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THE STEADFAST TIN SOLDIER
A retelling by J. Kearns
A one-legged tin soldier falls in love with a paper dancer. Throughout his troubles that follow he remains fiercely stoic, so that no one might accuse him of not being steadfast, even though no one is watching.
toymaker once took an old tin spoon and
recycled its metal and made five-and twenty tin-soldiers out of it.
Five-and twenty is twenty-five, but that's how they once would have
said twenty-five. They would have said five-and twenty.
All twenty-five of these tin soldiers were as if brothers, for they
had all been fashioned out of the same old tin spoon and they all
looked almost exactly alike. They all wore the same military uniform.
Their pants were blue and their military jackets were red, each one
wore a nice, tall military hat and had a sword in a scabbard buckled
about his waist. As if at attention, they all stood straight and stiff
and looked straight ahead.
The tin soldiers were probably made somewhat like this. The old tin spoon was melted and then the liquid metal was poured into molds. What happened after that, I don't know as I'm not a toymaker, but after the metal had cooled and come out of the molds there would have likely been rough edges to file away, and then the business of painting the soldiers to be done. For twenty-five soldiers to be made out of one spoon, the spoon must have been large, or these were small tin soldiers. But if a set of tin soldiers is going to find itself a home, they can't be too large.
After these tin soldiers were made they were put on a shelf in the toymaker's toy
store, and they didn't have to wait too long before they were purchased, because they were well-crafted, attractive soldiers. Just a couple of days passed before a man entered and said, "I will take those."
With great care, the toymaker
placed them all in a box where it was very, very dark. Though there
was nothing to look at inside the box, and no one would have seen if they relaxed and
went to sleep, each of the tin soldiers remained straight and stiff,
with his eyes open staring straight ahead.
The toy soldiers didn't stay in the box long. A little while later, the top of the box was removed, and the tin
soldiers heard a clapping of hands, and the voice of a little boy
shouting, "Hurrah, tin-soldiers!" It was this little boy's
birthday, and the tin-soldiers had been purchased and given to the
little boy as a birthday gift. The little boy, excited by both his birthday and the gift, happily took, one by one,
each tin-soldier out of the box and stood the tin soldiers up on a table. It
wasn't noticed until then that each soldier was exactly like the other
in shape, except for just one, who had been made last when the tin had
run short. Instead of having two legs like his brothers, he had only
one. Still, he had been made well and was exquisitely balanced for he
stood as firmly on his one leg as the others did on two.
The table was a large play table in the boy's nursery, and there were also a number of other toys on the table, the tin soldiers being the latest addition. They were all very fine toys, but a particularly elaborate one was a little, stately castle made out of cardboard that
had been painted to look like stone. The castle had turrets and a
drawbridge and windows through which you could see into the rooms. The
castle was set on green felt so that it would look like it was in the
countryside, and was circled by a blue silk scarf so that it looked
like it had a moat. In front of it stood some little trees surrounding
a tiny mirror that looked like a lake, and on this mirror were set
several toy swans which looked like they were floating on the lake.
The castle and its landscape were artfully arranged, and if you used
just a little imagination it was easy to pretend this was a real-life
But the little Tin-solder with the one leg thought that the
most beautiful thing about the castle was a little paper lady who
stood in the doorway. Being cut out of paper, she looked extremely
delicate, and wore a white dress of fine lace. Around her
shoulders was a narrow blue ribbon which was fastened on her chest
with a glittering rose, about the size of her head, made of gold
paper. The little paper lady was stretching out both her arms, for she
was a dancer, and one of her legs was lifted up so high in the air
that the Tin-soldier couldn't see it, and so the Tin-soldier thought
that she, too, had only one leg, just like him. He wondered if they
had run out of paper when they were making her.
The instant the Tin-soldier saw the Paper Dancer he fell in love with
her. "Oh, isn't she beautiful," he thought, "and
certainly she must be a marvelously talented dancer to stay perfectly balanced on one leg like she does, with no apparent effort. If I could only
meet her, she might fall in love with me too, and if she did we could
be married. How I want to spend the rest of my life standing next to
her. But she is so grand, and lives in a castle, while my home is a
box that I share with twenty-four others. A box that I share with
twenty-four others is no place for a fine Paper Dancer! But I must find a way to meet
her. I must." Then the Tin-soldier stretched himself out behind
an old tin snuff box that lay on the table. (Snuff is a form of tobacco which used to be popular but isn't
anymore, and people had boxes especially for snuff, like this one, though it hadn't been used for snuff in a long time.) Anyway, as I
was saying, the Tin-soldier stretched himself out behind this old
snuff box, from where he could watch the dainty paper lady, who
continued to stand on one leg without losing her balance.
When night came, all the other tin-soldiers went into their box, and
the little boy and the other people of the house went to bed. Then, when they were sure the people of the house were
sound asleep, the toys began to play. They visited with each other.
The toy clowns did acrobatics and juggling. The chalks scribbled
pretty pictures and numbers and letters of the alphabet all over the chalk board. There were a number of stuffed animals--a zebra,
horse, several bears, a lion, a monkey, a cat, a few rabbits, and even
a sloth--and they took turns lapping at the mirror water of the mirror
lake, and those that had music boxes inside them played their music so
the rest could dance. The tin-soldiers rattled in their box, for they
wanted to be out too, but they couldn't raise the lid. So much noise
was made that the canary woke up and began to sing. The only ones who didn't from their places were the
Tin-soldier, who had been overlooked as he was behind the snuff box, and the little paper Dancer. She remained on tip-toe, with
both arms outstretched and the Tin-Soldier never
moved his eyes from her face.
There are clocks that show you the time, and then there are clocks
that not only show you the time, they sound the time. This room had a
clock that showed the time and sounded the time with a bell.
When this clock struck twelve, its bell sounded twelve times, and off
flew the lid of the old snuff box and out popped a little imp.
"Tin-soldier," said the imp, "you shouldn't look at pretty
things that aren't intended for the likes of you!"
The Tin-Soldier pretended not to hear.
"Very well, until tomorrow morning!" the imp said and
went back into the snuff-box.
When it was morning, and the people of the house had got up, the
little boy went in to play and the first thing he noticed was the Tin-Soldier behind the snuff box. Entertaining himself with the Tin-Soldier, he put the Tin-soldier in the window so it could see outside. "That's the outside," the little boy told the
Tin-soldier. Then the little boy went off to eat his breakfast.
Whether it was the wind or the little black imp, I don't know, but all
at once the window flew open and out fell the little Tin-soldier, head
over heels, from the third-story window of the apartment. That was a
terrible fall, I can tell you! Down, down he fell, then landed on his head with his leg in
the air, and stayed that way, in that unsettling position, as he was
caught between two broken paving stones at the edge of the sidewalk.
When the little boy finished his breakfast and went back to take the
Tin-soldier out of the window, he saw that he was gone and ran to get
his mother. Together, they went down to the
street to look for the Tin-soldier, but though they were so near him
that they almost stepped on him, they didn't notice him. If the
Tin-soldier had only called out, "Here I am!" they would
have found him, but the Tin-soldier didn't think it was fitting for
him to cry out, because he had on his uniform and he was doing his
best to preserve his dignity.
The little boy and his mother went back inside the building.
Soon, it began to drizzle. Then, the rain drops came faster and
harder, and then the rain was pouring buckets. When it was over, a little
boy and girl came along and, looking all along the sidewalk for any
coins someone might have lost out of their pockets, they noticed the
"Look, a Tin-soldier!" cried the girl. "Let's sail him up and down in a boat!"
So, they made a little boat out of newspaper, put the Tin-soldier in
it, and sailed the newspaper boat up and down the gutter which was full with rain
water. The girl and boy ran alongside the Tin-soldier in his boat,
delighted with this new entertainment. What a swift current the rain water made in the
gutter, and tossing the boat around with terrible waves! The paper-boat went so quick that the Tin-soldier trembled;
but he remained steadfast, showed no emotion, looking straight ahead
of him. Suddenly, the boat passed under a bridge and into a drain that was as
dark as the box had been in which the Tin-soldier had been kept with
The Tin-soldier wondered, "Where can I be going now? This is all
the imp's fault, I'm sure. If only the pretty Paper Dancer was
sitting beside me, then she could see how brave I am and that I'm not scared of the dark or of the water."
A large water-rat that lived in the drain, appeared and demanded of the Tin-Soldier,
"Have you a passport?" asked the rat. "Show me your
Almost everyone is afraid of , or at least squeamish about big water-rats that live in drains. They're not a friendly sight--and I know because I've met several. But the Tin-soldier was silent and remained steadfast.
The boat sped on, and the rat behind it, crying to the trash that
swept by in the stream here and there, "Hold him! Hold him! He
has not paid the toll! He has not shown his passport!"
The current became even swifter and stronger. The Tin-soldier could
see daylight ahead, which meant he was nearing the end of the tunnel,
but in his ears now there sounded a terrible loud roaring that was
enough to frighten any brave man. At the end of the tunnel, the drain
emptied into a river. That would be just as dangerous for
the Tin-soldier as it would be for us to try to go over a waterfall in
a cardboard barrel.
Now, the Tin-soldier was almost to where the drain emptied into the river, and the boat was bobbing so wildly that the
Tin-soldier wondered how much longer he would be able to hold on. Then the boat was hurling out of the pipe and down to the river, and throughout it all the Tin-soldier kept himself as stiff as he could; no one would be able to say of him afterwards that he had even once
flinched! Immediately caught by a whirlpool, the boat whirled three, four times around, filled
to the brim with the brown river water, and began to sink! The Tin-soldier was standing
up to his neck in water, the boat's paper growing softer and softer, then the
water was over the Tin-soldier's head and realizing he would likely
now sink to the bottom of the river where he would rust and decay and
no one would ever play with him again, he thought of the pretty little
dancer whose face he would never see again, and there sounded in his
ears, over and over again, a somber battle cry which he seemed to
remember having heard once, maybe a customer in the toy store had said
the words when the tin soldier and his brothers had been sitting on
the shelf, or maybe it was the imp:
"Forward, forward, soldier bold!
Death's before thee, grim and cold!"
The Tin-soldier was afraid and wished he'd not been sent out to battle with the river.
The paper boat disintegrated into two pieces, and the soldier
was sinking quickly to the river's bottom--when suddenly he was swallowed by a great fish!
Oh! How dark it was inside the fish. It was even darker than in the
tunnel. But, inside the fish, the steadfast little Tin-soldier lay full length and never flinched.
Then, the fish seemed to be flipping and
flopping all about, so that the Tin-soldier thought he would be
bruised all over.
Then the fish became quite still.
a little while--the Tin-solder was unable to tell how long--what
seemed like a great flash of lightning passed along the length of the
Tin-soldier, above him. The daylight streamed in, and a voice
exclaimed, "Why, can you imagine, here is a little Tin-soldier!"
The fish had been caught, carried to market, sold, and taken to a
kitchen where a cook had cut the fish open with a great knife. Wonder
of wonders, the kitchen was in the home where the little boy lived who
had received the Tin-soldier and his brothers as a birthday gift.
The cook took up the soldier, washed him off, and carried him in to
show him to the people of the house. "Oh," said one of them,
"it has one leg. Impossible as it is to believe, I do think it's the same Tin-soldier that was
lost out the window. Isn't this the most peculiar coincidence?"
The little boy exclaimed, "Oh, my brave Tin-Soldier." But the Tin-Soldier wasn't in the least proud.
The Tin-soldier was returned to the play room where he was
placed on the table near the snuff box. But what strange things do
happen in this world! Yes, there he was again, in the very same room in
which he had been before he fell out the window! And everything was just as it had been. There were the same children. There were all the same the toys. And there was the
grand cardboard castle with the pretty little paper dancerancer, still beautifully balanced on her one leg, she was as firm and steadfast as himself. It touched the Tin-Soldier so much to see her that he almost wept, but he kept them back. He only looked at her and they both remained silent.
All at once, one of the little boys grabbed up the Tin-soldier
from off the table--so quick was he that the Tin-Soldier didn't know which boy it was--and threw him into the
stove that heated the room.
The Tin-Soldier stood upon the coals in the oven. The fire in it was terrible, but
whether he suffered from the actual heat of the fire or from his love for the Paper Dancer, he didn't know. The bright colors of his uniform were faded, but whether from the fire, the water, or his sorrow, he didn't know either. He looked at the Paper Dancer, who was
positioned on the threshold of the castle in such a way that she was
looking directly at him, and he felt that he was melting away, yet he remained firm with his gun on his shoulder. Then, a door was opened in the room, a draft caught the Paper Dancer and flew her into the stove where for a moment she was at the side of the Tin-Soldier, then a burst of flames, and gone.
The next morning, when the ashes were removed from the stove, there was found the Tin-Soldier melted down into the shape of a little tin heart. But of the little dancer nothing remained but the gilt rose, which was burnt black as a cinder.
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retelling by j Kearns from the Hans Christian Andersen tale.
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