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Annotations for The Tinderbox
 

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Hans Christian Andersen
Father of the Modern Fairy Tale 
by Terri Windling



 

The annotations for the The Tinderbox fairy tale are below. Sources have been cited in parenthetical references, but I have not linked them directly to their full citations which appear on The Tinderbox Bibliography page. I have provided links back to the Annotated Tinderbox to facilitate referencing between the notes and the tale.

Special thanks to Christine Ethier, an adjunct teacher of English writing at both Community College of Philadelphia and Camden County College, for providing the annotations to this tale.


1. The Tinderbox: A tinderbox is a metal box that usually holds flint and steel as well as tinder (Misk 1236).

The Danish title of the “Fyrtojet” means fire-steel (Tatar 156).  The story is based on a Danish folktale “The Spirit of the Candle” and is like the Grimm story “The Blue Light”.  It also contains allusions to other fairy tales [see below].

The tale type is AT 562 (Holberk 152).  Bengt Holbek suggests Andersen’s own father as a source for the tale (150).
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2: A soldier: Tatar points out that stories about returning soldiers were for adults (157), but “Andersen adds enough magic and whimsy to make the tale attractive for young and old” (157).

According to Jackie Wullschlager, “In Andersen’s time the soldier was seen as both an inspirational and consoling figure” (187).  The soldier in this tale is similar to the character Aladdin, and the tale of Aladdin “. . .  had a special emotional resonance for Andersen, who saw himself as the poor boy destined to be famous” (Wullschlager 152).  Sven H. Rossel sees the solider as a self portrait of Andersen (233).
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3: High-Road: Possibly Roskilde Road.  Andersen entered Copenhagen by Roskide Road (Wullschalger 35), and the road offered an impressive view of the city (Wullschlager 35).
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4: Been to the wars: Tatar and Allen translate, “fought in the war” (157).  Andersen’s father joined a regiment and went to fight in the Napoleonic Wars in 1812 (Wullschlager 25).  He never saw action, but the forced march ruined his health (Wullschalger 25).
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5. Witch: Tatar points out that “witches, hags, and crones appear with some frequency in Andersen’s tales” (158).

According to Sheldon Cashden, a witch in fairy tales “is less an actual person then a representation of psychological focus operating in a child’s psyche” (18), and the witch “magnifies inner flaws and frailties in the reader” (17).

Aage Jorgensen in his essay “Heroes in Hans Christian Andersen’s Writings” contends that the witch “represents psychological states that must be overcome”.  According to Biedermann, “Jungian psychology sees the figure of the witch as an imagery embodiment of the dark side of the anima, the female aspect of man . . .” (386).

Lucas and Paull translate the witch’s lower lip as only hanging down to her chin (335).
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6. You are a real soldier: Jean Hersholt translates, “Aren’t you every inch a soldier” (1) as do Tatar and Allen (157).  Andersen will repeat a variation of this phrase later.  Presumably the soldier not only looks the part, but has acted the part as well.
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7. Large tree: According to Biedermann, “the tree was widely seen as the axis mundi around which the cosmos is organized” (350).  Trees can be seen as “creatures of two worlds, intermediaries between above and below” (Biedermann 350).  While woods and large groups of trees can be seen as negative or threatening, “images of individual trees are often positive” (Westfahl 962).
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8. A hole: This hole leads underground as well as under the tree.  It can be associated with a cave, which can symbolize the womb or birth place (Biedermann 60).
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9. But what am I to do:  Tatar and Allen translate, “Why would I ever go inside that tree?” (158). The response is translated as “For the money” (Tatar 158).
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10. Three hundred lamps: Hersholt (7), and Tatar and Allen (158) both translate as “more than a hundred lamps”.
A lamp is a “symbol of intelligence and the spirit” (Cirlot 176).
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11. Three doors:  Three is the number associated with perfection (Biedermann 240).  It can also refer to the id, ego, and super-ego (Bettelhiem 102).  The door can lead to a realm of great significance (Biedermann 150).
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12. Dog: The dog can symbolize loyalty or vigilance (Biedermann 97).  It often figures “as a guardian at the portals of the afterlife . . . or as a sacrifice to the dead, to guide them in the next life” (Biedermann 98).  The dog could also be a symbol of the conscience (Mercatante and Dow 294-295).  Plutrach saw the dog as a symbol of “the conservative, watchful, philosophical principle of life” (Matthews 166). 

According to John And Caitlin Matthews, “In Celtic folklore tradition, there is a reference to three green dogs . . . named Fios, Luathes, and Tron-that is Knowledge, Swiftness, and Heaviness” (167).

Dogs are also linked to Cerebus (Tatar 160).
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13. A pair of eyes as large as teacups: Hersholt translates “saucers” (1).

Symbolically, the eye is associated “with light and intellectual perspicacity” (Biedermann 122).  Harold Bloom writes that the eyes express the dogs’ exuberance (405).  Big eyes can also denote innocence and goodness (take for instance cartoon characters in Disney and anime productions).
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14.  Copper pence: Tatar writes that because gold, silver, and copper “resist corrosion and do not react with other elements, they were at one time commonly used to make coins the world over” (161).  Symbolically, copper was associated with Venus (Biedermann 76).
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15. Silver money: Silver is a noble metal, has an association with the moon, and was believed to ward off demons (Biedermann 308).  Some translations use the term mill stones instead of mill wheels.  Note that as the money becomes more valuable the eyes of the dog get larger.
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16.  Gold: The highest value.  Gold is “associated with the sun” (Biedermann 154) as well as “perfection and the light of heaven” (Biedermann 154).
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17.  Big as a tower: Generally speaking, a tower, like a tree, is seen as a form of the Axis Mundi (Biedermann 349).
           
Tatar and Allen (158), Lucas and Paull (336), and Hersholt (1) all translate this as the Round Tower.  Wullschalger writes that “The Round Tower is his [Andersen’s] equelivent of the Arabian minarets” (154).
                       
The Round Tower (Rundetarn) is a famous Copenhagen landmark.  The tower stands 34.8 meters [114.17 feet] (Hansen 3) and was Christian IV’s final building (Hansen 1).  Built from 1637-1642, the tower’s architect was Hans Steenwinckel Jr (Hansen 1).  It “is the oldest preserved astronomic observatory in Europe (Hansen 2).  The Round Tower has an interior ramp that “winds 7 ½ times around the hollow core” (Hansen 3).  The ramp is 4.25 meters [13.943 feet] wide and 200 meters [656.16 feet] long (Hansen 4), wide enough that Peter the Great was able to ride his horse up the tower while his wife drove up in a carriage (Hansen 7).  During the English bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807 (during the Napoleonic Wars) both rare astronomic instruments and citizens were sheltered in the Tower.  The outside of the Round Tower boasts a riddle, in symbols, which can be translated as “Guide the learning and justice, in the Crowned King Christian the Fourth’s heart” (Hansen 10) or “Lord, Oh Lord, learning and justice into the heart of the crowned King Christian IV” (Hartmann 30).  The riddle may have been written by Christian IV himself (Hansen 10).
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18.  You do not mean to tell me all this for nothing: Tatar and Allen translate, “I’m sure you want to have a share of it too” (158).
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19. Old tinder-box, which my grandmother left behind the last time she went down there: This seems to establish, or is an attempt to establish, the witch’s right to the tinderbox.  It might also be another, stronger hint that the tinderbox is something special.
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20.  Many hundred lamps were all burning: Tatar points out that “the radiant hall suggests that the underground realm is associated with celestial rather than sinister power.  The solider, of course, has to go up the tree before he slides down though it” (158).
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21.  Chest: Tatar and Allen translate, “Yikes” (160) when the solider sees the dog.

Bengt Holbek notes, “It is a common feature in legends about treasure hunters that some sort of frightening animal is sitting on the treasure, and that is can placated by being treated gently and respectfully” (153).

There is a story that in 1430, near Nuremberg, Germany, a demon told a priest that there was treasure to be found in a nearby cave.  The priest went and dug, found the treasure which was guarded by a huge dog that sit on the chest, but when the priest entered a cave in swallowed him, dog, and treasure (Calmet 120).

If the tree and hall are a stand in for a cave, symbolically the treasure could be seen as finding and understanding the unconscious mind (Cirlot 346).
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22.  You had better not look at me in that way: Tatar and Allen translate, “Yowee” (160) as well.
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23.  Good morning: Tatar and Allen translate, “Good evening” (160), and “after he [the soldier] had stared at him [the dog] for awhile, he thought well enough of that” (160).  The soldier’s reaction to the dogs demonstrates his bravery, his respect for the dogs, and, perhaps, his ability to follow sensible orders.
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24.  Sugar sticks: Tatar and Allen translate, “every single sugar pig sold by the cake wives” (160).  Lucas and Allen translate sugar pigs as well (337).

According to Maria Tatar, “cakes and candy made in the shape of a pig were popular deserts in Denmark” (161).

Instead of town or city, Tatar and Allen translate “enough to buy all of Copenhagen” (160), placing the tale in a well known location.
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25. So the soldier now threw away all the silver money: Despite being told by the witch of the existence of all three types of treasure, the solider fills his pockets each time, and empties them twice to make room for the greater treasure.  The behavior could make the soldier seem more childlike, or it could point to a lack of foresight on the part of the soldier.  It might also make the soldier seem more mercenary.
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26.  No; I declare I quite forgot it: Tatar and Allen (160) and Hersholt (3) translate, “Confound the tinderbox”.  This is the first time the solider forgets the important item.
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27.  Immediately cut off her head: Tatar writes, “With his knapsack and sword, the soldier can be seen to embody ruthless, greed and violence-filling his knapsack with as much gold as possible and killing with his sword anyone who crosses him.  Decapitation was a common punishment in European fairy tales” (162).

Jack Zipes notes the solder is not seen as evil because he kills a witch, and witches were evil (When Dreams, 93).  Aage Jorgensen writes of the scene, “a real soldier doesn’t care for nonsense, without any scruples he cuts off the witch’s head-to which his [Andersen’s] critics and the public objected, even though she obviously represents psychological states that must be overcame”.  Jorgensen also sees the killing of the witch as the soldier freeing himself from his mother fixation, and eventually gaining mastery over the tinderbox as well as his own drives.  Jorgensen’s theory would explain why the soldier uses the witch’s apron.  The saying, ‘tied to one’s mother’s apron strings’ means for a young man to be dominated by his mother (Evans 44).
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28. Nearest town: Tatar and Allen translate “city” (161).  The town or city is most likely a stand in for Copenhagen.
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29.  Copper castle: Copper was used for the roofs of several Danish castles.

The soldier does seem to have too much curiosity about the tinder box once he gains possession of it.  He is curious about the princess, however.

The image is an allusion to the fairy tale of “Rapunzel” (Tatar 156).

There were, however, imprisoned royal women at two castles in cities that Andersen spent time in.              In Copenhagen, at Christianborg Castle, there was once The Blue Tower [the ruins of the tower can be seen under the current castle.  The tower was already destroyed by Andersen’s time].  King Christian IV’s daughter, Leonara Christina was imprisoned in the tower from 1663-1685 because her husband had offered the Danish throne to the Elector of Brandenburg (Jansen 116).  Apparently, “her beauty and intelligence attracted attention at the court of Louis XIII” (Jansen 116).  Imprisoned by Christian IV’s heir, Frederick III and his wife, both of whom did not like her, Leonara Christina suffered harsh conditions.  Upon inheriting the throne, Christian V improved her conditions of imprisonment, allowing, among other things, writing materials (Stoddard 523).  Thus, Leonara Christina wrote Jimmersminde, a memorial of her imprisonment.  Christian V released Leonara Christian after the death of his mother.

The second royal, closer to Andersen’s time, was Queen Caroline Mathilda (sister to George III of England), imprisoned at Kronborg Castle in Helslingor (Elisnore) from January 17, 1772 to May 30, 1772.  Queen Caroline Mathilda’s husband, Christian VIII was mentally unstable, possibly from schizophrenia (Rosenberg 41).  His doctor, J. F. Struense, used the illness to gain power, eventually becoming prime Minster and the lover of the Queen.  A year after gaining power, Struense lost it and his head due to a coup led by the Dowager Queen Juliane Marie (step-mother to Christian VII).  Imprisoned at Kronberg, Caroline Mathilda signed a confession about her affair (Langberg 48).  She was eventually sent to Celle in Hanover where she died in 1775 (Langberg 48).  She never saw either of her two children, Frederick VI and Louise Augusta (Struense’s daughter) again (Langberg 48). [see also below]
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30.  Went to the theatre: Possibly the Royal Theatre.  According to Wullschlager, the Royal Theatre was the scene of Andersen’s “happiness, dreams, and wildest longings” (38) upon his arrival in Copenhagen.

The King’s Garden could be Kongens Have [the King’s Garden] in Copenhagen which today has a statue of Andersen.  Kongens Have are the “oldest royal gardens” and were planned by Otto Heider (RosenbergCastleGardens).  The gardens have been open to the public since the early 18th century.  According to RosenbergCastleGardens, the gardens “have enjoyed a status as Copenhagen’s most frequented and loved gardens” since their opening.
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31.  Gave a great deal of money to the poor: Tatar and Allen translate, “He also gave a lot of money to the poor, which was to his credit, for he remembered how miserable it was not to have a penny in your pocket” (162).  The soldier’s generosity shows the reader he is not a bad fellow.
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32.  A real gentleman: This description refers to money not to knowledge or culture (Zipes, When Dreams, 93).
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33. A little garret: The soldier did not invest or save his money, but spent it like a child.

A garret is a “room or unfinished part of a house” (Misk 506)

The “In the Footsteps of Andersen” section of Visit Copenhagen identifies this as 6 Vingarardsstraerde, a one time room of Andersen’s.
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34.  None of his friends: Tatar notes the friends, “serve as reminders of shameless hypocrisy” (162).
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35. Remembered: This is the second time he has forgotten the tinderbox.
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36. He was gone in a moment: Hersholt uses the word “zip” to describe the quick movements of the dogs.    

Jack Zipes writes of the tale: 

Andersen subconsciously concocted a sociopolitical formula that was the keystone of bourgeois progress and success in the nineteenth century: use of talent for the acquisition of money, establish a system of continual re capitalization (tinderbox and the three dogs) to guarantee income and power, employ money and power to achieve social and political hegemony” (When Dreams, 93).
                   

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37. So that his friends knew him again directly: Wullsclager writes that Andersen’s comments and description of the soldier’s friends “marks the double child/adult readership which he intended from the start” (153).
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38. She was lying on the dog’s back asleep: Note that her beauty validates her position (Tatar 163).  There is also an allusion to “Snow White” and “Sleeping Beauty” (Tatar 163).  Tatar notes that “the soldier’s appreciation of beauty, his desire to set eyes on the princess because of her storied beauty, makes him a true hero in Andersen’s fairy tale pantheon” (163).

The phrase “true soldier as he was” echoes the witch’s comment at the beginning of the tale.
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39. King: “In European fairy tales the figure of the king predominately represents the end-point of all the hero’s travels and adventures on his way to education and maturity” (Biedermann 196).  During ancient times, weak kings were killed (Biedermann 195).  The king can also represent “the ruling or governing principle, supreme consciousness and the virtues of sound judgment and self-control” (Cirlot 167).
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40. Water boots: Sometimes translated as storm boots (Hersholt 5) or galoshes (Lucas and Paull 340). Christian VII had a mistress called Boots Katrine (Christian VII) [see above and below].
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41. Large cross on the door with a piece of chalk: Similar to “Ali Baba” (Tatar 165).  Notice that each time the Soldier just looks at her and, perhaps, kisses her (he did so the first time; it is unclear if the kiss is repeated).  He is a rather chaste lover.  Jens Andersen describes H. C. Andersen as preferring the role of chaste lover (137).Return to place in story.


42. The Queen was a very clever woman: The queen is far more active than the king who, despite the fear for his throne, seems rather weak.  If the story is a comment in part on the Danish royal family as some critics contend, then the character of the queen might be based on Queen Juliane Marie (1729-96) step-mother to Christian VII.  Dowager Queen Juliane Marie led the coup that took power from Struense, and she maintained a powerful role from 1772 to 1784 (Eller 89), when her step-grandson, Frederick VI took control of the regency for his father, Christian VII, who died in 1808.  P. M. Mitchell describes Juliane Marie’s rule as “strict, constrictive rule” (123), and “the mood of the times became on of great caution as far as the expression of original or radical ideas was concerned . . . Whoever uttered an opinion that could be construed as a negative criticism  of the royal house might pay dearly for it” (123).
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43. The flour ran out of the bag: Similar to the trail used in “Hansel and Gretel” (Tatar 165).
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44. Put in prison: “In the Footsteps of Andersen” identifies the prison as the City Court.  The prison was connected to the Court House by a footbridge across Slutterigade, the street behind the Court House (Moller 14).

However, state prisoners and other dangerous criminals were kept at the prison house in the Kastellet (Solberg and Kortegaard 21).  The Kastellet was the fort that guarded Copenhagen.  Today, it is a public park where some of the fort’s buildings and earthworks still stand (it is near the statue of The Little Mermaid).  After the English gained control of it during the attack in 1807, the Kastellet was seen as obsolete (Solberg and Kortegaard 10).  The Citadel stood at the edge of the city.  In “The Tinderbox”, people go outside the city to see the hanging.  Andersen could have also had Kastellet in mind when he wrote the story.
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45. Bring me my tinderbox: The third time the soldier has either forgotten or left the tinderbox.
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46. And now we shall see what happened: This slows down the story (Tatar 166).
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47. Gibbet: Gallows.
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48. And the dogs fell upon the judges and all the councillors: Aage Jorgensen notes that when the dogs attack the courtiers it is a carnival (reversal) element.

Jack Zipes notes of Andersen’s early tales that “the rich and powerful figures are either overthrown or exposed as conceited, arrogant, and stupid” (“Critical” 226-227).
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49.  But the largest dog seized him: Zipes writes of the end of the story:

Psychologically, Andersen’s hatred for his own class (his mother) and the  Danish nobility (the king and queen) are played out bluntly when the solider kills the witch and has the king and queen eliminated by the dogs.  The wedding celebration at the end of is basically a celebration of the solidification of power by bourgeois class in the nineteenth century: the unification of middle-class soldier with a royal princess.   (When Dreams, 94).

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50.  Which was very pleasing to her: Jorgensen sees the princess’ release as freeing her from her “father fixation”.  Jorgensen also sees the solider as a popular hero and points to the hero as rescuing the princess.
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51. Stared with all their eyes: The dogs are rewarded by the solider.  They sit at the table with him.  Tatar writes of the ending image that it “points to Andersen’s deep commitment to providing the old time enchantments of oral story tellers” (167). 

Jack Zipes sees the story as a way for Andersen to deal with his anger at his superiors (“Critical 227).  The artistic characters that Andersen creates don’t do this (Zipes, “Critical”, 227).  Additionally, “the solider is justified in his use of power and money because he is essentially better than anyone else” (Zipes, When Dreams, 93).

Wullschlager writes of the tale:

The style is the greatest liberation: it draws the teller and listener together, sharing jokes against the pompous and powerful, engaging the cunning tricks that allow the poor and weak to triumph, and providing an outlet for Andersen’s rage against the bourgeois society that tried to make him conform. (153).           


Special thanks to Christine Ethier, an adjunct teacher of English writing at both Community College of Philadelphia and Camden County College, for providing the annotations to this tale.


 

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