This retelling of The Steadfast Tin Soldier from "If all the seas were ink we'd call them fish tales"
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.
A 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 castle.
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 Tin-soldier.
"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 his brothers.
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 passport!"
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.
In 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.
retelling by j Kearns from the Hans Christian Andersen tale.
© Copyright 1999 j Kearns