The Tale of Ole Lukøje
With a story from Hans Christian Andersen
Episode 11 - Monday, 10 February 2020
No one, anywhere in the world, knows as many stories as Ole Lukøje! And no one can tell them so well.
Which is the first line of the story this week and a perfect introduction to this famous tale from Hans Christian Andersen.
The story of the Sandman is an ancient tale and he has appeared in many guises. This is one of the better ones, perhaps.
Don't forget that all these podcast tales come with transcripts. Just scroll down and there it is. One of my regulars uses the transcript to read the story to their kid, which is rather nice! We should do more storytelling in little groups.
I would love to see teenagers playing with storytelling their friends. They could have a lot of fun! When I was young, we played with storytelling a bit, especially ghost stories, and I think we might have done more if there had been more stories relevant to us.
In the meantime, on with the show. And don't forget you can find us on your favourite podcast service as well as here and please leave a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever.
Welcome to Deep in the Dark Forest, your little home for wonderful stories told right into your lugholes. How pleasant. My name is CC Hogan, and I am your host, raconteur, and storyteller for the next thirty minutes.
Now, as someone reminded me the other day, this podcast comes with a transcript which you can find on the website on the episode page, link in the show notes. Useful if you fancy reading along, or, as one of my listeners did the other day, use it to read to you kid! One day in the future, once I have enough of these stories under my belt, I will make a paperback, ebook, and audiobook of my adaptations and original stories which some of you might like.
Now, onto the story, and we are back in Denmark with Hans Christian Andersen. I like this particular story, possibly because it is just strange. It has a touch of the psychedelic about it, somehow. Perhaps I should have used sitar instead of concertina! This is HC’s version of the folklore character the Sandman, except in his version, he doesn’t sprinkle sand! So, here is the wonderful world of Ole Lukøje, by Hans Christian Andersen!
The Tale of Ole Lukøje
No one, anywhere in the world, knows as many stories as Ole Lukøje! And no one can tell them so well.
When children are sitting at the table eating tea, or quietly in their chairs, Ole Lukøje steals silently up the stairs in only his socks. He pushes open the door so very softly and sprinkles sweet milk into their eyes, just a very little, but always enough so they cannot keep their eyes open, and will not see him. Then he sneaks up behind each child and blows softly on their necks until their heads feel heavy and sleepy. He is so gentle, for Ole Lukøje loves children and doesn’t want to harm them. He only wishes they are quiet and peaceful when they are put to bed, for then, he will tell them his stories.
As soon as they fall asleep, Ole Lukøje sits on the end of the bed. He is very smart. His coat is silk, but who can say what colour it is? For it shines green and red and blue, flickering from one to the other as he turns about. Under each arm, he carries an umbrella. One has pictures on it, and this he opens over all the good children so they may dream the most beautiful stories all night long. But the other has no pictures at all, and this he opens over the naughty children, and when they awaken in the morning, they will have dreamed nothing at all.
Now, let me tell you the tale of Ole Lukøje and a little boy called Hjalmar, and the stories he told, one each night. That is seven stories in all, for there are seven days in the week!
“Now listen!” said Ole Lukøje when Hjalmar had climbed into bed. “First, I must set the scene!”
Suddenly, the flowers in the flowerpots grew into large trees, their long branches pushing across the ceiling and along the wall. The whole room looked like the most delightful gazebo. The branches were covered with flowers, and each flower was more beautiful than a rose. They smelled so delicious, and if you ate one, it was sweeter than jam! The fruits glistened like gold. There were buns speckled with raisins. It was wondrous to behold. But all of a sudden came a terrible howling from the desk drawer where Hjalmar kept his schoolbooks.
“Now what could that be!” said Ole Lukøje and went to the table and opened the drawer. There inside was the little writing slate, which was shaking and fretting, near to falling apart, for there was a wrong number in his sums! And the pencil pulled and tugged at his string like a dog wanting to escape, for it wanted to help, but could not!
Then Hjalmar’s Writing Book, started to howl too! On each page were all the capital letters, each with their little letter next to them, a whole row down, as neat as anything, ready for a child to copy. And next to these were the letters Hjalmar had written. And though they looked quite similar to the proper letters, they tumbled over the lines of the page, all over the place.
“See, this is how you should stand!” said the proper letters. “Slanting just like this with a swift turn of the pencil!”
“We would love to look like that,” said Hjalmar’s letters, “but we couldn’t, for we are so wretchedly written.”
“Then you must be given medicine,” said Ole Lukøje.
“Oh, no!” they cried, and they stood so straight and gracefully, that they looked beautiful.
“Now, no more stories, for we must exercise these letters to make them perfect,” said Ole Lukøje. “One and two and one and two…” And so Ole Lukøje exercised the little letters till they looked as beautiful as any letter could look.
But strange to say, after Ole Lukøje was gone, and little Hjalmar peeped at his writing book in the morning, the letters were as miserable as before.
On Tuesday evening, as soon as Hjalmar was in bed, Ole Lukøje sprinkled all the furniture with his magic. Immediately they began to chatter. But each talked only of itself. All except the spittoon in the corner. He sat silently, annoyed that the other furniture should be so selfish and vein that they could only chatter on about themselves without paying him the slightest attention. So he sat humbly in the corner, being spat at!
Over the chest of drawers hung a large picture in a gilt frame, a painting of a landscape with fine old trees, flowers in the grass, and a broad stream flowing through a wood, past several castles, and far out into the wild ocean.
Ole Lukøje sprinkled his magic over the picture, and immediately the birds began to sing, the branches of the trees rustled, and the clouds moved across the sky, casting their shadows on the landscape beneath.
Ole Lukøje lifted little Hjalmar up to the frame and pushed him into the picture legs first till he stood in the high grass. The sun shone down upon him through the branches of the trees. He ran to the water and seated himself in a little boat which was there, all painted red and white.
The sails glittered like silver, and six swans, each with a golden circlet round its neck and a bright, blue star on its forehead, drew the boat past the green wood, where the trees talked of robbers and witches, and the flowers spoke of the beautiful little elves and the stories the butterflies had told about them.
Brilliant fish with scales of silver and gold swam after the boat, springing into the air and splashing back into the water around them. And birds, red and blue, small and great, flew after Hjalmar in his boat in two long lines. Even the gnats danced round them, and the cockchafers cried “Buzz, buzz.” They all wanted to follow Hjalmar, and each had a story to tell.
What a delightful journey! Sometimes the forests were thick and dark, and sometimes like a beautiful garden, bathed with sunshine and scattered with flowers. Hjalmar passed great palaces of glass and of marble, and on the balconies stood princesses. They were all the little girls who Hjalmar played with. Each little girl held in her hand a sweet little piggy made of sugar, more beautiful than any sweetshop ever sold. As Hjalmar sailed by, he caught hold of each piggy and held tight. And the princess too held tightly, so that the little sweet broke in two pieces. But Hjalmar’s piece was the biggest!
Each castle was guarded by little princes. They saluted Hjalmar with golden swords and made it rain raisins and tin soldiers. He could see these were real princes indeed.
Hjalmar sailed through a forest and through great halls, and through cities. Until, at last he came to the city where his nanny lived. She had carried him in her arms when he was a very little boy and had loved him dearly. She nodded and waved to him and sang the little verse she had herself composed for him:
I think of you as often,
My sweet little Hjalmar,
As I kissed your little mouth,
Your cheeks, and your eyes.
I heard you say your first words,
But I had to say goodbye.
May god bless you here on earth,
My little angel from the skies.
And all the birds sang along with the nanny, the flowers danced on their stalks, and the old trees nodded as if Ole Lukøje had been telling them stories, too.
On Wednesday, the rain poured down! Hjalmar could hear it in his sleep, and when Ole Lukøje opened the window, the water had risen right up to the window sill. Beyond was now a great lake, and a beautiful ship waited close to the little house.
“Will you sail with me, little Hjalmar?” said Ole Lukøje. “We shall visit foreign countries tonight, and will return by morning.”
And so, Hjalmar, dressed in his Sunday finest, stood upon the deck of the splendid ship. And as they sailed through the streets, and around the church, the clouds blew away and the sun shone down. Before them was a lake like an ocean, and they sailed till the land disappeared.
And then they saw a flock of storks who had left home and were travelling to warmer lands. The storks flew one behind another and had been a long, long time on the wing.
One stork was so tired, his wings could scarcely carry him. He was the last in the line, and he fell farther and farther behind. At length he sank lower and lower, with outstretched wings, flapping them in vain, till his feet touched the rigging of the ship, and he slid from the sails and landed in a heap on the deck. A sailor boy caught him and put him in the henhouse with the fowls, the ducks, and the turkeys, and the poor stork stood among them all looking most upset.
“Get him!” said the chickens, laughing at the funny fellow.
The turkey cock puffed himself out as large as he could and asked him who he was, and the ducks waddled backwards and forwards, quacking, as ducks do.
Then the stork told them all about warm Africa, of the pyramids and of the ostrich, which, like a wild horse, runs across the desert. But the ducks did not understand what he said, and quacked amongst themselves saying, “We can all agree he is stupid.”
“Absolutely stupid,” agreed the turkey cock, and gobbled to himself.
So the stork fell silent, and he thought of his warm home in Africa.
“Those are handsome thin legs you have,” said the turkey cock. “What do they cost a yard?”
The ducks quacked in laughter all the more, but the stork pretended not to hear.
“You may as well laugh,” said the turkey, “for that remark was rather witty! But perhaps too witty for him. I don’t think he is very sophisticated, hmm? So, lets just be witty for ourselves.” And the ducks laughed and quacked cruelly at the stork, telling him to go.
Then Hjalmar went to the henhouse and, opening the door, called to the stork. He hopped out on the deck for he was rested now, and he nodded to Hjalmar as if to thank him. Then he spread his wings and flew away to his beautiful, warmer Africa, while the hens still clucked, the ducks still quacked, and the turkey cock’s head turned a fiery red.
“Tomorrow you shall be soup,” said Hjalmar to the fowls; and then he awoke and found himself lying in his little bed. But Ole Lukøje had given him such a wonderful journey that night.
“Guess what, Hjalmar?” said Ole Lukøje. “Now, do not be afraid, for here is a little mouse.” And he held out his hand, in which sat the cute little creature. “It has come to invite you to a wedding. For two little mice are going to be married tonight. They live under the floor of your mother’s pantry, which must make such a fine place to live.”
“But how can I get through the little mouse-hole in the floor?” asked the little boy.
“Leave that to me,” said Ole Lukøje. “For I can make you as little as they.” And he tapped the boy with his magic wand. Smaller and smaller, shrank Hjalmar, until, at last, he was no bigger than a finger. “Now you can borrow the clothes of your tin soldier. I think they will just fit you just fine. And it is smart to wear a uniform when you go to a party.”
“I think so too,” said the boy, and in a moment, he was dressed as smartly as the smartest tin soldier.
“Will you be so good as to seat yourself in your mamma’s thimble,” said the little mouse, very politely, “that I may have the honour of pulling you to the wedding?”
“If that is not too much trouble, young lady?” said he to the mouse. And so in this way he was driven to the mouse’s wedding.
First, they went under the floor and through a long passage which was scarcely high enough for them to drive under, and the whole passage was lit up with the light of touchwood.
“Doesn’t it smell delicious?” asked the mouse, as she drew him along. “The wall and the floor have been greased with bacon rind; which could not be better.”
Soon they arrived at the bridal hall. On the right stood all the little lady mice, whispering and giggling as if they were teasing each other. To the left were the gentlemen mice, stroking their whiskers with their fore paws. And in the centre of the hall was the bride and groom, standing side by side in a hollow cheese rind, kissing each other happily in front of everyone, because now they were to be married.
More and more guests kept arriving, till is was so stuffed with mice they were in danger of trampling each other to death. The bride and groom now stood in the doorway, and none could pass in or out.
The room had been greased with the fat of a pig. And for dessert was a pea, on which a little mouse had bitten the first letters of the names of the betrothed. It was something quite extraordinary.
All the mice said it was a very beautiful wedding, and the conversation was entertaining. For mice like to chatter.
And then Hjalmar drove home. He had certainly been in the most distinguished company, despite being shrunk small enough to creep under a room and to wear the uniform of a tin soldier.
“You would be amazed how many old people there are who would be pleased to get hold of me at night,” said Ole Lukøje, “especially those who have done something bad! ‘Good little Ole,’ they whine to me, ‘we cannot keep our eyes closed, and we lie awake the whole night and see all our evil deeds sitting on our beds like foul little trolls, sprinkling us with scalding water. Please, Ole Lukøje, come and chase them away, so we get a good night’s sleep!’ And then they sigh so deeply and say: ‘We will gladly pay you for it. The money is on the windowsill.’ But I never do anything for gold,” said Ole Lukøje.
“What shall we do tonight?” asked Hjalmar.
“I don’t know if you want to go to another wedding,” replied Ole Lukøje, “although it is a quite different affair from the one we saw last night. Your sister’s large doll, the one who is dressed like a man and is called Herman, intends to marry the doll Bertha. It is also the dolls’ birthday, so there will be lots of presents.”
“I know that already,” said Hjalmar. “Whenever her dolls want new clothes, she lets them have a birthday or a wedding. That has happened already a hundred times, I am quite sure.”
“And so it is true,” said Ole Lukøje. “But tonight is the hundred-and-first wedding, and when one hundred and one are done, everything is over! And that is why this one must be special. Now, look over there!”
There on the table stood the dolls’ cardboard house. All the windows were alight, and parading before it were all the tin soldiers.
The bride and groom were seated on the floor, leaning against the leg of the table, looking very thoughtful and with good reason. Then Ole Lukøje dressed up in grandmother’s black dress, and married them.
As soon as the ceremony was finished, all the furniture in the room sang a beautiful song which had been composed by the pencil, and which went to the melody of a military tattoo:
We’ll sing as loud as a summer breeze
To the bridal couple on their knees
They might be made of sticks and gloves
And yet they are so full of love.
Hurray! Hurray! for Wood and Leather!
Sing to the wind, be happy together!
And now came the presents, but the happy couple refused all food for they had everything they needed in their love.
“Shall we stay in this happy land, or travel to far away places?” asked the bridegroom.
They asked the swallow, who had travelled far and wide, and the old hen in the yard, who had brought up five broods of chicks.
And the swallow told them of warm countries where the grapes hang large and heavy on the vines and the air is so gentle, and about the mountains glowing with colours more beautiful than you can imagine.
“But they have no cabbage such as we have,” said the hen. “I spent the whole summer with my chicks out on the land here. There was a large sand pit in which we could walk about and scratch in as much as we like we liked. Then we got into a garden full of cabbage. Oh, how nice it was! I cannot think of anything more delicious.”
“But one cabbage stalk is just like another,” said the swallow, “and it rains a lot here!”
“But we’re used to it,” said the hen, stoically.
“And it is so cold here. It’s freezing.”
“Cold weather is good for cabbages,” said the hen; “besides, we do have it warm here sometimes. Four years ago we had a summer that lasted more than five weeks, and it was so hot one could scarcely breathe. And then in this country we have no poisonous animals, and we are free from robbers. If a man does not consider our country the finest of all lands, he ought not to be allowed to live here.” And then the hen wept very much and said: “I have also travelled. I once went twelve miles in a coop, and it was not pleasant travelling at all.”
“The hen is such a sensible woman,” said the doll Bertha. “I don’t care for travelling over mountains, just to go up and come down again. Let us go to the sand pit in front of the gate instead and then take a walk in the cabbage garden.”
And that settled that.
“Story time!” said little Hjalmar, as soon as Ole Lukøje had sent him to sleep.
“No time this evening,” said the dream man, opening his prettiest umbrella over the boy. “Look at these Chinese people.” The umbrella appeared like a large china bowl, with blue trees and pointed bridges upon which stood the Chinese nodding their heads.
“We must make all the world beautiful for tomorrow,” said Ole Lukøje, “for it is Sunday. I must go to the church steeples to see that the little church goblins are polishing the bells so that they will sound their best. I will go into the fields and see if the wind has blown the dust from the grass and the leaves. And even more difficult, I have to bring down all the stars and brighten them up. But I have to number them first before I put them in my apron, and number the holes from which I take them, so that they may go back into their proper places, or else they won’t stay where I put them, and we will have a falling stars everywhere, for they would all tumble down one after another.”
“Oh, My! Mr. Lukøje!” said an old portrait which hung on the wall of Hjalmar’s bedroom. “I am Hjalmar’s great-grandfather. I thank you for telling the boy your stories, but you mustn’t put wrong ideas in his head. The stars can’t be taken down and polished. The stars are worlds too, just like the earth, and that’s the beauty of them.”
“My thanks, you old great-grandfather,” said Ole Lukøje. “I thank you, indeed! You are the head of the family, you are the oldest of the ancestors, but I am older than you are. I am an old heathen. The Greeks and the Romans called me the dream god. I have been to the noblest of homes, and still do. I know how to behave with all people, great and small. So if you wish, you may tell the stories yourself!” Ole Lukøje tucked his umbrella under his arm and took himself off.
“Well!” grumbled the old portrait. “It seems one can’t even have an opinion these days,” Then Hjalmar woke up.
“Good evening, Hjalmar!” said Ole Lukøje.
Hjalmar ran to turn his great-grandfather’s portrait to the wall so that it wouldn’t interrupt them, as it had the night before.
“Now,” said Hjalmar, “you must tell me the stories about the five peas who lived in a pod, about the rooster’s foot print that courted the hen’s foot prints, and about the darning needle who gave herself such airs and graces because she thought she was as thin as a sewing needle.”
“You can have far too much of a good thing, you know,” said Ole Lukøje. “I would rather show you things. I will show you my own brother. He too is named Ole Lukøje, but he comes only once to visit anyone. When he comes, he takes them away on his horse, and tells them stories. He only knows but two. One is so beautiful that no one on earth can possibly imagine it, and the other is so vile and cruel, it is impossible to describe!”
Then Ole Lukøje lifted little Hjalmar up to the window. “There,” he said, “you can see my brother, the other Ole Lukøje. He is also known as Death. But he is not all bones and knuckles as people claim. His coat is embroidered with silver. The magnificent uniform of a hussar. And his cloak of black velvet floats behind him and billows over his horse. See how he gallops along.”
And Hjalmar saw how the other Ole Lukøje rode off on his horse with young folk as well as old. He sat some before him, and some behind, but first he always asked them:
“How is your report card?”
And they all said, “Good!”
But he said, “Let me see for myself.” Then they all had to show him their report card. All those who were marked “very good” or “excellent,” he put on his horse in front of him, and told them the beautiful story. But those who were marked “below average” or “bad” had to ride behind him, and they heard the terrifying tale. They shivered and wept, and tried to jump down off the horse. But could not, for they had now grown into it.
“But Death is the most beautiful Ole Lukøje,” exclaimed Hjalmar. “I’m not afraid of him.”
“And you needn’t be,” Ole Lukøje told him. “But be sure that you always have a good report card.”
“Now that’s more instructive,” mumbled great-grandfather’s portrait, still facing the wall. “Sometimes it helps to speak one’s mind.” And he was happy with that.
And that is the story of Ole Lukøje. Maybe tonight he will visit your home, sprinkle milk on your eyes till you can’t keep them open, and tell you more. For no one, anywhere in the world, knows as many stories as Ole Lukøje!
That was a bit more cheerful than some others I have recorded so far, and rather nice as well. My adaptation has stayed pretty much to the original with just the odd word change to make it nice to read. But I wonder if any of you can answer a question.
On Saturday, Ole Lukøje says he is off to clean up. And his first stop is the church bells. But when I looked at the Danish version on Wikisource, that line wasn’t in. Now that kind of makes sense to me since on the same day he tells great granddad that he is a Heathen.
In this version, I left the line in because it appears in all the translations I looked at, and I don’t know whether the Wikisource Danish version is trustworthy or not.
So, do you have a Danish original? And does it mention the church bells or not? I would love to know. If you have the answer, contact me via Twitter or Instagram.
I was going to do a second story this week, one of my own, but Ole Lukøje took up more time than I planned for. So that will be next week now. In the meantime, that is your lot.
Thanks for listening to Deep in the Dark Forest. I was CC Hogan, and I wish you good fortune as you travel on your way.