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The Comet
Grimm Märchen

The Comet - Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Andersen

Reading time for children: 12 min

Now there came a comet with its shiny nucleus and its menacing tail. People from the great castles and people from the poor huts gazed at it. So did the crowd in the street, and so did the man who went his solitary way across the pathless heath. Everyone had his own thoughts. „Come and look at the omen from heaven. Come out and see this marvelous sight,“ they cried, and everyone hastened to look.

But a little boy and his mother still stayed inside their room. The tallow candle was burning and the mother thought she saw a bit of wood-shaving in the light. The tallow formed a jagged edge around the candle, and then it curled. The mother believed these were signs that her son would soon die. The wood-shaving was circling toward him. This was an old superstition, but she believed it. The little boy lived many more years on earth. Indeed he lived to see the comet return sixty years later.

The boy did not see the wood-shaving in the candle-light, and his thoughts were not about the comet which then, for the first time in his life, shone brightly in the sky. He sat quietly with an earthenware bowl before him. The bowl was filled with soapy water, into which he dipped the head of a clay pipe. Then he put the pipe stem in his mouth, and blew soap bubbles, large and small. They quivered and spun in beautiful colors.

They changed from yellow to red, and from red to purple or blue and then they turned bright green, like leaves when the sun shines through them. The boy’s mother said, „May God grant you many more years on earth – as many years as the bubbles you are blowing.“ – „So many, so many!“ he cried. „I can never blow all the soapy water into bubbles. There goes one year, there goes another one. See how they fly!“ he exclaimed, as bubbles came loose from his pipe and floated away.

A few of them blew into his eye, where they burned, and smarted, and made his tears flow. In every bubble he saw a picture of the future, glimmering and glistening. „This is the time to look at the comet,“ cried their neighbors. „Come outdoors. Don’t sit in your room.“ The mother took her boy by the hand. He had to put aside his clay pipe, and stop playing with the soap bubbles, because there was a comet to see.

The boy saw the bright ball of fire, with its shining tail. Some said it was three yards long, while others insisted it was several million yards long – such a difference. Most of the people who said these things were dead and buried when the comet came again. But the little boy, toward whom the wood-shaving had circled, and of whom his mother thought, „He will soon die,“ still lived on, though he had grown old and his hair was white. „White hairs are the flowers of age,“ the saying goes, and he had many such flowers.

He was an old schoolmaster. The school children thought him very wise and learned, because he knew history, and geography, and all there is to be known about the heavens and the stars. „Everything comes again,“ he said. „If you will pay attention to people and events, you will learn that they always come back. There may be a hundred years between, or many hundreds of years, but once again we shall see the same character, in another coat and in another country.“

And the schoolmaster then told them about William Tell, who was forced to shoot an apple from his son’s head, but before he shot the arrow he hid another one in his shirt, to shoot into the heart of the wicked Gessler. This happened in Switzerland. But many years before, the same thing happened in Denmark to Palnatoke. He too was forced to shoot an apple from his son’s head, and he too hid an arrow in his shirt to avenge the cruelty.

And more than a thousand years before that, the same story was written in Egypt. It happened before and will happen again, just as sure as the comet returns. „Off it flies into space, and is gone for years, but still it comes back.“ He spoke of the comet that was expected, the same comet he had seen as a boy. The schoolmaster knew what went on in the skies, and he thought much about it too, but he did not neglect history and geography.

His garden was laid out in the shape of a map of Denmark. In it grew herbs and flowers which flourished in different parts of the land. „Fetch me peas,“ he said, and they went to the garden bed that represented Laaland. „Fetch me buckwheat,“ he said, and they fetched it from Langeland. Lovely blue gentian was planted in Skagen, and the shining Christthorn in Silkeborg. Towns and cities were marked with small statues.

Here was the dragon and St. Knud, who stood for Odense. Absalon with the bishop’s staff stood for Sorö. The little boat with oars marked the site of Aarhus. In the schoolmaster’s garden you could learn the geography of Denmark, but first you had to be instructed by him and that was a pleasure. Now that the comet was expected again, he told about it, and he told what people had said in the old days when it last was seen.

They had said that a comet year was a good year for wine, and that water could be mixed with this wine without being detected. Therefore the wine merchants thought well of a comet year. For fourteen days and fourteen nights the sky was clouded over. They could not see the comet, and yet it was there. The old schoolmaster sat in his little chamber next to the schoolroom. The old Bornholm clock of his grandfather’s time stood in the corner, though its heavy lead weights moved neither up nor down, nor did its pendulum ever swing.

The little cuckoo, that used to come out to call the passing hours, had long ago stopped doing his duty. The clock neither struck nor ticked. The clock was decidedly out of order. But the old clavichord at which he sat had been made in his parents‘ time, and it still had a tune or two left in it. The strings could still play. Tremulous though they were, they could play for him the melodies of a whole lifetime. As the old man heard them, he remembered many things, both pleasant and sad, that had happened in the long years which had gone by since he was a little boy and saw the comet.

Now that the comet had come again, he remembered what his mother had said about the wood-shaving circling toward him. He remembered the fine soap bubbles he had blown, one for every year of his life he had said as he looked at them glistening and gleaming in wonderful colors. He saw in them all his pleasures and sorrow – everything, both the good and the bad. He saw the child at his play, and the youth with his fancies. His whole life, iridescent and bright, floated before his eyes. And in that splendor he saw his future too, in bubbles of time to come.

First the old man heard from the strings of the clavichord the melodies of times past, and saw the bubbles of years gone by, colored with memories. He heard his grandmother’s knitting song:

„Surely no Amazon
The first stockings knit.“

And then the strings played the songs his old nurse used to sing for him:

„There were so many dangers
In this world to pass through
For people who were young
And only little knew.“

Now the melodies of his first ball were playing, for the minuet and molinasky – soft melancholy tunes that brought tears to the old man’s eyes. A roaring war-march, then a psalm, then happy tunes. The years whirled past as if they were those bubbles he blew when he was a little boy. His eyes were turned towards the window. A cloud billowed across the sky, and as it passed he saw the comet with its shining nucleus and its shining, misty veil.

It seemed to him as though it were only yesterday evening when he had last seen that comet, yet a whole busy lifetime lay between that evening and this. Then he was a child, looking through bubbles into the future. Now those bright bubbles were all behind him. Once more he had a child’s outlook and a child’s faith. His eyes sparkled, and his hands struck the keys. There was the sound of a breaking string.

„Come out and see,“ cried his neighbors. „The comet is here, and the sky is clear. Come out and look!“ The old schoolmaster did not answer. He had gone where he could see more clearly. His soul was on a journey far greater than the comet’s, and the realm to which it went was far more spacious than that in which the comet moved. Again the comet was seen from the high castle and from the lowly hut. The crowd in the street gazed up at it, and so did the man who went his solitary way across the pathless heath. But the schoolmaster’s soul was seen by God, and by those dear ones who had gone before him, and whom he longed to see.

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „The comet“

„The Comet“ is a lesser-known fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, published in 1855. The story explores themes of knowledge, understanding, and the human tendency to make assumptions based on limited information.

In „The Comet,“ Andersen uses the appearance of a comet in the sky as the central motif. At the time when the story was written, comets were mysterious celestial bodies that often caused fear and superstition among the general public. People thought that the appearance of a comet was a bad omen, signifying impending disaster or the end of the world. Scientific understanding of comets was still limited during Andersen’s time, and this lack of knowledge contributed to the fear and speculation surrounding these celestial events.

The story follows the people of a small town as they react to the appearance of a comet in the sky. Each character interprets the comet’s meaning based on their personal beliefs, experiences, and fears. As the town’s residents discuss their interpretations, the story highlights the tendency of humans to jump to conclusions based on incomplete information and demonstrates the importance of seeking knowledge and understanding.

Andersen’s tale ultimately encourages readers to question their assumptions and seek a deeper understanding of the world around them, rather than relying on superstition and fear. Andersen’s stories often contain moral lessons and explore themes such as love, friendship, sacrifice, and the triumph of good over evil. Additionally, his tales often delve into more complex topics like social class, identity, and the passage of time. „The Comet“ is a prime example of this complexity, touching on themes such as life, death, and the cyclical nature of events.

While Andersen’s fairy tales were initially intended for children, their universal appeal and rich symbolism have made them popular among readers of all ages. Over time, his stories have been adapted into various forms, including films, plays, and ballets, demonstrating the enduring impact of Andersen’s unique storytelling and imaginative world.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The comet“

„The Comet“ by Hans Christian Andersen can be interpreted in various ways, reflecting themes of life, death, time, and the cycle of events. Here are some interpretations:

The passage of time: The story highlights the fleeting nature of time and how a person’s life can seem to pass in the blink of an eye. The comet, which appears twice during the protagonist’s life, serves as a reminder of how quickly time passes and how events, both significant and mundane, unfold.

The cyclical nature of life: The story emphasizes that events and characters tend to reappear throughout history, albeit in different forms. The old schoolmaster teaches this concept to his students, suggesting that history and human behavior are characterized by cycles that continually repeat themselves.

Life’s journey and memories: The tale shows that an individual’s life is filled with various experiences, both joyful and sorrowful. The protagonist’s memories, evoked by the tunes he plays on the clavichord, represent the range of emotions and events that make up a person’s life. The soap bubbles that the young boy blows symbolize the delicate and ephemeral nature of these memories and experiences.

The inevitability of death and the afterlife: The story acknowledges the universal truth that death comes to everyone, regardless of their status or age. The old schoolmaster’s soul embarks on a journey that is far greater than the comet’s, signifying the vastness and mystery of the afterlife. The reunion with his loved ones who have passed away hints at the possibility of an existence beyond death.

Superstition and rationality: The story juxtaposes the superstition of the mother, who believes in omens and signs, with the rationality and wisdom of the schoolmaster, who imparts knowledge about history, geography, and astronomy. This contrast emphasizes the importance of embracing reason and understanding in life.

Overall, „The Comet“ is a rich and multifaceted fairy tale that explores the complexities of human existence, the passage of time, and the eternal cycle of life and death.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The comet“

„The Comet“ is a lesser-known fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen, a Danish author who is renowned for his timeless stories, including „The Little Mermaid,“ „The Ugly Duckling,“ and „The Emperor’s New Clothes.“ Born in 1805, Andersen began writing fairy tales in the 1830s and continued to do so throughout his life, until his death in 1875. His works have been translated into numerous languages and have become an integral part of global folklore and literature. There have not been many direct adaptations of „The Comet“ by Hans Christian Andersen. However, his work has inspired various artists and creators, and some elements from the story have been utilized in different media.

Films: In 2017, French filmmaker Bertrand Mandico created a short film based on „The Comet“ as part of a collaborative project called „Les films du Worso“. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and received mixed reviews.

Theater: Some theater companies have produced stage adaptations of Andersen’s lesser-known fairy tales, including „The Comet.“ These adaptations may interpret the story differently, placing more emphasis on certain themes or characters. In 2018, a stage adaptation of „The Comet“ was performed at the Lyric Hammersmith theatre in London. The adaptation was created by playwright and director Deborah Bruce and received mixed reviews.

Literature: Authors have occasionally drawn inspiration from „The Comet“ and incorporated its themes or elements into their own works. For instance, the fear of the unknown and the panic caused by celestial events can be found in various science fiction and fantasy novels. One notable adaptation is the 1969 children’s book „Comet’s Nine Lives“ by Jan Brett. The book follows the adventures of a comet who falls to Earth and takes on the lives of different animals. It emphasizes themes of change, growth, and self-discovery, while also incorporating elements from Andersen’s original story.

Educational materials: „The Comet“ was used as a teaching tool to discuss the themes of fear of the unknown, superstition, and the pursuit of knowledge. The story could be part of a larger curriculum on Andersen’s fairy tales or as a stand-alone lesson in literature or history classes.

Opera: In 2014, Danish composer Bo Holten created an opera based on „The Comet“. The opera premiered at the Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen and was well-received. In 2002, composer Peter Lieberson wrote an orchestral piece titled „The World in Flower: Five Poems of Emily Dickinson and The Comet“. The piece is inspired by both Emily Dickinson’s poetry and Andersen’s fairy tale, and explores themes of mortality and the natural world through music.

Radio: In 2005, BBC Radio 4 produced a radio drama adaptation of „The Comet“, with Diana Rigg as the narrator. The adaptation was well-received and is still available to listen to online.

There have been various adaptations of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale „The Comet“ in different forms of media, including literature, art, and music. While there may not be many specific adaptations of „The Comet“ by Hans Christian Andersen, the themes and ideas presented in the story continue to be relevant and inspire new creative works. The story’s timeless message about seeking knowledge and understanding different perspectives can be applied to various situations and media forms. In addition to these adaptations, „The Comet“ has also been referenced in various works of art and literature, and has inspired other creative endeavors. Its themes of wonder, fear, and the fleeting nature of life continue to resonate with audiences today. Overall, while „The Comet“ has not been adapted as frequently as some of Andersen’s other fairy tales, it continues to inspire artists and creators in various fields.

Summary of the plot

„The Comet“ by Hans Christian Andersen is a fairy tale about a boy who grows up to be an old schoolmaster while witnessing the same comet twice in his lifetime. The story begins with people from all walks of life coming out to observe the comet, except for a young boy and his mother, who are preoccupied with an old superstition about a wood-shaving in the candlelight. The boy, who grows up to be a wise and knowledgeable schoolmaster, is fascinated by the bubbles he blows, which he sees as pictures of the future.

When the comet returns sixty years later, the old schoolmaster reflects on his life and all the memories, both good and bad, that have passed. He hears the melodies of his past, which evoke the memories of his childhood, youth, and old age. As the comet appears in the clear sky, the schoolmaster’s soul embarks on a journey far greater than the comet’s, and he is reunited with his loved ones who had passed away.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES
Readability Index by Björnsson27.4
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index83.4
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level5.3
Gunning Fog Index7.7
Coleman–Liau Index8.7
SMOG Index8.2
Automated Readability Index5.5
Character Count8.599
Letter Count6.659
Sentence Count109
Word Count1.598
Average Words per Sentence14,66
Words with more than 6 letters204
Percentage of long words12.8%
Number of Syllables2.050
Average Syllables per Word1,28
Words with three Syllables80
Percentage Words with three Syllables5%
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