Once upon a time . . . . . from
our fabulous collection of Fairy Tales for children . . . they lived
happily ever after . . .
The Red Shoes
ONCE upon a time there was little girl, pretty and dainty.
But in summer time she was obliged to go barefooted because
she was poor, and in winter she had to wear large wooden
shoes, so that her little instep grew quite red.
In the middle of the village lived an old shoemaker's
wife; she sat down and made, as well as she could, a pair of
little shoes out of some old pieces of red cloth. They were
clumsy, but she meant well, for they were intended for the
little girl, whose name was Karen.
Karen received the shoes and wore them for the first time
on the day of her mother's funeral. They were certainly not
suitable for mourning; but she had no others, and so she put
her bare feet into them and walked behind the humble coffin.
Just then a large old carriage came by, and in it sat an
old lady; she looked at the little girl, and taking pity on
her, said to the clergyman, 'Look here, if you will give me
the little girl, I will take care of her.'
Karen believed that this was all on account of the red
shoes, but the old lady thought them hideous, and so they were
burnt. Karen herself was dressed very neatly and cleanly; she
was taught to read and to sew, and people said that she was
pretty. But the mirror told her, 'You are more than pretty-
you are beautiful.'
One day the Queen was travelling through that part of the
country, and had her little daughter, who was a princess, with
her. All the people, amongst them Karen too, streamed towards
the castle, where the little princess, in fine white clothes,
stood before the window and allowed herself to be stared at.
She wore neither a train nor a golden crown, but beautiful red
morocco shoes; they were indeed much finer than those which
the shoemaker's wife had sewn for little Karen. There is
really nothing in the world that can be compared to red shoes!
Karen was now old enough to be confirmed; she received
some new clothes, and she was also to have some new shoes. The
rich shoemaker in the town took the measure of her little foot
in his own room, in which there stood great glass cases full
of pretty shoes and white slippers. It all looked very lovely,
but the old lady could not see very well, and therefore did
not get much pleasure out of it. Amongst the shoes stood a
pair of red ones, like those which the princess had worn. How
beautiful they were! and the shoemaker said that they had been
made for a count's daughter, but that they had not fitted her.
'I suppose they are of shiny leather?' asked the old lady.
'They shine so.'
'Yes, they do shine,' said Karen. They fitted her, and
were bought. But the old lady knew nothing of their being red,
for she would never have allowed Karen to be confirmed in red
shoes, as she was now to be.
Everybody looked at her feet, and the whole of the way
from the church door to the choir it seemed to her as if even
the ancient figures on the monuments, in their stiff collars
and long black robes, had their eyes fixed on her red shoes.
It was only of these that she thought when the clergyman laid
his hand upon her head and spoke of the holy baptism, of the
covenant with God, and told her that she was now to be a
grown-up Christian. The organ pealed forth solemnly, and the
sweet children's voices mingled with that of their old leader;
but Karen thought only of her red shoes. In the afternoon the
old lady heard from everybody that Karen had worn red shoes.
She said that it was a shocking thing to do, that it was very
improper, and that Karen was always to go to church in future
in black shoes, even if they were old.
On the following Sunday there was Communion. Karen looked
first at the black shoes, then at the red ones- looked at the
red ones again, and put them on.
The sun was shining gloriously, so Karen and the old lady
went along the footpath through the corn, where it was rather
At the church door stood an old crippled soldier leaning
on a crutch; he had a wonderfully long beard, more red than
white, and he bowed down to the ground and asked the old lady
whether he might wipe her shoes. Then Karen put out her little
foot too. 'Dear me, what pretty dancing-shoes!' said the
soldier. 'Sit fast, when you dance,' said he, addressing the
shoes, and slapping the soles with his hand.
The old lady gave the soldier some money and then went
with Karen into the church.
And all the people inside looked at Karen's red shoes, and
all the figures gazed at them; when Karen knelt before the
altar and put the golden goblet to her mouth, she thought only
of the red shoes. It seemed to her as though they were
swimming about in the goblet, and she forgot to sing the
psalm, forgot to say the 'Lord's Prayer.'
Now every one came out of church, and the old lady stepped
into her carriage. But just as Karen was lifting up her foot
to get in too, the old soldier said: 'Dear me, what pretty
dancing shoes!' and Karen could not help it, she was obliged
to dance a few steps; and when she had once begun, her legs
continued to dance. It seemed as if the shoes had got power
over them. She danced round the church corner, for she could
not stop; the coachman had to run after her and seize her. He
lifted her into the carriage, but her feet continued to dance,
so that she kicked the good old lady violently. At last they
took off her shoes, and her legs were at rest.
At home the shoes were put into the cupboard, but Karen
could not help looking at them.
Now the old lady fell ill, and it was said that she would
not rise from her bed again. She had to be nursed and waited
upon, and this was no one's duty more than Karen's. But there
was a grand ball in the town, and Karen was invited. She
looked at the red shoes, saying to herself that there was no
sin in doing that; she put the red shoes on, thinking there
was no harm in that either; and then she went to the ball; and
commenced to dance.
But when she wanted to go to the right, the shoes danced
to the left, and when she wanted to dance up the room, the
shoes danced down the room, down the stairs through the
street, and out through the gates of the town. She danced, and
was obliged to dance, far out into the dark wood. Suddenly
something shone up among the trees, and she believed it was
the moon, for it was a face. But it was the old soldier with
the red beard; he sat there nodding his head and said: 'Dear
me, what pretty dancing shoes!'
She was frightened, and wanted to throw the red shoes
away; but they stuck fast. She tore off her stockings, but the
shoes had grown fast to her feet. She danced and was obliged
to go on dancing over field and meadow, in rain and sunshine,
by night and by day- but by night it was most horrible.
She danced out into the open churchyard; but the dead
there did not dance. They had something better to do than
that. She wanted to sit down on the pauper's grave where the
bitter fern grows; but for her there was neither peace nor
rest. And as she danced past the open church door she saw an
angel there in long white robes, with wings reaching from his
shoulders down to the earth; his face was stern and grave, and
in his hand he held a broad shining sword.
'Dance you shall,' said he, 'dance in your red shoes till
you are pale and cold, till your skin shrivels up and you are
a skeleton! Dance you shall, from door to door, and where
proud and wicked children live you shall knock, so that they
may hear you and fear you! Dance you shall, dance- !'
'Mercy!' cried Karen. But she did not hear what the angel
answered, for the shoes carried her through the gate into the
fields, along highways and byways, and unceasingly she had to
One morning she danced past a door that she knew well;
they were singing a psalm inside, and a coffin was being
carried out covered with flowers. Then she knew that she was
forsaken by every one and damned by the angel of God.
She danced, and was obliged to go on dancing through the
dark night. The shoes bore her away over thorns and stumps
till she was all torn and bleeding; she danced away over the
heath to a lonely little house. Here, she knew, lived the
executioner; and she tapped with her finger at the window and
'Come out, come out! I cannot come in, for I must dance.'
And the executioner said: 'I don't suppose you know who I
am. I strike off the heads of the wicked, and I notice that my
axe is tingling to do so.'
'Don't cut off my head!' said Karen, 'for then I could not
repent of my sin. But cut off my feet with the red shoes.'
And then she confessed all her sin, and the executioner
struck off her feet with the red shoes; but the shoes danced
away with the little feet across the field into the deep
And he carved her a pair of wooden feet and some crutches,
and taught her a psalm which is always sung by sinners; she
kissed the hand that guided the axe, and went away over the
'Now, I have suffered enough for the red shoes,' she said;
'I will go to church, so that people can see me.' And she went
quickly up to the church-door; but when she came there, the
red shoes were dancing before her, and she was frightened, and
During the whole week she was sad and wept many bitter
tears, but when Sunday came again she said: 'Now I have
suffered and striven enough. I believe I am quite as good as
many of those who sit in church and give themselves airs.' And
so she went boldly on; but she had not got farther than the
churchyard gate when she saw the red shoes dancing along
before her. Then she became terrified, and turned back and
repented right heartily of her sin.
She went to the parsonage, and begged that she might be
taken into service there. She would be industrious, she said,
and do everything that she could; she did not mind about the
wages as long as she had a roof over her, and was with good
people. The pastor's wife had pity on her, and took her into
service. And she was industrious and thoughtful. She sat quiet
and listened when the pastor read aloud from the Bible in the
evening. All the children liked her very much, but when they
spoke about dress and grandeur and beauty she would shake her
On the following Sunday they all went to church, and she
was asked whether she wished to go too; but, with tears in her
eyes, she looked sadly at her crutches. And then the others
went to hear God's Word, but she went alone into her little
room; this was only large enough to hold the bed and a chair.
Here she sat down with her hymn-book, and as she was reading
it with a pious mind, the wind carried the notes of the organ
over to her from the church, and in tears she lifted up her
face and said: 'O God! help me!'
Then the sun shone so brightly, and right before her stood
an angel of God in white robes; it was the same one whom she
had seen that night at the church-door. He no longer carried
the sharp sword, but a beautiful green branch, full of roses;
with this he touched the ceiling, which rose up very high, and
where he had touched it there shone a golden star. He touched
the walls, which opened wide apart, and she saw the organ
which was pealing forth; she saw the pictures of the old
pastors and their wives, and the congregation sitting in the
polished chairs and singing from their hymn-books. The church
itself had come to the poor girl in her narrow room, or the
room had gone to the church. She sat in the pew with the rest
of the pastor's household, and when they had finished the hymn
and looked up, they nodded and said, 'It was right of you to
'It was mercy,' said she.
The organ played and the children's voices in the choir
sounded soft and lovely. The bright warm sunshine streamed
through the window into the pew where Karen sat, and her heart
became so filled with it, so filled with peace and joy, that
it broke. Her soul flew on the sunbeams to Heaven, and no one
was there who asked after the Red Shoes.
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