notwithstanding her hopes and her belief, and there could be no more doubt on the subject, she said in her feverish agony, „God does not know it. He has hard-hearted ministering spirits on earth, who do according to their own will, and heed not a mother’s prayers.“ Thus in her great grief she fell away from her faith in God, and dark thoughts arose in her mind respecting death and a future state. She tried to believe that man was but dust, and that with his life all existence ended. But these doubts were no support to her, nothing on which she could rest, and she sunk into the fathomless depths of despair. In her darkest hours she ceased to weep, and thought not of the young daughters who were still left to her. The tears of her husband fell on her forehead, but she took no notice of him. Her thoughts were with her dead child. Her whole existence seemed wrapped up in the remembrances of the little one and of every innocent word it had uttered.

The day of the little child’s funeral came. For nights previously the mother had not slept, but in the morning twilight of this day she sunk from weariness into a deep sleep. In the mean time the coffin was carried into a distant room, and there nailed down, that she might not hear the blows of the hammer. When she awoke, and wanted to see her child, the husband, with tears, said, „We have closed the coffin. It was necessary to do so.“

„When God is so hard to me, how can I expect men to be better?“ she said with groans and tears.

The coffin was carried to the grave, and the disconsolate mother sat with her young daughters. She looked at them, but she saw them not. For her thoughts were far away from the domestic hearth. She gave herself up to her grief, and it tossed her to and fro, as the sea tosses a ship without compass or rudder. So the day of the funeral passed away, and similar days followed, of dark, wearisome pain. With tearful eyes and mournful glances, the sorrowing daughters and the afflicted husband looked upon her who would not hear their words of comfort; and, indeed, what comforting words could they speak, when they were themselves so full of grief? It seemed as if she would never again know sleep, and yet it would have been her best friend, one who would have strengthened her body and poured peace into her soul. They at last persuaded her to lie down, and then she would lie as still as if she slept.

One night, when her husband listened, as he often did, to her breathing, he quite believed that she had at length found rest and relief in sleep. He folded his arms and prayed, and soon sunk himself into healthful sleep; therefore he did not notice that his wife arose, threw on her clothes, and glided silently from the house, to go where her thoughts constantly lingered– to the grave of her child. She passed through the garden, to a path across a field that led to the churchyard. No one saw her as she walked, nor did she see any one. For her eyes were fixed upon the one object of her wanderings. It was a lovely starlight night in the beginning of September, and the air was mild and still. She entered the churchyard, and stood by the little grave, which looked like a large nosegay of fragrant flowers. She sat down, and bent her head low over the grave, as if she could see her child through the earth that covered him– her little boy, whose smile was so vividly before her, and the gentle expression of whose eyes, even on his sick-bed, she could not forget. How full of meaning that glance had been, as she leaned over him, holding in hers the pale hand which he had no longer strength to raise! As she had sat by his little cot, so now she sat by his grave; and here she could weep freely, and her tears fell upon it.

„Thou wouldst gladly go down and be with thy child,“ said a voice quite close to her,– a voice that sounded so deep and clear, that it went to her heart.

She looked up, and by her side stood a man wrapped in a black cloak, with a hood closely drawn over his face; but her keen glance could distinguish the face under the hood. It was stern, yet awakened confidence, and the eyes beamed with youthful radiance.

„Down to my child,“ she repeated; and tones of despair and entreaty sounded in the words.

„Darest thou to follow me?“ asked the form. „I am Death.“

She bowed her head in token of assent. Then suddenly it appeared as if all the stars were shining with the radiance of the full moon on the many-colored flowers that decked the grave. The earth that covered it was drawn back like a floating drapery. She sunk down, and the spectre covered her with a black cloak; night closed around her, the night of death. She sank deeper than the spade of the sexton could penetrate, till the churchyard became a roof above her. Then the cloak was removed, and she found herself in a large hall, of wide-spreading dimensions, in which there was a subdued light, like twilight, reigning, and in a moment her child appeared before her, smiling, and more beautiful than ever; with a silent cry she pressed him to her heart. A glorious strain of music sounded– now distant, now near. Never had she listened to such tones as these. They came from beyond a large dark curtain which separated the regions of death from the land of eternity.

„My sweet, darling mother,“ she heard the child say. It was the well-known, beloved voice; and kiss followed kiss, in boundless delight. Then the child pointed to the dark curtain. „There is nothing so beautiful on earth as it is here. Mother, do you not see them all? Oh, it is happiness indeed.“

But the mother saw nothing of what the child pointed out, only the dark curtain. She looked with earthly eyes, and could not see as the child saw,– he whom God has called to be with Himself. She could hear the sounds of music, but she heard not the words, the Word in which she was to trust.

„I can fly now, mother,“ said the child; „I can fly with other happy children into the presence of the Almighty. I would fain fly away now; but if you weep for me as you are weeping now, you may never see me again. And yet I would go so gladly. May I not fly away? And you will come to me soon, will you not, dear mother?“

„Oh, stay, stay!“ implored the mother; „only one moment more; only once more, that I may look upon thee, and kiss thee, and press thee to my heart.“

Then she kissed and fondled her child. Suddenly her name was called from above. What could it mean? her name uttered in a plaintive voice.

„Hearest thou?“ said the child. „It is my father who calls thee.“ And in a few moments deep sighs were heard, as of children weeping. „They are my sisters,“ said the child. „Mother, surely you have not forgotten them.“

And then she remembered those she left behind, and a great terror came over her. She looked around her at the dark night. Dim forms flitted by. She seemed to recognize some of them, as they floated through the regions of death towards the dark curtain, where they vanished. Would her husband and her daughters flit past? No. Their sighs and lamentations still sounded from above; and she had nearly forgotten them, for the sake of him who was dead.

„Mother, now the bells of heaven are ringing,“ said the child; „mother, the sun is going to rise.“

An overpowering light streamed in upon her, the child had vanished, and she was being borne upwards. All around her became cold. She lifted her head, and saw that she was lying in the churchyard, on the grave of her child. The Lord, in a dream, had been a guide to her feet and a light to her spirit. She bowed her knees, and prayed for forgiveness. She had wished to keep back a soul from its immortal flight. She had forgotten her duties towards the living who were left her. And when she had offered this prayer, her heart felt lighter. The sun burst forth, over her head a little bird carolled his song, and the church-bells sounded for the early service. Everything around her seemed holy, and her heart was chastened. She acknowledged the goodness of God, she acknowledged the duties she had to perform, and eagerly she returned home. She bent over her husband, who still slept. Her warm, devoted kiss awakened him, and words of heartfelt love fell from the lips of both. Now she was gentle and strong as a wife can be; and from her lips came the words of faith: „Whatever He doeth is right and best.“

Then her husband asked, „From whence hast thou all at once derived such strength and comforting faith?“

And as she kissed him and her children, she said, „It came from God, through my child in the grave.“

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „The child in the grave“

„The Child in the Grave“ is a poignant tale by Hans Christian Andersen that reflects on themes of grief, loss, and the pain of losing a child. It was first published in 1859. The story is not as well-known as some of Andersen’s other tales, possibly due to its somber tone and subject matter.

The background of the story likely stems from Andersen’s own experiences with loss and the emotional turmoil that people endure when faced with the death of a loved one. Throughout his life, Andersen was acquainted with grief, having lost many people he cared about, including his parents and close friends. His stories often touch upon themes of death, pain, and human suffering, providing a deeper insight into the human psyche.

„The Child in the Grave“ delves into the emotional experience of losing a child, exploring the feelings of a mother who is struggling to come to terms with her child’s death. It is a profound and powerful narrative that showcases Andersen’s ability to empathize with human suffering and to portray the depth of human emotions. The story may also reflect the Victorian-era fascination with death and the mourning rituals of the time.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The child in the grave“

„The Child in the Grave“ by Hans Christian Andersen is a story that explores themes of grief, loss, and acceptance. The tale primarily centers around a mother’s emotional journey as she copes with the death of her young child. There are a few key interpretations that can be drawn from this somber tale:

The grieving process: The story delves into the raw emotions and internal struggles experienced by the mother, who must come to terms with her child’s death. This tale highlights the different stages of grief and the personal journey that people go through when faced with a deep loss.

The power of faith and hope: As the mother grieves, she eventually finds solace and acceptance through her faith. This interpretation suggests that faith and hope can help people navigate the darkest moments of their lives and find comfort in the belief that their loved ones are in a better place.

The resilience of the human spirit: Despite her immense grief, the mother finds the strength to keep living and move forward, ultimately reaching a point of acceptance. This interpretation highlights the resilience of the human spirit, emphasizing our ability to overcome tragedy and find meaning in life again.

The fleeting nature of life: The tale also reminds readers that life is fragile and fleeting, urging them to cherish the moments they have with their loved ones.

Overall, „The Child in the Grave“ is a touching and thought-provoking story that explores the depths of human emotion, grief, and the journey towards acceptance and healing.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The child in the grave“

While „The Child in the Grave“ is a lesser-known work of Hans Christian Andersen, it has been adapted into different formats over the years. A few examples include:

Theater productions: There have been stage adaptations of the story, with theater companies presenting the emotional tale as a one-act play or as a part of a collection of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories. These productions typically focus on the intense emotions and the journey of the grieving mother.

Radio dramas: The story has also been adapted for radio, with voice actors and narrators bringing the characters and their emotions to life through their performances. In some cases, sound effects and music are used to enhance the emotional impact of the tale.

Short films: Independent filmmakers have occasionally adapted „The Child in the Grave“ into short films, focusing on the visual representation of the mother’s grief and her journey towards acceptance. These adaptations often use cinematography and visual storytelling to convey the depth of the mother’s sorrow and the themes of the story.

Literature: The story has been included in various collections and anthologies of Hans Christian Andersen’s works, sometimes accompanied by illustrations to visually represent the emotions and events of the tale.

While „The Child in the Grave“ may not have the widespread popularity of some of Andersen’s other fairy tales, its emotional depth and powerful themes continue to resonate with audiences through various adaptations.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The child in the grave“

„The Child in the Grave“ has been adapted in various forms over the years. Here are a few examples of adaptations:

Opera: In 1863, the composer Niels Gade created an opera based on „The Child in the Grave.“ The opera, which was titled „Comala,“ was first performed in Copenhagen and was well-received by audiences.

Film: In 1995, the German director Johannes Schaaf created a film adaptation of „The Child in the Grave.“ The film, which was titled „Das Zauberbuch,“ features a young boy who discovers a magical book that leads him on a journey to a mysterious grave.

Picture book: In 2003, the author and illustrator Eugene Yelchin created a picture book adaptation of „The Child in the Grave.“ The book features Yelchin’s distinctive illustrations and retells the story in a way that is accessible to young readers.

Ballet: In 2010, the choreographer Wayne McGregor created a ballet based on „The Child in the Grave.“ The ballet, which was titled „Infra,“ was performed by the Royal Ballet in London and explores themes of loss and grief.

Musical theater: In 2017, the composer and playwright Peter Danish created a musical adaptation of „The Child in the Grave.“ The musical, which was titled „The Grave,“ tells the story of a young boy who is buried alive and must find a way to escape before it’s too late.

Overall, „The Child in the Grave“ has proven to be a rich source of inspiration for artists and creators of all kinds, and its themes of death, grief, and the afterlife continue to resonate with audiences today.

Summary of the plot

„The Child in the Grave“ is a poignant and emotional fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen that delves into themes of grief, loss, and healing. The story revolves around a mother who is devastated by the death of her young child.

The mother is inconsolable in her grief and cannot come to terms with the loss of her child. She becomes fixated on the thought of her child lying cold and alone in the grave. Unable to bear the pain, she decides to visit the graveyard at night to dig up her child’s coffin.

As she starts to dig, she hears angelic singing coming from the ground. Four spirits of the night appear, each holding a torch that represents different phases of the child’s life: infancy, childhood, adolescence, and old age. The spirits discuss the fate of the child, revealing that the child’s life would have been full of suffering, sorrow, and hardship. They assure the mother that her child is now safe and at peace in heaven, free from the pain that life would have brought.

The mother realizes that the child’s death was a mercy and that her child is in a better place. The experience helps her come to terms with her loss and find solace in the knowledge that her child is at peace. The story ends with the mother returning home, comforted by the thought that her child is now with God, watching over her from heaven.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „The child in the grave“

„The Child in the Grave“ is a short story written by the renowned Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. Born on April 2, 1805, and passing away on August 4, 1875, Andersen is best known for his timeless fairy tales, which have been translated into multiple languages and have captivated the hearts of both children and adults worldwide. Some of his most famous works include „The Little Mermaid,“ „The Ugly Duckling,“ „The Emperor’s New Clothes,“ and „The Snow Queen.“

While Andersen’s tales often involve magical elements and fantastical creatures, they frequently explore profound themes that touch upon universal human experiences and emotions. Many of his stories contain moral lessons or messages of hope, which still resonate with contemporary audiences.

„The Child in the Grave“ was first published in 1859, as part of a collection called „Fairy Tales Told for Children. New Collection. Third Booklet.“ Unlike some of his other stories, this tale does not contain overtly fantastical elements; instead, it delves into the realms of grief, faith, and personal growth. The story serves as an exploration of the human experience of loss and the challenges of coming to terms with the death of a loved one.

The narrative’s emotional depth and poignant themes have made it an enduring work that continues to be relevant and moving for readers today.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The child in the grave“

„The Child in the Grave“ can be interpreted in several ways, with themes such as faith, grief, acceptance, and the importance of family:

Faith and Divine Intervention: The mother’s crisis of faith following her child’s death showcases how grief can challenge one’s beliefs. Through her dream, God sends her a message that helps her regain her faith and accept the loss of her child. This interpretation highlights the importance of faith in overcoming adversity and finding solace in divine intervention.

Grieving Process: The story provides a raw and honest portrayal of a mother’s grief. The mother’s emotional journey, from denial and anger to acceptance and renewal of faith, exemplifies the grieving process many people experience when faced with a devastating loss. The story can be interpreted as an exploration of the human struggle to come to terms with death and find a new normal in the aftermath.

The Importance of Family: The mother’s all-consuming grief causes her to neglect her husband and daughters, almost leading to the disintegration of her family. Her dream serves as a reminder that she must cherish her living family members and fulfill her responsibilities towards them. This interpretation underscores the importance of valuing the relationships we have with our loved ones, even in the face of loss.

Acceptance and Personal Growth: Ultimately, the story is about the mother’s journey towards acceptance of her child’s death and personal growth. Through her experiences in the realm of death, she learns to let go of her son and finds the strength to move forward in life. This interpretation highlights the transformative power of acceptance and the potential for personal growth even in the darkest moments.

In summary, „The Child in the Grave“ offers various interpretations that revolve around themes of faith, grief, acceptance, and the importance of family. The story encourages readers to find solace in their beliefs, cherish their loved ones, and embrace personal growth even in the face of tragedy.

Summary of the plot

„The Child in the Grave“ by Hans Christian Andersen tells the story of a mother’s deep sorrow and despair after losing her four-year-old son, the youngest and dearest of her three children. Unable to accept her son’s death, she questions her faith in God and becomes consumed by grief, neglecting her husband and two daughters.

One night, she goes to her son’s grave and meets Death, who takes her to a realm between the world of the living and the land of eternity. There, she reunites with her deceased son, who is more beautiful and happy than ever. He tells her that he can fly with other happy children in the presence of the Almighty, but her continuous weeping might prevent them from ever seeing each other again.

While in the realm, she hears her husband and daughters calling her name and weeping. She suddenly remembers her responsibilities towards them and fears losing them as well. As the sun rises, the mother finds herself back in the churchyard, lying on her son’s grave. She realizes that her experience was a dream sent by God to guide her and remind her of her duties to her living family.

She returns home with a newfound strength and faith, acknowledging God’s goodness and the importance of cherishing her loved ones. When asked by her husband about her sudden transformation, she attributes it to the wisdom and guidance she received from God through her child in the grave.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
TranslationsDE, EN, ES
Readability Index by Björnsson29.9
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index83
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level5.8
Gunning Fog Index8.4
Coleman–Liau Index8.7
SMOG Index8.3
Automated Readability Index6.4
Character Count9.506
Letter Count7.352
Sentence Count107
Word Count1.769
Average Words per Sentence16,53
Words with more than 6 letters237
Percentage of long words13.4%
Number of Syllables2.239
Average Syllables per Word1,27
Words with three Syllables83
Percentage Words with three Syllables4.7%
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