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The Most Incredible Thing
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The Most Incredible Thing - Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Andersen

Reading time for children: 11 min

Whosoever could do the most incredible thing was to have the King’s daughter and half of his kingdom. The young men, yes, and the old ones too, bent their heads, their muscles, and their hearts upon winning. To do what they thought was the most incredible thing, two ate themselves to death, and one died of overdrinking. Even the boys in the street practiced spitting on their own backs, which they supposed was the most incredible thing anyone could do.

On a certain day there was to be an exhibition of things most incredible and everyone showed his best work. Judges were appointed, ranging from children of three to old men of ninety. It was a grand exposition of things out of the ordinary, but everybody promptly agreed that most incredible of all was a great hall clock – an extraordinary contraption, outside and in. When the clock struck, out came lifelike figures to tell the hour. There were twelve separate performances of these moving figures, with speaking and singing.

People said that nothing so incredible had ever before been seen. The clock struck one, and there stood Moses on the mountain, writing in the tablets of the law the first great commandment: „There is only one true God.“ The clock struck two, and there were Adam and Eve, just as they first met in the Garden of Eden. Were ever two people so lucky! They didn’t own so much as a clothes-closet, and they didn’t need one. At the stroke of three the three Holy Kings appeared. One was as black as a coal, but he couldn’t help that.

The sun had blackened him. These kings brought incense and precious gifts. When the stroke of four sounded, the seasons advanced in their order. Spring carried a budding bough of beech, on which a cuckoo sang. Summer had for her sign a grasshopper on a ripening ear of wheat. Autumn had only an empty stork’s nest, for the birds had flown away. Winter’s tame crow perched on the corner of the stove, and told old tales of bygone days. At five o’clock there was a procession of the five senses.

Sight was represented by a man who made spectacles. Hearing was a noisy coppersmith. Smell was a flower girl with violets for sale. Taste came dressed as a cook. Feeling was a mourner, with crape down to his heels. As the clock struck six, there sat a gambler, throwing dice for the highest cast of all, and they fell with the sixes up. Then came the seven days of the week, or they might be the seven deadly sins. People could not be sure which they were, for they were not easy to distinguish.

Next came a choir of monks, to sing the eight o’clock evensong. At the stroke of nine, the nine muses appeared. One was an astronomer, one kept the books of history, and the others were connected with the theater. Ten o’clock struck, and Moses came forth again, this time with the tables in which were written all ten of God’s commandments. When the clock struck again, boys and girls danced out. They played and sang this song:

„All the way to heaven
The clock struck eleven.“

And eleven it struck. Then came the stroke of twelve. Out marched the night watchman, wearing his cap and carrying his morning star – which is a truncheon tipped with spikes. He sang the old watch song:

„‚Twas at the midnight hour
Our Savior He was born.“

And as he sang the roses about him unfolded into the heads of angels, with rainbow-tinted wings. It was good to hear. It was charming to see. The whole thing was a work of extraordinary craftsmanship, and everyone agreed that it was the most incredible thing. The artist who had made it was young, generous, and sincere, a true friend, and a great help to his poor father and mother. He was altogether worthy of the Princess and of half the kingdom.

On the day that they were to proclaim who had won, the whole town was bedecked and be-draped. The Princess sat on her throne. It had been newly stuffed with horsehair for the occasion, but it was still far from comfortable or pleasant. The judges winked knowingly at the man they had chosen, who stood there so happy and proud. His fortune was made, for had he not done the most incredible thing!

„No!“ a tall, bony, powerful fellow bawled out. „Leave it to me, I am the man to do the most incredible thing,“ and then he swung his ax at the craftsman’s clock. Crack, crash, smash! There lay the whole thing. Here rolled the wheels, and there flew the hairsprings. It was wrecked and ruined. „I did that,“ said the lout. „My work beat his, and bowled you over, all in one stroke. I have done the most incredible thing.“

„To destroy such a work of art!“ said the judges. „Why it’s the most incredible thing we’ve ever seen.“ And the people said so too. So he was awarded the Princess and half the kingdom, because a law is a law, even if it happens to be a most incredible one. They blew trumpets from the ramparts and the city towers, and they announced, „The wedding will now take place.“

The Princess was not especially happy about it, but she looked pretty and she wore her most expensive clothes. The church was at its best by candle-light, late in the evening. The ladies of the court sang in processions, and escorted the bride. The lords sung, and accompanied the groom. From the way he strutted and swaggered along, you’d think that nothing could ever bowl him over.

Then the singing stopped. It was so still that you could have heard a pin fall in the street. But it was not quiet for long. Crash! crash! the great church doors flew open, and boom! boom! all the works of the clock came marching down the church aisle and halted between the bride and the groom. Dead men cannot walk the earth. That’s true, but a work of art does not die. Its shape may be shattered, but the spirit of art cannot be broken. The spirit of art jested, and that was no joke.

To all appearances it stood there as if it were whole, and had never been wrecked. The clock struck one hour right after another, from one to twelve, and all the figures poured forth. First Moses came, shining as if bright flames issued from his forehead. He cast the heavy stone tablets of the law at the bridegroom’s feet, and tied them to the church floor. „I cannot lift them again,“ said Moses, „for you have broken my arms. Stand where you are!“

Then came Adam and Eve, the three Wise Men of the East, and the four Seasons. Each told him the disagreeable truth. „Shame on you!“ But he was not ashamed. All the figures of all the hours marched out of the clock, and they grew wondrous big. There was scarcely room for the living people. And at the stroke of twelve out strode the watchman, with his cap and his many-spiked morning star. There was a strange commotion. The watchman went straight to the bridegroom, and smote him on the forehead with his morning star.

„Lie where you are,“ said the watchman. „A blow for a blow. We have taken out vengeance and the master’s too, so now we will vanish.“ And vanish they did, every cogwheel and figure. But the candles of the church flared up like flowers of fire, and the gilded stars under the roof cast down long clear shafts of light, and the organ sounded though no man had touched it. The people all said that they had lived to see the most incredible thing.

„Now,“ the Princess commanded, „summon the right man, the craftsman who made the work of art. He shall be my husband and my lord.“ He stood beside her in the church. All the people were in his train. Everyone was happy for him, everyone blessed him, and there was no one who was envious. And that was the most incredible thing.

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Most Incredible Thing“

„The Most Incredible Thing“ is a lesser-known fairy tale by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. It was first published in 1870, towards the end of Andersen’s life. It is one of his later works, reflecting a more mature and introspective tone compared to his earlier fairy tales. Andersen is known for his vast collection of fairy tales and stories, many of which have become beloved classics, such as „The Little Mermaid,“ „The Ugly Duckling,“ „The Emperor’s New Clothes,“ and „The Snow Queen.“

Hans Christian Andersen was born in 1805 in Odense, Denmark, and grew up in poverty. He moved to Copenhagen as a teenager to pursue a career in the arts, initially seeking to become an actor, dancer, or singer. When these pursuits did not work out, he turned to writing. Andersen’s first fairy tale collection was published in 1835, which marked the beginning of his successful literary career. Over the years, he wrote numerous fairy tales, novels, plays, and poems.

Andersen’s fairy tales are often characterized by their unique blend of realism and fantasy, as well as their exploration of various themes like love, suffering, and the human condition. Many of his stories have been adapted into various media, including film, television, and theater. His works have been translated into over 100 languages, making him one of the most widely read authors in the world.

„The Most Incredible Thing“ has not gained as much popularity as some of Andersen’s other stories. However, it still offers valuable lessons and themes, as discussed in the interpretations section. The story has also inspired adaptations, including a ballet by the British electronic music duo Pet Shop Boys, which premiered in 2011. The backgrounds to this fairy tale are not very well-known, but it can be seen as a reflection of Andersen’s views on the importance of creativity, resilience, and the power of the human spirit. As with many of his stories, „The Most Incredible Thing“ emphasizes the value of inner strength and the ability to rise above challenges, making it an inspiring and thought-provoking tale.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The Most Incredible Thing“

„The Most Incredible Thing“ offers several interpretations and themes that can be gleaned from the story:

The value of creativity and art: The tale emphasizes the importance of creativity and the power of art, as seen in the extraordinary clock that captivates the entire kingdom. The clock represents human ingenuity and the impact that art can have on people’s lives.

Destruction vs. creation: The destructive man’s act of smashing the clock highlights the contrast between the creative force of the artist and the destructive force of the antagonist. This theme underscores the idea that destruction is easy, while creation takes effort, skill, and patience.

Resilience and triumph of good over evil: Despite the destruction of the clock, the spirit of the artwork endures and takes revenge on the destructive man. This theme emphasizes the resilience of good over evil and the notion that the essence of true art cannot be broken.

The importance of justice and fairness: The story shows that justice eventually prevails when the true winner, the clock’s creator, is acknowledged and rewarded for his masterpiece. It highlights the importance of fairness and just treatment for those who genuinely deserve it.

The power of love and unity: The happy ending with the union of the Princess and the clock’s creator represents the power of love and unity. Their marriage symbolizes the harmony and balance that can be achieved when love and goodness triumph over destruction and deceit.

In summary, „The Most Incredible Thing“ offers interpretations centered around the value of creativity, the resilience of good over evil, the importance of justice and fairness, and the power of love and unity. Overall, „The Most Incredible Thing“ presents a rich tapestry of themes and interpretations, encouraging readers to reflect on the importance of creativity, resilience, and unity in the face of adversity.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The Most Incredible Thing“

Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale „The Most Incredible Thing“ has inspired several adaptations in various forms of media, including:

Ballet: The original inspiration for the story was a ballet by the Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, created for a competition organized by the Russian Imperial Theater in 1876. While the ballet was not well-received at the time, it has since been revived and performed by various ballet companies around the world.

Music: In addition to Tchaikovsky’s ballet, the story has also inspired several musical adaptations, including an opera by contemporary composer Julian Grant and a symphonic suite by British composer Arthur Sullivan.

Films: The story has been adapted into several films, including an animated short film by Czech filmmaker Bretislav Pojar and a feature-length film by Spanish director Carlos Saura. In 2018, an animated short film adaptation titled „The Most Incredible Thing: A Fairy Tale by H.C. Andersen“ was directed by Réka Bucsi. The film offers a fresh and imaginative take on the story, with a unique visual style and narrative approach.

Theater: The story has also been adapted for the stage, including a production by the Royal Shakespeare Company that combined puppetry and dance. Several theater companies have adapted „The Most Incredible Thing“ into stage plays, often incorporating elements of puppetry, music, and dance to bring the story to life. These adaptations have been performed by both professional and amateur theater groups, introducing the tale to new audiences around the world.

Literature: „The Most Incredible Thing“ has also inspired several books, including a children’s book by illustrator Alison Jay and a novel by Brazilian author Joca Reiners Terron. In 2016, a picture book adaptation of „The Most Incredible Thing“ was published, with illustrations by artist Júlia Sardà. The book brings the story to life through vivid and intricate illustrations that capture the imagination and whimsy of Andersen’s original tale.

These adaptations showcase the enduring appeal and relevance of „The Most Incredible Thing“ as a story that continues to inspire artists and audiences alike. The story’s themes of creativity, resilience, and unity remain relevant and resonate with contemporary audiences, making it a popular choice for adaptation across various forms of media. Overall, „The Most Incredible Thing“ has proven to be a rich source of inspiration for artists and creators across a variety of mediums, highlighting the enduring appeal and timeless themes of Hans Christian Andersen’s work.

Summary of the plot

„The Most Incredible Thing“ is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, which tells the story of a kingdom where the King offers his daughter’s hand in marriage and half of his kingdom to the person who could do the most incredible thing. Many tried their luck, but the most incredible creation was a magical hall clock that portrayed different scenes as it struck each hour. The clock’s creator, a young, kind-hearted artist, was deemed the winner.

However, a destructive man claimed he could do the most incredible thing by smashing the clock. The judges agreed that the destruction of such a masterpiece was indeed incredible, so the man was awarded the prize. The Princess was unhappy but prepared for the wedding.

During the wedding ceremony, the spirit of the clock came to life, and its figures marched down the aisle. Each figure, now enlarged, rebuked the destructive man. The watchman’s figure struck the man on the forehead, and all the figures vanished. The church lit up, and the organ played by itself, leaving the congregation in awe. The Princess then called for the true winner, the clock’s creator, to be her husband. They were married in the church, and everyone rejoiced in their union, with no one feeling envious. This happy ending was considered the most incredible thing of all.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES
Readability Index by Björnsson25.4
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index84.7
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level4.4
Gunning Fog Index7
Coleman–Liau Index9.1
SMOG Index8
Automated Readability Index4.5
Character Count7.565
Letter Count5.850
Sentence Count115
Word Count1.380
Average Words per Sentence12,00
Words with more than 6 letters185
Percentage of long words13.4%
Number of Syllables1.794
Average Syllables per Word1,30
Words with three Syllables79
Percentage Words with three Syllables5.7%
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