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The Story of a Mother
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The Story of a Mother - Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Andersen

Reading time for children: 15 min

A mother sat by her little child. She was very sad, for she feared it would die. It was quite pale, and its little eyes were closed, and sometimes it drew a heavy deep breath, almost like a sigh; and then the mother gazed more sadly than ever on the poor little creature.

Some one knocked at the door, and a poor old man walked in. He was wrapped in something that looked like a great horse-cloth; and he required it truly to keep him warm, for it was cold winter. The country everywhere lay covered with snow and ice, and the wind blew so sharply that it cut one’s face.

The little child had dozed off to sleep for a moment, and the mother, seeing that the old man shivered with the cold, rose and placed a small mug of beer on the stove to warm for him. The old man sat and rocked the cradle; and the mother seated herself on a chair near him, and looked at her sick child who still breathed heavily, and took hold of its little hand.

„You think I shall keep him, do you not?“ she said. „Our all-merciful God will surely not take him away from me.“

The old man, who was indeed Death himself, nodded his head in a peculiar manner, which might have signified either Yes, or No; and the mother cast down her eyes, while the tears rolled down her cheeks. Then her head became heavy, for she had not closed her eyes for three days and nights, and she slept, but only for a moment. Shivering with cold, she started up and looked round the room. The old man was gone, and her child– it was gone too!– the old man had taken it with him. In the corner of the room the old clock began to strike; „whirr“ went the chains, the heavy weight sank to the ground, and the clock stopped; and the poor mother rushed out of the house calling for her child.

Out in the snow sat a woman in long black garments, and she said to the mother, „Death has been with you in your room. I saw him hastening away with your little child. He strides faster than the wind, and never brings back what he has taken away.“

„Only tell me which way he has gone,“ said the mother; „tell me the way, I will find him.“

„I know the way,“ said the woman in the black garments. „But before I tell you, you must sing to me all the songs that you have sung to your child. I love these songs, I have heard them before. I am Night, and I saw your tears flow as you sang.“

„I will sing them all to you,“ said the mother. „But do not detain me now. I must overtake him, and find my child.“

But Night sat silent and still. Then the mother wept and sang, and wrung her hands. And there were many songs, and yet even more tears; till at length Night said, „Go to the right, into the dark forest of fir-trees. For I saw Death take that road with your little child.“

Within the wood the mother came to cross roads, and she knew not which to take. Just by stood a thorn-bush. It had neither leaf nor flower, for it was the cold winter time, and icicles hung on the branches.

„Have you not seen Death go by, with my little child?“ she asked.

„Yes,“ replied the thorn-bush. „But I will not tell you which way he has taken until you have warmed me in your bosom. I am freezing to death here, and turning to ice.“

Then she pressed the bramble to her bosom quite close, so that it might be thawed, and the thorns pierced her flesh, and great drops of blood flowed; but the bramble shot forth fresh green leaves, and they became flowers on the cold winter’s night, so warm is the heart of a sorrowing mother. Then the bramble-bush told her the path she must take.

She came at length to a great lake, on which there was neither ship nor boat to be seen. The lake was not frozen sufficiently for her to pass over on the ice, nor was it open enough for her to wade through; and yet she must cross it, if she wished to find her child. Then she laid herself down to drink up the water of the lake, which was of course impossible for any human being to do; but the bereaved mother thought that perhaps a miracle might take place to help her.

„You will never succeed in this,“ said the lake; „let us make an agreement together which will be better. I love to collect pearls, and your eyes are the purest I have ever seen. If you will weep those eyes away in tears into my waters, then I will take you to the large hothouse where Death dwells and rears flowers and trees, every one of which is a human life.“

„Oh, what would I not give to reach my child!“ said the weeping mother; and as she still continued to weep, her eyes fell into the depths of the lake, and became two costly pearls. Then the lake lifted her up, and wafted her across to the opposite shore as if she were on a swing, where stood a wonderful building many miles in length. No one could tell whether it was a mountain covered with forests and full of caves, or whether it had been built. But the poor mother could not see, for she had wept her eyes into the lake.

„Where shall I find Death, who went away with my little child?“ she asked.

„He has not arrived here yet,“ said an old gray-haired woman, who was walking about, and watering Death’s hothouse. „How have you found your way here? and who helped you?“

„God has helped me,“ she replied. „He is merciful; will you not be merciful too? Where shall I find my little child?“

„I did not know the child,“ said the old woman. „And you are blind. Many flowers and trees have faded to-night, and Death will soon come to transplant them. You know already that every human being has a life-tree or a life-flower, just as may be ordained for him. They look like other plants; but they have hearts that beat. Children’s hearts also beat: from that you may perhaps be able to recognize your child. But what will you give me, if I tell you what more you will have to do?“

„I have nothing to give,“ said the afflicted mother. „But I would go to the ends of the earth for you.“

„I can give you nothing to do for me there,“ said the old woman. „But you can give me your long black hair. You know yourself that it is beautiful, and it pleases me. You can take my white hair in exchange, which will be something in return.“

„Do you ask nothing more than that?“ said she. „I will give it to you with pleasure.“

And she gave up her beautiful hair, and received in return the white locks of the old woman. Then they went into Death’s vast hothouse, where flowers and trees grew together in wonderful profusion. Blooming hyacinths, under glass bells, and peonies, like strong trees. There grew water-plants, some quite fresh, and others looking sickly, which had water-snakes twining round them, and black crabs clinging to their stems. There stood noble palm-trees, oaks, and plantains, and beneath them bloomed thyme and parsley. Each tree and flower had a name; each represented a human life, and belonged to men still living, some in China, others in Greenland, and in all parts of the world. Some large trees had been planted in little pots, so that they were cramped for room, and seemed about to burst the pot to pieces. While many weak little flowers were growing in rich soil, with moss all around them, carefully tended and cared for. The sorrowing mother bent over the little plants, and heard the human heart beating in each, and recognized the beatings of her child’s heart among millions of others.

„That is it,“ she cried, stretching out her hand towards a little crocus-flower which hung down its sickly head.

„Do not touch the flower,“ exclaimed the old woman. „But place yourself here; and when Death comes– I expect him every minute– do not let him pull up that plant, but threaten him that if he does you will serve the other flowers in the same manner. This will make him afraid. For he must account to God for each of them. None can be uprooted, unless he receives permission to do so.“

There rushed through the hothouse a chill of icy coldness, and the blind mother felt that Death had arrived.

„How did you find your way hither?“ asked he; „how could you come here faster than I have?“

„I am a mother,“ she answered.

And Death stretched out his hand towards the delicate little flower; but she held her hands tightly round it, and held it fast at same time, with the most anxious care, lest she should touch one of the leaves. Then Death breathed upon her hands, and she felt his breath colder than the icy wind, and her hands sank down powerless.

„You cannot prevail against me,“ said Death.

„But a God of mercy can,“ said she.

„I only do His will,“ replied Death. „I am his gardener. I take all His flowers and trees, and transplant them into the gardens of Paradise in an unknown land. How they flourish there, and what that garden resembles, I may not tell you.“

„Give me back my child,“ said the mother, weeping and imploring; and she seized two beautiful flowers in her hands, and cried to Death, „I will tear up all your flowers, for I am in despair.“

„Do not touch them,“ said Death. „You say you are unhappy; and would you make another mother as unhappy as yourself?“

„Another mother!“ cried the poor woman, setting the flowers free from her hands.

„There are your eyes,“ said Death. „I fished them up out of the lake for you. They were shining brightly; but I knew not they were yours. Take them back– they are clearer now than before– and then look into the deep well which is close by here. I will tell you the names of the two flowers which you wished to pull up; and you will see the whole future of the human beings they represent, and what you were about to frustrate and destroy.“

Then she looked into the well; and it was a glorious sight to behold how one of them became a blessing to the world, and how much happiness and joy it spread around. But she saw that the life of the other was full of care and poverty, misery and woe.

„Both are the will of God,“ said Death.

„Which is the unhappy flower, and which is the blessed one?“ she said.

„That I may not tell you,“ said Death. „But thus far you may learn, that one of the two flowers represents your own child. It was the fate of your child that you saw,– the future of your own child.“

Then the mother screamed aloud with terror, „Which of them belongs to my child? Tell me that. Deliver the unhappy child. Release it from so much misery. Rather take it away. Take it to the kingdom of God. Forget my tears and my entreaties; forget all that I have said or done.“

„I do not understand you,“ said Death. „Will you have your child back? or shall I carry him away to a place that you do not know?“

Then the mother wrung her hands, fell on her knees, and prayed to God, „Grant not my prayers, when they are contrary to Thy will, which at all times must be the best. Oh, hear them not;“ and her head sank on her bosom.

Then Death carried away her child to the unknown land.

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „The story of a mother“

„The Story of a Mother“ is a poignant and emotionally charged fairy tale by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, first published in 1847. The tale explores themes of love, loss, and the power of a mother’s love in the face of adversity.

The story revolves around a mother whose child becomes gravely ill and passes away. In her grief, the mother embarks on a journey to bring her child back from the realm of Death. Along the way, she encounters various allegorical figures, such as the Old Woman of Sorrow, the Gardener of the Garden of Paradise, and the Angel of Death. Each character she meets presents the mother with challenges and tests her determination, as she strives to reunite with her child.

The backgrounds of „The Story of a Mother“ draw upon Andersen’s own experiences and the broader cultural context in which he lived. The tale reflects Andersen’s familiarity with the pain of losing a loved one, as well as the religious and spiritual beliefs of 19th-century Denmark. The story is imbued with Christian symbolism and imagery, and it offers readers a glimpse into the author’s deep understanding of human emotions and the complexities of love, loss, and faith.

„The Story of a Mother“ is a testament to Andersen’s ability to craft emotionally resonant and thought-provoking narratives that continue to resonate with readers today.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The story of a mother“

„The Story of a Mother“ by Hans Christian Andersen is a deeply emotional and thought-provoking tale, offering various interpretations that explore the complexities of love, loss, and faith. Some key interpretations of the story include:

The Power of a Mother’s Love: The central theme of the story is the unwavering love and determination of the mother as she embarks on a journey to bring her child back from the realm of Death. This theme highlights the strength and resilience of maternal love and the lengths to which a parent will go to protect their child.

The Inevitability of Loss and Grief: The tale confronts the difficult reality of loss and the grieving process. The mother’s journey serves as a metaphor for the experience of mourning, as she faces various challenges and obstacles in her quest to reunite with her child.

Faith and Spiritual Growth: The story is imbued with Christian symbolism and imagery, presenting a narrative that explores themes of faith and spiritual growth. The mother’s journey can be seen as a spiritual quest, during which she learns to accept the will of a higher power and the natural order of life and death.

The Nature of Suffering: Throughout her journey, the mother encounters various allegorical figures, each representing different aspects of suffering and human experience. The tale invites readers to reflect on the nature of suffering and its role in shaping our lives and personal growth.

The Importance of Acceptance: The story ultimately emphasizes the importance of accepting the natural order of life, including the inevitability of death. The mother learns that she must let go of her child and trust that they are in a better place, a lesson that underscores the importance of acceptance in the face of grief and loss.

„The Story of a Mother“ is a powerful and evocative tale that offers readers a deeply emotional exploration of love, loss, and the human experience. Through its rich symbolism and poignant narrative, the story invites readers to consider the complexities of grief, faith, and personal growth, and the enduring power of a mother’s love.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The story of a mother“

„The Story of a Mother“ by Hans Christian Andersen has inspired various adaptations across different mediums. Some notable examples include:

Film: In 2005, Danish director Peter Flinth adapted „The Story of a Mother“ into a live-action short film titled „Historien om en mor.“ The film stars Sofie Gråbøl as the mother and features a dramatic retelling of Andersen’s tale, capturing the emotional depth of the original story.

Animation: The story has been adapted into animated shorts, such as the 2008 stop-motion animation film „The Story of a Mother“ directed by Alessandro d’Emilia and Claudio De Tullio. This version provides a visually captivating interpretation of the story that captures the emotional journey of the mother.

Radio Drama: BBC Radio 4 produced a radio adaptation of „The Story of a Mother“ as part of its series „Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales,“ first broadcast in 2005. The radio adaptation, narrated by actor and writer Sandi Toksvig, brings the story to life through evocative storytelling and sound design.

Illustrated Books: Various artists have created illustrated versions of „The Story of a Mother,“ providing visual interpretations of the characters and settings of the tale. These illustrated books offer readers a more immersive experience, allowing them to engage with the story on a deeper level.

Stage Adaptations: „The Story of a Mother“ has been adapted for the stage, both as a standalone play and as part of larger productions featuring multiple Andersen tales. These stage adaptations often use physical theater, dance, or puppetry to bring the emotional journey of the mother to life for audiences.

Music: The themes and narrative of „The Story of a Mother“ have inspired musical compositions, such as Danish composer Bent Sørensen’s orchestral work „The Story of a Mother,“ which premiered in 2014. This piece captures the emotional depth of the story through a combination of orchestral and choral elements.

These adaptations demonstrate the enduring appeal and emotional resonance of „The Story of a Mother,“ as artists across various mediums continue to reinterpret and explore Andersen’s poignant tale.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The story of a mother“

„The Story of a Mother“ has inspired various adaptations in different art forms over the years. Here are a few notable adaptations:

The 1913 silent film „The Mother’s Heart“ directed by D.W. Griffith is a loose adaptation of the story. It follows a mother who sacrifices everything to save her son from a life of crime.

The 2006 film „Pan’s Labyrinth“ directed by Guillermo del Toro draws inspiration from „The Story of a Mother.“ The film tells the story of a young girl who escapes into a fantasy world to cope with the horrors of war.

The 2015 opera „The Mother“ by composer Mikkel Ploug is based on „The Story of a Mother.“ The opera tells the story of a mother who goes to the underworld to rescue her child.

In 2020, the story was adapted into a graphic novel by Isabel Greenberg. The graphic novel retells the story of a mother’s journey to save her child with beautifully illustrated images.

„The Story of a Mother“ has also been adapted into several stage productions, including a 2011 production by the Belarus Free Theater and a 2016 production by the Royal Danish Ballet.

These adaptations show how the timeless themes of love, loss, and sacrifice in „The Story of a Mother“ continue to resonate with audiences today.

Summary of the plot

„The Story of a Mother“ by Hans Christian Andersen is a poignant and emotional fairy tale about love, loss, and the power of a mother’s love. The story follows a mother whose child becomes gravely ill and dies. In her grief, she sets out on a journey to bring her child back from the realm of Death.

On her quest, the mother encounters various allegorical figures, such as the Old Woman of Sorrow, who teaches her that grief is a necessary part of life. She also meets the Gardener of the Garden of Paradise, who shows her the beauty of life despite the pain and suffering it contains. The mother endures various hardships and sacrifices to continue her journey, driven by her deep love for her child.

Ultimately, the mother confronts the Angel of Death, who agrees to return her child on the condition that she brings three warm tears from a person who has never grieved. The mother searches for such a person but ultimately realizes that all human beings experience sorrow and grief in their lives.

In the end, the mother is unable to fulfill the Angel of Death’s condition, but she learns to accept the natural order of life and death. The story concludes with the mother finding solace in her faith, trusting that her child is in a better place, and accepting the inevitability of loss.

„The Story of a Mother“ explores themes of love, loss, faith, and the human experience, offering a deeply emotional and thought-provoking narrative that continues to resonate with readers today.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „The story of a mother“

„The Story of a Mother“ is a fairy tale by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875). Andersen was a prolific writer of plays, novels, and poems, but he is best known for his fairy tales. His stories have been translated into more than 125 languages and continue to be cherished by children and adults alike.

Born in Odense, Denmark, Andersen faced poverty and hardships in his early years. His father, a shoemaker, and his mother, a washerwoman, struggled to make ends meet. Despite these challenges, Andersen’s imagination was ignited by the stories his father read to him, and he developed a love for literature.

At the age of 14, Andersen moved to Copenhagen to pursue a career in the arts. His writing career began with a short story called „The Ghost at Palnatoke’s Grave“ (1822). Andersen’s first fairy tale collection, „Fairy Tales Told for Children,“ was published in 1835 and included „The Tinderbox“ and „The Princess and the Pea.“

Andersen’s fairy tales often contain elements of tragedy and darker themes, reflecting the challenges he faced throughout his life. „The Story of a Mother,“ published in 1847, is no exception. This tale explores themes such as the power of a mother’s love, the inevitability of death, and the acceptance of God’s will. These themes resonate with readers, making „The Story of a Mother“ a classic piece of literature that has endured through generations.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The story of a mother“

There are several interpretations that can be drawn from Hans Christian Andersen’s „The Story of a Mother.“

The power of a mother’s love: The mother’s devotion and love for her child are the driving forces behind her journey to find her child. Her determination and the sacrifices she makes exemplify the depth of a mother’s love, which knows no bounds.

The inevitability of death: Despite the mother’s best efforts, she cannot prevent her child from being taken away by Death. This highlights the inescapable nature of death and the limitations of human control over life.

Acceptance of God’s will: Throughout the story, the mother struggles against fate and God’s will, trying to save her child. In the end, she realizes that she must accept the path chosen for her child, even if it means letting go. This theme emphasizes the importance of trusting in a higher power and accepting that there are some things beyond human control.

The consequences of interfering with fate: When the mother sees the future of the two flowers and learns that one represents her child, she is willing to change her child’s fate to avoid suffering. However, her actions could have potentially disrupted the lives of others, illustrating the potential dangers of meddling with destiny.

The duality of life: The story shows the contrasting aspects of life through the two flowers. One represents happiness and joy, while the other signifies suffering and misery. This serves as a reminder that life is filled with both positive and negative experiences, and it is the combination of these experiences that shapes one’s existence.

Summary of the plot

„The Story of a Mother“ by Hans Christian Andersen follows a mother’s desperate journey to save her dying child. When Death arrives at their home, disguised as an old man, the mother unknowingly allows him to take her child away. Distraught, she sets out to find her child and encounters Night, who directs her to Death’s domain after the mother sings all the songs she had sung to her child.

In her journey, the mother makes sacrifices, including warming a frozen thorn bush with her bosom and weeping her eyes away to cross a lake. Blind and determined, she reaches Death’s hothouse, where trees and flowers representing human lives are grown. An old woman tells her that she can recognize her child by the heartbeat within a flower.

As Death arrives, the mother protects her child’s flower, bargaining with him not to uproot it. Death returns her eyes and shows her the future of two flowers, one blessed with happiness and the other doomed to misery. He reveals that one of these flowers is her child’s fate but refuses to disclose which one.

Terrified for her child, the mother pleads with Death to spare the unhappy flower and take her child to the kingdom of God instead. Realizing the consequences of her actions, she prays to God not to grant her wishes if they contradict His will. Death takes the child away, leaving the mother to grieve but knowing that her child’s fate is in God’s hands.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, IT
Readability Index by Björnsson24.6
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index87.4
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level4.8
Gunning Fog Index7.4
Coleman–Liau Index7.8
SMOG Index7.4
Automated Readability Index5
Character Count10.840
Letter Count8.221
Sentence Count135
Word Count2.053
Average Words per Sentence15,21
Words with more than 6 letters193
Percentage of long words9.4%
Number of Syllables2.523
Average Syllables per Word1,23
Words with three Syllables70
Percentage Words with three Syllables3.4%
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