Published on Tuesday, 24 December 2013 00:00
So I have just acquired a huge book that contains the complete collection of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales from Barnes & Noble. It is a lovely hardcover book – bound in purple leather with metallic etchings on the cover, shimmery gold gilt paper edging, and filled with beautiful illustrations in between the pages. It is simply a joy to flip through this beauty. I eagerly poured through all 712 pages of it, and at the end, I was mortified that this man's stories are actually shelved under Children's Literature for there is quite a handful of fairy tales he wrote that are nothing short of macabre.
Many of the very popular fairy tales that are still being told by parents all around the world while they tuck their children in at night, and also adapted by Disney have been invented by Hans Christian Andersen. Some of his most famous fairy tales include: The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling, The Snow Queen, The Princess and the Pea, The Little Match Girl, The Emperor's New Clothes, and Thumbelina.
However, there are the rest of his fairy tales which are not that well known mainly because they might be too profound for children to understand, or just too gruesome and disturbing.
1. The Rose Elf
The Rose Elf features a slightly incestuous relationship between a brother and a sister, murder, decapitation, slight necrophilia, and revenge. The only fairy tale aspect of this is that there is an elf involved, other than that it is like something out of an American exploitation horror film.
It tells of a young woman's lover who is brutally stabbed to death, decapitated, and buried by her evil and overly-possessive brother. When the brother is burying the corpse, a dry leaf flutters into his hair along with a tiny elf who had witnessed the vicious act.
The brother then returns home, “entering the beautiful, blooming girl’s bedroom as she lies dreaming of her lover, and bending over her, laughing hideously as only a fiend can laugh as he does so”. As he does, the leaf which had settled on his hair falls onto the girl's bed, and the little elf scurries into the girl's ear and informs her of her lover's murder and where his body lies.
The girl awakes brokenhearted and runs into the woods to find his remains. She digs up his disembodied head, shakes the soil out of his hair, puts her lips against his cold, dead ones, and brings the head back home with her. She puts his head into a large flower pot, covers it with soil and plants a twig of jasmine in it.
She weeps over the pot day and night, and eventually the jasmine twig begins to sprout beautiful blossoms. As her brother looks on at his sister constantly kissing the flowers, he gets furious, thinking that she is going mad.
As the flowers continue to bloom, the girl wilts from all the heartache. The elf stays in her ear while she is on her deathbed whispering sweet stories about her lover to comfort the girl as she slowly drifts away. The brother takes the flower pot into his bedroom after she dies, and as he sleeps, tiny spirits emerge from the flowers and kill him with spears to avenge the dead lovers.
The end. There is no happy ending.
2. The Shadow
The Shadow is a bleak tale completely devoid of cheer. It is definitely not a story you would want to tell your child before bedtime unless you are an evil parent and would love to give your kid nightmares.
It tells of a goodhearted writer who wakes up one day and finds his shadow missing. Some time later, a severely emaciated stranger who is strangely dressed very immaculately turns up at his door and introduces himself as the writer's former shadow who disappeared. The shadow explained that he had traveled the world and managed to get a body of flesh and clothes for himself. The magnanimous writer held no grudges against his shadow for disappearing and listens to his travels, after which the shadow leaves again.
Years went by and then the shadow comes calling again. The shadow is now fat and robust while the struggling writer is frail and sickly. The shadow tells the writer that traveling will make him feel better, and the shadow invites the writer for all all-expense paid trip provided if the writer travels as the shadow's shadow. The writer accepts.
At their destination, the shadow and the writer meets a princess. The shadow in an attempt to impress the princess lies that the writer is his shadow. “I happen to have a most unusual shadow. Have you not seen a person who is always at my side? Persons often give their servants finer cloth for their liveries than for their own clothes, and so I have dressed out my shadow like a man; nay, you may observe that I have even given him a shadow of his own; it is rather expensive, but I like to have things about me that are peculiar.”
The princess is instantly captivated with the shadow and chooses him to be her prince. The writer learns about it and thinks it absurd for a shadow to be marrying a human. The writer plans to go to the princess with the truth but the shadow beats him to it, and tells the princess that the writer has gone crazy.
The writer is locked up, and the shadow and princess wed. As fireworks explode all around the kingdom, the writer lay somewhere executed.
Moral of the story: Evil always triumphs...?
3. The Storks
The Storks start off seeming like a cute, little, heartwarming tale akin to The Little Duckling, but NO, it isn't. Once again, Andersen advocates revenge by murder through this story.
It tells of a mother stork who lives in her nest on top of a house in a little village along with her four young chicks. Everyday, the village children will sing a mocking song to them led by one boy that goes like this:
“Stork, stork, fly away,
Stand not on one leg, I pray,
See your wife is in her nest,
With her little ones at rest.
They will hang one,
And fry another;
They will shoot a third,
And roast his brother.”
The baby storks got scared, but their mother assures them that no harm will come to them. She distracts them by telling them stories of her travels. Eventually there came a day where the mother stork teaches her chicks to fly. When the young storks got the hang of flying, they plead with their mother to let them punish the village children for teasing them by pecking their eyes out. Their mother refuses and tells them to learn how to stork properly first.
The young storks finally finish learning everything there has to do with being a stork and this time their mother agrees to them exacting their revenge on the bully boy. Storks are responsible for delivering babies to homes, so the mother stork comes up with a cruel plan to bring a dead baby to the bully boy's house. So they do.
What the hell.