Download the audio (Click to Play, Right Click to Save As)
This miniature fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen is so short that it's almost an anecdote, but although it's small, it's perfect in its own way.
Three animals have pretentions to jump above their stations in life and marry a princess. They all think that they have a grand and high society manner, but only one of them really understands that a little humility can go a long way in life.
Proofread by Claire Deakin.
Read by Elizabeth. Duration 6.30. Story by Hans Christian Andersen.
A flea, a grasshopper, and a leap frog once wanted to see which could jump highest; and they invited the whole world, and everybody else besides to come to see the festival. Three famous jumpers were they, as everyone would say, when they all met together in the room.
“I will give my daughter to him who jumps highest,” exclaimed the king, “for a competition without a prize would not be so amusing.”
The flea was the first to step forward. He had exquisite manners, and bowed to the company on all sides; for he had noble blood, and was, moreover, accustomed to live close to human beings - and that makes a great difference.
Then came the grasshopper. He was considerably heavier, but he was well-mannered, and wore a green uniform, which he had by right of birth. He said, moreover, that he belonged to a very ancient Egyptian family. The fact was he had been just brought out of the fields, and put in a cardboard box. “I sing so well,” said he, "that sixteen native grasshoppers grew thin from sheer envy when they heard me."
And that is how the flea and the grasshopper introduced themselves, and thought they were quite good enough to marry a princess.
The leap frog said nothing; but because he said nothing, people thought he was all the more clever. When the house-dog snuffed at him with his nose, he decided the leap frog was of good family. The old councillor asserted that the leap frog was a prophet; for one could see on his back, if there would be a severe or mild winter.
“I say nothing,” exclaimed the king; “but I have my own opinion, nonetheless.”
Now the contest was to take place. The flea jumped so high that nobody could see where he went to; so they all said he had not jumped at all, and that he had cheated.
The grasshopper jumped only half as high; but he leaped into the king’s face, and that was ill-mannered.
The leap frog stood still for a long time lost in thought; people began to think that he would not jump at all.
“I only hope he is not unwell,” said the house-dog; when, pop! He made a jump into the lap of the princess, who was sitting on a little golden stool close by.
At this, the king said, “There is nothing above my daughter; therefore nobody should jump higher than her. But for this, one must possess understanding, and the leap frog has shown that he has understanding. He is brave and intellectual.” And so he won the princess.
“It’s all the same to me,” said the flea. “She may have the old leap frog, for all I care. I jumped the highest; but in this world merit seldom meets its reward. Looks is what people appreciate nowadays.”
The flea then went to serve abroad in the army, where it is said, he was killed.
The grasshopper sat on a green bank, and reflected on worldly things; and he said too, “Yes, looks are everything. A fine appearance is what people care about.” And then he began chirping his peculiar melancholy song, from which we have taken this story; and which may, very possibly, be all untrue.