Day 27: Fairy Tale Poll!

OK, so now that we’ve discussed these tales, included how they’ve been changed, what version is your favorite?

Let’s have a poll!

Feel free to explain your answer  in the comments!

Day 23: The Red Shoes

First off: If you haven’t seen the 1946 movie that’s based on Andersen’s story, do it now! It’s an incredible film. Yes, it might be hard to find. It’s also a Criterion Collection DVD and those are pricey. But if you love dance or the performing arts, it’s a must-have.

Moira Shearer as Victoria Page in “The Red Shoes”

Today, however, we’ll talk about the Andersen story. Andersen said that the idea was taken from life. His father was a cobbler, and a wealthy customer wanted a pair of red silk shoes for her daughter. The customer sent him the material to be used, and the cobbler carefully made a pair of shoes to her specifications. However, when the woman came to pick them up, she said they were nothing by trash and that he had ruined her silk. Andersen’s father replied that he might as well ruin his leather, too, and cut up the shoes.

The Red Shoes, published in 1845, tells the story of a girl named Karen, an peasant girl who is adopted by a wealthy old woman after her mother’s death. Before her adoption, Karen had a rough, worn pair of red shoes that she had made out of a piece of old cloth. But now, Karen wants a pair of red shoes, fit for a princess, and convinces her  new mother to buying her a gorgeous pair of red shoes to replace the tattered pair. Karen wears the shoes to her confirmation ceremony, where she pays no attention to the service and instead indulges her vanity. She continues to do this regardless of her mother’s disapproval and stares from the congregation.

Karen’s mother becomes ill, but instead of staying home with her, Karen attends a party, wearing her shoes. A soldier appears and tells her she has beautiful dancing shoes. At this, Karen begins to dance, but finds she cannot stop. The shoes take over, and she dances night and day, without rest. She dances in all weather conditions, through rough brambles that tear her skin, and even misses her adopted mother’s funeral, all because of the tyrannical shoes. An angel appears to her, wielding a heavenly sword, and Karen begs him to release her from the shoe’s power, but the angel refuses, condemning her to dance until she dies as a warning to other vain children.

One of Vilhelm Pedersen’s illustrations for “The Red Shoes”

Karen finds an executioner and begs him to chop off her feet so she can be free of the shoes. He does so, and the shows continue to dance, even separated from Karen’s body. The executioner gives her a pair of wooden feet, and crutches. Thinking she has suffered enough, she heads to a church to pray for forgiveness, but she cannot enter–her dancing feet in the red shoes bar the way. She tries again next Sunday, but still the feet do not allow her passage.

Karen gets a job as the parsonage’s maid, but she doesn’t attempt to go to church again. Instead, she sits alone and prays to God for help. The angel she had seen previously re-appears, now bearing a bouquet of roses, and gives Karen the mercy she asked for. Her heart becomes so filled with joy that it bursts, and she is taken up to heaven, where no one mentions the red shoes.

In the film The Red Shoes, Andersen’s story is the pivotal ballet in the plot, rocketing dancer Vicki Page to international fame. But the shoes are also symbolic, in that Vicki has to chose between her dancing, or the love of her life, Julian, the composer and conductor for the ballet company. Eventually, the shoes drive her to her death, just as they would have done for Andersen’s Karen.

Day 22: Under the Sea

The “real” Little Mermaid doesn’t get her prince….

I really wish that The Little Mermaid’s ending was as happy as the Disney version’s.

Sadly, that is not the case…

Andersen’s Little Mermaid is a bit longer, and a lot darker. (Gee, where have we heard that before?). The story was also originally written as a ballet; the story was published in 1837.

Here are the differences:

  • Once The Mermaid reaches 15, she will be able to go above the water and look at the world above, on land.  All her sisters have gone before her, and told of the wonders they have seen above. But after they have seen the world, they are content with their lives in the sea.
  • The Little Mermaid finally turns 15, and she sees the young prince (also nameless) on his boat, celebrating his birthday. A storm comes, and she saves him and takes him to shore. She hides herself in the waves, watching to see what becomes of him. A girl comes upon him and helps him back to the castle, and he does not see the mermaid who was his true rescuer.
  • She becomes infatuated with him; her sisters eventually show her where he lives, and she spends many days watching him and learning about him. She becomes curious: since the prince didn’t drown, can human beings not die? She asks her grandmother:

 “If human beings are not drowned,” asked the little mermaid, “can they live forever? do they never die as we do here in the sea?”

     “Yes,” replied the old lady, “they must also die, and their term of life is even shorter than ours. We sometimes live to three hundred years, but when we cease to exist here we only become the foam on the surface of the water, and we have not even a grave down here of those we love. We have not immortal souls, we shall never live again; but, like the green sea-weed, when once it has been cut off, we can never flourish more. Human beings, on the contrary, have a soul which lives forever, lives after the body has been turned to dust. It rises up through the clear, pure air beyond the glittering stars. As we rise out of the water, and behold all the land of the earth, so do they rise to unknown and glorious regions which we shall never see.”

 “Why have not we an immortal soul?” asked the little mermaid mournfully; “I would give gladly all the hundreds of years that I have to live, to be a human being only for one day, and to have the hope of knowing the happiness of that glorious world above the stars.”

     “You must not think of that,” said the old woman; “we feel ourselves to be much happier and much better off than human beings.”

     “So I shall die,” said the little mermaid, “and as the foam of the sea I shall be driven about never again to hear the music of the waves, or to see the pretty flowers nor the red sun. Is there anything I can do to win an immortal soul?”

     “No,” said the old woman, “unless a man were to love you so much that you were more to him than his father or mother; and if all his thoughts and all his love were fixed upon you, and the priest placed his right hand in yours, and he promised to be true to you here and hereafter, then his soul would glide into your body and you would obtain a share in the future happiness of mankind. He would give a soul to you and retain his own as well; but this can never happen. Your fish’s tail, which amongst us is considered so beautiful, is thought on earth to be quite ugly; they do not know any better, and they think it necessary to have two stout props, which they call legs, in order to be handsome.”

  • The mermaid decides that she wants to win an immortal soul, and so goes to the Sea Witch, of whom she has always been very much afraid. The witch tells her that she can turn the mermaid into a human, but there is a price:

“Your tail will then disappear, and shrink up into what mankind calls legs, and you will feel great pain, as if a sword were passing through you. But all who see you will say that you are the prettiest little human being they ever saw. You will still have the same floating gracefulness of movement, and no dancer will ever tread so lightly; but at every step you take it will feel as if you were treading upon sharp knives, and that the blood must flow. If you will bear all this, I will help you.”

     “Yes, I will,” said the little princess in a trembling voice, as she thought of the prince and the immortal soul.

     “But think again,” said the witch; “for when once your shape has become like a human being, you can no more be a mermaid. You will never return through the water to your sisters, or to your father’s palace again; and if you do not win the love of the prince, so that he is willing to forget his father and mother for your sake, and to love you with his whole soul, and allow the priest to join your hands that you may be man and wife, then you will never have an immortal soul. The first morning after he marries another your heart will break, and you will become foam on the crest of the waves.”

  • And, the witch says, she must also give the Sea Witch her voice. The princess will only have her graceful manner to help her in making the prince fall in love with her. The mermaid agrees, and the witch cuts off her tongue (Yes, the taking the voice into the seashell image is a lot nicer!)
  • She surfaces, drinks the potion, and the prince does find her. He takes her back to the castle and soon she is wearing beautiful gowns and being treated as a princess on land. Her sisters came to visit her every night and tell her what was happening in her old home.

Edmund Dulac: “The Mermaid and The Prince”

  • The Prince must wed, and he wants to marry the woman who rescued him, not knowing it was the mermaid. Instead, he is betrothed to a princess from a neighboring kindgom–who is the woman he thinks rescued him, the woman who found him on the beach.
  • The night after the wedding, the mermaid’s sisters return, their heads shorn; they have given their hair to the sea witch in exchange for a way to regain their sister. They give her a sharp knife; with it, she must kill the prince, before sunrise. His blood will wash onto her feet, and they will again become her mermaid tail, and she will be able to come, with her tongue restored as well.
  • However, the mermaid cannot do it. The sun rises, and she becomes a “daughter of the air”:

. “A mermaid has not an immortal soul, nor can she obtain one unless she wins the love of a human being. On the power of another hangs her eternal destiny. But the daughters of the air, although they do not possess an immortal soul, can, by their good deeds, procure one for themselves. We fly to warm countries, and cool the sultry air that destroys mankind with the pestilence. We carry the perfume of the flowers to spread health and restoration. After we have striven for three hundred years to all the good in our power, we receive an immortal soul and take part in the happiness of mankind. You, poor little mermaid, have tried with your whole heart to do as we are doing; you have suffered and endured and raised yourself to the spirit-world by your good deeds; and now, by striving for three hundred years in the same way, you may obtain an immortal soul.”

  • After three hundred years of being a “daughter of the air”, she will gain an immortal soul, and go to heaven, which is what she truly wanted all along.

The story is definitely dark, and definitely religious, so it’s understandable why it was altered for mass consumption. While the mermaid gets her wish–the eternal soul and life in heaven after her “death”–she pays an enormous price for it.

Originally, Andersen ended his story with the mermaid dying; later, he added the ending containing the “daughters of the air.”  The code has been condemned by some scholars. PL Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, called the ending “blackmail”: “‘But a year taken off when a child behaves and a tear shed and a day added whenever a child is naughty? Andersen, this is blackmail. And the children know it and say nothing. There’s magnanimity for you’.”

The last page of Andersen’s Little Mermaid manuscript

The mermaid is also an untraditional heroine, in that she has an adventurous spirit and longs for a world beyond her own. She si also willing to pay a high price to get what she wants. She wants to discover things she doesn’t know. Most other fairy tale heroines-Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel-don’t consciously want this, nor work specifically to get it. If they flee, it is out of necessity, not curiosity.

PL Travers quote taken from wikipedia “The Little Mermaid” entry:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Little_Mermaid

Day 20: In the state of Denmark

The last of the “big three” fairy tale writers, as least as we know them here, is Hans Christian Andersen. 

The Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen Harbor

Hans Christian Andersen’s stories are the most spiritual, most obviously “Christian”, so to speak; almost all of his tales invoke God in some way, and quite explicitly.

Andersen was born April 2, 1805, and was an only child. There is some speculation that he was an illegitimate son of the Danish Royal Family. Originally accepted to the Royal Danish Theater because of his excellent boy soprano, he seriously began to pursue poetry once his voice changed.

During 1835, Andersen published his first volume of his Fairy Tales. More stories were published in 1836 and 1837. Although the quality of the stories (like those of many authors) was not recognized immediately, they eventually became a worldwide favorite, being translated into more than 150 languages.  However, by the time of his death in 1875, the people of Denmark had embraced his art and the government declared him a “national treasure.”

Some of his famous tales are:

  • The Steadfast Tin Soldier
  • The Snow Queen
  • The Little Mermaid
  • Thumbelina
  • The Little Match Girl
  • The Ugly Duckling
  • The Emperor’s New Clothes
  • The Red Shoes
  • The Princess and the Pea

We’ll explore several of these tales over the next few posts: The Snow Queen (since it is being adapted into a feature film by Disney), The Little Mermaid, and The Red Shoes.

Day 13: Once Upon A Time…

We had fairy tales.

Well, we’ve probably always had them, in both oral and written form. They’re such a part of any culture that it’s hard to track their exact development. And most cultures have variations on the same “themes” or archtypes. In China, for example, the story of “Little Red Riding Hood” is called “Lon po po”, and was actually one of my favorites as a kid. (The illustrations in the copy I had might have had something to do with that. They were awesome.)

A Frenchwoman, Madame d’Aulncy, invented the term “fairy tale” in the 17th century: conte de fee, in French. The stories always contain an element of magic, and they begin with “Once Upon A Time” to invoke a time when magic actually existed in day to day life. It also can explain why we don’t have dragons or local fairies hovering around in the 21st century.

In the West, there are three main sources or schools of fairy tales that we’re familiar with:

  1. The Brothers Grimm–German
  2. Charles Perrault–French
  3. Hans Christian Andersen–Danish

We’ll go through each of these authors, their works and its characteristics, and some of their best-known tales–and how those tales as written are different from the version we think we know.