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Nature, superstition, illusion, jack-o'lantern, ignis fatuus

Description of this motif: Will-o'-the-wisps are ghosts of unrighteous people, who with their light attempt to decoy people to get lost and to get them to walk into swamps. – so wrote J.M. Thiele in Danmarks Folkesagn (1843-60), 1968, vol. 2, p. 238. Will-o'-the-wisps are usually only rather insignificant in Hans Christian Andersen's tales. In The Will-o'-the-Wisps Are in Town they play a main part, though.

Example 1:

Many tiny goblins, with will-o'-the-wisps stuck in their little caps, capered around the hall. Nobody could see the traveling companion, who had placed himself behind the throne, where he could see and hear everything. The courtiers who now appeared seemed imposing and stately enough, but any-one with an observing eye could soon see what it all meant. They were mere cabbage heads stuck upon broomsticks, which the sorcerer had dressed in embroidered clothes and conjured into liveliness. But that didn't matter, for they were only needed to keep up appearances.

After the dance had gone on for a while, the Princess told the sorcerer that she had a new suitor, and she asked what question she should put to him when he came to the palace tomorrow.

"Listen to me," said the sorcerer, "I'll tell you what; you must think of something commonplace and then he will never guess what it is. Think of one of your shoes. He won't guess that. Then off with his head, and when you come tomorrow night remember to fetch me his eyes, so that I may eat them."

Example 2:

"He won't guess it this time," said the sorcerer. "I shall hit upon something that he will never guess unless he's a greater magician than I am. But first let's have our fun.

He took the Princess by both hands, and they danced around with all the little goblins and will-o'-the-wisps that were in the hall.