The following is my summary of the fairy tale 'The Little Match Girl' by Hans Christian Andersen.
It was mercilessly cold. Snow fell from the darkening sky and a poor, small girl wandered the streets. She wore nothing on her head and nothing on her feet. That morning, she had indeed left the house with a pair of slippers, but they belonged to her mother and were far too big.
The little girl lost the slippers when she crossed the road; she had to run to avoid two frightfully-fast carriages. One of the slippers fell completely out of sight. The other was snatched by a little boy, who said it would make a good cradle for a baby someday.
The icy ground had turned the little girl’s feet red and blue. In her hand was a bundle of unsold matches. Inside the pockets of her tired apron were more still. Nobody would buy from her that day, nor give her one skilling. The child was downtrodden, hungry and very cold.
Snowflakes dusted her angelic hair, which fell into curls around her shoulders. She didn’t have a care for how she looked. The windows around her shone with honey-coloured light. Out to the streets came the mouth-watering smell of roast goose. It was New Year’s Eve and the little girl couldn’t possibly think of anything else.
She found a spot where she could rest: a corner made by two houses, one of which had been built further into the street than the other. The little girl sat down and tucked her feet beneath her, but nothing could help the cold.
She would find no warmth at her parents’ house. If she went back empty-handed, her father would beat her. Their rickety roof, stopped up with bunches of straw and old rags, gave little protection from the biting wind.
One match might be enough to warm her frozen hands. She swiped the match across the wall, bringing forth a flame as bright as a little lantern. She held her hands over the light and for a wonderful moment, it was as if a great, hot, iron stove was burning in front of her. Eager to warm her toes, she stretched out her feet, but the fire died and left her with nothing more than the burnt-out match.
She struck another match against the wall, which started to fade in the light of the new flame. The little girl could see into the room on the other side, where there was a table laid with the whitest of cloths and the most beautiful, glittering porcelain. At the heart was a succulent roast goose that had generously been stuffed with apples and prunes.
The most marvellous sight of all was the goose abandoning its plate and jumping off the table. With a knife and a fork still stuck in its back, the goose crossed the floor to meet the little girl, but before it could reach her, the flame vanished and the empty face of the wall loomed once more.
She lit another match and found herself sitting before a magnificent Christmas tree. This tree was even grander than the one she saw through the glass doors of a merchant’s house. The leafy branches sparkled with the lights of a hundred candles and there were lovely miniature portraits, the kind displayed behind shop windows, and each one looked kindly upon the little girl. As the little girl held up her hand, the flame from the match gave out.
She watched as each candle from the Christmas tree floated away, flying higher and higher until they became shining stars in the black sky. One of the stars dropped out of the night and left a dazzling white trail in its wake.
The little girl remembered what her grandmother said about falling stars. It was a sign that someone was dying. Somewhere, there was a soul being delivered to heaven. Her grandmother had died and was the only one who ever showed her kindness.
When the little girl struck another match, she saw her blessed grandmother standing with her inside the glowing circle. In the lines of her grandmother’s gentle face was all the love she had ever known. Should the light go out, it would all be taken away and the little girl would again be alone.
Her little hands took up all the matches they could possibly hold and the most glorious light appeared when she set the matches ablaze. The fire was brilliant as day and radiant as sunshine. Bathed in heavenly rays, grandmother never looked more beautiful. She held the little girl safely in her arms and carried her to a place where suffering can never be.
In the dawn of the new day, they found the frozen child in the corner made by two houses. She had died on the last night of the year gone by, but her cheeks were rosy and her face was smiling. Charred stubs of burnt-out matches laid scattered around her.
People said she was trying to find some warmth. Nobody could imagine the wonders she had seen, nor the joy she had felt as she met the New Year with her grandmother.
Read the complete story by purchasing a collection of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales that has been professionally translated from the original Danish. The following books were consulted to write this summary:
Andersen, Hans Christian, Fairy Tales, ed. Jackie Wullschlager (London: Penguin Classics, 2005).
Andersen, Hans Christian, The Complete Fairy Tales, ed. Jean Hersholt (San Diego: Canterbury Classics, 2014).
Andersen, Hans Christian, The annotated Hans Christian Andersen, ed. Maria Tatar (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008).
Andersen, Hans Christian, Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen, ed. Neil Philip (London: The Reader's Digest, 2006).
Tatar, Maria (ed.), The Classic Fairy Tales (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999).