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fairy tale    
 
hans christian andersen   The Evil King  
 
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first pullquote
  There once lived an evil and arrogant king whose ambition was to conquer all the countries of the world and make every man alive fear his name. With sword and fire he scourged the world; his soldiers tramped down the grain and set fire to the farms. Even the apple trees in the gardens did not escape. They stood black and leafless, and their fruits hung roasted on the branches. Many a poor mother, carrying her naked babe in her arms, would try to hide behind the crumbling, soot-smeared walls that had once been her home. If the soldiers found her and her child, then they would laugh like fiends: evil spirits from hell itself could not have behaved worse. But the king found that everything was going just as he wanted it to. Day by day his power increased and his name became more fearful to all. Luck seemed to smile on whatever he did. The plunder from the conquered towns, their gold and treasures, he had brought to his own capital, and soon it was rich beyond belief. Now he built beautiful palaces, churches, and arcades, and everyone who saw them exclaimed, "Oh, what a great king!" None gave a thought to the suffering he had caused the world, none heard the sighs and cries of lament that came from the ruins of the towns he had destroyed.

The king looked at his golden treasures and at his palaces and he thought as the man in the crowd did: "What a great king!" But he also thought, "I must have even more, more! No power must be mentioned as equal to mine!" And the king made wars upon all his neighbors and he conquered them all. When the king drove through the streets of his city, the vanquished kings were bound to his carriage with golden chains. In the evening, when he dined, they had to lie like dogs at his and his courtier's feet, and they would throw them scraps from their table.

 
    The king had statues of himself placed on all the squares of the cities and in the royal castles. He wanted them in the churches too, up at the altar, but the priests refused, saying, "King, you are great, but God is greater, we do not dare!"

"Well," said the evil king, "then I must conquer God too."

In foolish arrogance he had an artificial ship built with which he could sail through the air. It was as colorful as a peacock's tail and seemed to contain a thousand eyes. But every eye was the muzzle of a gun. The king himself sat in the middle of the ship and when he pressed a button a thousand bullets would fly and the guns would then reload themselves. A hundred strong eagles were harnessed to the ship and he flew up toward the sun. The earth was below him. At first, with its forests and mountains, it looked like a plowed field, where the grass peeped up through the overturned turf. Later, as he flew higher, it appeared like a flat map; until, at last, it was hidden by clouds and mist.

 





second pullquote
  The eagles flew higher and higher. At last God sent one of his countless angels, and the evil king fired a thousand bullets at him. Like hailstones hitting the earth, the bullets sprang in all directions when they touched the angel's shining wings. One, only one, drop of blood dripped from the white feathers of his wings. That drop fell on the ship of the evil king. It burned itself into it and it was as heavy as a thousand hundredweights of lead. The ship fell down toward the earth so fast that the strong wings of the eagles were broken. The wind rushed past the king's head, and the great clouds around him, which had been formed by the smoke from the burning cities he had destroyed, took on the most menacing shapes. One was like a gigantic crab reaching out its great pincers toward him, and another looked like a dragon. When at last his ship came to rest in the top of some trees, he lay half dead among the ruins.

"I will conquer God!" he screamed. "I have sworn to do it and I shall!"

For seven years he set all his workmen to building ships that could fly through the air; and he ordered his blacksmith to form thunderbolts of the strongest steel, with which he planned to destroy the fortress of God's heaven. Then, from all the countries he ruled, he gathered an army greater than any seen before. When they stood in formation, shoulder to shoulder, they covered many square miles.

They all embarked in the marvelously constructed airships; and the king himself was ready to enter his, when God let a swarm of mosquitoes loose. Like a little cloud, they flew around the king and stung his face and hands. In fury, he drew his sword and slashed the air but harmed not a single insect. He ordered that costly blankets be brought and that he be wrapped in them, so that no mosquito could reach him. His command was obeyed, but one mosquito had hidden in the innermost blanket; it crept into the king's ear and stung him there. The sting burned like fire and the poison entered his brain. He threw off the blankets and tore his clothes in rage from the pain. Naked and screaming, he danced in front of his brutish soldiers. They laughed and mocked the mad king who would conquer God and was himself vanquished by one tiny mosquito.
 
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Excerpted from Hans Christian Andersen: The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories by Hans Christian Andersen, translated from the Danish by Erik Christian Haugaard. Copyright © 1974 by Erik Christian Haugaard. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.