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Twelve by the Mail
Grimm Märchen

Twelve by the Mail - Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Andersen

Reading time for children: 11 min

It was very frosty, starry clear weather, quiet and calm. Bump! A pot was thrown against a door. Bang! Fireworks were shot off to welcome the new year, for it was New Year’s Eve; and now the clock struck twelve! Trateratra! There came the mail. The big mail coach stopped outside the gate to the town. It carried twelve people and couldn’t hold more, for all the seats were taken.

„Hurrah! Hurrah!“ rang out in the houses, where people were celebrating New Year’s Eve. They arose with full glasses and drank a toast to the new year. „Health and good wishes for the new year!“ they said. „A pretty little wife! Lots of money! An end to nonsense!“ Yes, these were their wishes for one another, and glasses were struck together, while the mail coach stopped in front of the town gate with the unknown guests, the twelve travelers.

What kind of people were they? They had passports and luggage with them. Yes, even presents for you and me and for all the people in the town. Who were these strangers? What did they want, and what did they bring? „Good morning!“ they said to the sentry at the town gate. „Good morning!“ said he, as the clock had struck twelve. „Your name? Your profession?“ asked the sentry when the first of them stepped out of the carriage.

„Look in the passport!“ said the man. „I am myself!“ And a splendid-looking fellow he was, too, dressed in a bearskin and fur boots. „I am the man on whom many people pin their hopes. Come to see me tomorrow, and I’ll give you a real new year! I throw dollars and cents about, give presents, and, yes, I even give balls, thirty-one of them. That’s all the nights I have to spare. My ships are frozen tight, but in my office it is warm. I am a merchant, and my name is January. I have only bills!“

Then came the second. He was a comedian, a theatrical director, the manager of masked balls, and all the amusements you could think of. His luggage consisted of a great barrel. „We’ll beat the cat out of the barrel at carnival time!“ he said. „I’ll amuse others, and myself, too, for I have the shortest time to live of the whole family. I get to be only twenty-eight days old. Yes, sometimes they throw in an extra day, but that doesn’t make much difference. Hurrah!“

„You must not shout so loud!“ said the sentry. „Yes, I may!“ said the man. „I am Prince Carnival, and traveling under the name of February!“ Now came the third. He looked very much like Fasting itself, but strutted proudly, for he was related to the „Forty Knights,“ and was a weather prophet. But that is hardly fattening employment, and for that reason he approved of Fasting. He had a cluster of violets in his buttonhole, but they were very small.

„March, March!“ shouted the fourth, and pushed the third. „March, March! Into the guardroom. There’s punch there! I can smell it!“ But it wasn’t true. He only wanted to make an April fool of him. Thus the fourth began his career in the town. He looked very jolly, did little work, and had lots of holidays. „Good humor one day and bad the next!“ he said. „Rain and sunshine. Moving out and moving in. I am also moving-day commissioner. I am an undertaker. I can both laugh and cry. I have summer clothes in my trunk, but it would be very foolish to use them now. Here I am! When I dress up I wear silk stockings and carry a muff!“

Now a lady came out of the carriage. „Miss May,“ she called herself, and wore summer clothes and overshoes. She had on a beech-tree-green silk dress, and anemones in her hair, and she was so scented with wild thyme that the sentry had to sneeze. „God bless you!“ she said, and that was her greeting. She was beautiful. And she was a singer. Not of the theater, but a singer of the woodlands. Not at county fairs. No, she roamed through the fresh green forest and sang there for her own entertainment. In her handbag she had a copy of Christian Winther’s Woodcuts, which were like the beech-tree forest itself, and also Little Poems by Richardt, which were like the wild thyme.

„Now comes the mistress, the young mistress!“ shouted those inside the carriage. And then out came the lady, young and delicate, proud and pretty. You could easily see that she was born to be a lady of leisure. She gave a great feast on the longest day of the year, so that her guests might have time to eat the many dishes of food at her table. She could afford to ride in a carriage of her own, but still she traveled in the mail coach like the others, for she wanted to show she wasn’t too proud. But she didn’t travel alone, with her was her elder brother, July.

‚ He was a well-fed fellow, in attire, and with a Panama hat. He had but little baggage with him, because it was a nuisance in the heat. He had brought only his bathing cap and swimming trunks. That isn’t much. Now came the mother, Madam August, a wholesale fruit dealer, proprietor of many fish tanks, and landowner, wearing a great crinoline. She was fat and hot, and took an active part in everything. She herself even carried beer out to the workmen in the fields.

„In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,“ she said. „That is written in the Bible. Afterward we can have the picnics and dances in the woods and the harvest festivals.“ Such was the mother. Now again came a man, a painter by profession, a master of colors, as the forest soon learned. The leaves had to change their colors – but how beautifully – whenever he wished it; soon the wood glowed with red, yellow, and brown. The painter whistled like the black starling bird, and was a brisk worker. He wound the brown-green hop plants around his beer jug, which decorated it beautifully. Indeed, he had an eye for decorating. There he stood with his color pot, and that was all the luggage he had.

Now followed a land proprietor, who was thinking of the grain month, of the plowing and preparing of the land, and, yes, also a little of the pleasures of field sports. He had his dog and his gun, and he had nuts in his game bag. Crack, crack! He had an awful lot of baggage with him, and even an English plow. And he talked about farming, but you couldn’t hear much of what he said, because of the coughing and gasping.

It was November coming. He had a cold, such a violent cold that he used a bed sheet instead of a handkerchief; and yet he had to accompany the servant girls and initiate them into their winter service, he said; but his cold would go when he went out woodcutting, which he had to do, because he was master sawyer for the firewood guild. His evenings he spent cutting soles for skates, knowing that in a few weeks there would be good use for these amusing shoes. Now came the last passenger, a little old mother, with her firepot. She was cold, but her eyes sparkled like two bright stars. She carried a flowerpot with a little fir tree growing in it.

„I shall guard and nurse this tree, so that it may grow large by Christmas Eve and reach from the ground right up to the ceiling, and be covered with lighted candles, golden apples, and little cut-out paper decorations. This fire-kettle warms like a Stove. I take the storybook from my pocket and read aloud, so that all the children in the room become quiet. But the dolls on the tree come to life, and the little wax angel on top of the tree shakes its golden tinsel wings, flies down from the green top, and kisses in the room, yes, the poor children, too, who stand outside and sing the Christmas carol about the star of Bethlehem.“

„And now the coach can drive again,“ said the sentry. „We have the twelve. Let another coach drive up!“ – „First let the twelve come inside,“ said the Captain of the Guard, “ one at a time. I’ll keep the passports. Each is good for a month. When that has passed, I’ll write a report of their behavior on each passport. Be so good, Mr. January, please step inside.“ And in he went. When a year has passed, I shall be able to tell you what the twelve have brought you, me, and all of us. I don’t know it now, and they probably don’t know it themselves, for these are strange times we live in.

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „Twelve by the Mail“

„Twelve by the Mail“ is a lesser-known fairy tale by the renowned Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, who is best known for his classic stories such as „The Little Mermaid,“ „The Ugly Duckling,“ and „The Emperor’s New Clothes.“ Born on April 2, 1805, in Odense, Denmark, Andersen began writing fairy tales in the 1830s and continued to produce new works throughout his life. He passed away on August 4, 1875, in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Andersen’s fairy tales are known for their imaginative and whimsical qualities, often featuring magical creatures and fantastic elements. His stories typically contain moral lessons and convey universal themes such as love, beauty, transformation, and the importance of inner values. His works have been translated into numerous languages and have inspired various adaptations in theater, film, and television.

„Twelve by the Mail“ is no exception, as it demonstrates Andersen’s skill in blending fantasy and reality while exploring themes of time, human experiences, and the cyclical nature of life. The story is set on New Year’s Eve, a time when people reflect on the past and look forward to the future. By personifying each month of the year as a distinct character, Andersen highlights the diverse experiences and emotions that people encounter throughout their lives.

Although „Twelve by the Mail“ may not be as well-known as some of Andersen’s other works, it remains a charming and thought-provoking tale that showcases the author’s unique storytelling style and his ability to convey deep insights through imaginative narratives.

Interpretations to fairy tale „Twelve by the mail“

„Twelve by the Mail“ offers various interpretations, as it explores themes of time, the cyclical nature of life, and human experiences. Here are a few interpretations of the story:

The passage of time: The tale emphasizes the continuous flow of time and the unstoppable march of the months. Each character represents a distinct period, and together, they form a complete cycle of the year. This cycle reminds readers that time never stands still and that each moment has its unique significance.

Diversity of human experiences: The twelve passengers symbolize the variety of human experiences throughout the year, such as work, play, celebration, and contemplation. They embody different aspects of life, highlighting the richness and diversity of human emotions, activities, and experiences.

Embracing change: The story encourages readers to accept and embrace change as an essential part of life. Each month brings new events, weather conditions, and emotions, and adapting to these changes is necessary for personal growth and development.

The power of nature: The tale underscores the influence of nature on human life. The months are personified as individuals with distinct personalities, but their actions and characteristics are closely tied to the natural world. This connection highlights the interdependence between humans and the environment.

Unity and harmony: Despite their differences, the twelve passengers are connected and dependent on one another to create a complete year. This interdependence suggests that unity and harmony are essential for a functioning society, as each individual brings unique contributions that benefit the whole.

Overall, „Twelve by the Mail“ offers an imaginative and thought-provoking exploration of time, human experiences, and the cyclical nature of life. The story reminds readers to appreciate the diversity of experiences and the beauty of change, while also emphasizing the importance of unity and harmony in a complex world.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „Twelve by the Mail“

„Twelve by the mail“ by Hans Christian Andersen has been adapted in various ways throughout the years. Here are a few examples:

Children’s books: The tale has been adapted into children’s books, including illustrated versions that highlight the vivid imagery of the story. One such version is „Twelve by the Mail“ by Jan Brett, which features detailed illustrations of the horses and the landscapes that the prince travels through. Writers used „Twelve by the Mail“ as inspiration for their own short story collections, weaving together the stories of various characters.

Theater: The story has also been adapted into stage plays and musicals. In these adaptations, the story is often expanded and fleshed out, with new characters and subplots added to the original tale.

Animated Films: „Twelve by the mail“ has been adapted into animated films and television shows. For example, a Russian animated film called „Twelve Months“ is based on the same folktale as „Twelve by the mail,“ and it features a similar storyline and characters.

There have been adaptations of the story in various cultures around the world. For example, a Chinese version of the tale called „Twelve Months“ features a similar storyline but with Chinese cultural references and characters.

„Twelve by the mail“ has been adapted in various ways throughout the years, highlighting the enduring appeal of Andersen’s richly symbolic fairy tale. While „Twelve by the Mail“ may not be as widely adapted as some of Hans Christian Andersen’s other fairy tales, its unique structure and diverse characters offer creative opportunities for various adaptations. Although there may not be specific examples of direct adaptations of the entire story, elements of the tale have been used in other works.

Summary of the plot

„Twelve by the Mail“ is a whimsical fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen set on New Year’s Eve. As the clock strikes midnight, a mail coach arrives at the town gate carrying twelve mysterious passengers, each representing a month of the year. The sentry at the gate interrogates them about their identities and intentions.

The first passenger is January, a wealthy merchant who brings prosperity and joy, followed by February, a theatrical director known for his amusing Carnival. March, a weather prophet and a symbol of Fasting, comes next. The fourth, April, is a jolly character who can be both serious and playful. May is a beautiful singer dressed in spring attire, with June and July appearing as wealthy siblings who love feasting and basking in the sun. August, their mother, is a hardworking landowner who values labor and enjoying the fruits of one’s work.

The ninth passenger is September, a painter who brings vibrant autumn colors to the leaves. October, a land proprietor and farmer, is passionate about agriculture and field sports. November arrives with a severe cold, representing the transition to winter, while the last passenger, December, brings the warmth of the Christmas season with her.

One by one, the twelve passengers are granted entry into the town, each carrying their own unique gifts, talents, and personalities. Their stories unfold over the course of the year, revealing what they have brought to the town and its people. The tale highlights the distinct qualities and events associated with each month and emphasizes the passage of time and the cyclical nature of life.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
TranslationsDE, EN, DA
Readability Index by Björnsson23.2
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index86.7
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level3.8
Gunning Fog Index6.2
Coleman–Liau Index8.3
SMOG Index7.6
Automated Readability Index3.2
Character Count8.064
Letter Count6.161
Sentence Count142
Word Count1.505
Average Words per Sentence10,60
Words with more than 6 letters189
Percentage of long words12.6%
Number of Syllables1.945
Average Syllables per Word1,29
Words with three Syllables81
Percentage Words with three Syllables5.4%
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