Part I


I was an early reader, and one of my favorite stories was titled “The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf” by Hans Christian Andersen. Now, this is not one of Andersen’s more popular tales, and most people I’ve known have never read it—or heard of it, in fact.   

I read this story over and over from the time I was five or six until I outgrew fairy tales, for I was captivated by its theme of redemption: Little Inger, a spoiled, self-centered, and selfish little girl one day is persuaded by the kind lady who employs her to take her old parents a freshly-baked round loaf of bread.  Unfortunately, on the way she encounters a muddy spot and uses the loaf as a stepping stone to prevent dirtying her pretty little shoes. As soon as she treads on that loaf, she and it descend into a pit filled with monstrous creatures of all kinds, the sort of creatures that inhabit the hells of children’s nightmares, including my own.  As time passes, she turns into a stony shell of herself, a statue of the sort that to the casual beholder contains no life at all and certainly has no heart. But does she remain in this horrid pit forever? No, and thus the beauty of contrition, redemption, and hope enter into the story.   

Little Inger, despite her stony shell, can still hear life above ground, and one day she hears a small child who, upon hearing her story, weeps and pleads for her return and does not mention Inger’s misdeeds.  As Andersen says, hearing that child “made her [Inger] feel quite odd.” Decades pass, and again Inger hears the small child, now an old woman on her deathbed. The woman prays for Inger, saying, “O Lord, may I not, like Inger, have trodden on Thy blessed gifts without thinking? And may I not also have nourished pride in my heart?” The old woman’s words of contrition and also the knowledge that the old woman, now an angel in Heaven, is praying for Inger and asking for mercy for her cause Inger to become contrite and ask for mercy for herself.  

Thus, the process of redemption begins.  Ultimately, Inger returns to earth in the form of a drab, gray little bird.  As a bird, she cares for the other birds, making sure that she gathers crumbs and grain for all the others and never taking more than a few bits for herself.  When Inger has collected and distributed as many grains of wheat and crumbs as the original loaf upon which she trod, Inger is transformed into a graceful and beautiful white bird that soars and disappears into the bright sunshine.  As Andersen says, “They said it flew right into the sun.” 

Yes, this is an old fashioned story, and I can imagine that it does not appeal to many children now in this day of video games and entertainment devices.  But when I was a child, I read this story over and over and remembered it, and Andersen’s message of hope gave me hope. After all, if Inger, as selfish and proud and awful as she was, could redeem herself and turn into a beautiful white bird and soar to Heaven, then there was hope for me, shame-filled and guilt-ridden child that I was.  

Just recently I had an insight into my own life that strikes me as having some amazing similarities to the tale of Little Inger.  I shall write about this next and post it this weekend.  You, as I do, may gain some hope from the story of Little Inger.  If you wish to read the entire story as written by Hans Christian Andersen, here is a link to click on: