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December 2012

The Tallow Candle

*In the dark days before Christmas, a 190-year-old fairy tale by Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) has been discovered. The fairy tale is about a disillusioned, grimy tallow candle looking for acknowledgement, which it finds when its flame is lit by a tinderbox, the precursor to the lighter. The story was discovered accidentally in October by an amateur historian and is considered Andersen’s first venture into the fairy tale genre. It is less sophisticated than his later works, but the basic theme so typical of Andersen is clearly present: good overcomes evil despite bad influences. And that is a wonderful promise so close to Christmas…

The Tallow Candle

It sputtered and spattered while the flames leaped around the cauldron; it was the tallow candle’s cradle, and out of that warm cradle a beautiful candle was born, so immaculately white and slim that everyone predicted a bright and radiant future – promises that it was believed he would fulfil.

The sheep – a lovely little sheep – was the candle’s mother and the melting pot his father. From his mother he inherited his radiant white body and sense of life, and from his father an all-consuming craving for fire, that would make him ‘shine’ for the rest of his life.

This was how he was born and had grown, and he thrust himself into life with the highest and brightest expectations. Here he met so many marvellous other creatures with whom he spent much time because he was so eager to learn about life – hoping to find where he belonged.

But he was too open-hearted and the world cared only for itself and not at all for the tallow candle. The world did not understand the purpose of the tallow candle, and used him only for its own benefit and took hold of the candle wrongly, creating bigger and bigger smudges with black fingers on its pristine white innocence, which gradually disappeared beneath the grime of the outside world, a world that had come too close, closer than he could bear. He could not tell the difference between pure and impure, but deep inside, beneath all the grime, he was still innocent and pristine.

When his false friends saw that they could not reach his soil, they cast him away as worthless. But his grimy outer layer repelled all the good friends, too, who were afraid the black would rub off, staining them, and so they kept away.

So the poor tallow candle was all alone, abandoned, at a loss as to what to do. He realised that he had been rejected by the good and had only been a tool to further the wicked. He felt so tremendously unhappy about his meaningless life and believed that he had perhaps even tarnished the beauty of his surroundings. He did not understand why he had been created, why he had been put on this earth – perhaps to ultimately ruin his own life and that of others.
He sank deeper and deeper into thought, but the more he thought, the more despondent he became, as he did not see anything positive, any true meaning or purpose with his life. It was as if the grimy layer had also covered his eyes.

But then he met a little flame, a tinderbox. The flame knew the candle better than he knew himself, as the tinderbox could see clearly – straight through to the core – and inside he saw so much good. So he came closer and the candle felt his spirit lift – he lit up and his heart melted.
The flame brightened like a torch of joy at a wedding. Everything around him became lighter and brighter, and that paved the way for all those around him, for his true friends, who could now seek truth in the glow of the candle.

But his body, too, was strong enough to carry the fiery flame. Drop by drop, round and full, like the seeds of new life, the candle grease dripped down the candle and covered the old grime – not only a physical, but also a spiritual harvest of the wedding.

The tallow candle had found his rightful place in life and had shown that he was a real candle, one that would shine for a very long time for his own pleasure and for that of the creatures all around him.

(Dutch translation: Edith Koenders for De Volkskrant)