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The Most Incredible Thing

"The Most Incredible Thing"
Short story by Hans Christian Andersen
Original titleDet Utroligste
TranslatorHorace Scudder
Genre(s)Literary fairy tale
Published inNyt Dansk Maanedsskrift
PublisherC.A. Reitzel
Media typePrint
Publication dateOctober 1870 (Denmark)
Published in EnglishSeptember 1870 (United States)

"The Most Incredible Thing" (Danish: Det Utroligste) is the final literary fairy tale by Danish poet and author Hans Christian Andersen (1805–1875). The story is about a contest to find the most incredible thing and the wondrous consequences when the winner is chosen. The tale was first published in an English translation by Horace Scudder, an American correspondent of Andersen's, in the United States in September 1870 before being published in the original Danish in Denmark in October 1870. "The Most Incredible Thing" was the first of Andersen's tales to be published in Denmark during World War II. Andersen considered the tale one of his best.[1]

Plot summary

Illustration from the first US publication, in The Riverside Magazine for Young People, September 1870

When the tale begins, a contest has been proclaimed in which half the kingdom and the hand of the princess in marriage will be the rewards of he who can produce the most incredible thing. A poor young man creates a magnificent clock with different lifelike figures — Moses, Adam and Eve, the Four Seasons, the Five Senses, and others — which appear at the stroke of the hour. All agree the clock is the most incredible thing and its creator is named the winner. Suddenly, another man smashes the clock and all then agree that this act is even more incredible than the creation of the beautiful clock. The destroyer is to wed the princess, but at the wedding, the figures of the clock magically reappear, defeat him, and then vanish. All agree that this is the most incredible thing, and the princess and the young creator of the clock marry.

The figures

Each hour on the clock is represented by a figure from the Bible, mythology, folklore or common knowledge.[2]

  • One o'clock: Moses, writing the first of the ten commandments
  • Two o'clock: Adam and Eve
  • Three o'clock: The Three Wise Men
  • Four o'clock: The Four Seasons, represented by a cuckoo bird (spring), a grasshopper (summer), an empty stork's nest (autumn), and an old crow (winter)
  • Five o'clock: The Five Senses, represented by a spectacle maker (sight), a coppersmith (hearing), a flower girl (smell), a cook (taste), and an undertaker (touch)
  • Six o'clock: A gambler, who always rolled sixes
  • Seven o'clock: The seven days of the week, or the seven deadly sins
  • Eight o'clock: A choir of eight singing monks
  • Nine o'clock: The Muses of Greek mythology
  • Ten o'clock: Moses returns with the rest of the Ten Commandments
  • Eleven o'clock: Eleven children played and sang "Two and two and seven, the clock has struck eleven"
  • Twelve o'clock: A night watchman announces the birth of Christ[3]

Stage adaptations

Pet Shop Boys ballet

In 2011 British pop act Pet Shop Boys wrote the music for a ballet based on the story that opened in March 2011 at Sadler's Wells in London.[4] The story was adapted by Matthew Dunster and featured choreography by Javier de Frutos. It starred former Royal Ballet principal Ivan Putrov and animated film created by Tal Rosner.[5] The ballet won an Evening Standard Theatre Award and returned to Sadlers Wells for a second season in 2012.

In 2018 the Charlotte Ballet produced and presented the American premiere of the ballet created at Sadler's Wells.

Other productions

In 2016 the New York City Ballet premiered a one-act ballet based on the same story, choreographed by Justin Peck.[6]

See also


  1. ^ Tatar, Maria (2008). The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen. W.W. Norton & Company. pp. 298–303. ISBN 978-0-393-06081-2.
  2. ^ The Most Incredible Thing (1870)|
  3. ^ Andersen, Hans Christian (2005). Wullschlager, Jackie (ed.). Fairy Tales. Translated by Nunnally, Tiina. Viking. pp. xxxix, 436–437. ISBN 0-670-03377-4.
  4. ^ "The Most Incredible Thing". 2010-12-09.
  5. ^ "Pet Shop Boys & Javier De Frutos - The Most Incredible Thing". Sadler's Wells Theatre. Archived from the original on 2011-08-10. Retrieved 2011-08-06.
  6. ^ Macaulay, Alastair (February 3, 2016). "Review: ‘The Most Incredible Thing’ Brings Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tale to Life." New York Times. Print version appeared February 4, 2016, under title "Forever Mindful of the Clock."
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The Most Incredible Thing
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