Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) | Study Guide

Hans Christian Andersen

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Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) | The Galoshes of Fortune | Summary



Part 1: A Beginning

As the story opens, two maids are waiting in a cloakroom during a party, but these are not ordinary maids. One is Dame Care and the other is one of Dame Fortune's assistants. A marvelous pair of galoshes has been entrusted to Dame Fortune's assistant for a while. These galoshes will grant anyone wearing them a wish to be in any time and place they desire. The assistant wagers with Dame Care that this gift will make people happy, but Dame Care does not agree. They leave the galoshes where they will be discovered by someone and observe how things go.

Part 2: What Happened to the Councilor of Justice

Councilor Knap, a guest at the party, is thinking Denmark's highest point of culture was reached under the rule of the medieval Danish King Hans (1455–1513) when he accidentally puts on the galoshes of fortune instead of his own. Instantly, Knap is transported back in time with absolutely no idea of where he is or how he got there. Confused, he wanders around thinking he's dreaming. He tries asking directions, but the ignorance, odors, and strange dress of the people he meets disgust him. In a tavern Knap tries to make his escape by crawling under a table, whereupon his drinking companions grab him by the legs and pull off the galoshes. At once Knap finds himself under a streetlamp, relieved he has been restored to the conveniences of his own age.

Part 3: The Watchman's Adventure

An honest watchman finds the galoshes of fortune and assumes they belong to the young lieutenant living in the apartment above the street. Before he attempts to return them, the watchman tries them on, wishing he could trade places with the lieutenant. At once his wish is carried out, and the watchman is now the lieutenant in body and soul. Unfortunately for him, the lieutenant is also a very morose poet caught up in the passions of unrequited love. As this is a very uncomfortable state to be in, the watchman-as-lieutenant speculates the watchman in the street below (which is his own body inhabited by the lieutenant) is better off than he is.

No sooner does he think this than he and the lieutenant change bodies once again. None the worse for wear, the watchman looks up into the sky and wonders what it would be like to visit the moon. He can't go in his own body, of course, so he leaves it behind with the galoshes still on his feet. His body seems lifeless, so it is taken to the hospital, where he is to be prepared for burial. The first thing the attendants do is pull off his galoshes, whereupon the watchman instantly comes alive, leaving the galoshes in the hospital.

Part 4: A Great Moment, and a Most Extraordinary Journey

An intern at the hospital wants to get out for a few moments, but as it is pouring rain, he finds the galoshes, puts them on, and tries to slip through a fence. The trouble starts when he wishes he could get his head through, thinking if he could do that, the rest of his body would be able to follow. The galoshes of fortune put his head through just as he wished, with the rest of his body left behind. As soon as he thinks to wish he were free, the galoshes oblige him, and he runs back inside. No one claims the galoshes, so the intern keeps them. He wears them a few nights later to the theater and wishes he could see into the heart of each person in the front row of the audience. The galoshes shrink him to miniscule size, whereupon he creeps from one heart to the next without any idea how he got there. Thinking he's gone mad, he wishes himself into a Russian steam bath, but that doesn't do him any good, either.

Part 5: The Transformation of the Copying Clerk

After some time, the watchman comes back for the galoshes left at the hospital and turns them in to the police station. A copying clerk there mistakes the galoshes of fortune for his own, puts them on, and speculates about how happy and carefree a poet must be. Unaware of his transformation, the copying clerk begins to find himself thinking odd thoughts and also finds various pages of fiction he's evidently already written stuffed into his pockets. He seems happy with his new talent until he sees the flight of a lark and, wishing he were as free as the bird, instantly becomes one. However, life as a lark is also dangerous, as he is captured and caged. Finding his own body once again, he returns to it, badly frightened but unharmed.

Part 6: The Best That the Galoshes Brought

A young theological student comes by and borrows the galoshes from the copying clerk. No sooner are they on his feet than the student wishes to be able to travel, but traveling is something he finds tedious and tiresome. Accordingly, he wishes to travel without his body and he does so, until Dame Care arrives to remove the galoshes from his feet and keep them for herself. Her act restores him to life in his own body again.


The characters of Dame Care and Dame Fortune (in this case, Dame Fortune's assistant) invoke the late Northern Renaissance morality plays in which a philosophical debate is set up between competing orators, the resolution of which is determined by Dame Fortune. In this story Dame Care is vindicated in her wager the galoshes will make people unhappy. The moral is clear: one should not wish to be anyone, or anywhere, else than one's present situation.

In traditional folktales, a magic pair of boots allows the wearer to cover seven leagues (approximately three and one-half miles) in a single stride. In "The Galoshes of Fortune" Andersen expands on this notion to include time travel, bodily exchanges, and the ability to enter the hearts of others. Speculation on what it would be like to leave Earth and visit the moon and stars, as well as out-of-body and body-trading experiences, have appeared in other fictions upon which Andersen could have drawn. Among them is the Greek myth of the soul as a chariot, Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus (1604) and The Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon and Sun (1657) by Cyrano de Bergerac.

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