Once, there lived a pretty little girl with her mother. They lived in small village not so far away. The little girl was always barefoot because she and her mother were too poor to buy her a pair of shoes. The little girl’s name was Karen.
In winter, Karen had to wear very large wooden shoes, which made her little insteps quite red, and that looked so dangerous! Her feet hurt from the wooden shoes.
One day, the shoemaker’s wife who lived in the middle of the village made Karen a pair of red shoes. She intended to give it to Karen. She wrapped it in a beautiful wrapping paper and put it in a box.
Karen’s mother was very ill so she went to buy her some medicine. On her way back, the shoemakers wife handed her the box and Karen hurriedly went home. When she got home, her mother had died from her illness and Karen was sad.
At her mother’s funeral, Karen wore the red shoes for the first time and everyone was astonished because they were not mourning shoes. Just then, a large old lady passed by in a carriage and saw Karen.
The old woman felt pity for Karen and invited her into her carriage.
“You poor thing! I will take care of you” the old lady assured her and Karen followed her.
The old lady didn’t like the red shoes on her feet so she burnt them. The old lady took care of Karen until she was grown up and very pretty.
One day the queen and her little princess were passing by. Everyone stared at the beautiful princess, even Karen. The little princess wore red morocco shoes and Karen admired it.
The little princess’s red shoes were more beautiful than the one the old shoemaker’s wife made her and she wanted a pair just like that. The old lady would not allow her to have one.
When Karen was old enough to be confirmed, the old lady took her to the rich shoemaker’s shop for a new pair of shoes. Karen wanted a pair of red shoes she saw in the show glass but they were made for the count’s daughter.
Karen insisted on having the red shoes but the old lady was very old and couldn’t see that Karen had picked a pair of red shoes.
Karen wore the red shoes to church for her confirmation and the congregation was shocked. No one ever wore red shoes to be confirmed, only black shoes!
The old lady asked her to take off her red shoes at once but she refused. Suddenly, a soldier with long red beards appeared and when he saw the little’s girl red shoes, he became excited and said “Look, what beautiful dancing shoes!”
Karen could not help dancing a step or two. Her feet continued to dance like the shoes had power over them. When she took off the red shoes, her feet stopped dancing and she was relieved.
Now the old lady was sick, and Karen was looking after her then an invitation for Karen arrived. She had been invited to a great ball in the city. Karen decided to leave the helpless old woman and attend the ball.
She put on the red shoes and went to the ball and began to dance. Suddenly, she had no control over her feet and continued to dance until her feet hurt and she started to cry.
Then the soldier with red beards appeared and commanded her to dance until the end of time. He said:
“Dance in your red shoes until your skin is pale and cold! Dance from door to door, and where proud, vain children dwell. They will hear you knock and they will be afraid”
“Mercy!” Karen cried out but she kept dancing and dancing. If only she had listened to the old lady and went for a pair of black shoes.