"The Flax" (Danish: "Hørren") is a children's fantasy story by Hans Christian Andersen first published in 1849. It tells the story of a piece of flax, from plant to finished product, and how the flax is able to interpret the word around it.
A flax plant is growing in a field, and could not be happier. The fern tells him that life is temporary, and soon enough, the song of one's life ends for everybody. The flax refutes this, saying that he has each new day to look forward to, and sees no reason that his life has to end.
One day the flax is pulled out by the roots. The flax is roasted, broken, combed, and woven in a spinning loom, this is incredibly painful for the flax, but the flax maintains that having pain alongside our happiness makes us wiser, and that there is some good in this process. At the end of the process, the flax has become a piece of beautiful linen, and is complimented by the pastor's wife. The flax rejoices that the song is not over, as the fern suggested, but he is now more beautiful than before.
Soon thereafter, the flax is cut up into pieces and pricked with needles, and sewn into twelve pairs of linen underwear. This is again a painful process, but the flax is overjoyed that he now has a practical use in the world, and is happy that through this painful transformation, he is once again able to be reborn.
Years pass, and eventually all of the underwear are worn into rags and are no longer wearable. The flax thinks that it has reached the end of its life and will soon perish, but instead the flax underwear are taken and made into a pulp and pressed into paper. The flax is elated at being able to live on in another form, and shows great pride when beautiful stories are written on him. These stories were read to many people, and contained beautiful words and important moral lessons, so the flax feels even more fulfilled at this lofty purpose.
The flax thinks that it will soon go on travels, to share the stories written on it with the world. Instead, it is sent to the printer's and the text copied so that books can be mass produced with the stories on it. The flax is surprised at first but accepts that this is the far better option, as the beautiful stories can now reach far more people. The flax thinks that it will be kept in the house as the original, like a grandfather figure to all of the printed books. But instead it is tossed in a tub full of other papers. The family discounts the idea of selling him to the grocer to wrap up butter and sugar, because the flax paper has been written over.
The children who live in the house play a game when trash is burned called "Schoolmaster." When the fire has stopped burning, they watch the sparks from the ashes escape. The children call these sparks the "school children" and the last spark the "schoolmaster." When they think the last spark has left, they shout that the students have all left and now the schoolmaster has left as well, but they are often wrong because there always seems to be another spark hidden in the ashes.
Eventually, the papers are all burned, and the flax cries out in pain. However, he notices that the flame consuming him reaches higher towards the sun, and is taller and more beautiful than he ever was as a simple flax plant. As the flax is reduced to ash, a number of tiny beings, invisible to mortal eyes, break free of the ashes and dance upon the remains of the flax. Wherever they step, sparks appear. The children sing the same song the fern once sung about one's life song being ended, but the tiny beings refute this to one another, saying "The song is never ended; the most beautiful is yet to come."