"Find Your Fortune"

- by Gill Kirk, adapted from The Flying Trunk by Hans Christian Andersen

Once upon a time there lived a merchant. He was a very good man and a very rich one.  He loved his city and everyone in it. And as he became more successful, he made more money, and gave more to the city. He had a son, who enjoyed the things the money bought him. But when he saw his father spending on the city, he’d say, “Dad, why are you building a museum when you could be giving me a round-the-world holiday?” and “Dad, you’ve built three theatres and seven schools - but where is my seventh white horse for my stables?” 


The merchant would reply, “Child, I give you more than enough to make any child happy. The most loving thing I can do is improve the world you live in. When I share my good luck, by building schools and parks and laboratories and museums and theatres and sports halls, then everyone gets to explore and adventure and create and change the world for the better. That makes us much richer than if we kept it all for ourselves.” But his son would shrug his shoulders, sulkily, and sit with all his horses and toys and jewels and other expensive things and moan about what he hadn’t got. 


The years passed, and the boy grew up. And after a happy life full of friendship and creativity, the old merchant died.  Thanks to him, and others who followed his example, the city was a wonderful place. It was full of kind and smart people who loved asking questions, discovering new things, pushing at the edge of impossible and telling stories about it all in a hundred different ways. 


Now, as is the way of things, the son inherited his father’s wealth. The problem was, he hadn’t really grown-up at all. He was still spoilt. He was still selfish. He was still moany about money, and generally ungrateful for the good things in life. 


And now he had all his father’s money and no-one to tell him what to do. “WOO HOO!” he yelled. “Look at me! I’m rich! And no-one’s going to tell me what to do!”  Every night, he had wild parties with the people who liked getting drunk ’til they fell over.  They burn fifty pound notes to show off how rich they were. They would make wishes in the wishing pond with gold instead of pennies, and laugh loudly when people said they were wasting his father’s money, and not using it for good. 


This went on for a few years. The people of the city were sad to see the young man’s behaviour and many tried to give him advice. What advice would you give him? Do you think he listened? Sadly, no, he didn’t. 


Eventually, when his face was getting wrinkles from all the late nights and his hair going thin from all the bad food, and his clothes couldn’t reach round his growing belly, the young man’s money ran out. All he had left were his slippers, pyjamas, dressing gown and some coins. He had even run out of friends.


But of course, there were people who cared for him. One day, he had a delivery. A present from his father’s old friends. He ripped the paper from the large, bulky parcel, to uncover an old chest; the sort where pirates keep treasure. He opened it eagerly, looking for gold and jewels. “For goodness’ sake!” he whinged. “A letter?!” Ungratefully, he opened the letter that lay inside. It just said this: “Pack up your things and find your fortune.”


“Pack up my things?” moaned the young man. “What things?!” And he plonked himself inside the trunk for a bit of a sulk. 


Then something happened.  The trunk began to fly! Up the chimney it went, with the young man inside, whoosh, into the clouds.  The young man peeped out and below him were the roofs of the city. The mountains by the sea. The ocean and a far, foreign land. 


The trunk came in to land in a dark, thick forest. He climbed out and looked around. On the edge of the woods he saw houses and a castle. He hid the trunk under some leaves, and walked into town. It was not like any town he had seen before. Where were the parks? Where were the theatres? The sports halls? The laboratories or schools? Well, whatever the facilities, as a very important man in his own home, he should introduce himself to the most important people here. 


He stopped a lady with her child. “Excuse me,” he said. “Who lives in that castle? I must introduce myself.” The lady looked at the shabby man in his slippers and dressing gown and tried not to giggle, because that would be rude. 


“The king’s daughter, of course,” she said, “because of the prophecy.”

“What prophecy?” said the man. 

“Don’t you know? Only her parents can visit, in case the prophecy comes true!”

“What does it say?” asked the man, intrigued.  The woman rolled her eyes.

“They think she will meet a man who will make her unhappy and force her to leave. So to stop her ever being unhappy and leaving, her parents won’t let her meet anyone.”


The man shook his head. “Well I am going to meet her. I could never make anyone unhappy,” he said, and off he went back to the forest, leaving the lady wondering if she should tell the police that there was a strange man in pyjamas threatening to break into the castle. 


He went to the wood, got in the trunk and flew to the roof of the castle. He  looked in through the highest window where he saw a sleeping woman. Did he knock? Did he wait to be invited? No. He climbed through the window and stood over the sleeping princess. Did he cough gently to let her know he was there? Did he turn round and leave, realising this was not a good thing to do?


No. He just stood there, peering. In his stinky pyjamas. He leant over to kiss her - and his bottom made the loudest noise a bottom could ever make. Not surprisingly, the princess woke up.  “What’s that SMELL?!” she choked. And then she saw him. “Did YOU do that?!”


This wasn’t what he had expected! In the fairy stories he’d heard, men climbed into sleeping princesses’ bedrooms all the time, kissed them if they fancied it, and the lady would fall in love with him forever. Maybe he shouldn’t have woken her with his bottom. “I’m going to call the guards,” she said.

“No, no! Please don't!” said the man.

“Give me one good reason” she, knowing that there wasn’t one, but curious to see what this dirty, bottom-burping idiot was going to say.  She was an ace with a sword, a demon with a dagger and had a scream so loud it could break glass. With her guards just outside, she was confident this loser couldn’t hurt her. 


“Because I’m - I’m - I’m - I’m - an angel! Only you can see me!” 

“What a fool,” she thought. But she was tired of being alone all the time, so she thought, “Let’s see if he’s got anything interesting to say.”


“Oh! An angel?” she said, pretending to believe him. And because no-one had ever disagreed with or challenged or laughed at him ever, the young man had no idea that anyone could think he was a boring, big-headed show-off.


While the princess pretended to be believe his stories, the man talked all night, telling her grander and grander tales of his amazingness. He said he was a very special angel, who had come from the heavens just to see her because she was so beautiful and clever. And she thought, “I don’t care if I’m beautiful, but how can he know if I’m clever if he never lets me speak?!” And she was right - he was so busy talking about himself that she never said a word.


At dawn, the sun came up and the princess yawned, wishing he would leave, and the young man asked her to marry him.


“Oh, dear,” she thought. “The first man I meet breaks into my bedroom, wakes me up with his bottom, thinks I’m a stupid fool who’ll believe he’s an angel and he half-believes he IS an angel. After telling me how wonderful he is for 7 hours, now he wants to marry me. I really have to get out more.” 


“Well, will you marry me?” repeated the young man. 


The princess thought. Now, more than ever, she knew she had to get away from this castle-prison and a future filled with selfish, thoughtless people like this. But how? She needed a few days to think. So she said,


“My parents believe that I will meet someone who will make me unhappy and I will leave” she said. “But if they see you are an angel, who will stay with me here forever and never make me sad, I’m sure they will let us marry. Come back on Saturday and you can meet them.”


“I’d love to meet your parents,” said the young man. “But angels don't have money, so I won’t be able to give them a present.” “That’s OK!” said the princess, who hadn’t expected any generosity from this self-obsessed man. “You tell such wonderful stories; give them one of those.”


“Then I’ll see you on Saturday,” said the man.  “Now close your eyes while I fly back to heaven.” The princess pretended to shut her eyes and watched him jump in his trunk and fly out the window.  She was starting to see how she might make her escape….



All week the young man worked on telling the best story he could think of, so that the king and queen would be so impressed and say he could marry their rich daughter. He imagined his life in the palace as a prince, never working, telling people what to do, and eventually, becoming King. Ah, what a life it would be, and no more than he deserved.



Saturday came. In his smelly pyjamas, the “angel” came to tea. The princess said he had brought them a story, so her parents sat down to listen. Here it is:


“Once upon a time, there was a bundle of matches. They had been cut from an ancient pine-tree, and were very proud of this grand family tree.  Now they lived in a kitchen, and liked showing off about their past. “Oh, we lived on the greenest branches,” they boasted. “Every morning and night we fed on diamond dew drops. We bathed in the rays of the golden sun and the birds sang to us all day and all night. We were rich, and wore green all year round. 


“But, alas! One day the wood-cutter came and cut our family to the ground. But we went on to great things. The head of the family became the mast for a ship that sails all over the world! Some of us host banquets for kings and queens, as tables and chairs! And we little matches might look small, but we light up the world. We are very, very important.”


All the plates and knives and pots and pans in the kitchen smiled at the matches. Some of them were about to tell their family stories but then the kitchen maid came in and they had to be quiet.  She walked to the matches, picked them up and lit them - and how brightly they spluttered and blazed!


“How wonderful!” said the matches, “Look how we shine brighter than all of you!” But the second they had that thought, their wood burnt up, their light went out and their job was done. They were matches no more.” 


“What a wise story,” said the queen. “You must marry our daughter, dearest angel.” The princess tried not to roll her eyes. All she wanted was to explore the world, see far-off lands, and enjoy the museums and libraries and parks that she had heard her guards talk about.  If marrying an angel in pyjamas would set her free, so be it. “Hear, hear,” said the king, “what a funny tale. You must marry our daughter, dear angel; she’ll never leave here now she’s met you!” The princess held her breath and wondered how her parents had ever got so bonkers. 


The wedding-day was set, with a great celebration planned for the night before. But the princess had a plan of her own. And she had found a map….



It was the night of the party. The young man loved being the centre of attention. Everyone thought he was an amazing angel who had saved them from prophesied future of the princess’s broken heart and her leaving the city.  Suddenly, he had a brainwave. “I’ll give my people a treat,” he said, imagining that he would one day be king, and far more important than his father ever was.


He found where the guards had stored all the fireworks, for the end of the party, and put them in his trunk. He flew high up into the air, up, up and up. Then he lit the first firework and shouted to the people below: “Look at me! Look at me! See how I shine much brighter than you!” he called. “Amn’t I wonderful!? I will be your angel prince and protect you forever more!” One by one, the fireworks which the guards had saved up for later, went off. Their great creative plans for their firework display and the end of the party had been ruined. 


Hidden in the forest, when everyone thought she was asleep in bed, the princess shook her head with sadness. Once the fireworks were all used up, she watched him fly back down into the woods and hide his trunk under a bush. 


Wanting to hear what everyone was saying about him, he walked back into the city. He heard people talking about seeing the angel, how he would save the city and the princess and make a wonderful king. Tomorrow, he thought, he would be a prince and would never have to do anything ever again. He could not wait. Just one more night of sleeping in the trunk…


When he returned to the forest, he couldn’t find the trunk. He was sure he’d hidden it under this bush, but it wasn’t there. He hunted all night, his panic rising. Without the trunk he could not fly. If he could not fly, he was not an angel! If he was not an angel, he couldn’t marry the princess! And he cursed the princess and the king and queen and the people of the city for wanting an angel for a prince instead of an ordinary merchant’s son, and he called them horrible names for believing a single word he had told them. 


But of course, that didn’t bother the princess one little bit. She was far, far away, flying over the sea and the mountains and in fact, at that very moment, landing in a flying trunk in a wonderful, creative city, full of people who loved asking questions and making and exploring and discovering and inventing and playing, full of libraries and museums and laboratories and theatres and schools. And she knew that her life would be the biggest adventure of all. 

The end

Let’s Think!

  • Both the princess and the merchant’s son had parents who wanted to keep them safe - did they get it right?

  • What can happen if you always get what you want?

  • How were the princess and the merchant’s son different?

  • Which place would you prefer to live in? The creative city or the one where people believed the princess was marrying an angel?