Fairy Tales 7: The Silver Shilling

A reflection on the fairy tale from 1862 by Hans Christian Anderson.

Until now my reflections on fairy tales have considered the Grimm brothers’ tales. This is my first look at a tale by Hands Christian Anderson.

Some readers might contend that The Silver Shilling is not a true fairy tale, an aspect not be discussed here, as it does not contain any magic or magical character. The tale. imagines the plausible journey of a coin, with part of the tale told in the coin’s own voice. A summary of The Silver Shilling can be read here.

Spoiler alert: Readers who have not read the story should be aware that I will be referring to aspects in the tale and quoting the final line of The Silver Shilling, later in this article. It is not a long tale, and can be easily read by an average reader in less than half an hour.

To me, The Silver Shilling seems an allegory for courage and faith. Our eponymous ‘hero’ is aware of his own situation, and he has free thought, but he has no ability to influence his own destiny. He is entirely dependant on who passes him on to whom, into whose hands he falls in some kind of transaction, that may be for goods, services or simply as a gift. In one instance he is given away as a symbol of good luck. At this point in the tale, he is not in the country where he was minted and is legal-tender.

Our shilling has fallen into the hands of a poor, old woman who is unable to spend him, or use him to benefit herself in any direct way. Perhaps she benefits indirectly through satisfaction from her actions. This old woman thinks the shilling might be lucky. She bores a hole in the unlucky shilling, then threads a string through the hole. The old woman hangs the ‘lucky’ shilling around the neck of next door’s child, as a lucky charm.

The shilling feels it is not “pleasant to have a hole bored through one” but his courage becomes obvious in his next remark that a lot can be born when something unpleasant is done but with good intent.

The shilling, after a series of further travels and adventures, eventually returns to the hands of the man who took him from the country, where he was legal money that could be spent. The man, recognising the shilling as one fron his homeland, took it home with him, much to the the coin’s joy. It is on the return home that we learn of our shillings faith, a faith that many Christians share

Do not click “continue reading”, if you do not wish to know the quoted final line of the story.

“I had no more insults or disappointments to endure; although, indeed, there was a hole
through me, as if I were false; but suspicions are nothing when a man is really true, and
everyone should persevere in acting honestly, for all will be made right in time. “That is
my firm belief,” (my emphasis) said the shilling.”


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