The Tinderbox


by Hans Christian Andersen

Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

Candlewick Press 2007

“Left, right! Left, right!” A soldier is marching home from war when he meets an witch who says, “What a fine sword you have, and what a big knapsack! You look just the way a soldier should. Now I’ll show you how to get as much money as you want.”

Fortune is fleeting for the handsome soldier until he learns the secret of the witch’s tinderbox and her three magical dogs—each with eyes bigger than the last. With a strike of the tinderbox’s flint, a dog appears to grant him his wish. The soldier doesn’t hesitate to take advantage of this gift—at a high cost to the kingdom.

With his signature wit and clarity, Stephen Mitchell gives a wonderfully fresh retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale. The story is perfectly paired with Bagram Ibatoulline’s richly detailed illustrations, creating an exquisite new edition of a classic.


A soldier came marching along the road: left, right! left, right! He had his knapsack on his back and a sword at his side, because he had been to the war and now he was on his way home.

As he marched along, he met an old witch on the road. She was very ugly, and her lower lip hung down to her breast. “Good evening, soldier,” she said. “What a fine sword you have, and what a big knapsack! You look just the way a soldier should. Now I’ll show you how to get as much money as you could ever want.”

“Thank you, old witch,” said the soldier.

“Do you see that big tree over there?” the witch said, pointing. “It’s completely hollow inside. If you climb to the top, you’ll see a hole, and you can crawl through the hole and lower yourself down to the bottom. I’ll tie a rope around your waist, and I’ll pull you up again when you tell me to.”

“But what am I supposed to do once I’m down there in the tree?” the soldier asked.

“Get money,” said the witch. “When you reach the bottom, you’ll find yourself in a large hall. It will be very bright, with hundreds of lamps burning. Then you’ll see three doors. The keys are in the locks, so you’ll be able to open them.

“When you enter the first room, you’ll see a large chest in the middle of the floor, and on it there will be a dog with eyes as big as clocks. But don’t worry about him. I’ll give you my blue-checked apron; spread it on the floor, then grab the dog, put him on my apron, open the chest, and take as much money as you want. The coins are just copper.

“If you’d rather have silver coins, you’ll have to go into the second room, where you’ll find a dog with eyes as big as dinner plates. But don’t worry about him. Put him on my apron, and then take as much money as you want.

“But if you’d rather have gold, you can have that too, as much as you can carry; just go into the third room, where there’s another chest full of gold. But the dog on this chest has eyes as big as wagon wheels. He is quite a dog, believe me! But don’t be scared, put him on my apron and he won’t hurt you, and take as much gold as you want.”

“That’s not a bad deal,” said the soldier. “But what am I supposed to give you? You’re not telling me all this for nothing.”

“No,” the witch said, “but I won’t ask you for a single penny. Just bring me the old tinderbox that my grandmother forgot the last time she went down there.”

“All right,” the soldier said. “Now tie the rope around my waist.”

“Here it is,” said the witch. “And here’s my blue-checked apron.”

The soldier climbed up the tree, went through the hole, then lowered himself down to the bottom, and found himself, just as the witch had said, in a large hall where hundreds of lamps were burning.


Mitchell’s retelling is excellent. Ibatoulline’s expansive spreads, elegantly drawn in detailed pen and ink, resemble etchings; appropriately, the added watercolor is in delicate yet somber tones… A sumptuous setting for this strange, profoundly provocative classic.
–The Horn Book Magazine

A most unusual and spectacular book.

Another exquisite re-telling of an old tale, for older readers with concrete nerves.
–The Book Magazine

While the tale is so well told it will stand by itself, the illustrations add to the magic and wonder of the story… A book to be treasured.
–Reading Time

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