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"The Red Shoes"
IIlustration by Vilhelm Pedersen, for Hans Christian Andersen's "Red Shoes".jpg
Illustration by Vilhelm Pedersen
Author Hans Christian Andersen
Original title "De røde sko"
Country Denmark
Language Danish
Genre(s) Literary fairy tale
Published in New Fairy Tales. First Volume. Third Collection (Nye Eventyr. Første Bind. Tredie Samling)
Publication type Fairy tale collection
Publisher C. A. Reitzel
Media type Print
Publication date 7 April 1845

"The Red Shoes" (Danish: De røde sko) is a literary fairy tale by Danish poet and author Hans Christian Andersen first published by C.A. Reitzel in Copenhagen 7 April 1845 in New Fairy Tales. First Volume. Third Collection (Nye Eventyr. Første Bind. Tredie Samling). Other tales in the volume include "The Elf Mound" (Elverhøi), "The Jumpers" (Springfyrene), "The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep" (Hyrdinden og Skorstensfejeren), and "Holger Danske" (Holger Danske).

The tale was republished 18 December 1849 as a part of Fairy Tales. 1850. (Eventyr. 1850.) and again on 30 March 1863 as a part of Fairy Tales and Stories. Second Volume. 1863. (Eventyr og Historier. Andet Bind. 1863.). The story is about a girl forced to dance continually in her red shoes. "The Red Shoes" has seen adaptations in various media including film.

Plot summary

A peasant girl named Karen is adopted by a rich old lady after her mother's death and grows up vain and spoiled. Before her adoption, Karen had a roughly-made pair of red shoes; after, she has her foster mother buy her a pair of red shoes fit for a princess. Karen is so enamored of her new shoes that she wears them to church, but the old lady tells her, "This is highly improper: you must only wear black shoes in church". But the following Sunday, Karen is unable to resist putting the red shoes on again. As she is about to enter the church, she meets a mysterious old soldier with a red beard. "Oh, what beautiful shoes for dancing," the soldier says. "Never come off when you dance," he tells the shoes, and he taps each of the shoes with his hand. After church, Karen cannot resist taking a few dance steps, and off she goes, as though the shoes controlled her, but she finally manages to stop them after a few minutes.

After her adoptive mother becomes ill and passes away, Karen doesn't attend her foster mother's funeral, choosing to go to a dance instead. Once again her shoes take control and this time she is unable to stop dancing. An angel appears to her, bearing a sword, and condemns her to dance even after she dies, as a warning to vain children everywhere. Karen begs for mercy but the red shoes take her away before she hears the angel's reply.

Karen finds an executioner and asks him to chop off her feet. He does so but the shoes continue to dance, even with Karen's amputated feet inside them. The executioner gives her a pair of wooden feet and crutches. Thinking that she has suffered enough for the red shoes, Karen decides to go to church so people can see her. Yet her amputated feet, still in the red shoes, dance before her, barring the way. The following Sunday she tries again, thinking she is at least as good as the others in church, but again the dancing red shoes bar the way.

When Sunday comes again Karen dares not go to church. Instead she sits alone at home and prays to God for help. The angel reappears, now bearing a spray of roses, and gives Karen the mercy she asked for: her heart becomes so filled with peace and joy that it bursts. Her soul flies on to Heaven, where no one mentions the red shoes.


Andersen named the story's anti-heroine Karen after his own loathed half-sister, Karen Marie Andersen. The origins of the story is based on an incident Andersen witnessed as a small child. His father, who was a shoemaker, was sent a piece of red silk by a rich lady to make a pair of dancing slippers for her daughter. Using some red leather along with the silk, he carefully created a pair of shoes only for the rich customer to tell him they were awful. She said he had done nothing but spoil her silk. To which his father replied, "In that case, I may as well spoil my leather too," and he cut up the shoes in front of her.


  • The Red Shoes is a 1948 British feature film about ballet. The film tells the story of a young ballerina who joins an established ballet company and becomes the lead dancer in a new ballet called The Red Shoes, based on the fairy tale. Her desire to dance conflicts with her need for love, ultimately leading to her death.
  • Tale Spinners for Children adapted the story as an audio drama (United Artist Records 11063), changing some details of the story: Karen takes dancing lessons and schemes to be given the lead role in a recital before the Queen, rehearsing even though her benefactress has become gravely ill. Choosing to dance at the recital as her benefactress dies, the red dancing shoes made especially for her become permanently attached to her feet and she is condemned to dance until she truly repents. Unlike the original story, in which her feet are amputated, Karen merely continues to dance until she is unable to even walk.
  • The Red Shoes was adapted as a ballet by the choreographer Matthew Bourne, and premiered at Sadler's Wells Theatre London in December 2016.
  • British singer-songwriter Kate Bush's seventh album, The Red Shoes, was named after Michael Powell's film and Andersen's fairy tale.
  • The Red Shoes is a 2013 novel by John Stewart Wynne. It is a re-visioning of the story, set in contemporary New York City.
  • The Red Shoes is a 2005 Korean horror film inspired by the fairy tale.
  • Barbie in the Pink Shoes is a 2013 Barbie movie loosely based on the fairy tale.
  • "The Red Shoes" has been adapted by the Cornish theater company, Kneehigh.
  • "The Red Shoes" has been adapted by the Austin-based aerial arts collective Sky Candy into a cirque noir aerial ballet. It debuted May 6, 2011 at the Vortex theater in Austin, Texas.
  • "The Red Shoes" is a flamenco fairytale - a flamenco music and dance adaptation by A'lante Dance Ensemble choreographed by Olivia Chacon
  • "The Red Shoes" became an inspiration for a song of the same title, performed by South Korean singer IU, from her third studio album Modern Times.
  • "The Red Shoes" was parodied in the 1951 Looney Tunes short, "The Wearing of the Grin".
  • "The Dance of Death" is a novel by Jo Gibson featuring a pair of red shoes that grant the wearer a massive amount of talent but at a price. The wearer is eventually struck with a case of bad luck. At one point a girl almost dances herself to death.
  • "Red Theatre" is a manga series by Ogawa Chise based on kusayama masao translation of "The Red Shoes"
  • "It's Okay To Be Not Okay" is a South Korean Drama in which this tale is narrated in episode 2 titled "The Red Shoes"
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