From "The Old Gravestone." Hans Christian Andersen, Fairy Tales (Dayton: R. Worthington, 1884)


“The Old Grave-Stone” by Hans Christian Anderson

The title for this story sounds a lot spookier than the story really is. A fairy tale about a gravestone has all kinds of possibilities, but this is more the story of the people whose names are engraved on the stone.

The gravestone was actually purchased when a church was being demolished and it now lay in the courtyard of a house. The people who live there are talking about the stone and the oldest man in the room remarks that it must be the gravestone of Preben Schwane and his wife, Martha. He tells of the couple who were well-loved by everyone.

Preben and Martha were a fine old couple, and when they both sat on the bench, at the top of the steep stone steps, in front of their house, with the branches of the linden-tree waving above them, and nodded in a gentle, friendly way to passers by, it really made one feel quite happy. They were very good to the poor; they fed them and clothed them, and in their benevolence there was judgment as well as true Christianity.

The old man tells how lonely Preben was when Martha died, and Preben himself passed on less than a year later. No one ever thinks about them anymore, the old man says, and a road now runs over their resting place.

The youngest child looks out at the gravestone and pictures the Schwanes and an “invisible spirit” whispers in his ear, telling him that through him the good couple will be remembered.

The beautiful and the good are never forgotten, they live always in story or in song.

No really an October tale, but it is wonderfully told. Andersen did have a style of writing that I like reading. It’s gentle, descriptive.

As in other Andersen tales, once again value is placed on the Christian way of life, exemplified by the old deceased couple and the little boy who will make sure their memory lives on. Andersen continues to think about eternal life, as he did in “The Little Mermaid.” In this one, he’s not so much worried about their souls, which I’m sure he felt were in heaven because of their virtuous lifestyle, but how they are remembered here on earth. They will be immortalized because of their goodness, remembered always, as long as people continue to tell their story. A beautiful, hopeful ending to what began as rather a bleak tale.

The story is available various place. I read the version from Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, translated by Mrs. Henry H. B. Paul and published in 1872. You can find it at SurLaLune Fairytales.

Tif, from Tif Talks Books, is the hostess of this great feature, Fairy Tale Fridays. Head over there to see her take on “The Old Grave-Stone” and to share your own thoughts. Next week we’ll be looking at “The Juniper Tree” by The Brothers Grimm.


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