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The Magician from the North,
By A Customer
This review is from: Complete Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales (Hardcover)
It ought to be a source of some astonishment that the writings of Hans Christian Andersen have triumphed over the passage of time as they have. Who is more stolidly nineteenth-century, more bourgeois, more moistly sentimental, than this ever-lonely Danish poet and fabulist? Yet the continuing stream of translations and adaptations of his work--of which Disney's diluted and distorting version of his great "Little Mermaid" is only the most famous recent example--testifies to the ageless qualities of his genius. He often represented himself as the mere mouthpiece of traditional lore, the transmitter of the folk wisdom of his nurses; in our day he is tucked away with Mother Goose rhymes and other noncontroversial literature. Neither mode of understanding fully represents him. He belongs to that remarkable category--small even among great writers--of myth-makers, whose characters have come to assume near-archetypal significance. The little mermaid, the dauntless tin soldier, the ugly duckling are no longer simply memorable: they are continuing analogues for the developing self. He is a writer for children only in the sense that children deserve the best literature. His stories offer nothing easy, and little that is sweet: they puzzle and trouble; they take root in the imagination, and childhood is only the beginning of our long relationship with Andersen's haunting images. Is it joy or sorrow that first makes us weep for Elisa and her unlucky brothers in "The Wild Swans"? Who but Andersen could have dared to make the inanimate fixity of the tin soldier an image of the steadfastness of deep love in adversity? Who could forget the robber girl in "The Snow Queen," gruffly loyal,never sleeping without her knife? He wrote his tales with the colloquial humility of the storyteller, spiced with wit and homely details that give his great themes a distinctive flavor:the oysters clamped to the royal merfolk's tails in "The Little Mermaid," or the puppet queen offering her cr! own to the wandering friends in "The Traveling Companion." Andersen's sway over the writing of literature for children is well known, but more could be said about his deep influence on psychological theory, and the fascination he has exerted on contemporary writers, from Ursula Synge and a host of other fantasists to poets such as Marilyn Hacker and Anne Sexton. He importantly anticipates, and may have influenced, writers as important and diverse as Isak Dinesen, Franz Kafka, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. With a writer as rich, as pleasing, as rewarding, as Hans Christian Andersen, it is never too soon to commence reading his tales, and it is never too late to read them again.