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The Flax
Grimm Märchen

The Flax - Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Andersen

Reading time for children: 13 min

The flax was in full bloom. It had pretty little blue flowers as delicate as the wings of a moth, or even more so. The sun shone, and the showers watered it; and this was just as good for the flax as it is for little children to be washed and then kissed by their mother. They look much prettier for it, and so did the flax.

„People say that I look exceedingly well,“ said the flax, „and that I am so fine and long that I shall make a beautiful piece of linen. How fortunate I am. It makes me so happy, it is such a pleasant thing to know that something can be made of me. How the sunshine cheers me, and how sweet and refreshing is the rain; my happiness overpowers me, no one in the world can feel happier than I am.“

„Ah, yes, no doubt,“ said the fern, „but you do not know the world yet as well as I do, for my sticks are knotty;“ and then it sung quite mournfully–

„Snip, snap, snurre,
Basse lurre:

The song is ended.“

„No, it is not ended,“ said the flax. „To-morrow the sun will shine, or the rain descend. I feel that I am growing. I feel that I am in full blossom. I am the happiest of all creatures.“

Well, one day some people came, who took hold of the flax, and pulled it up by the roots. This was painful. Then it was laid in water as if they intended to drown it; and, after that, placed near a fire as if it were to be roasted; all this was very shocking.

„We cannot expect to be happy always,“ said the flax; „by experiencing evil as well as good, we become wise.“

And certainly there was plenty of evil in store for the flax. It was steeped, and roasted, and broken, and combed; indeed, it scarcely knew what was done to it. At last it was put on the spinning wheel. „Whirr, whirr,“ went the wheel so quickly that the flax could not collect its thoughts.

„Well, I have been very happy,“ he thought in the midst of his pain, „and must be contented with the past;“ and contented he remained till he was put on the loom, and became a beautiful piece of white linen. All the flax, even to the last stalk, was used in making this one piece.

„Well, this is quite wonderful. I could not have believed that I should be so favored by fortune. The fern was not wrong with its song of

‚Snip, snap, snurre,
Basse lurre.‘

But the song is not ended yet, I am sure. It is only just beginning. How wonderful it is, that after all I have suffered, I am made something of at last. I am the luckiest person in the world– so strong and fine; and how white, and what a length! This is something different to being a mere plant and bearing flowers. Then I had no attention, nor any water unless it rained; now, I am watched and taken care of. Every morning the maid turns me over, and I have a shower-bath from the watering-pot every evening. Yes, and the clergyman’s wife noticed me, and said I was the best piece of linen in the whole parish. I cannot be happier than I am now.“

After some time, the linen was taken into the house, placed under the scissors, and cut and torn into pieces, and then pricked with needles. This certainly was not pleasant; but at last it was made into twelve garments of that kind which people do not like to name, and yet everybody should wear one.

„See, now, then,“ said the flax; „I have become something of importance. This was my destiny. It is quite a blessing. Now I shall be of some use in the world, as everyone ought to be. It is the only way to be happy. I am now divided into twelve pieces, and yet we are all one and the same in the whole dozen. It is most extraordinary good fortune.“

Years passed away, and at last the linen was so worn it could scarcely hold together.

„It must end very soon,“ said the pieces to each other; „we would gladly have held together a little longer, but it is useless to expect impossibilities.“ And at length they fell into rags and tatters, and thought it was all over with them, for they were torn to shreds, and steeped in water, and made into a pulp, and dried, and they knew not what besides, till all at once they found themselves beautiful white paper.

„Well, now, this is a surprise; a glorious surprise too,“ said the paper. „I am now finer than ever, and I shall be written upon, and who can tell what fine things I may have written upon me. This is wonderful luck!“ And sure enough the most beautiful stories and poetry were written upon it, and only once was there a blot, which was very fortunate. Then people heard the stories and poetry read, and it made them wiser and better. For all that was written had a good and sensible meaning, and a great blessing was contained in the words on this paper.

„I never imagined anything like this,“ said the paper, „when I was only a little blue flower, growing in the fields. How could I fancy that I should ever be the means of bringing knowledge and joy to man? I cannot understand it myself, and yet it is really so. Heaven knows that I have done nothing myself, but what I was obliged to do with my weak powers for my own preservation; and yet I have been promoted from one joy and honor to another. Each time I think that the song is ended; and then something higher and better begins for me. I suppose now I shall be sent on my travels about the world, so that people may read me. It cannot be otherwise; indeed, it is more than probable. For I have more splendid thoughts written upon me, than I had pretty flowers in olden times. I am happier than ever.“

But the paper did not go on its travels. It was sent to the printer, and all the words written upon it were set up in type, to make a book, or rather, many hundreds of books. For so many more persons could derive pleasure and profit from a printed book, than from the written paper; and if the paper had been sent around the world, it would have been worn out before it had got half through its journey.

„This is certainly the wisest plan,“ said the written paper; „I really did not think of that. I shall remain at home, and be held in honor, like some old grandfather, as I really am to all these new books. They will do some good. I could not have wandered about as they do. Yet he who wrote all this has looked at me, as every word flowed from his pen upon my surface. I am the most honored of all.“

Then the paper was tied in a bundle with other papers, and thrown into a tub that stood in the washhouse. „After work, it is well to rest,“ said the paper, „and a very good opportunity to collect one’s thoughts. Now I am able, for the first time, to think of my real condition; and to know one’s self is true progress. What will be done with me now, I wonder? No doubt I shall still go forward. I have always progressed hitherto, as I know quite well.“

Now it happened one day that all the paper in the tub was taken out, and laid on the hearth to be burnt. People said it could not be sold at the shop, to wrap up butter and sugar, because it had been written upon. The children in the house stood round the stove. For they wanted to see the paper burn, because it flamed up so prettily, and afterwards, among the ashes, so many red sparks could be seen running one after the other, here and there, as quick as the wind. They called it seeing the children come out of school, and the last spark was the schoolmaster. They often thought the last spark had come; and one would cry, „There goes the schoolmaster;“ but the next moment another spark would appear, shining so beautifully. How they would like to know where the sparks all went to! Perhaps we shall find out some day, but we don’t know now.

The whole bundle of paper had been placed on the fire, and was soon alight. „Ugh,“ cried the paper, as it burst into a bright flame; „ugh.“ It was certainly not very pleasant to be burning; but when the whole was wrapped in flames, the flames mounted up into the air, higher than the flax had ever been able to raise its little blue flower, and they glistened as the white linen never could have glistened. All the written letters became quite red in a moment, and all the words and thoughts turned to fire.

„Now I am mounting straight up to the sun,“ said a voice in the flames; and it was as if a thousand voices echoed the words; and the flames darted up through the chimney, and went out at the top. Then a number of tiny beings, as many in number as the flowers on the flax had been, and invisible to mortal eyes, floated above them. They were even lighter and more delicate than the flowers from which they were born; and as the flames were extinguished, and nothing remained of the paper but black ashes, these little beings danced upon it; and whenever they touched it, bright red sparks appeared. „The children are all out of school, and the schoolmaster was the last of all,“ said the children. It was good fun, and they sang over the dead ashes,–

„Snip, snap, snurre,
Basse lure:

The song is ended.“

But the little invisible beings said, „The song is never ended. The most beautiful is yet to come.“

But the children could neither hear nor understand this, nor should they. For children must not know everything.

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „The flax“

„The Flax“ is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen that tells the story of a flax plant and its journey from being a seed to its eventual transformation into linen fabric. The story is a reflection on the cycle of life, personal growth, and the various stages and experiences that one goes through during their existence.

In the tale, the flax plant starts its life as a small seed, planted in fertile soil. It grows and thrives, surrounded by other plants and flowers, and experiences the beauty and joy of life. It listens to the stories of the other plants around it, taking in the wisdom and experiences they share.

As the flax plant grows and matures, it is eventually harvested, and its fibers are separated from the stalk. This process is initially painful and difficult for the flax, but it soon realizes that it is being transformed into something new and useful. The flax fibers are then spun into thread, woven into linen fabric, and ultimately sewn into beautiful clothes and household items.

The flax’s journey is an allegory for the stages of human life and the transformations one undergoes throughout their existence. It serves as a reminder that growth and change are necessary for personal development and fulfilling one’s purpose. Furthermore, the story highlights the importance of embracing the various experiences life offers, as they contribute to one’s growth and eventual transformation into something greater.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The flax“

„The Flax“ by Hans Christian Andersen offers several interpretations and themes that readers can take away from the story:

The cycle of life: The story of the flax plant serves as a metaphor for the cycle of life, including birth, growth, death, and rebirth. Just as the flax plant goes through various stages, humans also undergo a similar journey, experiencing different stages of life, each with its own unique challenges and transformations.

Personal growth and transformation: The flax plant undergoes a painful process of change, from being a plant in a field to becoming a fine linen fabric. This transformation represents the personal growth and development that humans experience throughout their lives. Just as the flax plant must endure hardship to become something beautiful and useful, people often face adversity and challenges that ultimately lead to growth and self-improvement.

The value of experiences: The flax plant learns from the stories and experiences of the other plants in the field, gathering wisdom and knowledge from their tales. This highlights the importance of learning from the experiences of others and being open to new ideas and perspectives in one’s own life.

The inevitability of change: The story of the flax plant serves as a reminder that change is an inevitable part of life. Just as the flax plant must accept its fate and go through various transformations, humans must also come to terms with the changes they experience in their lives and adapt to new circumstances.

Purpose and fulfillment: The flax plant’s journey from a simple seed to a beautiful, useful fabric demonstrates the fulfillment of its purpose. This can be seen as a metaphor for human lives, where each person has a unique purpose to fulfill, and finding and embracing that purpose can lead to a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

Overall, „The Flax“ is a tale that offers valuable insights into the nature of life, growth, and transformation, inspiring readers to embrace change and find meaning in their own journeys.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The flax“

While „The Flax“ might not be one of Hans Christian Andersen’s most well-known or frequently adapted tales, it has inspired various forms of creative expressions. Some adaptations and works inspired by the story include:

Illustrated books: As with many other fairy tales, „The Flax“ has been published in various illustrated storybooks and collections of Hans Christian Andersen’s tales, with artists providing their own visual interpretations of the story.

Animated short films: „The Flax“ has been adapted into animated short films, often as a part of educational programs or children’s television series. These adaptations may take some creative liberties with the story to better fit the medium or target audience.

Stage performances: Puppet theaters and children’s theater groups have occasionally included „The Flax“ in their performances or adaptations of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories, bringing the tale to life on stage.

Storytelling events: Professional storytellers and narrators have retold „The Flax“ at various events, festivals, and workshops, often adding their own unique flair to the story to captivate their audiences.

Although „The Flax“ may not have been adapted into major movies or television shows like some other Andersen fairy tales, its themes of transformation, personal growth, and the cycle of life continue to resonate with audiences and inspire various creative expressions.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The flax“

„The Flax“ is a popular fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen that has inspired several adaptations over the years. Here are a few examples:

Animated Films: „The Flax“ has been adapted into several animated films, including a 1986 Soviet film called „The Golden Flax“ and a 2010 Chinese film called „The Flax.“

Children’s Books: The story has been adapted into several children’s books, including „The Golden Flax“ by Niels Skov and „The Flax Maiden“ by Dawn Casey.

Stage Productions: „The Flax“ has been adapted for the stage in several productions, including a 1993 musical production by the Danish theater company Det Lille Teater.

Artistic Interpretations: The story has inspired several artistic interpretations, including a series of paintings by the Russian artist Ivan Bilibin and a sculpture by the Danish artist Jens Galschiot.

Literary Retellings: „The Flax“ has also been retold in various literary works, including the novel „The Flax of Dream“ by Henry Williamson and the short story „The Flax-Girl“ by Elizabeth Goudge.

Overall, „The Flax“ has proven to be a versatile and enduring fairy tale that continues to inspire new adaptations and interpretations in various forms of art and media.

Summary of the plot

„The Flax“ is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen that tells the story of a flax plant’s life cycle and its journey through various transformations. The tale begins with the flax plant happily growing in a field, proud of its beautiful blue flowers. The plant dreams of becoming even greater someday, perhaps being woven into fine linen.

One day, the flax is harvested and goes through a series of processes such as retting, breaking, and hackling to separate the fibers. The flax feels pain during these processes but remains hopeful that it’s all part of its journey to becoming something greater.

Afterward, the flax is spun into thread and then woven into beautiful linen. The linen is made into a fine set of clothes and is worn by a nobleman. Eventually, the clothes are discarded and turned into rags. The rags are then pulped and transformed into paper, upon which a poet writes a beautiful poem.

Finally, the paper with the poem is burned, and the ashes are used to fertilize the ground. The story ends with the suggestion that the flax plant’s journey is not over; its spirit will rise from the ashes and continue the cycle of life in a new form. Throughout its various transformations, the flax learns about resilience, purpose, and the interconnectedness of life.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „The flax“

„The Flax“ is a fairy tale written by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. Born on April 2, 1805, and passing away on August 4, 1875, Andersen is one of the most renowned authors in the world of children’s literature. He is best known for his fairy tales, which have been translated into more than 125 languages and continue to be cherished by readers of all ages.

Hans Christian Andersen began publishing his fairy tales in 1835 with his first collection titled „Eventyr, fortalte for Børn“ („Fairy Tales, Told for Children“). These stories were not initially well-received, but over time, Andersen gained recognition, and his work became increasingly popular both in Denmark and internationally. His stories often contain elements of fantasy, morality, and inspiration drawn from his own life experiences, as well as from folklore and other literary sources.

Some of Andersen’s most famous works include „The Little Mermaid,“ „The Ugly Duckling,“ „The Emperor’s New Clothes,“ „The Snow Queen,“ and „Thumbelina.“ His stories often delve into themes of transformation, resilience, and the search for one’s purpose in life, as seen in „The Flax.“

„The Flax“ is a lesser-known fairy tale compared to some of Andersen’s other works, but it continues to resonate with readers due to its enduring themes and thought-provoking interpretations. Like many of his stories, „The Flax“ has been passed down through generations, sharing its timeless messages about the importance of resilience, finding meaning, and embracing change.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The flax“

„The Flax“ by Hans Christian Andersen can be interpreted on various levels:

Resilience and Transformation: The story of the flax demonstrates the importance of resilience in the face of adversity. Despite enduring multiple hardships, the flax continues to adapt and evolve, transforming into new forms, each more valuable than the last. This message encourages readers to embrace change and growth, even when faced with challenging circumstances.

Purpose and Usefulness: The flax’s journey showcases the importance of finding purpose and being useful in life. From being a simple plant to becoming a valuable piece of paper, the flax continually discovers new ways to contribute positively to the world. This interpretation serves as a reminder for readers to seek meaning and value in their lives.

The Cycle of Life: The tale can also be viewed as an allegory for the cycle of life, from birth to death and rebirth. The flax goes through various stages, each representing a different phase of existence. The story suggests that there is beauty and purpose in every stage of life, even when it appears to be over, as demonstrated by the little invisible beings dancing on the ashes.

The Power of Stories: The transformation of the flax into paper and then into books highlights the significance of stories and their ability to educate, inspire, and bring people together. This interpretation underscores the importance of literature and the written word in enriching our lives and expanding our understanding of the world.

The Unseen Beauty: The presence of the little invisible beings, who dance on the ashes and claim that the most beautiful part of the story is yet to come, suggests that there is often unseen beauty and potential in even the most unexpected situations. This message encourages readers to remain hopeful and open to the possibility of hidden wonders in life.

Summary of the plot

„The Flax“ is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen that follows the life of a flax plant as it experiences various transformations, discovering happiness and purpose in each stage. The story begins with the flax plant in full bloom, boasting beautiful blue flowers. Delighted by the sunshine and rain, the flax feels it is the happiest of all creatures.

One day, people uproot the flax and subject it to several harsh treatments, such as steeping, roasting, breaking, and combing. Despite the pain, the flax remains content, understanding that experiencing good and evil makes one wise. Eventually, it is spun into thread and woven into a beautiful piece of white linen, feeling fortunate and useful.

The linen is then made into twelve undergarments, and the flax is proud of its importance and usefulness in the world. As time passes, the linen wears thin and is eventually transformed into beautiful white paper. The paper is written upon with stories and poetry that inspire and educate people. The flax is overjoyed, realizing that it is now even more valuable than before.

However, instead of traveling the world, the paper is turned into books to reach more people. After serving its purpose, the paper is thrown into a fire, where it is burnt and turned into ashes. As the flames die, little invisible beings dance on the ashes, saying that the most beautiful part of the story is yet to come. Though the children watching the fire cannot hear or understand this message, the tale reminds us that there is beauty and purpose in every stage of life, even when it seems to be over.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, FR, IT, NL
Readability Index by Björnsson28.2
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index80.7
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level6.1
Gunning Fog Index8.6
Coleman–Liau Index7.7
SMOG Index8.5
Automated Readability Index5.7
Character Count9.106
Letter Count6.937
Sentence Count105
Word Count1.737
Average Words per Sentence16,54
Words with more than 6 letters202
Percentage of long words11.6%
Number of Syllables2.246
Average Syllables per Word1,29
Words with three Syllables88
Percentage Words with three Syllables5.1%
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