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The Tallow Candle
Grimm Märchen

The Tallow Candle - Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Andersen

Reading time for children: 6 min

It sizzled and fizzled as the flames fired the cauldron. It was the Tallow Candle’s cradle – and out of the warm cradle came a flawless candle. Solid, shining white and slim it was formed in a way that made everyone who saw it believe that it was a promise of a bright and radiant future – promises that everyone who looked on believed it would really want to keep and fulfil.

The sheep, a fine little sheep, was the candle’s mother, and the melting pot its father. Its mother had given it a shiny white body and an inkling about life, but from its father it had been given a craving for the flaming fire that would eventually go through its marrow and bone and shine for it in life. That’s how it was born and had grown; and with the best and brightest anticipation cast itself into existence.

There it met so many, many strange creations that it became involved with, wanting to learn about life – and perhaps find the place where it would best fit in. But it had too much faith in the world that only cared about itself, and not at all about the Tallow Candle. A world that failed to understand the value of the candle, and thus tried to use it for its own benefit, holding the candle wrongly.

Black fingers leaving bigger and bigger blemishes on its pristine white innocence which eventually faded away, completely covered by the dirt of a surrounding world that had come much too close. Much closer than the candle could endure, as it had been unable to tell grime from purity – although it remained pristine and unspoiled inside. False friends found they could not reach its inner self and angrily cast the candle away as useless.

The filthy outer shell kept all the good away – scared as they were to be tainted with grime and blemishes – and they stayed away. So there was the poor Tallow Candle, solitary and left alone, at a loss at what to do. Rejected by the good, it now realised it had only been a tool to further the wicked. It felt so unbelievably unhappy, because it had spent its life to no good end – in fact it had perhaps sullied the better parts of its surroundings.

It just could not determine why it had been created or where it belonged. Why it had been put on this earth – perhaps to end up ruining itself and others. More and more, and deeper and deeper, it contemplated – but the more it considered itself, the more despondent it became, finding nothing good, no real substance for itself, no real goal for the existence it had been given at its birth. As if the grimy cape had also covered its eyes. But then it met a little flame, a tinder box. It knew the candle better than the Tallow Candle knew itself.

The tinder box had such a clear view – straight through the outer shell – and inside it found so much good. It came closer and there was bright expectation in the candle – it lit and its heart melted. Out burst the flame, like the triumphant torch of a blissful wedding. Light burst out bright and clear all around, bathing the way forward with light for its surroundings – its true friends – who were now able to seek truth in the glow of the candle.

The body too was strong enough to give sustenance to the fiery flame. One drop upon another, like the seeds of a new life, trickled round and chubby down the candle, covering the old grime with their bodies. They were not just the bodily, but also the spiritual issue of the marriage. And the Tallow Candle had found its right place in life – and shown that it was a real candle, and went on to shine for many a year, pleasing itself and the other creations around it.

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Tallow Candle“

„The Tallow Candle“ is an early work by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. This short story was discovered in 2012, having been written by Andersen in the 1820s before he became a renowned author.

The tale tells the story of a tallow candle, made with great care and love by its creator. Once finished, the candle is placed in a box and forgotten. Over time, the candle becomes dirty and loses its original beauty. People who encounter the candle do not see its true potential, and it remains unused and unappreciated. One day, a tinderbox sees the tallow candle and recognizes its worth. The tinderbox strikes a spark, igniting the candle’s wick and allowing it to shine brightly once more. The people around then realize the candle’s true beauty and worth, as it illuminates the darkness.

„The Tallow Candle“ is often interpreted as an allegory for discovering one’s inner potential and the importance of being recognized and nurtured by others. The story can also be seen as a reflection of Andersen’s own life, as he struggled to find recognition for his talents in his early years before becoming a celebrated author.

Although „The Tallow Candle“ is not one of Andersen’s most famous works, it is believed to be one of his earliest stories. It was written around the 1820s, possibly when Andersen was still in his teens. The manuscript of the story was rediscovered in 2012 in the Danish National Archives by a local historian named Esben Brage, which sparked renewed interest in the tale.

The story of „The Tallow Candle“ reflects some of the recurring themes in Andersen’s works, such as the search for identity, the importance of true friendship, and the impact of external influences on one’s life. As with many of Andersen’s fairy tales, „The Tallow Candle“ conveys these themes through allegorical storytelling, engaging the reader’s imagination while delivering valuable life lessons.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The Tallow Candle“

„The Tallow Candle“ by Hans Christian Andersen carries several interpretations that can be drawn from the story:

Inner potential and self-discovery: The tale serves as a metaphor for finding one’s true potential and purpose in life. Just as the tallow candle is only able to shine brightly once it is lit, people may need the help of others to recognize their inner light and abilities.

Nurturing and encouragement: The story highlights the significance of support from others in bringing out the best in someone. The tinderbox helps the tallow candle realize its true purpose by igniting its wick, emphasizing the role of positive reinforcement and guidance in one’s life.

Overcoming adversity and societal judgment: The tallow candle is initially judged by its dirty appearance and dismissed as worthless. This aspect of the story can be seen as a metaphor for overcoming societal judgment and prejudice, teaching that one should not judge others by their appearances alone.

Rediscovering self-worth: The tallow candle’s transformation from being forgotten and unappreciated to shining brightly symbolizes the journey of rediscovering one’s self-worth. The story encourages readers to find their inner strength and recognize their value, regardless of external circumstances.

Autobiographical elements: „The Tallow Candle“ can also be interpreted as a reflection of Andersen’s own life. In his early years, he faced struggles to gain recognition for his talents as a writer. The tale mirrors this journey, with the tallow candle representing Andersen and the tinderbox symbolizing the people who helped him achieve success and recognition in the literary world.

Self-discovery: The story highlights the importance of finding one’s purpose in life. The Tallow Candle struggles to understand its reason for existence and only finds fulfillment when it embraces its nature as a source of light and warmth.

Transformation: The Tallow Candle goes through a process of transformation, both physically and spiritually. The cleansing of its dirty exterior and the reigniting of its inner flame symbolize the importance of overcoming past mistakes and embracing personal growth.

True friendship: The tale emphasizes the value of true friendship and the power of genuine connections. The Tallow Candle’s false friends exploit and corrupt it, while the tinder box sees its inner goodness and helps it rediscover its purpose. This teaches us to appreciate those who genuinely care about our well-being and happiness.

Impact of external influences: The story demonstrates the influence that the company we keep can have on our lives. The Tallow Candle’s initial innocence is marred by its association with selfish and deceitful friends. It is only through its encounter with the tinder box that it learns the importance of surrounding oneself with positive influences.

In conclusion, „The Tallow Candle“ offers various interpretations related to personal growth, the importance of true friendships, and the influence of the company we keep on our lives. It reminds us to look within ourselves to discover our purpose and cherish the genuine connections that help us become better individuals.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The Tallow Candle“

„The Tallow Candle“ is a fairy tale written by the famous Danish author Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875), who is best known for his numerous classic fairy tales, including „The Little Mermaid,“ „The Ugly Duckling,“ and „The Emperor’s New Clothes.“ Andersen’s stories are renowned for their rich imagination, moral lessons, and often bittersweet endings. While „The Tallow Candle“ is not as widely adapted as some of Hans Christian Andersen’s more famous works, it has still inspired a few adaptations and projects. Some examples include:

Films: In 2013, Danish director and animator Peter Hausner created a short animated film titled „The Tallow Candle“ based on Andersen’s story. The film brings the tale to life through vivid animation and captures the essence of the story. In 1990, the Soviet animator Aleksandr Tatarskiy created a short animated film adaptation of „The Tallow Candle“. The film uses stop-motion animation to bring the story to life, and it was praised for its creative visual style and imaginative use of light and shadow. In 2022, it was announced that a live-action film adaptation of „The Tallow Candle“ is in development, with Danish actress and director Paprika Steen set to direct. The film will be produced by Zentropa, the production company founded by Danish director Lars von Trier.

Theater: Some small theater companies and educational institutions have staged performances of „The Tallow Candle“ as part of their repertoire or as a children’s play, using the story as a basis for teaching moral lessons and exploring themes of self-worth and inner potential. In 2014, the Copenhagen-based Marionet Teatret premiered a puppet theatre adaptation of „The Tallow Candle“. The production used a combination of traditional and modern puppetry techniques to tell the story, and it was praised for its inventive staging and charming performances. In 2017, the Danish composer and performer Oh Land created a musical adaptation of „The Tallow Candle“ for the Royal Danish Theater in Copenhagen. The production combined live music, dance, and projection mapping to create a multi-sensory experience for audiences.

Illustrated books: „The Tallow Candle“ has been included in collections of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, often accompanied by illustrations that help bring the story to life for young readers.

Storytelling events: Since its discovery, „The Tallow Candle“ has been incorporated into storytelling events and readings, particularly those focusing on the works of Hans Christian Andersen. „The Tallow Candle“ has also inspired several retellings and adaptations in literature. For example, the American writer Barbara Rogasky retold the story in her book „Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions“ (1991), and the Australian author and illustrator Shaun Tan included a visual interpretation of the tale in his book „The Singing Bones“ (2016).

While „The Tallow Candle“ may not have as many adaptations as some of Andersen’s more famous works, such as „The Little Mermaid“ or „The Ugly Duckling,“ it still offers a unique and engaging story with valuable lessons and themes that continue to inspire readers, artists, and performers.


„The Tallow Candle“ is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen that tells the story of a tallow candle, which is created with care and love but becomes dirty and discolored over time. Initially, the candle is proud and full of potential, but as it becomes neglected and covered in dust and grime, it loses its sense of self-worth. One day, a tinderbox comes across the tallow candle and sees the potential for light and warmth hidden beneath its soiled exterior. The tinderbox decides to help the tallow candle by striking its flint, igniting the candle’s wick, and finally revealing the candle’s true purpose: to provide light and warmth to those around it. As the tallow candle burns brightly, it is finally able to realize its full potential and is appreciated by the people around it. The story ends with the tallow candle shining proudly, having rediscovered its self-worth and the importance of its existence.

Summary of the plot

„The Tallow Candle“ is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen about a candle born from a sheep and a melting pot. The sheep, its mother, provides a shiny white body and an understanding of life, while the melting pot, its father, gives it a desire for the flaming fire to shine brightly. The candle, initially perfect and promising, ventures out into the world seeking its purpose and true friends.

However, the Tallow Candle’s naivete leads it to befriend false and selfish companions who tarnish its innocent white exterior with their dark and dirty influence. As a result, genuine friends avoid the candle, fearing contamination. The Tallow Candle, now alone and miserable, questions its purpose and feels it has only brought harm to the world.

Eventually, the Tallow Candle meets a tinder box, who sees past its grimy shell and recognizes the goodness within. The tinder box ignites the candle, and its bright flame guides its true friends, providing light and warmth. As the candle burns, the melted wax forms droplets that cover the old dirt, symbolizing its spiritual transformation. The Tallow Candle finds its purpose in life and continues to shine brightly for many years, bringing joy to itself and those around it.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
TranslationsEN, DA, ES, NL
Readability Index by Björnsson35.7
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index68.7
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level9.1
Gunning Fog Index11.1
Coleman–Liau Index9.4
SMOG Index9.8
Automated Readability Index9.7
Character Count3.587
Letter Count2.808
Sentence Count30
Word Count655
Average Words per Sentence21,83
Words with more than 6 letters91
Percentage of long words13.9%
Number of Syllables898
Average Syllables per Word1,37
Words with three Syllables39
Percentage Words with three Syllables6%
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