GUEST POST: Suzann Thompson Retells Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Flax”
Embroidery of a flax plant, created by Suzann Thompson using yarn made from recycled fabric!
“I am the cutest!” said the flax. “Look at my pretty flowers! They are as blue as the sky itself. Also, the farmer said that I will make a fine piece of linen someday…whatever that means.”
The sun shone on the flax and its many friends and family who lived in the field. Gentle rain watered it, and it grew tall and made more flowers that were delicate as butterfly wings.
“I am happy,” said the flax.
The days grew shorter and the sun cooler. People came to the field and pulled up the flax by its roots.
The flax cried, “Ouch! That hurts! What is happening?”
The people plunged the flax into water and left it for days.
“First they tear me out of the warm earth, and then they try to drown me,” said the flax mournfully. “I guess happiness doesn’t last forever.”
Finally the people took the flax out of the water and pulled off its leaves, which were by that time, I’m sorry to say, rotten. They placed the flax next to a fire to dry.
“Now they’re roasting me!” cried the flax, shocked at this ill-treatment. It tried to see the good side of the situation: “Maybe these sad experiences will teach me wisdom,” it said.
The people soaked and roasted and peeled and broke and combed the flax. Then they spun the flax around so fast it couldn’t even think.
“I’m glad I knew happiness once,” said the flax. “The thought of it comforts me in my pain.”
The flax and its friends and family were now thin, strong threads. A person threaded them on a loom and wove them together.
“Oh!” said the flax. “I see! It’s true that I suffered, but now I have become a beautiful length of linen fabric. Look at me! I’m so strong and light. This is far better than being a plant in a field.”
The flax was happy again. “I am so lucky,” it said.
A person bought the linen and took it home. The person cut the linen into pieces. Once more the flax which was now part of the linen said, “Ouch!” The linen was pricked with needles and pressed with a hot iron. “Ouch again!” said the linen.
When the person finished, the linen was an embroidered tablecloth, with matching cloth serviettes and monogrammed tea towels. It lay on the table during many meals and afternoon coffee klatches. Visitors commented how well the linen tablecloth looked with its matching accessories.
“Ah, to be useful and beautiful and admired must be the best of all worlds,” sighed the linen. “I’m happy.”
The linen cloth was used for so long, it wore out.
“I have worked hard, and now I am frayed and torn,” said the linen. “This must be the end.”
A person took the linen tatters to a mill, where they were shredded and soaked in water. They were pounded into a pulp. “Ouch,” said the linen in a tired, worn out voice. “Who knew the end would be so unpleasant?”
When the linen pulp awoke, it was dry and flat and thin. “Wait—what?” cried the linen. “I seem to be paper now. How wonderful!”
The linen paper was bought by a poet, who wrote funny, wise, sad, and glorious poems on the paper.
“How strange to think I once lived in a field. True, I had lovely blue flowers. I’ve been through many changes since then. Some were painful, but I feel I have become wiser,” said the linen paper which was once the flax.
The poet put the linen paper into a notebook and took it to coffee houses to read the wise and sad poems to coffee drinkers. The poet read the funny and wise poems to school children. The poet’s glorious poems were set to music and sung far and wide.
“Once, when I was a plant, I was delighted by the sun and rain,” reflected the linen paper. “Now that I am paper, the words written upon me delight people of all ages. The words help people remember things and think about their lives. By this, I am delighted beyond words.”
The poet grew old and stored the notebook with the linen paper on a bookshelf. The flax plant that became cloth that became paper is still there, wondering where fate might lead it next.
This retelling is ©2015 by Suzann Thompson. Used with permission.
A translation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Flax” is available here.
The flowers and leaves in the illustration are crocheted with Berroco’s Remix®, which is a tweedy yarn blended from nylon, cotton, acrylic, silk, and linen, all of which are recycled from post-industrial waste.