Andersen Fairy Tales, Andersen-Hans Christian

The Story of a Mother

The Story of a MotherThe Story of a Mother

A mother sat in her home with her son in her lap. The boy was sick and she feared he might die. She had been up for three days. An old man came through the door. He was poorly attired for the weather. What the mother did not know was that the man was death.

She asked the man if her son might live. The man nodded in such a manner that meant maybe, yes, maybe, no. The mother closed her eyes just for a moment as she was so tired.

When she opened her eyes again, the old man and her son were gone. She went out into the street where there was a woman. The woman was Night. The mother asked her if she had seen which way Death had taken her child. Night agreed to tell something if the mother would sing songs to her that she had sung her son. The mother complied knowing that she was losing time. Night told her to journey to a forest.

At the forest the mother asked a rose-bush where she should go. The rose-bush told her it would tell her a way to go if she held the bush to her bosom that it might be warmed. As she did so, the thorns pricked her skin and large drops of blood fell. The rose-bush became so warm that it bloomed. It told her the way to go.

The mother came to a lake that was partially frozen. It was not frozen enough to pass over and it was too frozen to wade through. The lake spoke to the woman. It told her that if she would trade her eyes, which were like pearls, that the lake would get her to Death’s hothouse where the souls of all people bloomed. The mother cried her eyes out, but was able to make it to Death’s hothouse.

There was an old woman at Death’s hothouse. The old woman said she did not know the woman’s son, but if there was a trade she would let the woman into the hothouse that she may recognize her son’s plant. The mother traded her beautiful black hair to the old woman and received the old woman’s gray hair instead.

The mother went into the hothouse where she listened to the heartbeat of each plant and found her son’s. The old woman told her to not let Death pluck her son’s plant. She should threaten to pluck other plants because Death had to account to God for each plant.

Death came back and asked the woman how she got there and why she was there. Her reply was that she was a mother. She threatened to pluck other plants if Death tried to take her son’s plant. Death said he would show her the lives of the other plants because they had mothers too. They looked into the well where the mother saw one life full of wealth and the things that could be asked for and the other was full of poverty.

Death told the mother that one of these lives belonged to her son, but he would not tell her which. The mother did not want the suffering child to suffer. She told Death to take whichever life would be full of suffering. She prayed to God for his will to be done, and it was, Death took the mother’s child away to God’s garden.

The End


Gosh, Hans, way to make everybody cry! Is that all you do? Sit around and think up ways to make people sad?

The references to people being plants isn’t something unique to Hans. There are multiple references to God’s garden throughout literature and life in general.


I do not have children of my own. I helped to raise my two youngest brothers who are quite a bit younger than I am. I can imagine what anguish this mother went through. She wanted her child back and she literally went to the ends of the Earth to get him back, but when she found out that other mothers would miss their children if she plucked them up and that some poor child’s life would be full of poverty and suffering, she conceded that it would be better not to let a child suffer, even if it meant losing her own son.

I’m in agreement. As much as I would like to have children of my own some day, if I knew I was in a situation where my children would suffer greatly if I brought them into the world, I think I would choose not to have them. If you can prevent horrendous suffering, you should. We’re not talking about the regular ills of life, we’re talking about total and complete misery, where every day is a struggle and life seems like Hell. If I had a chance to prevent that kind of suffering by choosing not to have children or by, say, letting a teenage child choose not to continue chemo when the prospects where just awful, I would.

I would be sad if my child died, just as the mother in this story was, but both of us would recognize that it would be better to lose our children rather than to put them through a life of misery just because we would miss them.


Hans was so emo.

Weigh In

In your opinion, do you think the mother chose wisely?

What do you think happened to the mother after all of this?


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