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The Flea and the Professor
Grimm Märchen

The Flea and the Professor - Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Andersen

Reading time for children: 12 min

There was an Aeronaut, and things went badly with him. His balloon burst, hurled him out, and went all to pieces. Just two minutes before, the Aeronaut had sent his boy down by parachute – wasn’t the boy lucky! He wasn’t hurt, and he knew enough to be an Aeronaut himself, but he had no balloon and no means of getting one.

Live he must, so he took to sleight-of-hand tricks, and to throwing his voice, which is called ventriloquism. He was young and good-looking. When he grew a mustache and wore his best clothes, he might well have been mistaken for the son of a nobleman. Ladies found him handsome and one young lady was so taken by his charm and dexterity that she eloped with him to foreign lands.

There he called himself „The Professor“ – he could scarcely do less. He continually thought about how to get himself a balloon and sail through the air with his little wife. But they still lacked the means to do so. „That will come yet,“ he said. „Oh, if only it would,“ said she. „We are still young people,“ he said, „and I’m a Professor.“ – „Crumbs are also bread!“ She helped him all she could, and sat at the door to sell tickets for his entertainments.

In the wintertime this was a chilly sort of pleasure. She also helped him with one of his acts. He would put her into a table drawer – a large table drawer – and she would creep into the back drawer. From in front she was not to be seen, and as far as the audience was concerned she was invisible. But one evening, when he pulled out the drawer she was invisible to him too. She was not in the front drawer, not in the back one, and not in the whole house. She was nowhere to be seen or heard, and that was her contribution to the entertainment.

She never came back. She was tired of it all, and he became tired of it too. He lost his good humor and could not laugh or make jokes, so people stopped coming to see him. His earnings fell off and his clothes wore out, until at last all that he had was a large flea, an heirloom from his wife. That’s why he liked it so well. He trained the flea and taught it to perform – to present arms, and to fire off a cannon. Of course it was a very small cannon.

The Professor was proud of the flea, and the flea was proud of himself. He had learned a thing or two, and had human blood in him. He had been to the largest cities. Princes and Princesses had seen him and given him high praise, which was printed in the newspapers and on the billposters. He knew he was a famous flea who could support a Professor, yes, a whole household.

Proud he was and famous he was. Yet when he and the Professor traveled they went by fourth-class railway carriages, which took them along just as quickly as those of the first-class. They made a secret pledge to each other that they would never separate. Neither of them would marry. The flea would remain a bachelor and the Professor a widower. That made them even.

„Where one has the best luck,“ said the Professor, „one ought not go back a second time.“ He was a student of human nature, which is a science in itself. At length he had traveled through all countries except the savage ones, and to those he decided to go. There they eat Christian men. The Professor knew this, but then he was not much of a Christian, and the flea was not much of a man, so he thought they might venture successfully into the wilds, and make a lot of money.

They traveled by steamship and they traveled by sailboat. The flea performed his trick along the way in exchange for free passage, and thus they came to the country of savages. Here a little Princess ruled the land. She was only eight years old, but she ruled just the same. She had taken away the power from her papa and mamma, for she had a will of her own and was uncommonly beautiful, and uncommonly rude.

As soon as the flea presented arms and fired off his cannon, she took such a fancy to him that she cried, „Him or nobody!“ She fell madly in love with the flea, and she was already a madcap in all other respects. „My sweet, level-headed little child – “ her papa said, „if only there were some way to make a man of him.“

„Leave that to me, old fellow,“ said she, which was no way for a little Princess to talk to her papa, but then she was a savage. She set the flea on her fair hand: „Now you are a man, ruling with me, but you must do what I want you to do, or I shall kill you and eat the Professor.“ The Professor had a large room to lice in, with walls made of sugar cane. He could have licked them, but he didn’t care for sweets. He had a hammock to sleep in, and that reminded him of being in a balloon, where he had always wanted to be. He thought of this continually.

The flea lived with the Princess. He sat upon her delicate hand or on her fair neck. She had taken a hair from her head and made the Professor fasten it to the flea’s leg, and kept it tied to the big red coral pendant which hung from the tip of her ear. What a delightful time the Princess did have, and the flea too, she thought.

The Professor was not so delighted. He was a traveler, who liked to ride from town to town, and to read in the newspapers about how persevering and ingenious he had been to teach the flea tricks of human behavior. Day in and day out he lay lazily in his hammock. He ate good food: fresh bird’s eggs, elephant eyes, and fried giraffe legs. Cannibals do not live entirely on human flesh. No, that is a specisl delicacy!

„Shoulder of child with pepper sauce,“ said the Princess’s mamma, „is the most delicate.“ The Professor was bored with it all, and preferred to leave this savage land, but his flea he must take with him, for it was his wonder and his bread and butter. How could he catch it? How could he get hold of it? This was not an easy thing to do. He racked his wits, and at last he declared:

„Now I have it! Papa of the Princess, give me something to do. Let me teach your people to present themselves before Your Royal Highness. This is what is known as culture in the great and powerful nations of the earth.“ – „Can I learn to do that too?“ the Princess’s papa asked. „It’s not quite proper,“ the Professor told him, „but I shall teach your Savage Papaship to fire off a cannon. It goes off with a bang. One sits high in the air, and then off it goes or down you come.“

„Let me bang it off,“ the Princess’s papa begged. But in all the land there was no cannon, except the one the flea had brought with him – and that was so tiny. „I shall cast a bigger one,“ said the Professor. „Just give me the means to do so. I must have fine silk cloth, a needle and thread, and rope and cordage, besides stomach drops for the balloon. Stomach drops blow a person up so easily and give one the heaves. They are what make the report in the cannon’s stomach.“

„By all means.“ The Princess’s papa gave him everything that he asked. The whole court, and all the populace gathered together to see the casting of the big cannon. The Profesor did not call them until he had the ballon all ready to be filled and to go up. The flea sat there upon the Princess’s hand, and looked on as the ballon was filled. It swelled out and became so violent that they could scarcely hold it down.

„I must take it up in the air to cool it off,“ said the Professor who took his seat in the basket that hung underneath. „But – I cannot steer it alone, I must have a trained companion to help me. There is no one here who can do that except the flea.“ – „I am not at all willing to permit it,“ said the Princes, but she held out her hand and gave the flea to the Professor, who placed it on his wrist.

„Let go the lines and ropes!“ he shouted. „Now the balloon is going up.“ They thought he said „the cannon.“ So the balloon went higher and higher, up above the clouds and far away from that savage land. The little Princess, her family, and all of her subjects sat and waited. They are waiting there still, and if you don’t believe this, just you take a journey to the country of savages. Every child there is talking about the Professor and the flea, whom they expect back as soon as the cannon cools off.

But they won’t be back. They are at home here with us. They are in their native land. They travel by rail, first-class, not fourth. For they have a great success, an enormous balloon. Nobody asks them how they got their balloon, or where it came from. They are wealthy folk now – oh, most respectable folk – the flea and the Professor.

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Flea and the Professor“

„The Flea and the Professor“ is a fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen, a Danish author who is best known for his collection of children’s stories. Born on April 2, 1805, in Odense, Denmark, Andersen grew up in poverty, which greatly influenced his works. As a young man, he moved to Copenhagen to pursue his career as a writer and eventually gained fame for his fairy tales, which often included elements of fantasy, morality, and social critique.

Hans Christian Andersen wrote more than 160 fairy tales, many of which have become classics in children’s literature. Some of his most famous works include „The Little Mermaid,“ „The Ugly Duckling,“ „The Emperor’s New Clothes,“ and „The Snow Queen.“ His stories have been translated into over 150 languages and have inspired numerous adaptations in various forms of media, such as plays, films, and ballets.

„The Flea and the Professor“ is one of Andersen’s lesser-known stories, but it still reflects the author’s distinctive narrative style, blending elements of fantasy, adventure, and morality. While it may not have the same level of recognition as some of his other tales, the story showcases Andersen’s gift for storytelling and his ability to create vivid and engaging characters in a fantastical world.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The Flea and the Professor“

„The Flea and the Professor“ offers several interpretations, exploring themes such as ingenuity, ambition, companionship, and the search for fulfillment.

Ingenuity and resourcefulness: The Professor is a resourceful and adaptable character. After losing his balloon, he finds new ways to make a living, such as sleight-of-hand tricks and ventriloquism. Later, he manages to escape the savage land by constructing a balloon and devising a clever plan to take the flea with him. The story highlights the importance of thinking creatively and adapting to new circumstances.

Ambition and the pursuit of dreams: The Professor dreams of sailing through the air in a balloon with his wife, and this desire propels him through various challenges. Even when he is in the savage land, he does not give up on his dreams. Ultimately, his ambition leads him to success and a better life. The tale encourages the pursuit of one’s dreams and aspirations despite obstacles.

Companionship and loyalty: The bond between the flea and the Professor is a significant aspect of the story. They remain loyal to each other throughout their travels, pledging never to marry and always to stay together. This companionship sustains them in their difficult journey and contributes to their ultimate success.

The search for fulfillment: Both the Professor and the flea seek satisfaction and purpose in their lives. For the Professor, this means re-achieving his status as an Aeronaut and escaping the confines of the savage land. The flea, on the other hand, takes pride in his abilities and fame. Through their partnership and shared experiences, they ultimately find fulfillment and happiness.

The power of imagination: The fairy tale captures the imaginative spirit of both the characters and the reader. The Professor’s talents as a performer rely on his ability to create illusions and entertain his audience. The story also encourages readers to suspend disbelief and engage with a world where fleas can perform incredible feats and where balloons can be built to escape foreign lands.

Summary of the plot

„The Flea and the Professor“ is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen about an Aeronaut who loses his balloon and becomes a performer, calling himself „The Professor.“ He marries a young lady who assists him in his performances, but she disappears during one of their acts. The Professor is left with a large flea, which he trains to perform tricks such as presenting arms and firing a cannon.

The flea becomes famous, and they travel the world together, eventually reaching a land of savages ruled by a willful and beautiful eight-year-old princess. When the princess sees the flea’s performance, she falls in love with him and insists on keeping him. The Professor, bored and wishing to leave the savage land with the flea, comes up with a plan to build a cannon and escape using a balloon.

The Professor asks the princess’s father for materials, which he uses to build the balloon, and when it is ready, he convinces the princess to let the flea help him in the air. They ascend in the balloon, and instead of firing the cannon, they flee to their homeland. The savages are left waiting for their return, but the Professor and the flea never come back. Now wealthy and respectable, the flea and the Professor travel in luxury, performing with their enormous balloon, and no one questions its origin.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, IT
Readability Index by Björnsson25.8
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index85.2
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level4.8
Gunning Fog Index7.1
Coleman–Liau Index7.6
SMOG Index8.2
Automated Readability Index4.2
Character Count8.480
Letter Count6.467
Sentence Count117
Word Count1.628
Average Words per Sentence13,91
Words with more than 6 letters193
Percentage of long words11.9%
Number of Syllables2.068
Average Syllables per Word1,27
Words with three Syllables86
Percentage Words with three Syllables5.3%
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