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The Elfin Hill
Grimm Märchen

The Elfin Hill - Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Andersen

Reading time for children: 18 min

A few large lizards were running nimbly about in the clefts of an old tree. They could understand one another very well, for they spoke the lizard language. „What a buzzing and a rumbling there is in the elfin hill,“ said one of the lizards. „I have not been able to close my eyes for two nights on account of the noise. I might just as well have had the toothache, for that always keeps me awake.“

„There is something going on within there,“ said the other lizard. „They propped up the top of the hill with four red posts, till cock-crow this morning, so that it is thoroughly aired, and the elfin girls have learnt new dances. There is something.“ – „I spoke about it to an earth-worm of my acquaintance,“ said a third lizard. „The earth-worm had just come from the elfin hill, where he has been groping about in the earth day and night. He has heard a great deal. Although he cannot see, poor miserable creature, yet he understands very well how to wriggle and lurk about.

They expect friends in the elfin hill, grand company, too; but who they are the earth-worm would not say, or, perhaps, he really did not know. All the will-o‘-the-wisps are ordered to be there to hold a torch dance, as it is called. The silver and gold which is plentiful in the hill will be polished and placed out in the moonlight.“ – „Who can the strangers be?“ asked the lizards. „What can the matter be? Hark, what a buzzing and humming there is!“

Just at this moment the elfin hill opened, and an old elfin maiden, hollow behind, came tripping out. She was the old elf king’s housekeeper, and a distant relative of the family. Therefore she wore an amber heart on the middle of her forehead. Her feet moved very fast, „trip, trip“, good gracious, how she could trip right down to the sea to the night-raven. „You are invited to the elf hill for this evening,“ said she. „But will you do me a great favor and undertake the invitations? You ought to do something, for you have no housekeeping to attend to as I have.

We are going to have some very grand people, conjurors, who have always something to say. And therefore the old elf king wishes to make a great display.“ – „Who is to be invited?“ asked the raven. „All the world may come to the great ball, even human beings, if they can only talk in their sleep, or do something after our fashion. But for the feast the company must be carefully selected. We can only admit persons of high rank. I have had a dispute myself with the elf king, as he thought we could not admit ghosts.

The merman and his daughter must be invited first, although it may not be agreeable to them to remain so long on dry land, but they shall have a wet stone to sit on, or perhaps something better. So I think they will not refuse this time. We must have all the old demons of the first class, with tails, and the hobgoblins and imps. And then I think we ought not to leave out the death-horse, or the grave-pig, or even the church dwarf, although they do belong to the clergy, and are not reckoned among our people; but that is merely their office, they are nearly related to us, and visit us very frequently.“

„Croak,“ said the night-raven as he flew away with the invitations. The elfin maidens we’re already dancing on the elf hill, and they danced in shawls woven from moonshine and mist, which look very pretty to those who like such things. The large hall within the elf hill was splendidly decorated. The floor had been washed with moonshine, and the walls had been rubbed with magic ointment, so that they glowed like tulip-leaves in the light. In the kitchen were frogs roasting on the spit, and dishes preparing of snail skins, with children’s fingers in them, salad of mushroom seed, hemlock, noses and marrow of mice, beer from the marsh woman’s brewery, and sparkling salt-petre wine from the grave cellars.

These were all substantial food. Rusty nails and church-window glass formed the dessert. The old elf king had his gold crown polished up with powdered slate-pencil. It was like that used by the first form, and very difficult for an elf king to obtain. In the bedrooms, curtains were hung up and fastened with the slime of snails. There was, indeed, a buzzing and humming everywhere.

„Now we must fumigate the place with burnt horse-hair and pig’s bristles, and then I think I shall have done my part,“ said the elf man-servant. „Father, dear,“ said the youngest daughter, „may I now hear who our high-born visitors are?“ – „Well, I suppose I must tell you now,“ he replied. „Two of my daughters must prepare themselves to be married, for the marriages certainly will take place. The old goblin from Norway, who lives in the ancient Dovre mountains, and who possesses many castles built of rock and freestone, besides a gold mine, which is better than all, so it is thought, is coming with his two sons, who are both seeking a wife.

The old goblin is a true-hearted, honest, old Norwegian graybeard; cheerful and straightforward. I knew him formerly, when we used to drink together to our good fellowship: he came here once to fetch his wife, she is dead now. She was the daughter of the king of the chalk-hills at Moen. They say he took his wife from chalk. I shall be delighted to see him again. It is said that the boys are ill-bred, forward lads, but perhaps that is not quite correct, and they will become better as they grow older. Let me see that you know how to teach them good manners.“

„And when are they coming?“ asked the daughter. „That depends upon wind and weather,“ said the elf king. „They travel economically. They will come when there is the chance of a ship. I wanted them to come over to Sweden, but the old man was not inclined to take my advice. He does not go forward with the times, and that I do not like.“

Two will-o‘-the-wisps came jumping in, one quicker than the other, so of course, one arrived first. „They are coming! they are coming!“ he cried. „Give me my crown,“ said the elf king, „and let me stand in the moonshine.“ The daughters drew on their shawls and bowed down to the ground. There stood the old goblin from the Dovre mountains, with his crown of hardened ice and polished fir-cones. Besides this, he wore a bear-skin, and great, warm boots, while his sons went with their throats bare and wore no braces, for they were strong men.

„Is that a hill?“ said the youngest of the boys, pointing to the elf hill, „we should call it a hole in Norway.“ – „Boys,“ said the old man, „a hole goes in, and a hill stands out. Have you no eyes in your heads?“ Another thing they wondered at was, that they were able without trouble to understand the language. „Take care,“ said the old man, „or people will think you have not been well brought up.“ Then they entered the elfin hill, where the select and grand company were assembled, and so quickly had they appeared that they seemed to have been blown together.

But for each guest the neatest and pleasantest arrangement had been made. The sea folks sat at table in great water-tubs, and they said it was just like being at home. All behaved themselves properly excepting the two young northern goblins. They put their legs on the table and thought they were all right. „Feet off the table-cloth!“ said the old goblin. They obeyed, but not immediately. Then they tickled the ladies who waited at table, with the fir-cones, which they carried in their pockets. They took off their boots, that they might be more at ease, and gave them to the ladies to hold. But their father, the old goblin, was very different.

He talked pleasantly about the stately Norwegian rocks, and told fine tales of the waterfalls which dashed over them with a clattering noise like thunder or the sound of an organ, spreading their white foam on every side. He told of the salmon that leaps in the rushing waters, while the water-god plays on his golden harp. He spoke of the bright winter nights, when the sledge bells are ringing, and the boys run with burning torches across the smooth ice, which is so transparent that they can see the fishes dart forward beneath their feet. He described everything so clearly, that those who listened could see it all.

They could see the saw-mills going, the men-servants and the maidens singing songs, and dancing a rattling dance,– when all at once the old goblin gave the old elfin maiden a kiss, such a tremendous kiss, and yet they were almost strangers to each other. Then the elfin girls had to dance, first in the usual way, and then with stamping feet, which they performed very well. Then followed the artistic and solo dance. Dear me, how they did throw their legs about!

No one could tell where the dance begun, or where it ended, nor indeed which were legs and which were arms, for they were all flying about together, like the shavings in a saw-pit! And then they spun round so quickly that the death-horse and the grave-pig became sick and giddy, and were obliged to leave the table. „Stop!“ cried the old goblin,“ is that the only house-keeping they can perform? Can they do anything more than dance and throw about their legs, and make a whirlwind?“

„You shall soon see what they can do,“ said the elf king. And then he called his youngest daughter to him. She was slender and fair as moonlight, and the most graceful of all the sisters. She took a white chip in her mouth, and vanished instantly. This was her accomplishment. But the old goblin said he should not like his wife to have such an accomplishment, and thought his boys would have the same objection. Another daughter could make a figure like herself follow her, as if she had a shadow, which none of the goblin folk ever had.

The third was of quite a different sort. She had learnt in the brew-house of the moor witch how to lard elfin puddings with glow-worms. „She will make a good housewife,“ said the old goblin, and then saluted her with his eyes instead of drinking her health. For he did not drink much. Now came the fourth daughter, with a large harp to play upon. And when she struck the first chord, every one lifted up the left leg (for the goblins are left-legged), and at the second chord they found they must all do just what she wanted.

„That is a dangerous woman,“ said the old goblin. And the two sons walked out of the hill. They had had enough of it. „And what can the next daughter do?“ asked the old goblin. „I have learnt everything that is Norwegian,“ said she. „And I will never marry, unless I can go to Norway.“ Then her youngest sister whispered to the old goblin, „That is only because she has heard, in a Norwegian song, that when the world shall decay, the cliffs of Norway will remain standing like monuments. And she wants to get there, that she may be safe. For she is so afraid of sinking.“

„Ho! ho!“ said the old goblin, „is that what she means? Well, what can the seventh and last do?“ – „The sixth comes before the seventh,“ said the elf king, for he could reckon; but the sixth would not come forward. „I can only tell people the truth,“ said she. „No one cares for me, nor troubles himself about me. And I have enough to do to sew my grave clothes.“ So the seventh and last came. And what could she do? Why, she could tell stories, as many as you liked, on any subject.

„Here are my five fingers,“ said the old goblin. „Now tell me a story for each of them.“ So she took him by the wrist, and he laughed till he nearly choked; and when she came to the fourth finger, there was a gold ring on it, as if it knew there was to be a betrothal. Then the old goblin said, „Hold fast what you have: this hand is yours. For I will have you for a wife myself.“

Then the elfin girl said that the stories about the ring-finger and little Peter Playman had not yet been told. „We will hear them in the winter,“ said the old goblin, „and also about the fir and the birch-trees, and the ghost stories, and of the tingling frost. You shall tell your tales, for no one over there can do it so well. And we will sit in the stone rooms, where the pine logs are burning, and drink mead out of the golden drinking-horn of the old Norwegian kings. The water-god has given me two. And when we sit there, Nix comes to pay us a visit, and will sing you all the songs of the mountain shepherdesses.

How merry we shall be! The salmon will be leaping in the waterfalls, and dashing against the stone walls, but he will not be able to come in. It is indeed very pleasant to live in old Norway. But where are the lads?“ Where indeed were they? Why, running about the fields, and blowing out the will-o‘-the-wisps, who so good-naturedly came and brought their torches. „What tricks have you been playing?“ said the old goblin. „I have taken a mother for you, and now you may take one of your aunts.“

But the youngsters said they would rather make a speech and drink to their good fellowship. They had no wish to marry. Then they made speeches and drank toasts, and tipped their glasses, to show that they were empty. Then they took off their coats, and lay down on the table to sleep. For they made themselves quite at home. But the old goblin danced about the room with his young bride, and exchanged boots with her, which is more fashionable than exchanging rings.

„The cock is crowing,“ said the old elfin maiden who acted as housekeeper. „Now we must close the shutters, that the sun may not scorch us.“ Then the hill closed up. But the lizards continued to run up and down the riven tree; and one said to the other, „Oh, how much I was pleased with the old goblin!“ – „The boys pleased me better,“ said the earth-worm. But then the poor miserable creature could not see.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „The elfin hill“

„The Elfin Hill“ is a fairy tale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, first published in 1845. Andersen is well-known for his rich and imaginative fairy tales, and „The Elfin Hill“ is no exception. The story revolves around the magical world of elves, human interactions with these creatures, and the importance of love and harmony.

Andersen was born in Odense, Denmark, in 1805 and had a challenging childhood due to his family’s impoverished circumstances. However, his vivid imagination and love for storytelling were apparent from an early age. In his late teens, he moved to Copenhagen to pursue a career in the arts, eventually gaining recognition as an author of plays, novels, and, most famously, fairy tales. Andersen’s tales often draw upon themes from folklore and mythology while incorporating his unique touch of wit, charm, and moral lessons.

„The Elfin Hill“ showcases Andersen’s ability to create a vivid, enchanting world that captures the imagination of readers young and old alike. The tale remains a beloved classic, demonstrating the enduring appeal of Andersen’s stories and the universal themes they convey. Andersen’s fairy tales often contain moral lessons and can be interpreted on multiple levels, appealing to both children and adults. They frequently blend elements of the fantastical and the everyday, with a strong focus on nature, magic, and the human experience. Andersen’s stories have inspired countless adaptations, from theater and ballet to film and television.

„The Elfin Hill“ tells the story of a community of elves living on an elfin hill in Denmark, who are visited by a group of goblins from Norway. The goblins are seeking brides for their two sons, and the elfin daughters are presented as potential matches. The youngest elfin daughter, who has the gift of storytelling, enchants the old goblin with her tales, ultimately leading to a resolution between the two families. This story combines elements of folklore, fantasy, and human emotion, with themes that touch upon family, tradition, individuality, and the power of storytelling.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The elfin hill“

„The Elfin Hill“ by Hans Christian Andersen, like many of his fairy tales, contains various themes and moral lessons that can be interpreted in multiple ways. Some of the prominent interpretations of the story include:

Importance of family and tradition: The story highlights the significance of family and tradition in the world of elves and goblins. The old goblin from Norway, who is proud of his heritage, wants to find suitable wives for his sons. The story emphasizes the importance of upholding traditions and maintaining connections with one’s roots.

Individuality and personal choice: The elfin daughters each have unique abilities, reflecting the idea that everyone is different and has their own talents. At the same time, the young goblins prefer to forge their own paths rather than being forced into marriage. This theme suggests that people should be allowed to make their own choices and embrace their individuality.

Nature and the supernatural: The fairy tale is filled with references to nature, such as the mountains, waterfalls, and forests of Norway. It also incorporates supernatural elements, like the magical abilities of the elfin daughters and the existence of goblins, elves, and other mythical creatures. This interplay between nature and the supernatural serves to create a rich, fantastical world that invites readers to explore their own imaginations.

Social etiquette and manners: The story also touches upon the importance of social etiquette and manners, as the old goblin and elf king expect the young goblins to behave properly during their visit. This theme serves as a reminder that respecting others and following social norms is crucial for maintaining harmony in any society.

The power of imagination and storytelling: „The Elfin Hill“ can also be seen as an ode to the power of imagination and storytelling. Andersen creates a vivid, magical world that can inspire readers to dream and explore the depths of their own imagination. This interpretation celebrates the value of stories and their ability to transport us to new, fantastical realms. The youngest elfin daughter’s talent for telling stories ultimately wins over the old goblin. This aspect of the story highlights the power of storytelling and its ability to enchant, entertain, and connect people across different cultures and backgrounds

In summary, „The Elfin Hill“ is a rich and enchanting tale that offers multiple interpretations and moral lessons. Its themes of love, harmony, vanity, interconnectedness, and the power of imagination resonate with readers of all ages and have helped cement its status as a beloved classic in the realm of fairy tales.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The elfin hill“

„The Elfin Hill,“ also known as „The Elf Hill“ or „The Elf Mound,“ is a fairy tale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. The story was first published in 1845 as part of Andersen’s collection of fairy tales called „New Fairy Tales.“ Andersen is famous for his numerous fairy tales, which have been translated into more than 150 languages and have become an integral part of global folklore and children’s literature. While „The Elfin Hill“ may not be as famous as some of Hans Christian Andersen’s other tales, such as „The Little Mermaid“ or „The Ugly Duckling,“ it has still inspired various adaptations over the years. These adaptations can be found in literature, theater, film, and other forms of media. Some specific examples include:

Children’s books: There are numerous illustrated children’s books that retell or adapt „The Elfin Hill.“ These books often simplify the original story to make it more accessible to younger readers, while still preserving its themes and essence. They often feature colorful, imaginative illustrations that bring Andersen’s magical world to life. In this adaptation, author and illustrator Rebecca Guay retells the story of „The Elfin Hill“ in a children’s book format. The book features lush illustrations and a simplified version of the tale that is accessible to young readers.

Theater: „The Elfin Hill“ has been adapted for the stage, often as part of larger productions featuring multiple Andersen fairy tales. These stage adaptations can range from small, intimate performances for children to elaborate, full-scale productions that incorporate dance, music, and elaborate set designs. The Danish Royal Ballet has created a ballet based on the fairy tale, with choreography by Flemming Flindt and music by Carl Nielsen. The ballet premiered in 1965 and has since been performed by ballet companies around the world. Composer Jon H. Rosser has created an opera based on the fairy tale, with a libretto by Mark Medoff. The opera premiered in 2011 and has since been performed by several opera companies in the United States. „The Elf Queen and the Shepherd“ musical: This musical, written by Andrew Sabiston and Timothy Williams, is a modern retelling of the fairy tale. The story follows the romance between a shepherd and an elf queen, and features catchy songs and lively dance numbers.

Animation: Andersen’s fairy tales have inspired numerous animated adaptations, and „The Elfin Hill“ is no exception. The story has been adapted into animated short films or as part of anthology films that feature multiple Andersen tales. These animated adaptations often use the visual medium to create a whimsical and enchanting atmosphere, capturing the essence of the original story. „The Elf Hill“ film: This 1997 film is a loose adaptation of the fairy tale, set in modern-day Denmark. The film tells the story of a young woman who is drawn into a mysterious world of elves and magic when she visits an old family friend in the countryside.

Radio plays and audiobooks: „The Elfin Hill“ has been adapted into radio plays, where voice actors bring the story to life using only their voices and sound effects. These adaptations can be found on radio stations, podcasts, or as part of audiobook collections of Andersen’s fairy tales. They provide a unique auditory experience that allows listeners to immerse themselves in the story and use their imagination to visualize the magical world of the elves.

Art: Various artists have been inspired by „The Elfin Hill“ and have created illustrations, paintings, and sculptures that depict scenes or characters from the story. These artistic adaptations showcase the influence of Andersen’s tale on the world of art and demonstrate how his magical world can be reimagined through different visual styles and mediums.

Though „The Elfin Hill“ may not have as many adaptations as some of Andersen’s more famous works, it still holds an important place in the world of fairy tales and continues to inspire new interpretations across various forms of media. These adaptations show the enduring appeal of „The Elfin Hill“ and its themes of love, nature, and the supernatural. Whether in ballet, children’s books, film, opera, or musical theater, the tale continues to inspire new interpretations and creative retellings.

Summary of the plot

„The Elfin Hill“ is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen that tells the story of an elf king and his daughters who live in the elfin hill. The story begins with a conversation among lizards who discuss the recent bustling activities in the elfin hill. They learn from an earth-worm that the hill’s inhabitants are expecting grand company.

The elf king receives a visit from an old goblin from the Dovre mountains in Norway, accompanied by his two sons. They have come to find wives among the elf king’s daughters. Each of the daughters has a unique skill, and the goblin and his sons are entertained by their various talents, including invisibility, creating a shadow, cooking unusual dishes, and playing enchanting music. The sixth daughter, however, refuses to showcase her skills, and the seventh daughter impresses the old goblin with her exceptional storytelling abilities.

The old goblin decides to marry the seventh daughter, and the festivities continue with speeches and toasts. The two sons, however, have no interest in marriage and choose to remain single. The old goblin and his new bride dance together and exchange boots, a custom more fashionable than exchanging rings. As the sun begins to rise, the elfin hill closes up to protect its inhabitants from the sun’s rays. The lizards continue to gossip about the events, and the earth-worm, though blind, expresses its enjoyment of the festivities.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, IT
Readability Index by Björnsson26.7
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index84.2
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level5.2
Gunning Fog Index7.6
Coleman–Liau Index8.5
SMOG Index7.9
Automated Readability Index5.5
Character Count13.680
Letter Count10.530
Sentence Count172
Word Count2.546
Average Words per Sentence14,80
Words with more than 6 letters302
Percentage of long words11.9%
Number of Syllables3.237
Average Syllables per Word1,27
Words with three Syllables112
Percentage Words with three Syllables4.4%
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