The Tinder Box
story by Hans Christian Andersen



Title: The Tinder Box
Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale

Danish title:

  • Fyrtøiet

The Tinder Box summary: (Jump to the fairy tale.) A soldier returns from war and encounters a witch who wants something from him and will give him something in return.

He betrays her and ends up with riches beyond his wildest dreams.

He still manages to spend it all, but then he finds that the witch left him something else, something akin to Aladdin's Lamp: her tinder box.

Using the powers of the tinder box, he has the kingdom's princess brought to him from where her father has been keeping her in hiding. (It was foretold that she would marry a common soldier, and the king can't have that!)

Well, the soldier is found out for gaining access to the princess and is sentenced to hang. The powers of the tinder box, however, save him at the last moment. The king and queen are killed, and the soldier marries the princess after all. And she seems quite fine with it!

The Tinder Box - Notable:

This is not a particularly moral tale. (In fact, I wouldn't dispute calling the soldier a sociopath. And the princess isn't much better!)

Black marks:

  • the soldier kills the witch - though she's done him no wrong, which Andersen notes
  • the soldier is unwise with his money.
  • though sometimes generous, he is primarily concerned with himself. His outcome seems way better than he deserves.

The tinder box in the story will remind you of Aladdin's lamp. (Instead of a genie, Andersen presents the soldier with three wish-granting dogs.) You may also notice a Hansel and Gretel moment.

Page continues below.

The Tinder Box, from an Anne Anderson print. (Gold coin background added.)

The Tinder Box - Magical:

A witch. The wish-granting dogs also speak and think quite cleverly. They're pretty athletic too!

A wondrous dwelling inside a tree.

Other versions

Denmark's first animated film was based on Andersen's story.

In 2007, The Tinder Box debuted as a short ballet, with sets and costumes designed by Denmark's own Queen!

The Tinder Box
by Hans Christian Andersen 

Translation from Childhood's Favorites and Fairy Stories,
The Young Folks Treasury, Volume 1

A story about a tinder box? (Webmaster's note: Think old matchbox.) Yes, but then it was such a wonderful one! Why, it must certainly have been a magic box!

It belonged to an old witch, this tinder box, but it had been left right down inside a tree by the ugly old witch's grandmother. But get it again she must, for she knew it really was a magic tinder box.

But how could she get it?

Ah! here was her chance.

Tramp, tramp; right, left, right, left. She heard the steps come nearer and nearer. She looked! There was a soldier coming along; tramp, tramp.

She could see him now, with a knapsack on his back, and his sword at his side.

The soldier had been to the wars and was coming home.

The Tinder Box

"Good evening," said the witch, as he came close to her. "Good evening; what a bright sword you wear, and what a big knapsack! You shall have as much money as you wish for yourself!"

"Thank you, old witch," said the soldier. But he did not tell her that she did not look as though she had much money to spare. He was too wise to say anything but, "Thank you, old witch."

"Do you see that big tree?" she said, and she pointed to one that stood close by the wayside. "It is hollow inside. Climb up to the top, and you will see a hole. It is large. You must creep through it and let yourself down, right down under the tree. Tie a rope round your waist, and I will haul you up again when you call."

"But what am I to do under the tree?" asked the soldier.

"What are you to do? Why, did I not tell you you should have money. It is there, under the tree, copper, silver, gold. Gold!" cried the witch, in a rough and eager voice. "When you come to the bottom of the tree there is a large passage. It is quite light, indeed it is ablaze with light. More than a hundred lamps are burning. There you will see three doors. The keys are in the keyholes. Unlock the doors and walk in. In the first room in the middle of the floor, is a big box. On the top of it sits a dog. He has big eyes, they are as big as saucers, but do not let that trouble you. You shall have my blue checked apron. Spread it on the floor. Go forward quickly, seize the dog and place him on it. After that is done, you can open the box, and take out as much money as you wish. It is true the box holds only copper coins, but if you would rather have silver, just walk into the next room. There sits another dog, on another box, with big eyes, eyes as big as-oh, as big as mill-wheels, but never mind that. Place the dog on my apron, then open the box and take as much silver as you wish. But if you would rather have gold, why, then open the third door. There you will see another dog, sitting on another box. This one is tremendous, quite gigantic, and he has eyes, oh! such great, rolling eyes! They are as large as the Round Tower (Webmaster's note: an observatory in Denmark). He is a dog indeed, but do not let that trouble you. Place him on my blue checked apron and he will not hurt you. Then take gold, as much gold as ever you wish."

"Splendid!" said the soldier. You see he had been to the wars and was a brave man. "Splendid! But what am I to give you, old witch? You will wish something, I am quite certain of that."

"No," said the witch: "I do not wish one single coin. But I do wish my old tinder box. My grandmother left it behind her, the last time she went down the tree."

"Well, tie the rope round my waist," said the soldier.

"Here it is," said the witch, "and here is my blue checked apron. It is very important."

The Tinder Box

Up the tree climbed the soldier, into the tree he crept through the hole at the top, and down, down the hollow inside he slipped, and there he was, in a wide passage, lighted, as the witch had said, by a hundred burning lamps.

The soldier unlocked the first door he saw. There sat the dog with eyes as big as saucers, staring at him in great surprise.

"I must obey my orders," thought the soldier.

He placed the witch's apron on the floor, seized the dog bravely, and placed him on the apron.

Then he opened the box. It was full of copper coins. He crammed as many as he could into his pocket, shut the lid, placed the dog again on the box, and passed on to the second door.

He unlocked it. Yes! there sat another dog on another box, with great eyes, as big as mill-wheels.

"If you stare at me so hard, you will hurt your eyes," said the soldier, and thought what a joke he had made. Then he seized the dog, placed it on the witch's apron, and raised the lid of the second box.

Silver, every coin was silver! The soldier threw away all his copper coins in a great hurry. He must have silver. He stuffed his pockets and his knapsack with the silver coins, and clapped his hands. He was rich now.

On he went to the third room. He unlocked it. There indeed was another box and another dog, and oh, horrible! the soldier almost shut his eyes. The dog had eyes, great big rolling eyes, eyes as large as the Round Tower. And they would not keep still. No, round and round they rolled.

But the soldier was brave; he had been to the wars.

"Good evening," he said, and he lifted his hat respectfully, for never before in all his life, had he seen so big, so enormous a creature.

Then he walked straight up to the dog. Could he lift him? Yes, he took the immense animal in his arms, set him on the witch's apron, and opened the third box.

Gold! It was full of gold. He would be able to buy the whole town, and all the sugar-plums, and all the tin soldiers, and all the rocking-horses and whips in the world.

The soldier was delighted. He threw away his silver money. Silver! He did not want silver. Here was gold, gold!

He filled his pockets and his knapsack, but he could not bear to stop there. No, he crammed his cap and his boots so full that he could hardly walk. He was really rich at last. He shut the lid, placed the dog again on the box, and went out of the room, along the passage.

Then he shouted up the tree, "Halloo, old witch! haul me up again."

"Have you got the tinder box?" said the witch.

"Oh, that I had quite forgotten," answered the soldier, and back he went to fetch it.

When he came back the witch took the rope and hauled and hauled, till there was the soldier, once more, safe on the high road, just as he was before, only now he was rich, so rich that he had become very bold.

He had gold in his pockets, gold in his knapsack, gold in his cap, gold in his boots.

"What are you going to do with the tinder box, just tell me that?" said the soldier.

"That is no business of yours," said the witch. "You have the gold, give me the tinder box!"

"Rubbish!" said the soldier. He had grown rude as well as rich, you see. "Rubbish-take your choice-tell me at once what you mean to do with the tinker-box, or I will draw my sword and cut off your head."

"I won't tell you," screamed the witch.

Then the soldier cut off her head, and the poor witch lay there dead. But the soldier did not stay to look at her. In a great hurry he took all his gold and tied it up in the blue checked apron.

He slung it across his shoulder, put the tinder box in his pocket, and marched off to town.

The Tinder Box

How grand he felt! What heaps of gold he had in his bundle!

When the soldier reached the town he walked straight to the finest hotel, and asked for the best rooms, and for dinner ordered all his favorite puddings and fruits.

The servant who cleaned his boots tossed her head. "Shabby boots for a rich man to wear," she said.

But next day the soldier had bought himself very grand new boots, and gay clothing, so that no one could possibly call him shabby.

Shabby! No, he was a great man now, and people crowded round this rich fellow, told him all the sights there were to be seen in their city, all about their King too, and the beautiful Princess, his daughter.

"I should like to see her, this wonderful Princess," said the soldier.

"But you cannot see her," they told him. "She lives, the beautiful Princess, in a great copper castle, with walls and towers all round. Only the King visits her there, for it was once foretold that she would marry a common soldier, and that our King does not wish."

"I must see her once, just once," thought the soldier. But how was he going to find the way into the castle, that was the question?

The Tinder Box

Meanwhile he led a merry life. He drove about in the King's Park; he went to the theater; he gave money to the poor, because he remembered how miserable it was to have no money in his own pocket.

The soldier was always gaily dressed now. He had a great many friends who said he was a real gentleman, and that pleased him very much.

And so he went on day after day, spending money and giving money, but getting none, till at last the gold came to an end. He had only two copper coins left: he was only a poor soldier once more.

The Tinder Box

Leaving the grand hotel he went to live in a small room. He found a tiny attic, just under a roof, up, oh! so many stairs. Here he lived, mending his own clothes, brushing his own boots. He had no visitors, for his grand friends would not take the trouble to walk up so many stairs to his little attic.

Hungry? Yes, he was hungry too, and as he had no money to buy even a farthing candle, he had to sit alone in the dark.

One evening he suddenly thought of the witch's tinder box. Surely in it there were matches.

The soldier opened it eagerly. Yes, there lay the matches. He seized one and struck it on the tinder box.

No sooner had he done this, than the door burst suddenly open, and there, there, staring at him, stood the dog with eyes as big as saucers.

"What does my master command?" asked the dog.

"No wonder the old witch wished the tinder box for her very own," thought the soldier. Aloud he said to the dog, "Fetch me some money," and the dog instantly vanished to do his master's bidding.

He was back in a moment, and lo! in his mouth was a big bag, full of pennies.

"Why, this is a magic box," said the soldier. "I have a treasure indeed." And so he had, for listen! Strike the box once, the dog with eyes as large as saucers appeared. Strike it twice and the dog with eyes as big as mill-wheels appeared. Strike it thrice and there appeared the monster dog with eyes that rolled round and round and were as large as the Round Tower itself. All three dogs did the soldier's bidding.

Now the soldier could have gold again. Gold as much as ever he wished.

The Tinder Box

He moved once more to the grand rooms in the fine hotel. He had gay clothes again; and now, strangely enough, all his friends came to see him and liked him as much as ever.

One evening the soldier's thoughts wandered away to the beautiful Princess, the beautiful Princess who was shut up so safely in the great copper palace.

"It is ridiculous that no one sees the Princess," thought the soldier. "I want to see her, and I shall."

He pulled out his tinder box, struck a light, and lo! there stood the dog with eyes as large as saucers.

"It is the middle of the night," said the soldier, "but I must see the Princess, if it is only for a moment."

The dog bounded out of the door, and before the soldier had time to wonder what he would do or say if the beautiful Princess really appeared, there she was.

Yes, there she was, fast asleep on the dog's back. She was beautiful, so beautiful that the soldier was quite sure that she was a real Princess. He stooped and kissed her hand. She was so beautiful he could not help it. Then off ran the dog, back to the copper palace with the Princess.

"I had such a strange dream last night," the Princess told the King and Queen at breakfast next morning. "I dreamed that an enormous dog came and carried me off to a soldier, and the soldier kissed my hand. It was a strange dream," she murmured.

"The Princess must not be left alone to-night," said the Queen. "She may be frightened if she dreams again." And she told an old dame who lived at court to sit in the Princess's room at night.

But what would the Queen have said if she had known that what the Princess told them was no dream, but something that had really and truly happened?

Well, that evening the soldier thought he would like to see the Princess again.

He struck a light, and there stood one of his obedient dogs.

"Bring the Princess," ordered the soldier, and the dog vanished to do his master's will.

The old dame sat beside the Princess's bed. She had heard all about the Princess's dream.

"Was she dreaming herself now?" she wondered. She pinched herself.-No, she was wide awake, yet she saw a dog, a real dog with eyes as large as saucers, in front of her.

The dog seized the Princess, and ran off; but although he ran very quickly, the old dame found time to put on her goloshes before she followed.

How she panted along! How she ran, the faithful old dame! She was just in time to see the Princess on the dog's back disappear into a large house.

"I shall mark the house, so that I may know it in the morning," she thought. And she took a piece of white chalk and made a great white cross on the door.

Then she walked home and slept.

The Tinder Box

Soon afterwards the dog carried the Princess back to the copper palace, and noticed the great white cross on the door of the hotel where his master lived.

And what do you think he did? Oh, he was a wise dog. He took a piece of chalk, and he put a great white cross on every door in the town.

Early next morning the King and Queen and all the lords and ladies of the court were astir. They had heard the old dame's story, and were going to see the house with the great white cross.

They had scarcely started, when the King's eyes fell on a great white cross! "Here it is," cried the King eagerly.

"What nonsense you talk, my dear! it is here," said the Queen, for almost at the same moment she too had seen a door with a great white cross.

Then all the lords and ladies cried: "It is here, it is here," as one after another they saw doors marked with great white crosses. The hubbub was terrible, and the poor old dame was quite bewildered. How could she tell which door she had marked? It was quite useless. The dog had perplexed everybody, and they went back to the copper palace knowing no more than when they left it.

But the Queen was a clever woman. She could do more than just sit very properly on a throne.

The same evening, she took her big gold scissors and cut up a large piece of silk into small pieces. These she sewed together into a pretty little bag. Then she filled the bag with the finest grains of wheat. With her own hands she tied the bag round the Princess's waist, after which she took her gold scissors again and cut a tiny little hole in the bag, a hole just big enough to let the grains of wheat drop out whenever the Princess moved.

That night the dog came again and carried the Princess off to the soldier, and the soldier wished he were a Prince, for then he would marry this beautiful Princess.

Now although the dog had very big eyes, eyes as large as saucers, he did not notice the tiny grains of wheat as they dropped out all along the road from the palace to the soldier's window. Under the window the dog stopped and climbed up the wall with the Princess, into the soldier's room.

The next morning the King and Queen followed the little grains of wheat and very easily found out where the Princess had been.

Then the soldier was seized and put into prison.

The Tinder Box

Oh, how dark and tiresome it was! But it was worse than that one day, when they told him he was to be hanged, "hanged to-morrow," they told him.

What a fright the soldier was in, and, worst of all, he had left his tinder box at the hotel.

Morning came! Through the narrow bars of his little window the soldier could see the people all hurrying out of town. They were going to see him hanged.

He heard the drums, he saw the soldiers marching along. He wished he were marching with them. Alas, alas! that could never be now-

A little shoemaker's apprentice, with a leather apron, came running along. He was in such a hurry that he lost one of his slippers. It fell close under the soldier's window, as he sat peering out through the narrow bars.

The soldier called to the boy, "There is no hurry, for I am still here. Nothing will happen till I go. I will give you two-pence if you will run to the house where I used to live and fetch me my tinder box. You must run all the way."

The shoemaker's boy thought he would like to earn twopence, and off he raced to bring the tinder box.

He found it. "A useless little box," he said to himself, but back he raced with it to the soldier; and then-what do you think happened?

The Tinder Box

Outside the town the scaffold had been raised, the soldiers were drawn up round it, as well as crowds of people.

The King and Queen were there too, seated on a magnificent throne, exactly opposite the judges and councilors.

The rope was being put round the soldier's neck, when he turned to the King and Queen and earnestly entreated one last favor-only to be allowed to smoke one pipe of tobacco.

What a harmless request! How could the King refuse so harmless a request?

"Yes," said his Majesty, "you may smoke one pipe of tobacco."

The soldier took out his tinder box, struck a match, once, twice, thrice, and lo! there before him stood the three enormous dogs, waiting his commands.

"Help me," shouted the soldier; "do not let me be hanged."

At once the three terrible dogs rushed at the judges and councilors, tossed them high into the air, so that as they fell they were broken into pieces.

The King began to speak; perhaps he was going to forgive the soldier, but no one knows what he was going to say, for the biggest dog gave him no time to finish his sentence.

He rushed at the King and Queen, flung them high into the air, so that when they fell down, they too were broken all to pieces.

Then the soldiers and the people, who were all terribly frightened, shouted in a great hurry, "Brave soldier, you shall be our King, and the beautiful Princess shall be our Queen!"

And while they led the soldier to the royal carriage the great big dogs bounded along in front.

Little boys whistled gaily, and the guards presented arms.

Then the Princess was sent for, and made Queen, which she liked much better than living shut up in a copper palace. And the wedding feast lasted for eight whole days, and the three monster wizard dogs sat at the table, staring around them with all their eyes.

The End

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