Gender-Flipped Tales: The Shepherd and the Sweep


Have you ever seen an old wooden cupboard quite black with age, and ornamented with carved foliage and curious figures? Well, just such a cupboard stood in a parlor, and had been left to the family as a legacy by the great-grandfather. It was covered from top to bottom with carved roses and tulips; the most curious scrolls were drawn upon it, and out of them peeped little stags’ heads, with antlers. In the middle of the cupboard door was the carved figure of a woman most ridiculous to look at. She grinned at you, for no one could call it laughing. She had goat’s legs, little horns on her head, and long hair; the children in the room always called her, “Major general-field-sergeant-commander Billy-goat’s-legs.” It was certainly a very difficult name to pronounce, and there are very few who ever receive such a title, but then it seemed wonderful how she came to be carved at all; yet there she was, always looking at the table under the looking-glass, where stood a very handsome little shepherd made of china. His shoes were gilt, and his suit had a red rose or an ornament. He wore a hat, and carried a crook, that were both gilded, and looked very bright and pretty. Close by his side stood a little chimney-sweep, as black as coal, and also made of china. She was, however, quite as clean and neat as any other china figure; she only represented a black chimney-sweep, and the china workers might just as well have made her a princess, had they felt inclined to do so. She stood holding her ladder quite handily, and her face was as fair and rosy as a boy’s; indeed, that was rather a mistake, it should have had some black marks on it. She and the shepherd had been placed close together, side by side; and, being so placed, they became engaged to each other, for they were very well suited, being both made of the same sort of china, and being equally fragile. Close to them stood another figure, three times as large as they were, and also made of china. She was an old Chinawoman, who could nod her head, and used to pretend that she was the grandmother of the shepherd, although she could not prove it. She however assumed authority over him, and therefore when “Major-general-field-sergeant-commander Billy-goat’s-legs” asked for the little shepherd to be her husband, she nodded her head to show that she consented. “You will have a wife,” said the old Chinawoman to him, “who I really believe is made of mahogany. She will make you a gentleman of Major-general-field-sergeant-commander Billy-goat’s-legs. She has the whole cupboard full of silver plate, which she keeps locked up in secret drawers.”

“I won’t go into the dark cupboard,” said the little shepherd. “I have heard that she has eleven china husbands there already.”
“Then you shall be the twelfth,” said the old Chinawoman. “To-night as soon as you hear a rattling in the old cupboard, you shall be married, as true as I am a Chinawoman;” and then she nodded her head and fell asleep.

Then the little shepherd cried, and looked at his sweetheart, the china chimney-sweep. “I must entreat you,” said he, “to go out with me into the wide world, for we cannot stay here.”

“I will do whatever you wish,” said the little chimney-sweep; “let us go immediately: I think I shall be able to maintain you with my profession.”

“If we were but safely down from the table!” said he; “I shall not be happy till we are really out in the world.”

Then she comforted him, and showed him how to place his little foot on the carved edge and gilt-leaf ornaments of the table. She brought her little ladder to help him, and so they contrived to reach the floor. But when they looked at the old cupboard, they saw it was all in an uproar. The carved stags pushed out their heads, raised their antlers, and twisted their necks. The major-general sprung up in the air; and cried out to the old Chinawoman, “They are running away! they are running away!” The two were rather frightened at this, so they jumped into the drawer of the window-seat. Here were three or four packs of cards not quite complete, and a doll’s theater, which had been built up very neatly. A comedy was being performed in it, and all the kings of diamonds, clubs, and hearts, and spades, sat in the first row fanning themselves with tulips, and behind them stood all the knaves, showing that they had heads above and below as playing cards generally have. The play was about two lovers, who were not allowed to marry, and the shepherd wept because it was so like his own story. “I cannot bear it,” said he, “I must get out of the drawer;” but when they reached the floor, and cast their eyes on the table, there was the old Chinawoman awake and shaking her whole body, till all at once down she came on the floor, “plump.” “The old Chinawoman is coming,” cried the little shepherd in a fright, and down he fell on one knee.

Toy Theater“I have thought of something,” said the chimney-sweep; “let us get into the great potpourri jar which stands in the corner; there we can lie on rose-leaves and lavender, and throw salt in her eyes if she comes near us.”

“No, that will never do,” said he, “because I know that the Chinawoman and the potpourri jar were lovers once, and there always remains behind a feeling of good-will between those who have been so intimate as that. No, there is nothing left for us but to go out into the wide world.”

“Have you really courage enough to go out into the wide world with me?” said the chimney-sweep; “have you thought how large it is, and that we can never come back here again?”

“Yes, I have,” he replied.

When the chimney-sweep saw that he was quite firm, she said, “My way is through the stove and up the chimney. Have you courage to creep with me through the fire-box, and the iron pipe? When we get to the chimney I shall know how to manage very well. We shall soon climb too high for any one to reach us, and we shall come through a hole in the top out into the wide world.” So she led him to the door of the stove.

“It looks very dark,” said he; still he went in with her through the stove and through the pipe, where it was as dark as pitch.
“Now we are in the chimney,” said she; “and look, there is a beautiful star shining above it.” It was a real star shining down upon them as if it would show them the way. So they clambered, and crept on, and a frightful steep place it was; but the chimney-sweep helped him and supported him, till they got higher and higher. She showed him the best places on which to set his little china foot, so at last they reached the top of the chimney, and sat themselves down, for they were very tired, as may be supposed. The sky, with all its stars, was over their heads, and below were the roofs of the town. They could see for a very long distance out into the wide world, and the poor little shepherd leaned his head on his chimney-sweep’s shoulder, and wept till he washed the gilt off his sash; the world was so different to what he expected. “This is too much,” he said; “I cannot bear it, the world is too large. Oh, I wish I were safe back on the table. again, under the looking glass; I shall never be happy till I am safe back again. Now I have followed you out into the wide world, you will take me back, if you love me.”

Broken ChinaThen the chimney-sweep tried to reason with him, and spoke of the old Chinawoman, and of the Major-general-field-sergeant-commander Billy-goat’s legs; but he sobbed so bitterly, and kissed his little chimney-sweep till she was obliged to do all he asked, foolish as it was. And so, with a great deal of trouble, they climbed down the chimney, and then crept through the pipe and stove, which were certainly not very pleasant places. Then they stood in the dark fire-box, and listened behind the door, to hear what was going on in the room. As it was all quiet, they peeped out. Alas! there lay the old Chinawoman on the floor; she had fallen down from the table as she attempted to run after them, and was broken into three pieces; her back had separated entirely, and her head had rolled into a corner of the room. The major-general stood in her old place, and appeared lost in thought.

“This is terrible,” said the little shepherd. “My poor old grandmother is broken to pieces, and it is our fault. I shall never live after this;” and he wrung his little hands.

“She can be riveted,” said the chimney-sweep; “she can be riveted. Do not be so hasty. If they cement her back, and put a good rivet in it, she will be as good as new, and be able to say as many disagreeable things to us as ever.”

“Do you think so?” said he; and then they climbed up to the table, and stood in their old places.

“As we have done no good,” said the chimney-sweep, “we might as well have remained here, instead of taking so much trouble.”

“I wish grandmother was riveted,” said the shepherd. “Will it cost much, I wonder?”

And he had her wish. The family had the Chinawoman’s back mended, and a strong rivet put through her neck; she looked as good as new, but she could no longer nod her head.

“You have become proud since your fall broke you to pieces,” said Major-general-field-sergeant-commander Billy-goat’s-legs. “You have no reason to give yourself such airs. Am I to have him or not?”

The chimney-sweep and the little shepherd looked piteously at the old Chinawoman, for they were afraid she might nod; but she was not able: besides, it was so tiresome to be always telling strangers she had a rivet in the back of her neck.

And so the little china people remained together, and were glad of the grandmother’s rivet, and continued to love each other till they were broken to pieces.

by Hans Christian Andersen (available in its original form at Hans Christian Andersen: Fairy Tales and Stories)


This story flipped fairly painlessly, but I’m not sure that it works as well as some of the others have. The shepherd’s weepiness doesn’t seem as appropriate in a man as it did in a woman (now, I never thought it very appropriate or appealing, but still…). The cupboard’s title (Major-general-field-sergeant-commander Billy-goat’s-legs) also seems a little odd now. There is nothing inherently gendered in there (I thought about flipping Billy, but since the phrase “billy-goat” gets used for both genders of goats indiscriminately, I decided against it), but it feels like something should change about it. Still, I left it as it was. I liked the meddling grandparent figure just as well as a grandmother, even if the word “chinawoman” is a little more cumbersome than “chinaman”. Neither is a great word anyway, if you ask me. Overall, I think the story works ok. Suggestions and comments are welcome, as always!

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