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Main > Fairy tale > All authors > Andersen Hans Christian > Fairy tale "The Will-o'-the-Wisps Are in Town"

The Will-o'-the-Wisps Are in Town

That was a great event in the marsh, and for that reason all the lady and gentlemen will-o'-the-wisps danced across the marsh and the meadow like little lights. Some of them are of the canine species, but they aren't worth talking about. I sat right there on my cabinet and held all the twelve little newborn will-o'-the-wisps on my lap. They glittered like glowworms; already they had begun to hop, and they grew bigger every minute, and after a quarter of an hour each of them was as big as his father or uncle. Now it's an old-established law that when the moon stands just where it did yesterday, and the wind blows just the way it blew yesterday, it is granted to all will-o'-the-wisps born at that hour and at that minute that they may become human beings and each of them exercise their power for a whole year.

"The will-o'-the-wisp can go about in the country, or anywhere in the world, as long as it is not afraid of falling into the sea or being blown away by a great storm. It can go right into a person, and speak for him, and perform any action it wants. The will-o'-the-wisp can take any form it likes, man or woman, and act in his or her spirit, and so go to the extreme in doing what it wishes. But in the course of that year it must succeed in leading three hundred and sixty-five people into bad paths, and in grand style, too; it must lead them away from the right and truth, and then it will receive the highest honor a will-o'-the-wisp can, that of being a runner before the Devil's stagecoach; it can then wear a fiery yellow uniform and breathe flames from its mouth. That's enough to make a simple will-o'-the-wisp lick his lips in desire. But there's danger, too, and a lot of work for an ambitious will-o'-the-wisp who wants to reach that height. If the eyes of the person are opened and he realizes what is happening and can blow the will-o'-the-wisp away, it is done for and has to come back to the marsh. Or if, before the year is over, the will-o'-the-wisp is overcome with longing for its home and family, and so gives up and comes back, then it is also done for; it can't burn clearly any longer, and soon goes out, and can't be lighted again.

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