The Shadow by Hans Christian Andersen
It is in the hot lands that the sun burns, sure enough! there the people
become quite a mahogany brown, ay, and in the HOTTEST lands they are burnt to
Negroes. But now it was only to the HOT lands that a learned man had come from
the cold; there he thought that he could run about just as when at home, but
he soon found out his mistake.
He, and all sensible folks, were obliged to stay within doors--the
window-shutters and doors were closed the whole day; it looked as if the whole
house slept, or there was no one at home.
The narrow street with the high houses, was built so that the sunshine must
fall there from morning till evening--it was really not to be borne.
The learned man from the cold lands--he was a young man, and seemed to be a
clever man--sat in a glowing oven; it took effect on him, he became quite
meagre--even his shadow shrunk in, for the sun had also an effect on it. It
was first towards evening when the sun was down, that they began to freshen up
In the warm lands every window has a balcony, and the people came out on all
the balconies in the street--for one must have air, even if one be accustomed
to be mahogany!* It was lively both up and down the street. Tailors, and
shoemakers, and all the folks, moved out into the street--chairs and tables
were brought forth--and candles burnt--yes, above a thousand lights were
burning--and the one talked and the other sung; and people walked and
church-bells rang, and asses went along with a dingle-dingle-dong! for they
too had bells on. The street boys were screaming and hooting, and shouting and
shooting, with devils and detonating balls--and there came corpse bearers and
hood wearers--for there were funerals with psalm and hymn--and then the din of
carriages driving and company arriving: yes, it was, in truth, lively enough
down in the street. Only in that single house, which stood opposite that in
which the learned foreigner lived, it was quite still; and yet some one lived
there, for there stood flowers in the balcony--they grew so well in the sun's
heat! and that they could not do unless they were watered--and some one must
water them--there must be somebody there. The door opposite was also opened
late in the evening, but it was dark within, at least in the front room;
further in there was heard the sound of music. The learned foreigner thought
it quite marvellous, but now--it might be that he only imagined it--for he
found everything marvellous out there, in the warm lands, if there had only
been no sun. The stranger's landlord said that he didn't know who had taken
the house opposite, one saw no person about, and as to the music, it appeared
to him to be extremely tiresome. "It is as if some one sat there, and
practised a piece that he could not master--always the same piece. 'I shall
master it!' says he; but yet he cannot master it, however long he plays."
* The word mahogany can be understood, in Danish, as having two meanings.
In general, it means the reddish-brown wood itself; but in jest, it signifies
"excessively fine," which arose from an anecdote of Nyboder, in Copenhagen,
(the seamen's quarter.) A sailor's wife, who was always proud and fine, in her
way, came to her neighbor, and complained that she had got a splinter in her
finger. "What of?" asked the neighbor's wife. "It is a mahogany splinter,"
said the other. "Mahogany! It cannot be less with you!" exclaimed the
woman-and thence the proverb, "It is so mahogany!"-(that is, so excessively
One night the stranger awoke--he slept with the doors of the balcony open--the
curtain before it was raised by the wind, and he thought that a strange lustre
came from the opposite neighbor's house; all the flowers shone like flames, in
the most beautiful colors, and in the midst of the flowers stood a slender,
graceful maiden--it was as if she also shone; the light really hurt his eyes.
He now opened them quite wide--yes, he was quite awake; with one spring he was
on the floor; he crept gently behind the curtain, but the maiden was gone; the
flowers shone no longer, but there they stood, fresh and blooming as ever; the
door was ajar, and, far within, the music sounded so soft and delightful, one
could really melt away in sweet thoughts from it. Yet it was like a piece of
enchantment. And who lived there? Where was the actual entrance? The whole of
the ground-floor was a row of shops, and there people could not always be
One evening the stranger sat out on the balcony. The light burnt in the room
behind him; and thus it was quite natural that his shadow should fall on his
opposite neighbor's wall. Yes! there it sat, directly opposite, between the
flowers on the balcony; and when the stranger moved, the shadow also moved:
for that it always does.
"I think my shadow is the only living thing one sees over there," said the
learned man. "See, how nicely it sits between the flowers. The door stands
half-open: now the shadow should be cunning, and go into the room, look about,
and then come and tell me what it had seen. Come, now! Be useful, and do me a
service," said he, in jest. "Have the kindness to step in. Now! Art thou
going?" and then he nodded to the shadow, and the shadow nodded again. "Well
then, go! But don't stay away."
The stranger rose, and his shadow on the opposite neighbor's balcony rose
also; the stranger turned round and the shadow also turned round. Yes! if
anyone had paid particular attention to it, they would have seen, quite
distinctly, that the shadow went in through the half-open balcony-door of
their opposite neighbor, just as the stranger went into his own room, and let
the long curtain fall down after him.
Next morning, the learned man went out to drink coffee and read the
"What is that?" said he, as he came out into the sunshine. "I have no shadow!
So then, it has actually gone last night, and not come again. It is really
This annoyed him: not so much because the shadow was gone, but because he knew
there was a story about a man without a shadow.* It was known to everybody at
home, in the cold lands; and if the learned man now came there and told his
story, they would say that he was imitating it, and that he had no need to do.
He would, therefore, not talk about it at all; and that was wisely thought.
*Peter Schlemihl, the shadowless man.
In the evening he went out again on the balcony. He had placed the light
directly behind him, for he knew that the shadow would always have its master
for a screen, but he could not entice it. He made himself little; he made
himself great: but no shadow came again. He said, "Hem! hem!" but it was of no
It was vexatious; but in the warm lands everything grows so quickly; and after
the lapse of eight days he observed, to his great joy, that a new shadow came
in the sunshine. In the course of three weeks he had a very fair shadow,
which, when he set out for his home in the northern lands, grew more and more
in the journey, so that at last it was so long and so large, that it was more
The learned man then came home, and he wrote books about what was true in the
world, and about what was good and what was beautiful; and there passed days
and years--yes! many years passed away.
One evening, as he was sitting in his room, there was a gentle knocking at the
"Come in!" said he; but no one came in; so he opened the door, and there stood
before him such an extremely lean man, that he felt quite strange. As to the
rest, the man was very finely dressed--he must be a gentleman.
"Whom have I the honor of speaking?" asked the learned man.
"Yes! I thought as much," said the fine man. "I thought you would not know
me. I have got so much body. I have even got flesh and clothes. You certainly
never thought of seeing me so well off. Do you not know your old shadow? You
certainly thought I should never more return. Things have gone on well with me
since I was last with you. I have, in all respects, become very well off.
Shall I purchase my freedom from service? If so, I can do it"; and then he
rattled a whole bunch of valuable seals that hung to his watch, and he stuck
his hand in the thick gold chain he wore around his neck--nay! how all his
fingers glittered with diamond rings; and then all were pure gems.
"Nay; I cannot recover from my surprise!" said the learned man. "What is the
meaning of all this?"
"Something common, is it not," said the shadow. "But you yourself do not
belong to the common order; and I, as you know well, have from a child
followed in your footsteps. As soon as you found I was capable to go out alone
in the world, I went my own way. I am in the most brilliant circumstances, but
there came a sort of desire over me to see you once more before you die; you
will die, I suppose? I also wished to see this land again--for you know we
always love our native land. I know you have got another shadow again; have I
anything to pay to it or you? If so, you will oblige me by saying what it is."
"Nay, is it really thou?" said the learned man. "It is most remarkable: I
never imagined that one's old shadow could come again as a man."
"Tell me what I have to pay," said the shadow; "for I don't like to be in any
sort of debt."
"How canst thou talk so?" said the learned man. "What debt is there to talk
about? Make thyself as free as anyone else. I am extremely glad to hear of thy
good fortune: sit down, old friend, and tell me a little how it has gone with
thee, and what thou hast seen at our opposite neighbor's there--in the warm
"Yes, I will tell you all about it," said the shadow, and sat down: "but then
you must also promise me, that, wherever you may meet me, you will never say
to anyone here in the town that I have been your shadow. I intend to get
betrothed, for I can provide for more than one family."
"Be quite at thy ease about that," said the learned man; "I shall not say to
anyone who thou actually art: here is my hand--I promise it, and a man's bond
is his word."
"A word is a shadow," said the shadow, "and as such it must speak."
It was really quite astonishing how much of a man it was. It was dressed
entirely in black, and of the very finest cloth; it had patent leather boots,
and a hat that could be folded together, so that it was bare crown and brim;
not to speak of what we already know it had--seals, gold neck-chain, and
diamond rings; yes, the shadow was well-dressed, and it was just that which
made it quite a man.
"Now I shall tell you my adventures," said the shadow; and then he sat, with
the polished boots, as heavily as he could, on the arm of the learned man's
new shadow, which lay like a poodle-dog at his feet. Now this was perhaps from
arrogance; and the shadow on the ground kept itself so still and quiet, that
it might hear all that passed: it wished to know how it could get free, and
work its way up, so as to become its own master.
"Do you know who lived in our opposite neighbor's house?" said the shadow. "It
was the most charming of all beings, it was Poesy! I was there for three
weeks, and that has as much effect as if one had lived three thousand years,
and read all that was composed and written; that is what I say, and it is
right. I have seen everything and I know everything!"
"Poesy!" cried the learned man. "Yes, yes, she often dwells a recluse in
large cities! Poesy! Yes, I have seen her--a single short moment, but sleep
came into my eyes! She stood on the balcony and shone as the Aurora Borealis
shines. Go on, go on--thou wert on the balcony, and went through the doorway,
"Then I was in the antechamber," said the shadow. "You always sat and looked
over to the antechamber. There was no light; there was a sort of twilight, but
the one door stood open directly opposite the other through a long row of
rooms and saloons, and there it was lighted up. I should have been completely
killed if I had gone over to the maiden; but I was circumspect, I took time to
think, and that one must always do."
"And what didst thou then see?" asked the learned man.
"I saw everything, and I shall tell all to you: but--it is no pride on my
part--as a free man, and with the knowledge I have, not to speak of my
position in life, my excellent circumstances--I certainly wish that you would
say YOU* to me!"
* It is the custom in Denmark for intimate acquaintances to use the
second person singular, "Du," (thou) when speaking to each other. When a
friendship is formed between men, they generally affirm it, when occasion
offers, either in public or private, by drinking to each other and exclaiming,
"thy health," at the same time striking their glasses together. This is called
drinking "Duus": they are then, "Duus Brodre," (thou brothers) and ever
afterwards use the pronoun "thou," to each other, it being regarded as more
familiar than "De," (you). Father and mother, sister and brother say thou to
one another--without regard to age or rank. Master and mistress say thou to
their servants the superior to the inferior. But servants and inferiors do not
use the same term to their masters, or superiors--nor is it ever used when
speaking to a stranger, or anyone with whom they are but slightly acquainted
--they then say as in English--you.
"I beg your pardon," said the learned man; "it is an old habit with me. YOU
are perfectly right, and I shall remember it; but now you must tell me all YOU
"Everything!" said the shadow. "For I saw everything, and I know everything!"
"How did it look in the furthest saloon?" asked the learned man. "Was it there
as in the fresh woods? Was it there as in a holy
church? Were the saloons like the starlit firmament when we stand on the high
"Everything was there!" said the shadow. "I did not go quite in, I remained in
the foremost room, in the twilight, but I stood there quite well; I saw
everything, and I know everything! I have been in the antechamber at the court
"But WHAT DID you see? Did all the gods of the olden times pass through the
large saloons? Did the old heroes combat there? Did sweet children play there,
and relate their dreams?"
"I tell you I was there, and you can conceive that I saw everything there was
to be seen. Had you come over there, you would not have been a man; but I
became so! And besides, I learned to know my inward nature, my innate
qualities, the relationship I had with Poesy. At the time I was with you, I
thought not of that, but always--you know it well--when the sun rose, and when
the sun went down, I became so strangely great; in the moonlight I was very
near being more distinct than yourself; at that time I did not understand my
nature; it was revealed to me in the antechamber! I became a man! I came out
matured; but you were no longer in the warm lands; as a man I was ashamed to
go as I did. I was in want of boots, of clothes, of the whole human varnish
that makes a man perceptible. I took my way--I tell it to you, but you will
not put it in any book--I took my way to the cake woman--I hid myself behind
her; the woman didn't think how much she concealed. I went out first in the
evening; I ran about the streets in the moonlight; I made myself long up the
walls--it tickles the back so delightfully! I ran up, and ran down, peeped
into the highest windows, into the saloons, and on the roofs, I peeped in
where no one could peep, and I saw what no one else saw, what no one else
should see! This is, in fact, a base world! I would not be a man if it were
not now once accepted and regarded as something to be so! I saw the most
unimaginable things with the women, with the men, with parents, and with the
sweet, matchless children; I saw," said the shadow, "what no human being must
know, but what they would all so willingly know--what is bad in their
neighbor. Had I written a newspaper, it would have been read! But I wrote
direct to the persons themselves, and there was consternation in all the
towns where I came. They were so afraid of me, and yet they were so
excessively fond of me. The professors made a professor of me; the tailors
gave me new clothes--I am well furnished; the master of the mint struck new
coin for me, and the women said I was so handsome! And so I became the man I
am. And I now bid you farewell. Here is my card--I live on the sunny side of
the street, and am always at home in rainy weather!" And so away went the
shadow. "That was most extraordinary!" said the learned man. Years and days
passed away, then the shadow came again. "How goes it?" said the shadow.
"Alas!" said the learned man. "I write about the true, and the good, and the
beautiful, but no one cares to hear such things; I am quite desperate, for I
take it so much to heart!"
"But I don't!" said the shadow. "I become fat, and it is that one wants to
become! You do not understand the world. You will become ill by it. You must
travel! I shall make a tour this summer; will you go with me? I should like to
have a travelling companion! Will you go with me, as shadow? It will be a
great pleasure for me to have you with me; I shall pay the travelling
"Nay, this is too much!" said the learned man.
"It is just as one takes it!" said the shadow. "It will do you much good to
travel! Will you be my shadow? You shall have everything free on the journey!"
"Nay, that is too bad!" said the learned man.
"But it is just so with the world!" said the shadow, "and so it will be!" and
away it went again.
The learned man was not at all in the most enviable state; grief and torment
followed him, and what he said about the true, and the good, and the
beautiful, was, to most persons, like roses for a cow! He was quite ill at
"You really look like a shadow!" said his friends to him; and the learned man
trembled, for he thought of it.
"You must go to a watering-place!" said the shadow, who came and visited him.
"There is nothing else for it! I will take you with me for old acquaintance'
sake; I will pay the travelling expenses, and you write the descriptions--and
if they are a little amusing for me on the way! I will go to a
watering-place--my beard does not grow out as it ought--that is also a
sickness-and one must have a beard! Now you be wise and accept the offer; we
shall travel as comrades!"
And so they travelled; the shadow was master, and the master was the shadow;
they drove with each other, they rode and walked together, side by side,
before and behind, just as the sun was; the shadow always took care to keep
itself in the master's place. Now the learned man didn't think much about
that; he was a very kind-hearted man, and particularly mild and friendly, and
so he said one day to the shadow: "As we have now become companions, and in
this way have grown up together from childhood, shall we not drink 'thou'
together, it is more familiar?"
"You are right," said the shadow, who was now the proper master. "It is said
in a very straight-forward and well-meant manner. You, as a learned man,
certainly know how strange nature is. Some persons cannot bear to touch grey
paper, or they become ill; others shiver in every limb if one rub a pane of
glass with a nail: I have just such a feeling on hearing you say thou to me; I
feel myself as if pressed to the earth in my first situation with you. You see
that it is a feeling; that it is not pride: I cannot allow you to say THOU to
me, but I will willingly say THOU to you, so it is half done!"
So the shadow said THOU to its former master.
"This is rather too bad," thought he, "that I must say YOU and he say THOU,"
but he was now obliged to put up with it.
So they came to a watering-place where there were many strangers, and amongst
them was a princess, who was troubled with seeing too well; and that was so
She directly observed that the stranger who had just come was quite a
different sort of person to all the others; "He has come here in order to get
his beard to grow, they say, but I see the real cause, he cannot cast a
She had become inquisitive; and so she entered into conversation directly with
the strange gentleman, on their promenades. As the daughter of a king, she
needed not to stand upon trifles, so she said, "Your complaint is, that you
cannot cast a shadow?"
"Your Royal Highness must be improving considerably," said the shadow, "I know
your complaint is, that you see too clearly, but it has decreased, you are
cured. I just happen to have a very unusual shadow! Do you not see that person
who always goes with me? Other persons have a common shadow, but I do not like
what is common to all. We give our servants finer cloth for their livery than
we ourselves use, and so I had my shadow trimmed up into a man: yes, you see I
have even given him a shadow. It is somewhat expensive, but I like to have
something for myself!"
"What!" thought the princess. "Should I really be cured! These baths are the
first in the world! In our time water has wonderful powers. But I shall not
leave the place, for it now begins to be amusing here. I am extremely fond of
that stranger: would that his beard should not grow, for in that case he will
In the evening, the princess and the shadow danced together in the large
ball-room. She was light, but he was still lighter; she had never had such a
partner in the dance. She told him from what land she came, and he knew that
land; he had been there, but then she was not at home; he had peeped in at the
window, above and below--he had seen both the one and the other, and so he
could answer the princess, and make insinuations, so that she was quite
astonished; he must be the wisest man in the whole world! She felt such
respect for what he knew! So that when they again danced together she fell in
love with him; and that the shadow could remark, for she almost pierced him
through with her eyes. So they danced once more together; and she was about to
declare herself, but she was discreet; she thought of her country and kingdom,
and of the many persons she would have to reign over.
"He is a wise man," said she to herself--"It is well; and he dances
delightfully--that is also good; but has he solid knowledge? That is just as
important! He must be examined."
So she began, by degrees, to question him about the most difficult things she
could think of, and which she herself could not have answered; so that the
shadow made a strange face.
"You cannot answer these questions?" said the princess.
"They belong to my childhood's learning," said the shadow. "I really believe
my shadow, by the door there, can answer them!"
"Your shadow!" said the princess. "That would indeed be marvellous!"
"I will not say for a certainty that he can," said the shadow, "but I think
so; he has now followed me for so many years, and listened to my
conversation-I should think it possible. But your royal highness will permit
me to observe, that he is so proud of passing himself off for a man, that when
he is to be in a proper humor--and he must be so to answer well--he must be
treated quite like a man."
"Oh! I like that!" said the princess.
So she went to the learned man by the door, and she spoke to him about the sun
and the moon, and about persons out of and in the world, and he answered with
wisdom and prudence.
"What a man that must be who has so wise a shadow!" thought she. "It will be a
real blessing to my people and kingdom if I choose him for my consort--I will
They were soon agreed, both the princess and the shadow; but no one was to
know about it before she arrived in her own kingdom.
"No one--not even my shadow!" said the shadow, and he had his own thoughts
Now they were in the country where the princess reigned when she was at home.
"Listen, my good friend," said the shadow to the learned man. "I have now
become as happy and mighty as anyone can be; I will, therefore, do something
particular for thee! Thou shalt always live with me in the palace, drive with
me in my royal carriage, and have ten thousand pounds a year; but then thou
must submit to be called SHADOW by all and everyone; thou must not say that
thou hast ever been a man; and once a year, when I sit on the balcony in the
sunshine, thou must lie at my feet, as a shadow shall do! I must tell thee: I
am going to marry the king's daughter, and the nuptials are to take place this
"Nay, this is going too far!" said the learned man. "I will not have it; I
will not do it! It is to deceive the whole country and the princess too! I
will tell everything! That I am a man, and that thou art a shadow--thou art
only dressed up!"
"There is no one who will believe it!" said the shadow. "Be reasonable, or I
will call the guard!"
"I will go directly to the princess!" said the learned man.
"But I will go first!" said the shadow. "And thou wilt go to prison!" and
that he was obliged to do--for the sentinels obeyed him whom they knew the
king's daughter was to marry.
"You tremble!" said the princess, as the shadow came into her chamber. "Has
anything happened? You must not be unwell this evening, now that we are to
have our nuptials celebrated."
"I have lived to see the most cruel thing that anyone can live to see!" said
the shadow. "Only imagine--yes, it is true, such a poor shadow-skull cannot
bear much--only think, my shadow has become mad; he thinks that he is a man,
and that I--now only think--that I am his shadow!"
"It is terrible!" said the princess; "but he is confined, is he not?"
"That he is. I am afraid that he will never recover."
"Poor shadow!" said the princess. "He is very unfortunate; it would be a real
work of charity to deliver him from the little life he has, and, when I think
properly over the matter, I am of opinion that it will be necessary to do away
with him in all stillness!"
"It is certainly hard," said the shadow, "for he was a faithful servant!" and
then he gave a sort of sigh.
"You are a noble character!" said the princess.
The whole city was illuminated in the evening, and the cannons went off with a
bum! bum! and the soldiers presented arms. That was a marriage! The princess
and the shadow went out on the balcony to show themselves, and get another
The learned man heard nothing of all this--for they had deprived him of life.