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The Tinder Box

Many people of my generation remember this film from childhood. It was made in 1959 as part of a series of films of fairy tales in East Germany, as was 'The Singing Ringing Tree'. In German it is "Das Feuerzeug". The series was shown on British television as part of 'Tales from Europe'.

Written by Hans Andersen, it is a retelling of a Scandinavian folktale and is also similar to the story of Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp from The Arabian Nights.

The Story

A soldier was returning home from the wars and met an old woman. She asked him to get some treasure from inside a big hollow tree. She told him that once inside the tree he would find a hall with 100 lamps and three doors. Behind the first door was a room with a treasure chest guarded by a dog with eyes as big as tea cups. He guarded copper coins but behind the second door was a room with a treasure chest guarded by a dog with even bigger eyes. He guarded silver coins but behind the third door was a room with a treasure chest guarded by a dog with eyes bigger still. All that the old women asked for was the tinderbox that her grandmother had left the last time she was there.

The soldier climbed up till he saw the hole and then climbed in. Down under the ground he found himself in the hall. He went into the first room and saw the dog with the eyes as big as tea cups. The soldier filled his pockets with the copper coins and went to the second room. He saw the dog with even bigger eyes and opened the chest. When he saw the silver, he emptied his pockets of copper coins and filled them and his knapsack.

In the third room he found the chest of gold. He emptied his pockets and knapsack of silver coins and filled them and his boots with gold. He went into the hall and asked the old woman to pull him up. She reminded him to get the tinderbox. He asked her why she wanted it but she would not tell him. He took the tinderbox and left.

The soldier went to the town, bought fine clothes and boots, and lived in a hotel. He heard about the Princess, how she was kept in seclusion because of a prediction that she would one day marry a soldier. He spent all his money and lost all his new friends. One night he had no light, and then he remembered the tinderbox he still had. He struck a light, and in walked the dog with eyes as big as tea cups, who said "What do you please to command?" He told the dog to bring money, and the dog soon returned with a purse filled with copper coins.

He experimented and found that one strike of the tinderbox would summon the dog with eyes as big as tea cups, two strikes would summon the dog with even bigger eyes and three would summon the dog with bigger eyes still. They brought him all the money he wanted and he returned to previous wealthy life.

But there was one thing more he wanted. At midnight he summoned the first dog and told him to bring the Princess to him. The dog returned carrying the sleeping Princess. She was so beautiful he had to kiss her.

The next day she told her parents of the strange dream she had had, of being carried by a dog and being kissed by soldier. The Queen instructed one of the ladies of the court to watch by her bedside that night. When the dog came she followed him and marked the door he entered with a cross in chalk. The dog noticed the cross and so crosses were placed on all the doors.

The next day the Queen put a bag of flour around her daughter's neck, and she was able to follow the trail in the morning to the soldier. He was arrested and told he would hang. He did not have the tinderbox with him but asked a boy to fetch it. On the gallows he asked the king to let him have one last smoke. He struck the tinderbox three times and all the dogs appeared. He instructed them to save him, and they ran among the crowd tossing people up in the air. The King and Queen were killed, and the people asked the soldier to be their king, with the Princess as his queen.

The three dogs went before their carriage, and thereafter sat next to them at court.

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