Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen

I have a friend who has contended for some years that it is unfair to attempt to psychoanalyze dead people, specifically those who died before the birth of psychoanalysis.  At the very least he has convinced me of the futility of any therapeutic value towards the dead analysand. But there are still some figures whose scabs, try as I might, I can't stop picking.  I use that metaphor to illustrate my awareness that it is a filthy habit of mine.

The painting above is of Andersen reading his story "The Angel" to a child who seems to be a bit under par at the moment.  "The Angel" is the story of an angel flying a dead child to Heaven.  I chose this picture because everything about what I've just said perfectly encapsulates the Hans Christian Andersen experience.  Aesop was wise with a morality foreign to our time and place.  The Brothers Grimm were occasionally gruesome, but more often than not simply bizarre (although Andersen's "The Red Shoes" gives them a run for their money).  Andersen, at least to me, was a testimony to an existence infused with sorrow. 

I know.  I just did it again.

Something else I would highlight about his Tales is how good they are.  I hesitate to rank in this manner, but I thought that they were undoubtedly the highest quality work in this volume.  I would urge everyone to read them in their original form.  "The Ugly Duckling", "The Emperor's New Clothes", and "The Little Sea-Maid" are all of much higher quality than the versions that have been handed down to us by third party sources.  There are also many other tales that are just as great.  I may not be exaggerating much in saying that I found "The Garden of Paradise" to be one of my favorite children's stories of all time.

So often I hear, especially of the more ghoulish of older children's books, that modern readers find them unfit for small children.  I feel that this is wrong.  First of all, I think a sanitized fiction life is destructive and dissonant to a child in comparison to the reality that they are about to spend the rest of their lives experiencing.  I speak as one whose love life was, until comparatively recently, of nearly the same quality as that of Mr. Andersen's, a fact which I have no qualms blaming at least in part on expectations presented to children by the well intentioned people of the Walt Disney Company. 

I feel that when approaching literature for children, the question ought not be if the material is too difficult or too harsh or too frightening for the child.  Lord knows many children thrive on too difficult, harsh, and frightening.  The question ought to be, in my mind, "Is this true?"  Above all I feel that the worst thing children's literature can do is to betray the trust of a child.  And, upon reflection, I feel that this can largely be applied to adult reading as well.  Andersen, I feel, possesses the quality of truth.

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