Saturday, April 28, 2018

Just Say No To Hans Christian Andersen

The release looked like it went well, and I'm back to writing A Rag Doll's Guide To Here And There.  Unfortunately, I already shared like the first third here the first time I was writing it, so I can't really give WIP chapters.

But I ought to do something with this blog, so today I will share a warning!  Hans Christian Andersen sucks and is not what you have been told to expect.



I love fairy tales.  No surprise to my readers, I'm sure.  I make an effort to go back and read source material of things I love on a regular basis.  So, since I'd already dug up the festival of insanity that is the first edition Brother's Grimm fairy tale collection, a little while back I picked up the other major, famous source of Western fairy tales, the stories of Hans Christian Andersen.

GAAH.

They are SO BAD.  In fact, I must issue a disclaimer:  I got about 25% through and gave up out of stultified boredom.

Very, very few of Andersen's stories are fairy tales in any recognizable sense.  A couple are.  I highly recommend Snow Queen (which I would have to strain to find any resemblance to the movie Frozen) and the Tinder-Box isn't bad.

The rest... well, Hans Christian Andersen was religious.  Really, really religious.  Oddly, he was religious in a very pure and specific way.  It's hard to find moral lessons of any kind in his stories, other than 'Believe in God and pray a lot.'  The Little Mermaid suggests he values kindness, and there are several stories with the moral that pride is bad... but only because you might become so proud you think you're better than God.

About half of his work by volume are not stories in any recognizable sense.  He likes to lavishly describe a scene he thinks is beautiful, and that's it.  He admits at the start of one of these collections that he's just hoping someone will paint fan art.  These not-really-stories are huge.  They go on and on and on.  I guess if you like florid descriptions they're great, but they bored me to tears.

Of what's recognizable as a story... whew.  The typical HCA story is The Little Match Girl.  I use it specifically for reference because most people are roughly familiar with it, and the version they're familiar with is mostly correct to the original.  Little poor girl is selling matches in the snowy streets on New Year's Eve.  No one will buy them, and eventually she lights her own matches one by one in an ineffectual attempt to stay warm.  As she freezes to death, she hallucinates the great times people in nearby buildings are having.  When she does die, her grandmother comes down to take her to heaven.  In the morning, passersby find her corpse, which is described in detail.

Sound pointless and depressing?  Yeah.  There's a lot of that in HCA's work.  A LOT of that.  Life sucks, you die, but that's awesome because Heaven.  Most of the rest of the actual stories are something like the Little Mermaid, where any narrative you'd expect veers aside into religion.  In The Little Mermaid's case, once she finds her prince... the story basically stops.  He keeps her as a pet, declares he thinks of her as a child and also would marry her if he wasn't pining for an even more beautiful woman, eventually marries that beautiful woman, but because she sacrificed herself for him the Little Mermaid is given a chance at an immortal soul and it turns out that's what she really wanted all along.

When it's not religion, HCA is merely creepy in a 'People leave their children alone with this guy?' way.  There's the one about the beautiful (HCA is obsessed with telling you who and what is or isn't beautiful) naked boy who shows up in the home of HCA's transparent self-insert character, and makes him fall in love.  Or the story about the boy who loves his sister and as soon as she turns 14 he marries her.  There isn't as much WTF as in Brothers Grimm, but... yeah.

So, in summary, do not read Hans Christian Andersen.  Maybe chase down Snow Queen because that story is pretty great.  But overall, he is not what you were told to expect.

6 comments:

  1. Yeah, I had a book of his stories as a child and I disliked them all. I particularly remember and disliked the three you mentioned, so much so that I resisted even seeing the Disney verions. Fun trivia: he was pen pals with Charles Dickens, UNTIL he actually visited, which apparently completely killed the friendship. I read all about it in the Guardian: https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/books/2017/sep/10/charles-dickens-hans-christian-andersen-letters-correspondence-auction

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  2. Have you ever tried slavic fairy tales? Or Polish literature of romantism? Their main motive is more often "use brain instead of muscle" then morality. They often also invert classic western tropes (my personal favorite is scene from old Polish movie for children The Upside-Down Mountain with figth between knight and multiheaded shapeshifting dragon with out of place voice where dragon is good guy and tries to save spooky children of water and forest spirits (movie is also free on YT))

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    1. Yeah, English Fairy Tales are kinda...

      Real fairy tales are weird as hell, but they also usually teach something. Stay away from the damn river, and don't look a gift horse in the mouth for example.

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  3. Try Asbjoernsen & Moe. They were collecting folk fairy tales in much the same way as the Grimms, only in Norway, so expect a lot of trolls. A few of the stories was stop motion animated by Ivo Caprino, and is considered a national treasure.

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  4. you have a story in the works called A Rag Doll's Guide To Here And There also if so can i be a beta reader ?

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  5. just have to comment. why are you legitimizing rape in your first book?

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