I’m back baby! Ok- so I was hardly gone long, but it feels like I was, because I’ve just been in wonderful wonderful Copenhagen…
(I swear that song’s been going round and round in my head for days)
Now that I’ve got that out my system, I can get onto what this blog’s really about. Which, as you might have guessed already, is about my thoughts on Hans Christian Anderson (because, Denmark is the home of the Little Mermaid!)
Ok, I might be a little excitable in this blog, but I can’t help it! Not only is Hans Christian Anderson one of my favourite children’s authors, but I’m feeling pretty inspired after being in Denmark (whoops, did I mention that again?). It also doesn’t hurt that I have the most beautiful copy of his fairy tales:
I bought this exquisite edition for a class I did at Uni (so obviously my thoughts are heavily influenced by that course). One theorist I read about- a child psychologist called Bettelheim- said children tend to pick and choose which stories they like and which disturbed them. This made sense to me: when I was young, I used to reread “The Little Match Girl” over and over; I avoided “Hansel and Gretel” like the plague.
Many people on the course, however, were surprised by my Hans Christian Anderson obsession. “But it’s so bleak,” they would say. And “it’s full of overtly Christian themes” others would whine. Indeed, this was in the same line of thinking as Bettelheim, who refused to even classify Hans Christian Anderson’s work as fairy tales. He argued that “the myth is pessimistic while the fairy story is optimistic” (Uses 37). So, according to Bettelheim, Hans Christian Anderson’s tales were just too depressing to be considered fairy tales. But I’m afraid both Bettelheim and my classmates missed the point.
On one level, the tales may seem pessimistic, but in reality their fundamental message is of hope. Take “The Little Mermaid”- it may seem tragic, yet at the end the Little Mermaid does get her wish of going to the eternal kingdom- even if she has to take the long, hard route to get there. It may not be the happiest journey, but it is still immensely satisfying when she arrives at her final destination. As her seemingly impossible dream comes true, we are offered hope- not that achieving our dreams will be easy, but that it will happen, even if getting there is harder than expected. And for all the religious imagery, that is a universal sentiment.
Likewise, “The Ugly Duckling” is a beautiful tale of acceptance. It offers hope for the future and assures the outcasts of the world that things will get better. Yet it does not shy away from pain; it does not shy away from suffering. That is what resonates. That is what makes Hans Christian Anderson a favourite of so many. Because it is through the darkness in these stories that the light is illuminated. And with this we are taught the meaning of hope. What better lesson could a child wish to learn?
Hope you enjoyed this slightly different post- leave your comments and thoughts below.
[Bibliography: Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment: the Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. London: Penguin, 1991. Print.]