Andersen Fairy Tales, Andersen-Hans Christian

Under the Willow Tree

Under the Willow TreeUnder the Willow Tree

There were once two children named Knud and Joanna. They played together underneath a willow tree and an elder tree. A baker told them a wonderful story about two gingerbread people. The gingerbread man and the gingerbread woman had laid upon the counter together for a long time. They were there so long that they had fallen in love with one another, but were too scared to say anything.

The very gingerbread people were given as a present to Joanna and Knud. They admired the love the ginger bread people had for one another and did not want to eat them up, but a naughty boy had eaten up the gingerbread woman and the children decided to eat the gingerbread man as well.

Joanna and Knud moved away from each other. Joanna became a beautiful singer. Knud became an apprentice. They had written letters to one another for a long while. Knud realized that he loved Joanna. He did not want her to go away and tour. He told her of his love, but she told him that she only loved him as a brother.

Knud left. Everything reminded him of Joanna. That elder tree and that willow tree, brought to mind images of Joanna.

Years passed and Knud was in Milan, where he was taken to the opera by his master. The winger was none other than Joanna. When Knud greeted her, she did not recognize him. Knud was disappointed and left. He decided to pass over the mountains on foot.

There he found a willow tree to sit under, which he did. He fell asleep and dreamed a wonderful dream. He dreamt of the gingerbread couple. In his dream they were together and they thanked him for loosing their tongues. They were to be married, but not before Joanna and Knud. The gingerbread man said that the master should go first. Joanna and Knud walked towards the chapel hand in hand, but it was all a dream.

Knud had fallen asleep underneath the willow tree which he had dreamt was the willow tree from his childhood home. While he slept a heavy snow fell. Knud slept on. He was found frozen to death underneath the willow tree.


Knud traveled an awfully long way to be away from home and his love for Joanna. He went from the lands in the north to Germany and then to Italy. There is a famous opera house in Milan called La Scala and it would have been there when Joanna was, if Joanna had been real. This opera house stands a good chance at being the opera house Hans intended in this story.


This story is a bit complicated. There is a story within a story. There is the story about the gingerbread couple, which Knud takes the heart, and then there is the story of Knud and Joanna. Knud thought that he should tell his feelings no matter what. Why hide them? Knud found this advice didn’t always work out the way he thought it should. Just because you care for someone doesn’t mean they care the same way for you. Caring for someone doesn’t automatically make them care for you.

If they don’t return the feeling, there may not be a lot of advantage in telling them that you care. What do you expect them to do? Do you expect them to be yours even if they don’t care for you? Would you capture them and hold them when you knew their heart wasn’t in it?

Knud kept hoping and hoping that Joanna would be his. He would go for years without seeing her and still hope that she would be his. He left place after place to get away from his love for her. Buddy, this is when you give yourself some tough love. They’re never going to want you; go find somebody else.

Knud ended up dead, DEAD, because he didn’t move on from his infatuation with Joanna. Look, it’s not worth it. One person isn’t worth throwing your life away over. There are lots of people in the world; you can find somebody else. I don’t get it–if a person doesn’t want you and they’re most likely never going to change their mind, why pine over them? Why waste your time? They’re not going to magically fall in love with you.


Hans may have thought this story was romantic, but I think Knud is stupid.

Weigh In

Do you think Knud is romantic?

Do you think it’s ever worth it spending time pining after a person who will not return your love?


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