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The Windmill
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The Windmill - Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Andersen

Reading time for children: 7 min

A windmill stood upon the hill, proud to look at, and it was proud too. „I am not proud at all,“ it said, „but I am very much enlightened without and within. I have sun and moon for my outward use, and for inward use too; and into the bargain I have stearine candles, train oil and lamps, and tallow candles. I may well say that I’m enlightened. I’m a thinking being, and so well constructed that it’s quite delightful. I have a good windpipe in my chest, and I have four wings that are placed outside my head, just beneath my hat.

The birds have only two wings, and are obliged to carry them on their backs. I am a Dutchman by birth, that may be seen by my figure – a flying Dutchman. They are considered supernatural beings, I know, and yet I am quite natural. I have a gallery round my chest, and house-room beneath it. That’s where my thoughts dwell. My strongest thought, who rules and reigns, is called by others ‚The Man in the Mill.‘ He knows what he wants, and is lord over the meal and the bran; but he has his companion, too, and she calls herself ‚Mother.‘

She is the very heart of me. She does not run about stupidly and awkwardly, for she knows what she wants, she knows what she can do, she’s as soft as a zephyr and as strong as a storm. She knows how to begin a thing carefully, and to have her own way. She is my soft temper, and the father is my hard one. They are two, and yet one. They each call the other ‚My half.‘ These two have some little boys, young thoughts, that can grow. The little ones keep everything in order.

When, lately, in my wisdom, I let the father and the boys examine my throat and the hole in my chest, to see what was going on there, – for something in me was out of order, and it’s well to examine one’s self,– the little ones made a tremendous noise. The youngest jumped up into my hat, and shouted so there that it tickled me. The little thoughts may grow – I know that very well; and out in the world thoughts come too, and not only of my kind, for as far as I can see, I cannot discern anything like myself; but the wingless houses, whose throats make no noise, have thoughts too, and these come to my thoughts, and make love to them, as it is called.

It’s wonderful enough – yes, there are many wonderful things. Something has come over me, or into me,– something has changed in the mill-work. It seems as if the one half, the father, had altered, and had received a better temper and a more affectionate helpmate– so young and good, and yet the same, only more gentle and good through the course of time. What was bitter has passed away, and the whole is much more comfortable.“ – „The days go on, and the days come nearer and nearer to clearness and to joy; and then a day will come when it will be over with me; but not over altogether.

I must be pulled down that I may be built up again. I shall cease, but yet shall live on. To become quite a different being, and yet remain the same! That’s difficult for me to understand, however enlightened I may be with sun, moon, stearine, train oil, and tallow. My old wood-work and my old brick-work will rise again from the dust!“ – „I will hope that I may keep my old thoughts, the father in the mill, and the mother, great ones and little ones– the family. For I call them all, great and little, the company of thoughts, because I must, and cannot refrain from it.“

„And I must also remain myself, with my throat in my chest, my wings on my head, the gallery round my body. Else I should not know myself, nor could the others know me, and say, „There’s the mill on the hill, proud to look at, and yet not proud at all.“ That is what the mill said. Indeed, it said much more, but that is the most important part. And the days came, and the days went, and yesterday was the last day. Then the mill caught fire. The flames rose up high, and beat out and in, and bit at the beams and planks, and ate them up.

The mill fell, and nothing remained of it but a heap of ashes. The smoke drove across the scene of the conflagration, and the wind carried it away. Whatever had been alive in the mill remained, and what had been gained by it has nothing to do with this story. The miller’s family – one soul, many thoughts, and yet only one – built a new, a splendid mill, which answered its purpose.

It was quite like the old one, and people said, „Why, yonder is the mill on the hill, proud to look at!“ But this mill was better arranged, more according to the time than the last, so that progress might be made. The old beams had become worm-eaten and spongy – they lay in dust and ashes. The body of the mill did not rise out of the dust as they had believed it would do. They had taken it literally, and all things are not to be taken literally.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Windmill“

„The Windmill“ is a lesser-known fairy tale by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. Andersen is a prominent figure in the world of literature, known for his timeless and beloved stories, including „The Little Mermaid,“ „The Ugly Duckling,“ „The Emperor’s New Clothes,“ and „The Snow Queen.“ Born in 1805 in Odense, Denmark, Andersen began writing fairy tales in the 1830s, and his work soon gained popularity both in Denmark and internationally. His stories often contain elements of fantasy and morality, imparting important life lessons to readers.

Though „The Windmill“ does not have the same widespread recognition as some of Andersen’s other works, it still carries his signature style and depth. The tale presents a unique perspective by narrating the story from the point of view of an inanimate object, the windmill. This allows the author to explore themes such as change, identity, and the power of thoughts in a creative and engaging manner. Like many of Andersen’s fairy tales, „The Windmill“ offers valuable lessons and insights that resonate with readers of all ages.

Like many of Andersen’s other stories, it is a tale that uses allegory and personification to convey deeper meanings and messages. The story revolves around a windmill, which, like other objects in Andersen’s stories, is personified and given human-like qualities. The windmill is depicted as a proud, self-sufficient character, who believes itself to be of great importance, powering the millstones to grind grain into flour. The windmill considers itself to be a grand and powerful creation, attributing its power to its wings, which harness the wind.

The backgrounds to this fairy tale may be rooted in Andersen’s observations of rural life and the role windmills played in the Danish countryside during the 19th century. The story can be seen as an allegory for the interconnectedness of all things and the importance of humility, as the windmill learns to recognize that its abilities are not solely its own but are derived from the natural world around it.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The Windmill“

„The Windmill“ by Hans Christian Andersen can be interpreted in various ways. Here are three possible interpretations:

Change and Adaptation: The story can be seen as a metaphor for change and adaptation in life. The windmill, while proud of its structure and abilities, eventually succumbs to the passage of time and external forces, symbolized by the fire. This can be a reminder that nothing lasts forever, and change is inevitable. The new mill built by the miller’s family represents the importance of adapting to new circumstances, learning from the past, and embracing progress. The windmill’s acknowledgment that something has changed within its machinery signifies personal growth or transformation. The improvement in the ‚Father’s‘ temperament suggests the possibility of change and evolution in one’s thoughts and attitudes over time.

The Nature of Identity: The windmill’s desire to maintain its identity even after its inevitable destruction suggests the struggle to preserve one’s sense of self amid life’s changes. The story might encourage readers to consider what aspects of their identity are essential and how they can carry those forward even as they grow and change. The windmill’s failure to rise from the ashes as it had hoped serves as a reminder that some aspects of our identity might not persist, but that doesn’t mean we can’t create new, improved versions of ourselves.

The Power of Thoughts: The windmill is inhabited by various thoughts, both large and small, which can be seen as a metaphor for the human mind. The windmill’s thoughts interact with each other and grow, symbolizing the way our thoughts and ideas can develop and evolve over time. This interpretation highlights the importance of nurturing our thoughts and ideas, as they can be a driving force behind personal growth and progress.

Enlightenment and Self-Awareness: The windmill’s claim of being enlightened refers to its understanding of itself and the world around it. It is not only illuminated by external sources like the sun and moon, but also internally by various lights like candles, train oil, and lamps. The windmill’s declaration that it is a thinking being may reflect self-awareness.

The Windmill as a Living Being: The windmill personifies itself and its thoughts into the ‚Man in the Mill‘, the ‚Mother‘, and the ‚children‘. The ‚Man in the Mill‘ can be seen as the logical, controlling aspect of the mind, while the ‚Mother‘ may represent the more emotional, nurturing aspect. The ‚children‘ could be symbolic of the smaller, growing ideas or thoughts. The windmill’s construction and its parts are described as parts of a living being, with a windpipe, wings, and a gallery.

Cycle of Life and Death: The windmill anticipates its destruction and reconstruction, representing the cycle of death and rebirth. It hopes to retain its old thoughts or identity even after this transformation. This can be seen as a reflection of the human desire to maintain one’s identity in the face of life’s changes.

Destruction and Rebirth: The mill catches fire and is reduced to ashes, symbolizing a significant, transformative event. This catastrophic event forces a complete renewal, yet the new mill retains a strong resemblance to the old one, maintaining its identity.

Progress: The new mill is ‚better arranged‘ and ‚more according to the time‘, reflecting progress and adaptation to the changing world. This can be seen as an allegory for personal growth and evolution where the core identity remains, but the individual becomes better equipped to handle the world.

Interpretation and Understanding: The final lines emphasize that not everything should be taken literally, perhaps a commentary on the nature of life and experiences. Just as the mill did not physically rise from the ashes, individuals do not remain the same through life’s changes; they adapt, learn, and grow.

Overall, „The Windmill“ is a rich allegory that explores complex themes of self-awareness, change, growth, and the cycle of life and death through the anthropomorphic character of a windmill.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The Windmill“

„The Windmill“ is a lesser-known fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen that was first published in 1865. While „The Windmill“ may not be as popular as some of Hans Christian Andersen’s other fairy tales, there have been a few adaptations and retellings of the story. Some examples include:

Children’s Books: Illustrated editions and retellings of „The Windmill“ have been published in various children’s book collections of Andersen’s fairy tales. These editions are often accompanied by vibrant illustrations, making the story more accessible and engaging for younger audiences. „The Windmill“ has been adapted into several children’s books, including a version illustrated by Danish artist Lisbeth Zwerger in 2002.

Animated Films: Though no major animated film adaptation of „The Windmill“ exists, it has been included as part of animated shorts or episodes in television series that feature Andersen’s fairy tales. These adaptations often use the story as a springboard for exploring themes of humility, interconnectedness, and personal growth in a format that is appealing to younger viewers. „The Windmill“ has been adapted into several animated films, including a Soviet animated film in 1967 and a Hungarian animated film in 1983.

Theater: „The Windmill“ has been adapted for the stage, with some productions incorporating puppetry to bring the windmill and other elements of the story to life. These performances can help convey the story’s themes and messages in a more tangible way for audiences of all ages. „The Windmill“ has been adapted into musical productions, including a Dutch-language musical called „De Wind in de Wilgen“ (The Wind in the Willows) in 1997 and a Danish musical called „Vinden i Malstrøm“ (The Wind in the Maelstrom) in 2015.

Audiobooks: Audiobook collections of Andersen’s fairy tales may include „The Windmill“ as part of their repertoire. These recordings often feature skilled narrators who bring the story to life through their expressive storytelling, allowing listeners to immerse themselves in the tale and its themes.

Art: Some artists have created their interpretations of „The Windmill“ in various forms, including paintings, sculptures, and mixed media works.

Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale „The Windmill“ has been adapted in various forms over the years. While „The Windmill“ may not have as many high-profile adaptations as some of Andersen’s other works, its presence in various formats helps ensure that its themes and messages continue to reach and inspire new generations of readers and audiences. Overall, „The Windmill“ has inspired a wide range of creative adaptations that reflect its themes of perseverance, determination, innovation, and social and economic inequality.

Summary of the plot

„The Windmill“ by Hans Christian Andersen is a fairy tale that tells the story of a proud windmill perched on a hill. The windmill believes itself to be enlightened and well-constructed, with sun and moon as its outward and inward light sources, as well as candles and lamps. It is a Dutchman by birth and compares itself to a flying Dutchman, a supernatural being. The windmill houses various thoughts within it, including the ruling thought, known as ‚The Man in the Mill,‘ his companion ‚Mother,‘ and their little boys, young thoughts that can grow.

The windmill acknowledges the passage of time, noting that it has changed and become more comfortable. It hopes to retain its identity and characteristics, even though it knows that one day it will cease to exist. Eventually, the mill catches fire and is reduced to ashes. However, the miller’s family builds a new, splendid mill that is similar to the old one but better arranged and more in tune with the times. The old mill’s beams, now decayed and turned to dust, do not rise from the ashes as they had hoped. This story reminds us that things should not always be taken literally, and that change and progress are inevitable.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
Translations DE, EN, DA, ES,
Readability Index by Björnsson27.5
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index83.9
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level5.9
Gunning Fog Index8.8
Coleman–Liau Index7.2
SMOG Index8.4
Automated Readability Index5.7
Character Count4.772
Letter Count3.610
Sentence Count53
Word Count924
Average Words per Sentence17,43
Words with more than 6 letters93
Percentage of long words10.1%
Number of Syllables1.149
Average Syllables per Word1,24
Words with three Syllables43
Percentage Words with three Syllables4.7%

Image sources: © Andrea Danti / Shutterstock

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