The prince and princess
In the kingdom we are now sitting in there lives a princess who is so immensely clever, but then
she has also read all the newspapers that exist in the world, and forgotten them again – she is that
clever. The other day she’s sitting on the throne, and that is not all that much fun, people say, when she
happens to start humming a tune that is precisely this one: ‘Why shouldn’t I get married!’ ‘Hey, that’s
not a bad idea,’ she says, and was so eager to get married, but she wanted to have a husband that knew
how to answer back when talked to, one that didn’t just stand there looking fine – for that’s so boring.
So she had all her ladies-in-waiting drummed together, and when they heard what she wanted, they
were so pleased, “I like this!” they said, “I was thinking something similar only the other day!”
The newspapers immediately came out edged with hearts and the princess’s monogram; there
people could read that any young man who was handsome was free to come up to the palace and speak
with the princess, and the one who spoke in such a way that one could hear he belonged there, and who
spoke best, the princess would take as her husband! – Yes, yes! people flocked to the palace, there was such a hustle and bustle, but there
was no success on either the first or the second day. All of them were well able to speak when they
were out in the street, but the moment they entered the palace gate and saw the lifeguards all clad in
silver, and on the staircase the footmen clad in gold and the huge, illuminated halls, they were taken
aback; and as soon as they were before the throne where the princess was sitting, all they could manage
was to repeat the last word she had said, and she wasn’t interested in hearing that again. It was as if
people in there had taken snuff and it had fallen onto their stomachs and they had fallen into a trance
until they were back in the street – yes, then they could talk all right. There was a long line right to the palace.
It was on the third day when a little fellow turned
up, without horse or carriage, marching quite unperturbed right up to the palace; his eyes shone, he had lovely long hair, but apart from that poor clothes!
He had a small knapsack on his back!
When he came in at the palace gate and saw the lifeguards all in silver and on the
staircase the footmen all in gold, he wasn’t the slightest bit overawed, he nodded and said to them: “It
must be boring standing on the stairs, I think I’d rather go inside!” There he came to halls glittering
with light; privy councillors and excellencies walked around on their bare feet and carried gold dishes –
the more ceremony the better! his boots creaked so terribly loudly, but he wasn’t the slightest bit
Well, they certainly did creak! and he walked as calm as you please right up to the
princess, who was sitting on a pearl as large as a spinning wheel; and all the ladies-in-waiting with their
maids, and maid’s maids, and all the lords-in-waiting with their servants and servant’s servants with
their pages stood lined up around her; and the closer they stood by the door, the prouder they looked.
The servant’s servant’s page, who always wears slippers, is almost impossible to look at, so proudly
does he stand at the door!
He must have
spoken well. He
was unperturbed and dashing; he hadn’t come at all to propose, only to hear the princess’s cleverness,
which he liked, and she liked him in return!
inside the palace, ; the lifeguards in silver and footmen in gold wouldn’t allow it;
into the garden, into the avenue where one leaf fell after the other, and when the
palace lights were put out,
one after the other, to a backdoor that was ajar.
Now they were on the staircase; a little lamp was burning on a cupboard; in the middle of the floor
it swished past; it was like
shadows along the wall, horses with flowing manes and thin legs, hunting lads, gentlemen and ladies
‘It’s only dreams! they’ve come to fetch the thoughts of the royal household out
hunting, a good thing as you can then more easily observe them in bed. But let me see, if you gain
glory and honour, that you then display a grateful heart!’
the first hall, it was of rose-pink satin with imitation flowers up the walls; here the
dreams already shot past them, but at such a pace that one did not catch a glimpse of the royal
household. Each hall was finer than the previous one, yes, it really took one’s breath away, and now
they were in the bedroom. Here the ceiling was like a tall palm tree with leaves of glass, precious glass,
and in the middle of the floor on a golden stalk hung two beds, each of which looked like a lily: The
one was white, in it the princess lay; the other was red, and turning aside one of the red leaves one saw a brown nape of a neck.
– the dreams swished on
horseback back into the room – he woke up, turned his head and – –
It was only the back of the prince’s neck that resembled him, although he was young and handsome.
And the princess looked out from the white lily-bed and asked what was happening.
‘You poor little thing!’ the prince and princess said, and they praised the crows and said they
weren’t the slightest bit angry with them, but they shouldn’t make a habit of it. They were, though, to
have a reward.
‘Do you wish to fly freely?’ the princess asked, ‘or would you like a permanent position as court
crows, with everything left over in the kitchen?’
And both the crows bowed and asked for a permanent position; for they thought of the future and
said, ‘it’s a good idea to have something for one’s old age’, as they put it.
And the prince got out of bed and let Gerda sleep in it – he could not do more. She folded her small
hands and thought: ‘How good creatures humans and animals are,’ and then she closed her eyes and
The next day she was dressed from top to toe in silk and velvet; she was invited to stay at the palace
and have a pleasant time, but all she asked for was to have a small carriage with a horse in front and a
pair of small boots, and then she would be off again into the great wide world.
And she was given both boots and a muff; she was so finely clothed, and when she wanted to set off,
a new coach of pure gold was standing at the door; the arms of the prince and princess shone from it
like a star; coachman, servants and postilions – for there were also postilions – sat dressed in golden
crowns. The prince and princess helped into the carriage themselves and wished every success.
Inside, the coach was lined with sugared pretzels, and there were various types of fruit and small spicy
biscuits in the seats.
‘Goodbye! goodbye!’ the prince and princess cried out,
The little robber girl.
They drove through the dark forest, but the coach shone like a torch, it dazzled the robbers, and that
they couldn’t stomach.
‘It’s gold! it’s gold!’ they shouted, rushed forwards, seized the horses, killed the small jockeys, the
coachman and the servants
But Gerda patted her on the cheek, and asked about the prince and princess.
‘They’ve left for abroad!’ the robber girl said.
Translated into English by John Irons in 2014 for the Hans
Christian Andersen Centre at the University of Southern Denmark.