The Odense-born Danish poet Hans Christian Andersen (2 April 1805 1875) drew on both German and Scandinavian folk tale motifs for some of his fairy tales. They were published from 1835 to 1872, and are among the most translated works in all literary history.
There are still other Danish tales on the site.
ONCE there lived a duck family on an old farm somewhere. Mother Duck had been sitting on a clutch of new eggs, and one morning the eggs hatched. Out popped six chirpy ducklings. But one egg was bigger than the rest, and it didn't hatch. Mother Duck couldn't recall laying that one egg. But now - TOCK! TOCK! - a little one was pecking inside his shell.
"Did I count the eggs? - and wrongly?" Mother Duck wondered. But then the last egg hatched and she forgot to think about it for a few days or so. For out came a strange-looking baby bird with grey feathers. "They should be yellow," thought the concerned Mother Duck. The ducklings grew quickly, and all along Mother Duck had a hidden worry.
"How can this grey-feathered duckling can be one of mine!" she said to herself, shaking her head as she looked at her last born. Well, the grey baby bird didn't look as pretty to her as the rest of them. Since he ate far more than the other little ones, he was outgrowing them. And besides, he swam just as well as the rest, so she didn't worry about him too much. That's for sure.
The days went by one by one. The tall guy got more and more nervous and unhappy. The ducklings he was attached to, didn't want to play with him. They said and showed in many tactless ways that the big gay was so clumsy and strove to laugh at him. In the end he felt sad and alone, even though Mother Duck did her best to console him.
"Poor little guy!" she would say. "Are you so different?" That made the ugly duckling feel worse. He wept secretly at night, thinking nobody wanted him. And the truth is the ducks did what they could to hurt him after that.
"Nobody likes me, every duckling teases me! I am different?"
One day at sunrise he ran away from the farmyard. He wandered through overgrown fields, often frightening the little birds who lived there, because a bigger one appeared.
He stopped at a pond and began to question the herons he found there:
"Do you know of any ducklings with grey feathers like mine?"
Everyone shook their heads and didn't like to be intruded upon.
"We don't know," they whistled and said. The little bird did not lose heart, however, and kept on making inquiries. He went to another pond, where a pair of large geese gave him the same answer. What's more, they warned him:
" It's dangerous here. Don't stay. Go away at once. There are men with thunderous sticks around!"
The duckling felt sorry he had ever left the farmyard.
Then one day his waggly travels took him near an old countrywoman's cottage. Her eyesight was poor. Thinking he was a stray goose, she caught him.
"I'll put this in a hutch. I hope it's a female and lays plenty of eggs!" said the old woman. The ugly duckling laid not a single egg. The hen frightened him often:
"Wait - if you don't lay eggs, the old woman will wring your neck and pop you into the pot!"
The poor young bird was so scared that he lost his appetite, though the old woman kept stuffing him with food and grumbling: "If you won't lay eggs, at least get plump!"
"Dear me!" moaned the little fellow. "I came around just because I hoped someone would love me!"
Then one night, finding the hutch door left open for once, he ran away. Once again he was perfectly alone. He fled as far away as he could. At dawn he found himself in a thick bed of reeds.
"If nobody wants me, I'll hid here for a really long while," he thought to himself.
There was plenty a food, so the duckling began to feel a little happier, even though he was all alone. And one day at sunrise he saw a flight of long-necked birds wing overhead. They were white and large, with yellow beaks and splendid wings, and they were heading towards the south.
"If only I could look like them, just for a day!" said the bold little one. He admired their style.
Winter came and the water in the reed bed froze. The poor little guy left this home to seek food in the snow. After a little dropped exhausted to the ground. But a farmer found him and put him in his big jacket pocket.
"I'll take him home to my children. They'll look after him. Poor thing, he's frozen!" The young bird was showered with kindness at the farmer's house. Thus he was able to survive the icy cold winter.
However, by springtime, he had grown so big that it was awkward to have him in the kitchen house. The farmer's wife easily got angry with him if he flapped his wings when the children toyed with him indoors. Often she took him to the barn when things like that happened. Then one day the farmer decided:
"I'll set him free by the pond!"
There the young bird saw himself mirrored in the water after a long winter that had done him good.
"How I've changed! I can hardly recognise myself," he shouted.
The flight of swans winged north again and glided on to the same old pond. When the duckling saw them, he understood deep inside he was one of them. After the first encounter, where he still was prepared for hisses, name-calling and biting by others, they soon made friends.
"We're all swans!" they said, warmly. "Have you been living here through the winter?"
"It's a long story," replied the young swan, still much surprised. Now he swam majestically with his fellows. One day he heard children on the river bank shout: "Look at that handsome young swan! The finest of them all!"
He liked that . . . [Retold]
"It's a dreadful story!" said a hen, "A dreadful story to happen in a henhouse!"
And then she told a story that made made the feathers of the other hens stand on end and the rooster's comb fall. The story was about something that had happened in a henhouse at the other end of town when the sun went down and the hens flew up to perch. One of them was a respectable, white-feathered and short-limbed hen who laid her eggs according to the regulations. As she settled herself on the perch, she plucked herself with her beak, and a tiny feather came out.
"There it goes," she said. "The more I pluck, the more beautiful I get." But she said it only in fun, for even though she was jolly, she was also most respectable. Then she fell asleep.
The hens sat closely together in the darkness. But the hen that sat closest to the white hen could not sleep, for she brooded over what the white hen had said. At last she could not resist telling it to her nearest neighbour.
"Did you hear that? There is a hen here who intends to pluck out all her feathers just to make herself look well."
Right above the hens lived a family of owls. They had sharp ears in that family and all rolled their eyes at what they overheard. The mother owl flapped her wings and said; "Don't listen to what you all heard now. One of the hens has so completely forgotten what is becoming conduct that she plucks out all her feathers while the rooster watches her."
"Children shouldn't hear such talk," said the father owl.
"I must tell it to the owl across the road," said the mother owl. "She is such a respectable owl!" And away she flew.
"Hoo-whoo! Hoo-whoo!" they both hooted to the pigeons in the pigeon house across the road. "Have you heard it? Have you heard it? There is a hen who has plucked out all her feathers just to please the rooster. She must be freezing to death; that is, if she isn't dead already. Hoo-whoo!"
"Where? Where?" cooed the pigeons.
"In the yard across the way. I have as good as seen it myself. It is quite true!"
"True, true," cooed the pigeons into their poultry yard. "There is a hen, and some say there are two hens, who have plucked out all their feathers in order to look different from the rest and to attract the attention of the rooster."
"Wake up!" crowed the rooster, and flew up on the fence. He was still half asleep, but he crowed just the same. "Three hens have died of a broken heart, all for the sake of a rooster, and they have plucked all their feathers out! It's a dreadful story, but I will not keep it to myself."
"Tell it everywhere!" shrieked the bats; and the hens clucked and the roosters crowed "everywhere". And so the story travelled from henhouse to henhouse until at last it was carried back to the very same place from where it started.
"There are five hens," the tale now ran, "who all have plucked out all their feathers to show which of them had lost the most weight through unhappy love for their rooster, to the great loss of the farmer."
The hen who had lost the little loose feather did not recognize her own part in the story; and said, "There are many of that kind! Get the story into the newspapers to be known all over the country. That will serve those hens right, and their families, too."
And it got to the newspapers: it is quite true. After all, one little feather may grow till it becomes five hens.