Andersen Fairy Tales, Andersen-Hans Christian

What Old Johanne Told

Dilapidated_house_in_Paramaribo_3What Old Johanne Told

In a dilapidated house lived a man everyone called Poor Rasmus. The house was falling down around him and weeds grew everywhere. He never did anything to fix up the house and would always respond, “What good would it do?” Rasmus had been like that for years.

The house had once been nice, not grand, but a nice house. A couple moved there with a large family. Time went on and the family came upon hard times. Rasmus decided to make something of himself though. When his father was sick and dying, he said some things that were not in keeping with religion. He said that soul’s were not going to earn a reward. They were going nowhere and bodies were only good as fertilizer, but rich people weren’t even good enough to be fertilizer and were thus placed in a crypt. Rasmus’ mother told him not to listen.

Hard times visited the family some more. Despite this, Rasmus mother was always willing to help people out. One such person was Johanne, the daughter of a shoe maker. She had hardly any clothes and what she did have were falling off of her, but she didn’t know any different because she was a child.

Rasmus did grow up, having his mother as a good example, but also having a little spite in him. He became a traveling tailor. He traveled all around. The woman he loved was named Else, but she was going to marry a rich farmer. Rasmus left and did not want to be seen. Else realized that she missed him and went to a woman who helped her concoct a spell to call him back. The woman said the spell might take a while. Else put a bit of this and a bit of that into a pot and boiled it. It called Rasmus, but he did not know it.

Else waited, a year and a day, but Rasmus had not returned, so she married the rich farmer anyway. Rasmus came back that very day, skin and bone, and too late. He had missed home and did not think the boiling mixture had anything to do with his return. His mother nursed him to health, but caught a disease and she was taken away from Rasmus. He was left only to himself. He grew hard and grey. He stayed in the house. Something would happen and he would say, “What good would it do?”

Johanne grew old as well, but she always felt a fondness for Rasmus and his family. She tried to help him. She told him to go to church and pray, but Rasmus would always say, “What good would it do?” Finally, one day church was in service, but Rasmus was not there among the kneeling because he had left the world that very morning. Johanne is still alive though and prays for Rasmus every day. She understands what he went through and hopes that some good may still be done.


It’s a bit odd that Hans speaks of witchcraft in a story published at such a late date. The idea of witchcraft has always been on the fringe, but Hans hasn’t really mentioned it very much before now and this story was rather explicit in its witchcraft. The story does list specific things that went into this pot to make this spell. Is it a real spell that a practicing witch would tell you? I couldn’t say, perhaps. If so, Hans did his research, which would also mean that Hans was stepping into the idea of occult practices, which really has not been a thing thus far in the fairy tales.

This story is definitely more on the serious side versus some of the earlier writings of Hans. It’s not quite so full of hope as his stories had once been.


This story is darker than a lot of Hans’ other stories. Hans had gotten very thoughtful the older he got, which is probably something we all do. This story is an observation between people of faith and people who are not of faith. Rasmus did not start out as a faithless person. He had hope towards the world and thought that good things would come to him. Instead of seeing setbacks as simply something to give him experience, he became hard-hearted. He let hurt and heart ache brew in his brain and soul until no sunshine could get into his life. There was nothing he seemed to enjoy and nothing was worth doing.

In all honesty, Rasmus was probably depressed, clinically, but he also lost what faith and hope he did have. When he was younger his father essentially said that nothing in life mattered. Rasmus may have put that in the back of his mind for years, but when bad things started to happen to him, he remembered what his father had said. Rasmus soon came to take on much the same attitude. Why do something? Why do something if it all eventually goes away? You’ll eventually die. Your body will decompose. Your house will fall down. Anything you leave behind will eventually disappear and maybe no one will ever remember you. Maybe all of humanity will die out and plants and animals will rule the Earth. Maybe the Earth will be sucked into the sun and burn up.

Yeah, you know what, your life will fall away and maybe no one will remember you, but does that mean you shouldn’t do anything while you’re alive? The entire point of being alive is to do things. Your entire life consists of doing things, whether for yourself or someone else. Even if you were to die and be forgotten, your life would still mean something, because you did things while you were alive.

Rasmus didn’t think doing things would change anything in his life, but the only way your life does change is by doing things. Rasmus could have had a very different life if he had simply changed his attitude and he wouldn’t even have had to have gone to church if he didn’t want to.


Poor Rasmus is right.

Weigh In

If you knew for sure that something you did was going to be erased, would you do it anyway?

Are people like Rasmus ever happy?


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