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The Red Shoes
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The Red Shoes - Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Andersen

Reading time for children: 16 min

There was once a little girl who was very pretty and delicate, but in summer she was forced to run about with bare feet, she was so poor, and in winter wear very large wooden shoes, which made her little insteps quite red, and that looked so dangerous!

In the middle of the village lived old Dame Shoemaker. She sat and sewed together, as well as she could, a little pair of shoes out of old red strips of cloth. They were very clumsy, but it was a kind thought. They were meant for the little girl. The little girl was called Karen.

On the very day her mother was buried, Karen received the red shoes, and wore them for the first time. They were certainly not intended for mourning, but she had no others, and with stockingless feet she followed the poor straw coffin in them.

Suddenly a large old carriage drove up, and a large old lady sat in it: she looked at the little girl, felt compassion for her, and then said to the clergyman:

„Here, give me the little girl. I will adopt her!“

And Karen believed all this happened on account of the red shoes, but the old lady thought they were horrible, and they were burnt. But Karen herself was cleanly and nicely dressed. She must learn to read and sew; and people said she was a nice little thing, but the looking-glass said: „Thou art more than nice, thou art beautiful!“

Now the queen once travelled through the land, and she had her little daughter with her. And this little daughter was a princess, and people streamed to the castle, and Karen was there also, and the little princess stood in her fine white dress, in a window, and let herself be stared at. She had neither a train nor a golden crown, but splendid red morocco shoes. They were certainly far handsomer than those Dame Shoemaker had made for little Karen. Nothing in the world can be compared with red shoes.

Now Karen was old enough to be confirmed. She had new clothes and was to have new shoes also. The rich shoemaker in the city took the measure of her little foot. This took place at his house, in his room; where stood large glass-cases, filled with elegant shoes and brilliant boots. All this looked charming, but the old lady could not see well, and so had no pleasure in them. In the midst of the shoes stood a pair of red ones, just like those the princess had worn. How beautiful they were! The shoemaker said also they had been made for the child of a count, but had not fitted.

„That must be patent leather!“ said the old lady. „They shine so!“

„Yes, they shine!“ said Karen, and they fitted, and were bought, but the old lady knew nothing about their being red, else she would never have allowed Karen to have gone in red shoes to be confirmed. Yet such was the case.

Everybody looked at her feet; and when she stepped through the chancel door on the church pavement, it seemed to her as if the old figures on the tombs, those portraits of old preachers and preachers‘ wives, with stiff ruffs, and long black dresses, fixed their eyes on her red shoes. And she thought only of them as the clergyman laid his hand upon her head, and spoke of the holy baptism, of the covenant with God, and how she should be now a matured Christian; and the organ pealed so solemnly. The sweet children’s voices sang, and the old music-directors sang, but Karen only thought of her red shoes.

In the afternoon, the old lady heard from everyone that the shoes had been red, and she said that it was very wrong of Karen, that it was not at all becoming, and that in future Karen should only go in black shoes to church, even when she should be older.

The next Sunday there was the sacrament, and Karen looked at the black shoes, looked at the red ones–looked at them again, and put on the red shoes.

The sun shone gloriously; Karen and the old lady walked along the path through the corn. It was rather dusty there.

At the church door stood an old soldier with a crutch, and with a wonderfully long beard, which was more red than white, and he bowed to the ground, and asked the old lady whether he might dust her shoes. And Karen stretched out her little foot.

„See, what beautiful dancing shoes!“ said the soldier. „Sit firm when you dance“; and he put his hand out towards the soles.

And the old lady gave the old soldier alms, and went into the church with Karen.

And all the people in the church looked at Karen’s red shoes, and all the pictures, and as Karen knelt before the altar, and raised the cup to her lips, she only thought of the red shoes, and they seemed to swim in it; and she forgot to sing her psalm, and she forgot to pray, „Our Father in Heaven!“

Now all the people went out of church, and the old lady got into her carriage. Karen raised her foot to get in after her, when the old soldier said,

„Look, what beautiful dancing shoes!“

And Karen could not help dancing a step or two, and when she began her feet continued to dance. It was just as though the shoes had power over them. She danced round the church corner, she could not leave off. The coachman was obliged to run after and catch hold of her, and he lifted her in the carriage, but her feet continued to dance so that she trod on the old lady dreadfully. At length she took the shoes off, and then her legs had peace.

The shoes were placed in a closet at home, but Karen could not avoid looking at them.

Now the old lady was sick, and it was said she could not recover. She must be nursed and waited upon, and there was no one whose duty it was so much as Karen’s. But there was a great ball in the city, to which Karen was invited. She looked at the old lady, who could not recover, she looked at the red shoes, and she thought there could be no sin in it. She put on the red shoes, she might do that also, she thought. But then she went to the ball and began to dance.

When she wanted to dance to the right, the shoes would dance to the left, and when she wanted to dance up the room, the shoes danced back again, down the steps, into the street, and out of the city gate. She danced, and was forced to dance straight out into the gloomy wood.

Then it was suddenly light up among the trees, and she fancied it must be the moon, for there was a face; but it was the old soldier with the red beard. He sat there, nodded his head, and said, „Look, what beautiful dancing shoes!“

Then she was terrified, and wanted to fling off the red shoes, but they clung fast; and she pulled down her stockings, but the shoes seemed to have grown to her feet. And she danced, and must dance, over fields and meadows, in rain and sunshine, by night and day; but at night it was the most fearful.

She danced over the churchyard, but the dead did not dance–they had something better to do than to dance. She wished to seat herself on a poor man’s grave, where the bitter tansy grew; but for her there was neither peace nor rest; and when she danced towards the open church door, she saw an angel standing there. He wore long, white garments. He had wings which reached from his shoulders to the earth. His countenance was severe and grave; and in his hand he held a sword, broad and glittering.

„Dance shalt thou!“ said he. „Dance in thy red shoes till thou art pale and cold! Till thy skin shrivels up and thou art a skeleton! Dance shalt thou from door to door, and where proud, vain children dwell, thou shalt knock, that they may hear thee and tremble! Dance shalt thou–!“

„Mercy!“ cried Karen. But she did not hear the angel’s reply, for the shoes carried her through the gate into the fields, across roads and bridges, and she must keep ever dancing.

One morning she danced past a door which she well knew. Within sounded a psalm; a coffin, decked with flowers, was borne forth. Then she knew that the old lady was dead, and felt that she was abandoned by all, and condemned by the angel of God.

She danced, and she was forced to dance through the gloomy night. The shoes carried her over stack and stone. She was torn till she bled. She danced over the heath till she came to a little house. Here, she knew, dwelt the executioner; and she tapped with her fingers at the window, and said, „Come out! Come out! I cannot come in, for I am forced to dance!“

And the executioner said, „Thou dost not know who I am, I fancy? I strike bad people’s heads off; and I hear that my axe rings!“

„Don’t strike my head off!“ said Karen. „Then I can’t repent of my sins! But strike off my feet in the red shoes!“

And then she confessed her entire sin, and the executioner struck off her feet with the red shoes, but the shoes danced away with the little feet across the field into the deep wood.

And he carved out little wooden feet for her, and crutches, taught her the psalm criminals always sing; and she kissed the hand which had wielded the axe, and went over the heath.

„Now I have suffered enough for the red shoes!“ said she. „Now I will go into the church that people may see me!“ And she hastened towards the church door: but when she was near it, the red shoes danced before her, and she was terrified, and turned round. The whole week she was unhappy, and wept many bitter tears; but when Sunday returned, she said, „Well, now I have suffered and struggled enough! I really believe I am as good as many a one who sits in the church, and holds her head so high!“

And away she went boldly; but she had not got farther than the churchyard gate before she saw the red shoes dancing before her; and she was frightened, and turned back, and repented of her sin from her heart.

And she went to the parsonage, and begged that they would take her into service. She would be very industrious, she said, and would do everything she could. She did not care about the wages, only she wished to have a home, and be with good people. And the clergyman’s wife was sorry for her and took her into service; and she was industrious and thoughtful. She sat still and listened when the clergyman read the Bible in the evenings. All the children thought a great deal of her; but when they spoke of dress, and grandeur, and beauty, she shook her head.

The following Sunday, when the family was going to church, they asked her whether she would not go with them; but she glanced sorrowfully, with tears in her eyes, at her crutches. The family went to hear the word of God; but she went alone into her little chamber. There was only room for a bed and chair to stand in it; and here she sat down with her Prayer-Book; and whilst she read with a pious mind, the wind bore the strains of the organ towards her, and she raised her tearful countenance, and said, „O God, help me!“

And the sun shone so clearly, and straight before her stood the angel of God in white garments, the same she had seen that night at the church door; but he no longer carried the sharp sword, but in its stead a splendid green spray, full of roses. And he touched the ceiling with the spray, and the ceiling rose so high, and where he had touched it there gleamed a golden star. And he touched the walls, and they widened out, and she saw the organ which was playing. She saw the old pictures of the preachers and the preachers‘ wives. The congregation sat in cushioned seats, and sang out of their Prayer-Books. For the church itself had come to the poor girl in her narrow chamber, or else she had come into the church. She sat in the pew with the clergyman’s family, and when they had ended the psalm and looked up, they nodded and said, „It is right that thou art come!“

„It was through mercy!“ she said.

And the organ pealed, and the children’s voices in the choir sounded so sweet and soft! The clear sunshine streamed so warmly through the window into the pew where Karen sat! Her heart was so full of sunshine, peace, and joy, that it broke. Her soul flew on the sunshine to God, and there no one asked after the red shoes.

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „The red shoes“

„The Red Shoes“ is a fairy tale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, first published in 1845. Andersen drew inspiration from a variety of sources when creating his stories, often borrowing from folk tales, his own life experiences, and even biblical themes.

In the case of „The Red Shoes,“ it is believed that Andersen took inspiration from the story of Karen, a girl he knew in his childhood, who was obsessed with a pair of red shoes. The story also explores themes of vanity, temptation, and the consequences of disobedience, which can be seen as influenced by Christian teachings.

The tale may also reflect Andersen’s personal experiences with social class and the desire to move up in society. The main character, Karen, is a poor girl who becomes obsessed with a pair of red shoes that represent a higher social status. This theme may have resonated with Andersen, who himself came from a humble background and worked hard to achieve success as a writer.

„The Red Shoes“ has been interpreted in various ways, with some readers seeing it as a moral lesson about the dangers of vanity and disobedience, while others view it as a reflection of Andersen’s personal struggles and experiences.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The red shoes“

„The Red Shoes“ is a complex and multi-layered fairy tale that has inspired various interpretations over the years. Some of the most common interpretations include:

Moral lesson about vanity and disobedience: One of the most straightforward interpretations of „The Red Shoes“ is that it serves as a moral lesson about the dangers of vanity and disobedience. Karen’s obsession with the red shoes, which symbolize her desire for material wealth and social status, ultimately leads to her downfall. The story can be seen as a cautionary tale, warning readers about the perils of valuing material possessions over spiritual and moral values.

A critique of societal expectations: The story can also be interpreted as a critique of societal expectations and the pressure to conform. Karen’s desire for the red shoes can be seen as an expression of her longing to fit in and be accepted by the higher social class. In this sense, the story highlights the negative impact of social expectations on individuals and questions the importance placed on external appearances.

A commentary on Andersen’s own life: As mentioned earlier, Andersen himself came from a humble background and struggled to find his place in society. Thus, „The Red Shoes“ can be interpreted as a reflection of his own experiences and feelings. Karen’s journey can be seen as a parallel to Andersen’s own struggles and the challenges he faced in his pursuit of success and recognition.

A religious allegory: Some interpretations of „The Red Shoes“ emphasize the religious aspects of the story. The tale incorporates elements of Christian teachings, such as the concept of sin, redemption, and divine intervention. In this context, Karen’s suffering can be seen as a punishment for her sins, and her eventual redemption through the help of the old woman (who can be seen as a symbol of divine grace) illustrates the power of faith and the importance of spiritual values over material desires.

Feminist perspective: From a feminist perspective, „The Red Shoes“ can be seen as a commentary on the restrictive roles and expectations placed on women in the 19th century. Karen’s punishment for her desire to wear the red shoes can be interpreted as a metaphor for the way women were punished for expressing their desires or attempting to break free from societal constraints. In this interpretation, the story serves as a critique of patriarchal society and the limitations it imposes on women.

These interpretations showcase the depth and richness of Andersen’s storytelling, as well as the enduring relevance of „The Red Shoes“ in exploring themes of desire, societal pressure, and the search for identity.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The red shoes“

„The Red Shoes“ has inspired numerous adaptations across various media, including film, theater, ballet, and literature. Some notable examples include:

„The Red Shoes“ (1948): This British film, directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, is a classic adaptation of the fairy tale. It tells the story of a young ballerina who becomes torn between her love for dance and her love for a young composer. The film is known for its stunning visuals and innovative use of color and cinematography, with the red shoes symbolizing both passion and obsession.

„The Red Shoes“ ballet: There have been several ballet adaptations of „The Red Shoes,“ with the most famous one being choreographed by Sir Matthew Bourne. Premiered in 2016, Bourne’s ballet adaptation is a reimagining of the 1948 film, focusing on the love triangle between a ballerina, a composer, and an impresario.

„The Red Shoes“ play: There have been various stage adaptations of „The Red Shoes,“ often incorporating elements of dance and music to bring the story to life. Some notable examples include a 1993 adaptation by the Kneehigh Theater in the UK and a 2005 adaptation by the Theater by the Blind in New York City.

„The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf“ by Kathryn Davis: This 1993 novel is a contemporary reinterpretation of „The Red Shoes.“ It tells the story of two women, one in the 19th century and the other in the 20th century, whose lives become intertwined through a pair of red shoes. The novel explores themes of obsession, guilt, and redemption, drawing inspiration from Andersen’s original tale.

Children’s books:
„The Red Shoes“ by Gloria Fowler and Sun Young Yoo: This beautifully illustrated children’s book retells Andersen’s classic fairy tale, introducing a new generation of readers to the timeless story of vanity, obsession, and redemption.
These adaptations demonstrate the enduring appeal and versatility of „The Red Shoes,“ showcasing the story’s ability to inspire creative reinterpretations across different artistic mediums.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The red shoes“

„The Red Shoes“ has been adapted into numerous forms of media over the years, including:

Ballet: One of the most famous adaptations of „The Red Shoes“ is the ballet of the same name, choreographed by Matthew Bourne. The ballet premiered in 1993 and has since been performed all over the world.

Film: „The Red Shoes“ has been adapted into several films, including the 1948 film directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, which is considered a classic of British cinema. It was also adapted into a Japanese horror film in 2005.

Opera: The story has been adapted into several operas, including „The Red Shoes“ by composer Jule Styne and lyricist Sammy Cahn, which premiered on Broadway in 1954.

Literature: „The Red Shoes“ has inspired numerous works of literature, including the novel „Red Shoes“ by Joanne Harris and the short story „The Red Shoes“ by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Television: The story has been adapted into several television productions, including an episode of the BBC series „Faerie Tale Theater“ in 1985 and an episode of the American animated series „Adventures from the Book of Virtues“ in 1997.

Art: „The Red Shoes“ has also inspired numerous works of art, including paintings by artists such as Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall.

Overall, „The Red Shoes“ has had a significant impact on popular culture and continues to inspire new adaptations and interpretations to this day.

Summary of the plot

„The Red Shoes“ is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen about a young girl named Karen who becomes obsessed with a pair of red shoes. Karen is a poor orphan adopted by a kind old lady, who buys her a new pair of shoes for her confirmation. Karen, however, convinces the shoemaker to make her a pair of red shoes, which are not appropriate for the occasion.

Karen becomes obsessed with her red shoes, wearing them even when the old lady advises against it. One day, when Karen is attending a party, her red shoes take on a life of their own, forcing her to dance uncontrollably. The shoes refuse to come off, and Karen is forced to dance day and night, causing her great pain and suffering.

Desperate for relief, Karen seeks help from a kind-hearted executioner, who agrees to cut off her feet to free her from the cursed shoes. After losing her feet, Karen becomes a cripple and experiences a deep sense of remorse and humility. She learns the importance of inner beauty and genuine piety, realizing the vanity and pride that led to her downfall.

At the end of the story, Karen finds redemption and peace through her newfound faith and understanding. The red shoes, now separated from Karen, continue to dance on their own, serving as a reminder of the consequences of vanity and obsession.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „The red shoes“

„The Red Shoes“ is a fairy tale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, first published in 1845. Andersen is known for his extensive collection of fairy tales, many of which have become classic children’s stories, such as „The Little Mermaid,“ „The Ugly Duckling,“ and „The Emperor’s New Clothes.“

Andersen’s stories often contain moral lessons and allegorical elements, reflecting the values and beliefs of the 19th-century society in which he lived. In „The Red Shoes,“ Andersen addresses themes of vanity, materialism, repentance, and redemption, using the story of Karen and her obsession with the red shoes to convey these messages.

The story’s origin is thought to be inspired by Andersen’s own experiences as a child, as he grew up in poverty and was often teased for his appearance and lack of proper clothing. This personal connection might explain the focus on material possessions and the desire for social acceptance in the story.

„The Red Shoes“ has been adapted into various forms over the years, including ballets, films, and musicals. Its enduring popularity is a testament to the timeless appeal of Andersen’s fairy tales and the universal themes they explore.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The red shoes“

„The Red Shoes“ by Hans Christian Andersen can be interpreted in various ways, touching upon themes of vanity, obsession, repentance, and redemption.

Vanity and materialism: The red shoes symbolize Karen’s vanity and her desire for material possessions. Her obsession with the shoes‘ beauty and status leads her down a path of disobedience and suffering. The story serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of placing too much importance on superficial qualities and worldly possessions.

Obsession and consequences: Karen’s fixation on the red shoes results in negative consequences, including losing her home, enduring pain and terror, and ultimately facing a drastic punishment. This theme highlights the potential harm that can come from letting one’s obsessions control their life.

Repentance and redemption: Despite her sins, Karen recognizes her mistakes and seeks to atone for her actions. She humbles herself, works diligently, and prays for forgiveness. In the end, she is granted mercy and redemption through her sincere repentance and faith.

Divine intervention and grace: The appearance of the angel at the end of the story signifies the power of divine intervention and the transformative nature of grace. The angel’s blessing and the transformation of Karen’s room into a church demonstrate that, with faith and repentance, one can overcome even the most dire circumstances and find peace.

The power of choice and personal responsibility: The story also emphasizes the importance of personal responsibility and the consequences of one’s choices. Karen’s decision to wear the red shoes despite knowing better leads to her suffering, and her ultimate redemption comes from acknowledging her mistakes and taking responsibility for her actions.

Overall, „The Red Shoes“ can be seen as a moral tale that underscores the importance of humility, self-reflection, and seeking redemption through faith and personal growth.

Summary of the plot

„The Red Shoes“ is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen about a young girl named Karen who comes from a poor family. When her mother dies, she receives a pair of red shoes made from old cloth strips by Dame Shoemaker. An old lady adopts Karen, disapproves of the red shoes, and burns them. Karen is well-cared for and educated, and she begins to believe she is beautiful.

One day, Karen sees a princess with splendid red morocco shoes, and becomes enamored with them. As Karen is about to be confirmed, she gets new clothes and shoes. A rich shoemaker makes her a pair of red shoes, like the princess’s. Unaware of their color, the old lady allows Karen to wear them to her confirmation. People stare at Karen’s shoes during the ceremony, and she becomes obsessed with them.

The old lady scolds Karen for wearing red shoes to church and demands that she wear black shoes from now on. Karen disobeys and wears the red shoes again. An old soldier with a red beard enchants the shoes, and Karen can’t stop dancing. Her feet take her far away from home, and she experiences pain and terror. Karen eventually meets the executioner, who cuts off her feet and the shoes, and provides her with wooden feet and crutches.

Karen repents her sins and seeks shelter at a parsonage, where she works diligently and lives humbly. She longs to go to church, but the red shoes continue to haunt her. One day, she prays for help, and an angel appears, transforming her tiny room into a church. The angel blesses her with a spray of roses, and Karen’s heart fills with joy and peace.

As Karen’s heart breaks from overwhelming happiness, her soul ascends to heaven on a beam of sunlight. In the afterlife, no one asks about the red shoes.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, IT, NL
Readability Index by Björnsson27.4
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index84
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level5.9
Gunning Fog Index8.5
Coleman–Liau Index8.2
SMOG Index8
Automated Readability Index6.4
Character Count11.937
Letter Count9.128
Sentence Count129
Word Count2.240
Average Words per Sentence17,36
Words with more than 6 letters224
Percentage of long words10%
Number of Syllables2.787
Average Syllables per Word1,24
Words with three Syllables89
Percentage Words with three Syllables4%
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