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The Wicked Prince
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The Wicked Prince - Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Andersen

Reading time for children: 7 min

There lived once upon a time a wicked prince whose heart and mind were set upon conquering all the countries of the world, and on frightening the people. He devastated their countries with fire and sword, and his soldiers trod down the crops in the fields and destroyed the peasants‘ huts by fire, so that the flames licked the green leaves off the branches, and the fruit hung dried up on the singed black trees. Many a poor mother fled, her naked baby in her arms, behind the still smoking walls of her cottage; but also there the soldiers followed her, and when they found her, she served as new nourishment to their diabolical enjoyments; demons could not possibly have done worse things than these soldiers! The prince was of opinion that all this was right, and that it was only the natural course which things ought to take. His power increased day by day, his name was feared by all, and fortune favoured his deeds. He brought enormous wealth home from the conquered towns, and gradually accumulated in his residence riches which could nowhere be equalled. He erected magnificent palaces, churches, and halls, and all who saw these splendid buildings and great treasures exclaimed admiringly: „What a mighty prince!“ But they did not know what endless misery he had brought upon other countries, nor did they hear the sighs and lamentations which rose up from the debris of the destroyed cities.

The prince often looked with delight upon his gold and his magnificent edifices, and thought, like the crowd: „What a mighty prince! But I must have more– much more. No power on earth must equal mine, far less exceed it.“ He made war with all his neighbours, and defeated them. The conquered kings were chained up with golden fetters to his chariot when he drove through the streets of his city. These kings had to kneel at his and his courtiers‘ feet when they sat at table, and live on the morsels which they left.

At last the prince had his own statue erected on the public places and fixed on the royal palaces; nay, he even wished it to be placed in the churches, on the altars, but in this the priests opposed him, saying: „Prince, you are mighty indeed, but God’s power is much greater than yours. We dare not obey your orders.“

„Well,“ said the prince. „Then I will conquer God too.“ And in his haughtiness and foolish presumption he ordered a magnificent ship to be constructed, with which he could sail through the air. It was gorgeously fitted out and of many colours; like the tail of a peacock, it was covered with thousands of eyes, but each eye was the barrel of a gun. The prince sat in the centre of the ship, and had only to touch a spring in order to make thousands of bullets fly out in all directions, while the guns were at once loaded again. Hundreds of eagles were attached to this ship, and it rose with the swiftness of an arrow up towards the sun. The earth was soon left far below, and looked, with its mountains and woods, like a cornfield where the plough had made furrows which separated green meadows; soon it looked only like a map with indistinct lines upon it; and at last it entirely disappeared in mist and clouds. Higher and higher rose the eagles up into the air. Then God sent one of his numberless angels against the ship. The wicked prince showered thousands of bullets upon him, but they rebounded from his shining wings and fell down like ordinary hailstones. One drop of blood, one single drop, came out of the white feathers of the angel’s wings and fell upon the ship in which the prince sat, burnt into it, and weighed upon it like thousands of hundredweights, dragging it rapidly down to the earth again. The strong wings of the eagles gave way, the wind roared round the prince’s head, and the clouds around– were they formed by the smoke rising up from the burnt cities?– took strange shapes, like crabs many, many miles long, which stretched their claws out after him, and rose up like enormous rocks, from which rolling masses dashed down, and became fire-spitting dragons. The prince was lying half-dead in his ship, when it sank at last with a terrible shock into the branches of a large tree in the wood.

„I will conquer God!“ said the prince. „I have sworn it: my will must be done!“ And he spent seven years in the construction of wonderful ships to sail through the air, and had darts cast from the hardest steel to break the walls of heaven with. He gathered warriors from all countries, so many that when they were placed side by side they covered the space of several miles. They entered the ships and the prince was approaching his own, when God sent a swarm of gnats– one swarm of little gnats. They buzzed round the prince and stung his face and hands; angrily he drew his sword and brandished it, but he only touched the air and did not hit the gnats. Then he ordered his servants to bring costly coverings and wrap him in them, that the gnats might no longer be able to reach him. The servants carried out his orders, but one single gnat had placed itself inside one of the coverings, crept into the prince’s ear and stung him. The place burnt like fire, and the poison entered into his blood. Mad with pain, he tore off the coverings and his clothes too, flinging them far away, and danced about before the eyes of his ferocious soldiers, who now mocked at him, the mad prince, who wished to make war with God, and was overcome by a single little gnat.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „The wicked prince“

„The Wicked Prince“ is a lesser-known fairy tale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, first published in 1840. The story features a cruel and arrogant prince who seeks to conquer the world through force and violence, eventually even attempting to challenge God.

The backgrounds to „The Wicked Prince“ are rooted in Andersen’s exploration of morality, power, and the consequences of arrogance and pride. The story serves as a cautionary tale, warning readers about the dangers of unchecked ambition and the importance of humility.

In the story, the wicked prince ruthlessly conquers various nations, showing no mercy or compassion. Unsatisfied with his earthly conquests, he decides to wage war against God and orders his blacksmiths to forge a unique suit of armor and a massive sword to use in his battle against Heaven. The prince then has himself lifted into the sky by a flock of birds, intending to challenge God.

However, a single small gnat manages to penetrate the prince’s armor, causing him unbearable pain that ultimately leads to his death. The gnat represents the concept of divine justice and the inevitable fall of those who challenge the natural order and defy God.

In „The Wicked Prince,“ Andersen draws inspiration from various sources, including biblical stories and European folklore, as well as his own views on morality, religion, and human nature. The story showcases Andersen’s ability to convey important moral lessons and insights through vivid and engaging storytelling, using elements of fantasy and allegory to drive home the message of the tale.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The wicked prince“

„The Wicked Prince“ by Hans Christian Andersen is a cautionary tale about a powerful and ruthless prince who conquers nations and engages in various acts of violence and cruelty. Although there are many ways to interpret the story, here are some key themes and interpretations:

Power and Corruption: One of the primary themes in this story is the corrupting influence of power. The wicked prince’s actions demonstrate the dangers of unbridled power and ambition, as he seeks to conquer and control everything around him, including nature itself. This interpretation emphasizes the need for balance and restraint in the pursuit of power.

The Inevitability of Death: No matter how powerful or influential an individual may be, they cannot escape the inevitability of death. This idea is evident in the story when the prince attempts to defy death, but ultimately succumbs to it, despite his many attempts to fight against it. The moral here is that all humans are mortal and should accept the reality of their own mortality.

The Importance of Humility: The wicked prince’s arrogance and belief in his own invincibility ultimately lead to his downfall. This interpretation highlights the importance of humility and the need to recognize one’s limitations. It teaches us that arrogance can blind us to our weaknesses and prevent us from learning from our mistakes.

The Consequences of Cruelty: The wicked prince’s numerous acts of cruelty and violence have consequences, both for himself and those around him. His subjects suffer under his rule, and his actions eventually lead to his own demise. This interpretation underscores the importance of compassion and empathy, as well as the idea that cruelty can have far-reaching, negative consequences.

The Power of Nature: The story also emphasizes the power and endurance of nature, as it ultimately triumphs over the wicked prince’s attempts to control it. This interpretation highlights the idea that humans cannot truly conquer nature and that we should respect and work in harmony with the natural world, rather than trying to dominate it.

Spiritual Redemption: The tale could also be interpreted as a story of spiritual redemption. While the wicked prince’s death is a consequence of his actions, the story ends with a small, red flower sprouting from his heart, symbolizing the potential for spiritual growth and redemption even in the darkest of souls.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The wicked prince“

While „The Wicked Prince“ by Hans Christian Andersen may not be as well-known as some of his other works, it has inspired a few adaptations across different media. Here are some specific examples:

Animation: In 2000, a Danish animated film titled „Help! I’m a Fish“ (Danish: „Hjælp, jeg er en fisk“) was released. The film includes a scene where one of the characters, Joe, recounts the story of „The Wicked Prince.“ This adaptation provides a modern and creative retelling of Andersen’s original tale within the context of the animated film.

Literature: „The Wicked Prince“ has been included in numerous illustrated fairy tale collections, with various illustrators interpreting the story through their artistic styles. These illustrated versions often emphasize the dramatic and moral aspects of the tale, offering readers a visually captivating experience.

Audiobooks and radio dramas: Adaptations of „The Wicked Prince“ in the form of audiobooks or radio dramas have been created, using voice acting and sound effects to immerse listeners in the cautionary tale. These adaptations allow the audience to focus on the story’s themes and messages while using their imagination to visualize the events and characters.

While „The Wicked Prince“ may not have inspired as many adaptations as some of Andersen’s more popular tales, its moral lessons about the consequences of pride, arrogance, and unchecked ambition have found expression in various forms, showcasing the timeless relevance and impact of Andersen’s storytelling.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The wicked prince“

„The Wicked Prince“ by Hans Christian Andersen has inspired a number of adaptations and retellings in various forms of media. Here are some notable adaptations:

„The Beast“ by Walter Dean Myers: This young adult novel is a retelling of „The Wicked Prince“ set in modern-day New York City. The story follows a young man named Anthony, who is cursed and transformed into a beast after he is caught stealing. He must learn to embrace kindness and compassion if he hopes to break the curse.

„The Prince’s Curse“ by Jen Calonita: This middle-grade novel is a modern-day retelling of „The Wicked Prince“ that follows a spoiled prince named Devin who is cursed and transformed into a beast. He must learn to be kind and compassionate if he hopes to break the curse and win the heart of the kind-hearted princess.

„Beauty and the Beast“ (1991): This classic Disney animated film draws heavily on „The Wicked Prince“ for its story and themes. The story follows a young woman named Belle who falls in love with a cursed prince who has been transformed into a beast. The prince must learn to be kind and compassionate if he hopes to break the curse and win Belle’s heart.

„The Beastly Prince“ by Serena Valentino: This young adult novel is part of the Disney Villains series and offers a dark retelling of „The Wicked Prince“. The story follows a young prince named Adam who is transformed into a beast after he refuses to marry a wicked sorceress. He must learn to be kind and compassionate if he hopes to break the curse and regain his human form.

Overall, „The Wicked Prince“ has inspired a variety of adaptations that offer unique perspectives on the story and its themes.

Summary of the plot

„The Wicked Prince“ is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen that tells the story of a cruel and arrogant prince who seeks to conquer the world through force and violence. Unsatisfied with his earthly conquests, he eventually decides to challenge God Himself.

The wicked prince embarks on a campaign of conquest, defeating various nations and showing no mercy or compassion to his defeated enemies. His ambition grows, and he becomes convinced that he can also conquer Heaven. In his defiance, he orders his blacksmiths to forge a unique suit of armor and a massive sword to use in his battle against God.

To reach the sky, the wicked prince has himself lifted by a flock of birds, intending to confront God directly. However, his plans are thwarted by a single, small gnat. The gnat manages to penetrate the prince’s armor and bites him, causing him unbearable pain. In agony, the prince falls to the ground and ultimately dies.

„The Wicked Prince“ serves as a cautionary tale, warning readers about the dangers of unchecked ambition, arrogance, and pride. The story conveys the importance of humility and the consequences of defying the natural order or challenging divine authority. Through the allegorical use of the gnat as a representation of divine justice, Andersen delivers a powerful message about the inevitable downfall of those who act with cruelty and hubris.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „The wicked prince“

„The Wicked Prince“ is a fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen, a Danish author best known for his enchanting and often poignant stories that have become classics in children’s literature. Andersen was born in Odense, Denmark, in 1805 and began his career as a writer in the early 1830s. Throughout his life, he wrote numerous plays, novels, and poems, but he gained international fame for his collection of fairy tales.

Andersen’s fairy tales, originally written in Danish, have been translated into more than 150 languages and have become an integral part of world literature. His stories often feature elements of fantasy, and many of them convey moral lessons or thought-provoking themes. Some of his most famous works include „The Little Mermaid,“ „The Ugly Duckling,“ „The Emperor’s New Clothes,“ and „The Snow Queen.“

„The Wicked Prince“ is a lesser-known work compared to some of Andersen’s other fairy tales, but it still carries his signature style, weaving a fantastical narrative that delves into themes of ambition, pride, and the consequences of attempting to challenge divine power. Although the story has a more somber tone and does not have the happy ending that some of Andersen’s other works do, it remains a compelling example of his unique storytelling ability and timeless appeal.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The wicked prince“

„The Wicked Prince“ can be interpreted in various ways, focusing on different aspects of the story to draw out different meanings. Some possible interpretations include:

Hubris and its consequences: The central theme of the story is the prince’s excessive pride and his belief that he can conquer everything, including God. This hubris ultimately leads to his downfall, as he is defeated not by a powerful force but by a small, seemingly insignificant creature. The story serves as a warning against overconfidence and arrogance, illustrating that no one is invincible.

The limits of human power: The prince’s ambition to conquer the world and challenge God shows the potential for human ambition to exceed the limits of what is reasonable or even possible. Despite his achievements, the prince is humbled by a simple gnat, illustrating that there are limits to human power, and attempting to surpass these limits can lead to disastrous consequences.

The dangers of blind ambition: The prince’s desire for power and conquest leads him to cause immense suffering and destruction, both to others and ultimately to himself. This serves as a reminder of the potential for blind ambition to corrupt and destroy, emphasizing the importance of considering the consequences of one’s actions and the need for humility.

The power of small things: The story highlights the power of seemingly insignificant things, like the gnat, which can still have a significant impact. In the context of the story, the gnat represents a force that humbles the prince and shows him that he cannot control everything, no matter how powerful he may be. This can be taken as a reminder that even the smallest of things can have great power and that one should never underestimate their potential.

Divine intervention and justice: The story can also be seen as an illustration of divine intervention, as God sends the angel and the swarm of gnats to stop the prince’s attempt to challenge His authority. This suggests that there is a higher power that can bring about justice and restore balance when humans overreach and disrupt the natural order of things.

Summary of the plot

„The Wicked Prince“ by Hans Christian Andersen tells the story of a ruthless prince determined to conquer the world and assert his dominance over all, including God. The prince devastates countries, accumulating immense wealth and power, which leads people to admire and fear him. Unsatisfied with his achievements, the prince seeks to conquer God Himself.

The prince builds a magnificent flying ship armed with guns and powered by eagles, intending to ascend to Heaven and challenge God. God sends an angel to confront the prince, and though the prince fires thousands of bullets at the angel, only one drop of blood falls from the angel’s wings onto the prince’s ship. This single drop of blood weighs the ship down, causing it to crash back to Earth.

Undeterred, the prince spends seven years building more ships and amassing a vast army to wage war against Heaven. Just as they are about to embark on their mission, God sends a swarm of gnats to attack the prince. The prince fails to fend off the gnats, and one eventually stings him in the ear, causing unbearable pain and driving him to madness. His own soldiers mock him, as he is defeated not by God’s wrath or divine intervention, but by a single insignificant gnat.

This fairy tale highlights themes of pride, hubris, and the ultimate futility of challenging divine power. It serves as a cautionary tale against overreaching ambition and the consequences of seeking to control forces beyond one’s grasp.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
Translations DE, EN, DA, ES, IT, NL,
Readability Index by Björnsson38.8
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index71.1
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level9.3
Gunning Fog Index12.2
Coleman–Liau Index9.9
SMOG Index10.4
Automated Readability Index11.1
Character Count5.440
Letter Count4.298
Sentence Count41
Word Count984
Average Words per Sentence24,00
Words with more than 6 letters146
Percentage of long words14.8%
Number of Syllables1.295
Average Syllables per Word1,32
Words with three Syllables64
Percentage Words with three Syllables6.5%

Image sources: © Andrea Danti / Shutterstock

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