Literature / The Shadow

"The Shadow" ("Skyggen" in original Danish) is a fairy tale by Danish poet and author Hans Christian Andersen, first published in 1847.

The story follows a scholar on a voyage south from northern Europe. One day he lost his shadow, and it was gone for some time. Eventually the shadow returned, taking the form of a man, and the learned man sat down to talk with his shadow about its experiences from its travels. In their talks the shadow claimed the man to be too much an idealist, and his view of the world flawed, they soon parted ways once more.

The shadow went on to make himself quite rich, as the learned man barely managed to survive. Finally he had become so ill that his former shadow proposed a trip to a health resort at his expense, but on condition that the writer would pretend to be his shadow. As absurd as this suggestion sounded, the learned man eventually agreed and together they took the trip, the shadow now as his master. There the shadow met a princess who he managed to woo, later as the pair were to be married the shadow asked the learned man to become his shadow permanently, in exchange for a good life with them. The man refused, and threatened to tell the princess of the shadow's origins. The shadow had the man arrested and executed, then going on to live with his princess bride.

"The Shadow" is a decidedly dark Fairy Tale, said by Andersen to be an example about how the righteous and well intentioned do not always come out on top, as is true in real life.

If you came here for the cackling pulp character who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men, you'll want The Shadow instead.

Tropes found in "The Shadow":

  • The Bad Guy Wins
  • Blackmail: The Shadow implies that he won his fortunes through stalking, gaining knowledge of "dirty secrets". At the moment he started writing to people about those secrets, everyone suddenly was his friends, and gave him lots of wealth, just to shut him up.
  • Crapsack World: The Shadow lampshades it, and openly exploits it. When he eventually gets control of a country - hoo boy.
  • Dark Is Evil
  • Downer Ending
  • Dumb Is Good: Deconstructed. The naivete of the Author and the Princess does nothing except make them easily manipulated.
  • Everything's Better with Princesses: Subverted. The arrival of the Princess makes things worse.
  • Foreshadowing: When the Shadow seeks out the learned man and greets him for the first time, he tells him that he wished to see his former master before he dies. "You will die, of course..."
  • He Knows Too Much: The Shadow has his former master killed because of this.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Shadow is not entirely human, and the princess calls him out on it at once. He has the knack of stalking in a manner that no ordinary human is capable of.
  • Karma Houdini
  • Living Shadow
  • Manipulative Bastard: The Shadow, of course.
  • Shadow Archetype: Guess. Who.
  • Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: The Shadow's opinion.
  • Take Our Word for It: The Shadow never exactly tells what he saw in Poetry's house. He just convinces the man that he saw and learned what was to be learned. But he clearly bluffs.
  • Take That: The novel is a dark sarcasm on journalism vs poetry, where the paparazzo clearly gets the upper hand over the truth-seeking philosopher, until the one effectively gains power and eliminates the other.
  • The Muse: The beautiful girl on the other side of the street. The Shadow states that she is poetry incarnated, but could not go near her, because she was bathed in light. Shame that the learned man never got to meet her himself.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The learned man actually asked his shadow to investigate Poetry's house for him, instead of doing it himself. That decision cost him his life. The Princess is also easily manipulated by the Shadow.
  • Truth in Television: Good doesn't always win.