Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Swan's Stories by Hans Christian Andersen; translated by Brian Alderson; illustrated by Chris Riddell (1997)

The Flying Trunk:  the storyteller who almost, but not quite, gets his heart desire at the end.  Like the matches, he thinks very highly of himself, and then burns himself out.  Quite sad.

The Steadfast Tin Solder:  Pines for a flat, boring, straight-laced pretty girl who doesn't acknowledge he even exists - ever.  Bedeviled by a black goblin, who puts him through hell.  He goes on a (for him) long, complicated adventure, only to end up back where he started.  "He looked at her, and she looked at him, but they never said a word."  Then a boy - for no reason whatsoever - throws him into the stove, and he melts into a lump.  But not before the wind picks up the girl, and she flies into the fire with him, where she "bursts into flames, and was gone."  All that was left of him was his a lump shaped like a little tin heart, and all that was left of the girl was "the tinsel star" that was around her waist, "burnt as black as coal."

When kids read these stories, do they come away twisted?  Because this story is scary and sad.  Love sucks.  Unrequited love sucks the worst.  I guess everyone knows that already.  And it burns you up in the end.  Also, speak up.  If the Tin Soldier has just voice his love, but he kept it himself.  Of course, the goblin scared him.  And the goblin was capable of doing bad things.  But screw the goblin - stand up for yourself man!  Declare your love!

Hans Christian Andersen was a strange guy, and "Jumpers" and "Lovers" really proves it.  That said, I liked "Lovers" - it was a funny story, with a schadenfreude kind of moral to it.

The Darning Needle.  Andersen must have been obsessed with social class and its ups and downs.  This was another story about something - in this case a darning needle - who ends up on the gutter, but still thinks she's better than everyone else.  Which I suppose, if you are in the gutter, is about the only thing you can think about yourself.  Everyone thinks herself a queen, right?  Queen of the gutter.

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Title:The Underduckling: Hans Christian Andersen
Author(s):Alison Lurie
Publication Details: Boys and Girls Forever: Children's Classics from Cinderella to Harry Potter. New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 2003. p1-11.

Again and again, his protagonists are rejected by those they court--and in this they share the unhappy experience of their author. All his life, Andersen continually fell in love with upperclass or titled persons, both male and female.
When, toward the end of his life, Andersen did manage to establish a happy but short-lived sexual relationship, it was with a young man.

The heroes of Andersen's tales are no more successful romantically than he was, and often for the same reasons: they aspire to union with persons or objects of a higher social class. The cardboard dancer in "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" pays no attention to the protagonist, and in "The Top and the Ball," the Top's proposal of marriage is scorned by the Ball, "who was made of morocco leather, and fancied herself a very fashionable young lady."

A recurrent theme in Andersen's tales is social snobbery and social ambition. Even inanimate objects feel it: the Darning-needle tries to pass herself off as a Sewing-needle, and the Buckwheat considers himself superior to all the other plants in the field. Andersen too was obsessed with the idea of rising in society. All his life he would seek out rich and titled people, the richer and more titled the better, and he spent some of his happiest moments as the guest of royalty. He spent months traveling among small German kingdoms, staying with one royal family after another, and entertaining them and their children by telling stories.

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So essentially, Hans Christian Andersen was a snobbish, sexually frustrated bisexual.  Who wrote really, really sad stories, usually with cruel twists.

I thought his story, "Grief" was almost a modern story; it didn't have the feeling of his fairy tales.

"The Fir Tree" and "The Snowman" are just awful.  Beautifully written, but awful, cruel, sad.

In fact, they all are.  Beautiful and bittersweet.  He must have a been a bitter, bitter man.

The Swan's StoriesThe Swan's Stories by Hans Christian Andersen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hans Christian Andersen was apparently a sexually frustrated, star-crossed, bisexual social climbing snob, and his fairy tales all show it.  They all have cruel twists; the protagonists are rejected again and again by the objects of their affection; some are incredibly scary and sad.  Many of the stories are like the dark side of Disney's Beauty and the Beast in which inanimate objects come to life only in to inhabit a dark, dog-eat-dog world:  a darning needle who ends up in the gutter continues to think she's better than everyone else (the moral of this story is, crassly,  "shit runs downhill" ); a fir tree, a snowman, a steadfast tin soldier dream of love and a better life only to find themselves melted or burned down to their very essence.  Some of his stories begin to approach modernity - "Grief" for example,with a few adjustments, could fit nicely into The New Yorker.  These aren't stories for kids, even though they are shelved in the children's section.  There are adult themes aplenty here:  snobbery and social ambition, love gained and love loss; death and the power of story.  Chris Riddell's illustrations, incidentally, are perfect.


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