Hans Christian Andersen

Good Fortune can Lie in a Stick

Now I’m going to tell you a story about good fortune. All of us know what good fortune is: some see it year out and year in, others only in certain years, on a single day – there are even people who only see it once and once only in their lives, but all of us get to see it.

I don’t need to state this, for everyone knows it, that the Good Lord sends each baby and lays it in its mother’s lap – it can be in a fine castle or the living room of someone wealthy, but also out on an open field where the cold wind blows; but not everyone knows, although it is absolutely certain, that the Lord God when bringing the child also brings a lucky gift, a godsend, to it but this gift is not openly placed beside it; it is placed somewhere in the world where one would least expect to find it, but it is always to be found; that is the good thing about it. It can be placed in an apple, as it was for a learned man by the name of Newton: the apple fell down, and he discovered his good fortune. If you don’t know that story, ask those who do know to tell you it; I have a different story to tell, and it’s a story about a pear.

There was once an unfortunate man who had been born in poverty, grown up in poverty and married in that state. He was a turner by profession, by the way, his speciality being umbrella handles and umbrella rings; but that only provided just enough for them to live from hand to mouth.

‘I’ll never know good fortune!’ he said. This is a real, true story, and it is possible to name the country and place where the man lived, but that is of no matter.

The red, sour rowan berries were the richest adornment around his house and garden. In it, however, there also stood a pear tree, but it did not produce a single pear, but in spite of this good fortune had been laid in this pear tree, laid in its invisible pears.

One night there was a terrible gale; it was stated in the newspapers that the large stagecoach was lifted up from the road by the wind and tossed about like a rag. So it was an easy matter for a bough of the pear tree to get ripped off.

This large branch was laid in the workshop, and the man, just for fun, turned from it a large pear and then another large one, followed by a smaller one and then some quite small ones.

Sooner or later the tree had to bear pears, the man said, and gave them to his children to play with.

One of the necessities of life in a rainy country is of course an umbrella. The entire household only had one to share; if the wind blew too strongly, the umbrella would turn inside out, indeed, it even snapped a couple of times, but the man immediately repaired it; but the most annoying thing of all was the fact that the button, which was to hold it in position when it had been put down, all too often came off, or the ring that had been placed round it got broken.

One day the button came off; the man searched for it on the floor and came across one of the smallest of the pears he had turned, one that the children had been given to play with.

‘I can’t find the button!’ the man said, ‘but this little thing can be just as effective!’ So he bored a hole in it, threaded a string through it, and the small pear held the incomplete ring together well. It was definitely the very best fastener that the umbrella had ever had.

The following year the man was to dispatch umbrella handles to the capital, which was where he normally sent them; he included a couple of the small, turned wooden pears with their half-ring and asked for them to be tried out, and so it was that they ended up in America. There people immediately noticed that the small pear kept the folded umbrella fastened far better than any button, and now the merchant was asked for all subsequent umbrellas to be held together with a small pear.

Well now, that meant a great deal of work! Pears by the thousands! Wooden pears on all umbrellas! The man had to get down to it. He turned and turned. The entire pear tree was used to make all the small pears! That meant shillings, that meant thalers!

‘My good fortune lies in that pear tree!’ the man said. He now acquired a large workshop with workmen and assistants. He was always in a good mood and used to say: ‘Good fortune can lie in a stick!’

That’s also what I say, I who am telling the story.

There is a Danish expression: ‘Put a tiny, stripped piece of wood in your mouth and you’ll be invisible!’ but that tiny piece has to be the right one, the godsend, the lucky gift the Lord God gave us when we were born. I too received such a gift, and I too, like the man in the story, can turn it into clinking gold, into glinting gold, the very best kind that glints out of children’s eyes, that clinks out of children’s mouths, and from the eyes and mouths of fathers and mothers too. They read the stories, and I stand there right in the same room with them, even though I am invisible, for I have a tiny piece of wood in my mouth; if I sense that what I tell them pleases them, well, I too say: Good fortune can lie in a stick!



Henvis til værket

Hans Christian Andersen: Good Fortune can Lie in a Stick. Translated by John Irons, edited by , published by The Hans Christian Andersen Centre, University of Southern Denmark, Odense. Version 1.0. Published 2024-04-01[INFO OM 18-binds-udgaven 2003-2009...] for Det Danske Sprog- og Litteraturselskab. Digitaliseret af Holger Berg til sitet hcandersen.dk

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