GOOOOOAL! It’s the last day of my 30 day reading challenge (one short story a day in efforts to learn from the masters) and I celebrate with one that I’ve been meaning to read for a very long time now—ever since someone (I believe it was the talented Daniela?) mentioned it was one of her favorites. It certainly is a classic, and I should have known I would love it; it is written by Hans Christian Andersen, who has penned some of my own all-time favorite fairytales.
Oh, and a heads up—I plan to do another story tomorrow, just to round out the month. No one here has disparnumerophobia, right?
“The Little Match Girl” by Hans Christian Andersen
Her little hands were almost numbed with cold. Oh! a match might afford her a world of comfort, if she only dared take a single one out of the bundle, draw it against the wall, and warm her fingers by it. She drew one out. “Rischt!” how it blazed, how it burnt! It was a warm, bright flame, like a candle, as she held her hands over it: it was a wonderful light. It seemed really to the little maiden as though she were sitting before a large iron stove, with burnished brass feet and a brass ornament at top. … The little girl had already stretched out her feet to warm them too; but–the small flame went out, the stove vanished: she had only the remains of the burnt-out match in her hand.
A poor child wanders the snowy city streets on the last night of the year. She has no hat, gloves, or slippers—she had slippers, but they were secondhand, too large, and fell from her feet and were lost beneath a carriage—and is dreadfully cold and hungry.
She thinks of going home, but it is just as cold at home: the roof has gaps in it and does not shelter against the bitter wind, and furthermore, her father might hurt her, because she did not sell a single match today.
The girl sits at a corner stoop between two homes. She is freezing: her hands and feet red and blue with cold. A match might warm her! she thinks—though she hesitates to use rather than sell them.
She gives in and strikes a match.
Lo! it becomes a wonderful light and warms her: it is as a magnificent iron stove. She holds her hands to it; it warms them; she makes also to warm her feet, but the match goes out.
She strikes another.
This time the match lights up so brightly she can see through one of the home walls beside her: inside is a brilliant dinner table with porcelain and roast goose stuffed with apples and dried plums. Even more brilliantly, the goose hops out of the dish and floats right up to the little girl—but the match goes out.
She strikes another.
The third match takes her beneath the most glorious Christmas tree she has ever seen. It is lit with thousands of lights, and colors shine all about. She reaches out to touch them, but the match goes out.
Oddly, the lights remain—and they rise up higher and higher until they become stars. It is as the girl watches them that she sees one fall.
Seeing the falling star, she knows that someone has just died; for her grandmother, beloved and long deceased, has told her a falling star is the sign of a soul’s ascension to heaven.
She strikes another match, and in its light sees her beloved grandmother.
“Grandmother!” cries the girl. She doesn’t want to lose her grandmother with the light as she lost the stove, and the roast goose, and the Christmas tree; instead she begs her grandmother to take her with her, and rubs the entire bundle of matches against the wall. The bundle gives a resplendent light, brighter than noon-day; her grandmother is radiant, and guides the little girl, by her arm, into the brilliant sky. Neither is cold, or hungry, or anxious; for now they are in heaven.
At dawn, on the corner stoop, people passing observe a little girl with rosy cheeks and a smile; a bundle of burnt matches beside her. She has frozen to death.
This is one of those cases, I think, where fiction is more powerful than nonfiction. Rather than enumerating and trying to dissect and resolve the issues of poverty, the desperate and the starving, we are given a short, demonstrative portrait. It doesn’t preach; it only shows. The portrait is beautiful, and saddening, and real, and moves us far more than any statistics ever could.
That said (I say! I think I feel a moral coming on), one should be careful not to underestimate the value of short stories—especially if those stories are thought of as “simple” or intended for children.
Literature like this—like “The Little Match Girl”—has the power to change the world.
farthing: an obsolete monetary unit and coin of the UK, equal to a quarter of an old penny
Remember—a bonus story tomorrow! Until then.