Tuesday, December 6

4 Hans Christian Andersen Stories That Are Way Stranger Than You Think

I love fairy tales. I think they do make life simple and perhaps that's why kids love them as well. Even adults. Harking back to a simpler time when decisions were simple. Life was black and white. And in many ways that's what we should aim for. 
But this article made me think. What we took for granted, the actual story was more complicated. It's like why I hate Robin Hood while admiring him at the same time. Confusing? Yes. Because I hate him for being a robber and thief. But at the same time, I admire him for being a revolutionary and a hero and a leader and courage and and and. 
Interesting back story on anderson as well in this story. 

4 Hans Christian Andersen Stories That Are Way Stranger Than You Think
(via Instapaper)

Hans Christian Andersen is a strange and fascinating figure who wrote a great many stories for children. His name is synonymous with love, splendor, and the wonderment of childhood. His own childhood was less than perfect, existing in deep poverty as the child of an illiterate washerwoman. He left his first life at 14 to find a new one with a wealthy family. He spun this fortune into a career in the arts, finding his mark with children's stories in 1835. From there he remained a servant to the child's ear, and his work has spawned retellings, both comical and romantic, for generations since.
Disney has picked up more than a few of his tales, and others have been animated, performed, retold, and embraced as fun and moving stories. However a romp within the actual original text of many of them reveal a certain level of sadness, despair, ugliness, and outright weirdness that we tend to overlook when speaking the name Andersen. Let's take a closer look at a few that are particularly famous and particularly ghastly when we take off our rose-colored glasses, put on our spectacles, and peer really close.


4. The Princess and the Pea

Pea-1.jpgAuthenticity, rather than true love, is the focus of this old tale. It has an element of the glass slipper narrative from Cinderella. There are those who are, and those who are not, and the only way to tell is with a simple test, in this case a pea. The prince in this story seeks not love, but a "true princess," and though there are those who hold the title, he finds something "not right" about each of them. The story doesn't elaborate or define what is lacking, but it does keep him a bachelor until a rain-soaked woman shows up at his doorstep in the middle of the night seeking a place to sleep and has only her word to claim that she is a "true princess."
The queen, the prince's mother, has her doubts, but creates a fool-proof test. She places a single pea under the mattress of her guest. Not satisfied with this, she then piles twenty mattresses on top of the single mattress and then offers the bed to the woman claiming royal blood. In the morning the princess complains that she didn't sleep a wink and that her body feels bruised and battered after sleeping on such an uncomfortable mattress all night. The prince and queen rejoice as only a "true princess" would have a skin and body so sensitive that she would feel a tiny pea under so many mattresses. She and he are married and the story boasts that the pea was placed in a museum and can be seen today, so this is a "true story."
This tale and the seeming lesson behind it have been celebrated in children's books and plays for years and the world has accepted, without question, this odd and nonsensical assertion that physical sensitivity is a true mark of royalty. After reading the original, there might be readers who express more concern than acceptance with this supposed royal affliction. If a pea under 21 mattresses causes her body to be black and blue, what is the rest of her day like? Surely the stones in the street just on the other side of her shoe must rival the pain felt by the poor mermaid! How does she sit, stand, ride horses, or simply get through life? And why is physical sensitivity a positive? Wouldn't constant skin irritation and pain be a detriment to the potential royal duties? The odder thing is that no other information about those the prince deemed "not right" and this fitful sleeper are shared. The other women are not said to be ill-tempered, rude, self-obsessed, unattractive, selfish, or any other kind of "not right." It just seems to be a gut feeling that is only satisfied by proof through the inability to sleep on top of a pea.
There is also the curious house-guest arrangement of this tale. A princess arrives in the middle of the night and accepts, without question, the task of sleeping on a stack of mattresses. This does not bother her, and she gladly climbs a ladder (one must assume) to sleep on this tower of bedding. In the morning, rather than being appreciative, she complains and focuses on the one, tiny, element of her visit that was unsatisfactory. A strange sort of hospitality, a very strange response, and from this we are to nod in agreement that "Yep, this is royalty alright."
There may be an argument here that Andersen may have not been celebrating how other-worldly and deeply sensitive royalty is, but pointing readers towards the opposite conclusion. To assume that royal figures feel and respond in a different way than the rest of us do; that they are too sensitive and delicate for normal life, and that this is why they do not have to work at the same level or deal with the same hardships, is as ridiculous as choosing a wife based on her lack of sleep after sleeping on a pea (which, by the way, would clearly be smashed by the weight of even a pillow, so there's that also).

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