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The Shadow  
Shadow Pedersen.jpg
Vilhelm Pedersen illustration
Author Hans Christian Andersen
Original title Danish: Skyggen'
Country Denmark
Language Danish
Genre(s) Fairy tale
Publication date 1847
Media type Print

"The Shadow" (Danish: Skyggen) is a fairy tale by Danish poet and author Hans Christian Andersen. The tale was first published in 1847.


Plot summary

Once a learned man from the northern regions of Europe went on a voyage south. One night, he sat on his terrace, while the fire behind him cast his shadow on the opposite balcony. As he was sitting there, resting, the man was amused to observe how the shadow followed his every movement, as if he really did sit upon the opposing balcony. When he finally grew tired and went to sleep, he imagined the shadow would likewise retire in the house across the street.

The next morning however, the man found to his surprise that he in fact had lost his shadow overnight. As a new shadow slowly grew back from the tip of his toes, the man did not give the incident another thought, returned to northern Europe, and took up writing again. Several years passed by until one night a man knocked at his door. To his surprise, it was his shadow, the one he lost years before in Africa, and now stood upon his doorstep, almost completely human in appearance. Astonished by his sudden reappearance, the learned man invited him into his house, and soon the two sat by the fireplace, as the shadow related how he had come to be man.

The learned man was calm and gentle by nature. His main object of interest lay with the good, the beautiful and the true, a subject of which he wrote often but was of no interest to anyone else. The shadow said his master did not understand the world, that he had seen it as truly was, and how evil some men really were.

The shadow then grew richer and fatter over the years, while the writer grew poorer and paler. Finally he had become so ill that his former shadow proposed a trip to a health resort at his expense, but on condition that he could act as the master now, and the writer would pretend to be his shadow. As absurd as this suggestion sounded, the learned man eventually agreed and together they took the trip, the shadow now as his master. At the resort, the shadow met with a beautiful princess, and as they danced and talked with each other each night, the princess fell in love with him.

When they were about to be married, the shadow offered his former master a luxurious position at the palace, on condition that he now became his own shadow permanently. The writer immediately refused and threatened to tell the princess everything, but the shadow had him arrested. Feigning his distraught, he met with the princess and told her:

"I have gone through the most terrible affair that could possibly happen; only imagine, my shadow has gone mad; I suppose such a poor, shallow brain, could not bear much; he fancies that he has become a real man, and that I am his shadow."
"How very terrible,” cried the princess; "is he locked up?"
"Oh yes, certainly; for I fear he will never recover."
"Poor shadow!" said the princess; "it is very unfortunate for him; it would really be a good deed to free him from his frail existence; and, indeed, when I think how often people take the part of the lower class against the higher, in these days, it would be policy to put him out of the way quietly."
"Jeg har oplevet det Grueligste, der kan opleves!" sagde Skyggen, "tænk Dig - ja, saadan en stakkels Skyggehjerne kan ikke holde meget ud! - Tænk Dig, min Skygge er blevet gal, han troer at han er Mennesket og at jeg - tænk dig bare, - at jeg er hans Skygge!"
"Det er frygteligt!" sagde Prindsessen, "han er dog spærret inde?"
"Det er han! Jeg er bange han kommer sig aldrig."
"Stakkels Skygge!" sagde Prindsessen, "han er meget ulykkelig; det er en sand Velgjerning at frie ham fra den Smule Liv han har, og naar jeg rigtig tænker over det, saa troer jeg det bliver nødvendigt at det bliver gjort af med ham i al Stilhed!"

When the shadow wed the princess later that night, the learned man was already executed.


The Shadow is an exemplary story in Andersen's darker fairy tales. Throughout the tale, the writer is portrayed as a moral person, concerned with the good and true in the world. But as it says, the people around him are not much interested in his feelings on the subject. Indeed his shadow says he does not see the world as it truly is.

The shadow claims to have seen all that is in the world, but does not own a soul himself. He strongly desires to own a shadow of himself, and later asks his former master to reverse the roles on their trip. When the learned man finally realises how far his shadow has degraded, it is already too late.

The ending is especially bleak for a fairy tale, as Andersen suggests that it is not always good that triumphs, and that evil does indeed have a powerful grip over the good and just.


"The Shadow" was first published 6 April 1847 as a part of New Fairy Tales. Second Volume. First Collection. 1847. (Nye Eventyr. Andet Bind. Første Samling. 1847.). The work was re-published December 1847 as a part of A Christmas Greeting to my English Friends, and again 18 December 1849 as a part of Fairy Tales. 1850. (Eventyr. 1850.). The tale was re-published 30 March 1863 as a part of Fairy Tales and Stories. Second Volume. 1863. (Eventyr og Historier. Andet Bind. 1863.).[1]


In 1814, three decades before the publication of "The Shadow", Adelbert von Chamisso had published the popular Peter Schlemihl, a story about a man who sells his shadow to the devil in exchange for a bottomless wallet. Chamisso's story had been the reigning authority on men who lose their shadows, and Andersen makes an explicit reference to it in "The Shadow":

He was very annoyed, not so much because the shadow had disappeared, but because he knew there was a story; well-known to everybody at home in the cold countries, about a man without a shadow; and if he went back now and told them his own story, they would be sure to say that he was just an imitator, and that was the last thing he wanted.


The Shadow became the first text of some considerable length to be published in Esperanto. It was contained in the 1888 Dua Libro (Second Book) by the creator of that language, L. L. Zamenhof (the first book had contained only single bible verses, short poems and the like).

Evgeny Shvarts has explicitly based his "Tyen" ("The Shadow") play on Andersen's tale, introducing additional characters and plot lines and a different ending.

In 1945 the story was adapated as an episode of the syndicated radio program The Weird Circle.

Skuggaleikur (Shadow Play) an opera by Icelandic composer Karólína Eiríksdóttir with libretto by Sjón. Premiered in November 2006.

In 2003, the Carolina Ballet premiered a ballet version of The Shadow with choreography by artistic director Robert Weiss, set to the music of Khachaturian, Kabalevsky, Gyorgy Ligeti, Fauré and Rachmaninoff.[2] The ballet features an eerie sequence in which the poet contemplates his shadow in the mirror. The image, which at first copies his movements in complete synchrony, seamlessly emerges from the mirror frame (through effective changes in lighting) as another dancer in a gray full body stocking, alternately mirroring the poet's actions and taking on an independent existence.[3]

See also


  1. ^ Hans Christian Andersen Center: Hans Christian Andersen: The Shadow
  2. ^ Van Gelder, Lawrence (2003-05-29). "Arts Briefing". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-06-20. 
  3. ^ Dobbs Ariail, Kate (May, 2003). "Carolina Ballet: The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen". Classical Voice of North Carolina. Retrieved 2009-06-20. 

External links



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