Journal Entry: Hans Christian Andersen

I really enjoyed reading about Hans Christian Andersen’s life. It’s inspiring that Hans Christian Andersen was able to achieve so much given his humble beginnings – I think it’s especially admirable how hard he worked and that he never gave up on his dreams despite the obstacles and struggles.

I also found it interesting that the biography tied some of the stories into Hans’s life. It’s a little bit heartbreaking though to discover that The Little Mermaid’s lack of complete acceptance was based on the author’s life – however, I think this may be one of the aspects that adds realism to Andersen’s fairy tales. After all, the real world and the people in it are not always kind or accepting.

It’s also sad that Andersen was never able to fully fit into the Collin family and upper-class society. This isn’t really surprising, but I can certainly sympathize with Andersen – despite his brilliance, he was never ‘good enough’ to be fully accepted by elite society and I imagine that wasn’t easy for him.

I also particularly liked reading about the reception that Andersen’s tales received in his lifetime. Today, we mainly know them as classics, so it was really interesting to discover what readers thought of them initially, as well as to learn about Andersen’s interactions with other writers of the time. I thought it was especially relevant to our class that Hans Christian Andersen became friendly with the Grimm Brothers and their folklore group. I can’t help but wonder what such a group might have talked about, or if these writers may have directly influenced each other somehow.

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Short Story

Once upon a time, there lived a young girl named Ellie. In truth, she was not a princess, but as the sole heir to the family vineyard, she was often treated as such. Her childhood was nothing short of magical, a few years passed full of joy, levity, and kindness. But it did not last. With the help of the best schools and tutors, Ellie grew from a precocious child into a gifted teen. Her superior intelligence and knowledge were only matched by her artistic talent and athletic ability. To an outsider, it seemed that Ellie excelled at everything she tried; in reality, her skills resulted from years of tireless training.

Eventually, Ellie’s sixteenth birthday arrived, heralding a momentous occasion in her life: it was time for Ellie to choose a college. Her high test scores had elicited a flood of brochures from institutions of higher learning. Every college imaginable was represented, and yet Ellie did not think her decision to be a difficult one. There was not really a choice for her, not when her parents had such high expectations. She toured a select few of the most prestigious schools, picked the one she thought seemed most impressive, and applied early.

Of course, Ellie was accepted. Her parents were pleased but remained reserved as ever. Her classmates rejoiced on her behalf, just as she celebrated when they received their own letters of acceptance. Ellie finished high school as valedictorian of her class, but there was little fanfare. Her parents had expected this of her, and she suspected that they had merely listened politely to the graduation speech she’d given about her fond high school memories and the importance of treating others with kindness.

As summer came to a close, Ellie prepared to go off to college. While she trusted that she was ready for this, she couldn’t help but feel nervous. She was leaving behind everything she had ever known to go off on this adventure. But, when she arrived, Ellie knew she had made the right choice. Here was a collection of red brick castles adorned with ivy, perfect for all the princes and princesses just like Ellie who would someday rule their respective worlds. And it was not exaggerating to consider her classmates royalty – some were children of celebrities and politicians, others celebrities or accomplished academics on their own merits.

Yet, it was not all Ellie had thought it would be. As she encountered her new classmates, she discovered their unique rituals and methods of communication. She was alarmed to realize that those she met switched from polite disinterest to warm friendship upon discovering what her parents did, and further concerned to learn that her acquaintances immediately judged her based on her field of study and her other friends. She also realized that her classmates simply used her when they wanted her help, or else ignored her altogether. There was no friendly cooperation; academics were a cutthroat competition. Was there no one here who cared to form a genuine friendship instead of a networking connection? Why didn’t anyone care for kindness?

Though Ellie was very bright, these were problems that she could not solve. All the while, as weeks passed, Ellie grew less and less happy with her choice. Her opinions of her classmates had not changed since she arrived, and she now spent her time actively avoiding them and the falseness that their interactions entailed. And yet, Ellie could not help but wonder if this meant that something was wrong with her. After all, she was a princess among her people and this was her castle. Surely this was where she belonged, and surely it was what her parents expected of her. What other option did she have?

One day, it all became too much for Ellie. Although she had worked ceaselessly in pursuit of a way to make herself fit into the mold that had been chosen for her, Ellie was beginning to realize that she simply did not fit comfortably in it. Ellie was at a complete loss for what to do – all her ideas had been used up and try as she might, she could not think of any more. At last, Ellie broke down sobbing. She didn’t mean to cry, but she just couldn’t help it.

Then, through Ellie’s tears, she sensed a flash of light and a nearby voice. Ellie startled and looked around in disbelief. “You’re … “ she said uselessly. The fairy godmother nodded.

“I’m your fairy godmother,” the fairy confirmed. “Here to help rid you of your woes. Come now, let’s start by drying the eyes … we have important work to do here and we haven’t got all day.”

Too shocked to even consider disobeying, Ellie did as she was told. She had so many questions that she couldn’t figure out which to ask first, but the fairy godmother seemed keen to get down to business.

“My dear Ellie, you have been struggling bravely, but there is no need to carry on with this. In your heart, you know what is right. There is more to life than prestige and success. Your parents may not realize it, but you do, and you know that your place is not here. You have a great gift of kindness and you simply cannot stifle it – but this is not the place to express it. You will not find others here who share your visions of a community where people support one another.”

Ellie listened to the truth spoken by the fairy godmother, though she did not want to hear it. Just when she thought she had stomached it all, she opened her mouth to ask further questions of the fairy godmother, only to be cut off.

“Ellie, you must listen carefully. My time here is almost up. Be kind, follow your heart, and only then will you find true happiness.”

The fairy godmother vanished, leaving a distressed Ellie in her wake. Ellie had so many unanswered questions – even though the fairy godmother had visited, Ellie still did not know how to solve her problems.

Or did she? Moments later, Ellie realized that a letter had been left behind. Curious, she read it immediately and discovered that it was an acceptance to a college she’d hardly ever heard of before. Surely, her parents would not approve of such a switch, but Ellie knew after a moment that it was the right choice for her. She did not need to be surrounded by royalty or to live in a castle. All she needed was kindness. She would find a way to convince her parents, and in that moment Ellie realized all would be well. Soon, she would be living happily ever after. The End.

Deerskin: Chapters 25 – 36

Classmates be warned: if you haven’t finished reading Deerskin, the rest of this post contains discussion of the story’s ending. It’s a good read so you might want to make sure you’ve read it before continuing to read this.

Anyway, I really liked the ending of Deerskin. I was hoping simply for the fairy tale happily ever after with a prince, but this was even better than that.  I love that we see Deerskin face her father and reunite with Ossin, and that the story manages to include both magic and believability. I especially like that Lissar is at last able to share her true self and true story and that even with this huge step she is not magically back to being the young, innocent girl that she started as – Lissar’s strength is impressive, but at the same time we still see that she has not shed her old wounds. I really like this aspect of the story because it’s so inspirational – if Lissar can survive her ordeals and find a way to live her life, surely we can fight to overcome the challenges which we face in our lives, too. I also really like that magic helped Lissar through her troubles rather than solving them for her.

Aside from its more than satisfactory ending, I also just genuinely liked reading Deerskin. This was the type of book that I didn’t put down for long, because I was constantly curious about what would happen next. McKinley did a great job of pacing the story and keeping the reader’s attention – and I also really like the values that the story seems to encourage. From Ash’s bond with Lissar, we see the importance of loyalty and friendship. We also see the importance of helping others and of accepting help as Lissar travels. Further, we can also see that Ossin and Lissar do not seem to fit perfectly into their worlds – but that they fit together nevertheless, which is something I love to see in stories, because who really feels as if they fit in all the time? Finally, and probably most importantly, Deerskin also shows us that perseverance enables us to survive just about anything – although I’m less convinced of the truth of this statement outside of fairy tales, I would really like to believe in it which I think is why I found Lissar’s story so captivating.

Deerskin: Chapters 13 – 24

In comparing Deerskin with Allfur, I have noticed some crucial differences. In Allfur, the princess escapes by playing a trick on her father and then escaping – she is then “rescued” almost immediately, only needing to fend for herself briefly before finding a new home in her bridegroom’s castle.

On the other hand, Lissar’s struggles are much deeper, much more prolonged, and require her to develop persistence and perseverance in order to survive. Lissar seems as if she is left a much more broken character than the princess in Allfur – even after some time has passed, we still see that Lissar is unable to acknowledge the horrors that have happened to her. This is especially moving in the way it is written, for example: “But Lissar persevered; perseverance was the central lesson of all she had learned since … since Ash and she had first set out on their journey.” Not only does this speak to the strength and perseverance that Lissar has developed, but the way in which it is written makes obvious Lissar’s memory blocks. Lissar also must endure a cold winter before emerging back into the world, which seems to have symbolic value, too.

Lissar also requires help from the Lady to heal and find the strength and ability to continue on with her life – Allfur does not ever seem so in need of help. However, as Lissar’s ordeals seem much more serious, it is only logical that help is needed to overcome them.

Lissar also seems to be much more of a well-rounded character than the princess in Allfur – but perhaps this is simply due to Deerskin being a much longer story where more detailed characters are required to hold the reader’s attention.

In addition, I also found this section of the story interesting – it seems very fitting that Lissar has found her way to Ossin, the prince who sent her Ash. I have to wonder if they will ever figure out who she was and where Ash comes from, and whether Ossin’s role in Deerskin is analogous to that of the bridegroom in Allfur. It already seems as though Lissar may have some kind of feelings for Ossin, so I am really curious to see how this will develop and whether her true identity will surface.

Deerskin: Chapters 1-12

I wasn’t expecting to like reading Deerskin – we knew prior to reading it that there would be incest and sexual assault, so I was admittedly wary. After all, while these are important topics to be aware of, they are also generally sad in nature, and when given the choice I tend to prefer happy reading material as a way to forget about all of the sadness in the world around us. I will admit that I did not have high hopes for Deerskin; I figured it would be a book I would get through, but probably not one I would enjoy.

And I was wrong. Yes, Deerskin is sad, and yes there’s incest and rape and it is probably the most disturbing story we have read so far – not simply for its content, but for the manner in which the content is presented. For example, rape also occurred in Sun, Moon, and Talia, but it was much easier to set that story aside and put it out of my mind – it was a short story, and while its events were alarming they were only temporarily so.

Not so with Deerskin, which lets the reader grow attached to Lissar before horrors befall her. I was already rooting for her by the time the rape occurred, which made it genuinely distressing to read. Even though there was ample foreshadowing, I still hoped that there was some way Lissar would be able to escape, so it all came as quite the shock. I can’t help but feel terrible for Lissar at this point in the story – nobody deserves to go through what she has gone through.

But even through all that, I’m still rooting for her. Her escape from the palace even while injured shows that Lissar is strong and that she’s got some fight in her personality, which I hope will make the rest of the story interesting. I will be curious to see how she continues to cope with her new situation. I’m even enjoying reading about her tale in the meantime – it’s so well-written that even the sad scenes have beauty in the way they’re told. The story is captivating and I’m intrigued to read more.

Compare & Contrast: Sun, Moon, and Talia, Briar Rose, and Sleeping Beauty in the Wood

Again, this is a case where the three tales share some story elements, but have many differences in how the stories are executed. All of the stories have a princess (or lord’s daughter) who is destined to sleep after pricking her finger. In all of the stories, she is rescued by a prince (or a king) and wakes up. All stories also involve fairies of some sort.

Sun, Moon, and Talia also shares more similarities with Sleeping Beauty in the Wood in that both tales involve Sleeping Beauty having children. Further, both tales also involve an evil female figure in the family of the prince/king, who tries to eat or serve Sleeping Beauty’s children, and who also tries to kill Sleeping Beauty – only for the prince/king to return at the last moment to save her and cause the demise of the evil woman instead. However, in Sun, Moon, and Talia this evil woman is the king’s current wife, whereas in Sleeping Beauty in the Wood, she is his ogress mother. In addition to an evil woman, these tales also have a heroic cook who saves Sleeping Beauty’s children.

Further, Grimm’s tale shares some similarities with the Perrault version, as both stories involve a feast and a scorned fairy causing a curse that intends to kill Sleeping Beauty with a spindle – only for another fairy to reduce this curse to a mere hundred years’ sleep. Both of these stories also share the sleeping of the castle figures around Sleeping Beauty, as well as a wall around the castle – in Perrault it is a wall of trees, bushes, and brambles, but in Grimm it is a wall of thorns.

Perhaps the largest difference in any of the stories is the rape in Sun, Moon, and Talia, where the already-married king finds Talia unresponsive and “takes her to bed”. Even more alarming is his “friendship” with Talia when she wakes and has had children in her sleep. This all seems very sketchy to me. In this tale, Talia only wakes when her children dislodge the splinter in her finger, whereas in Perrault she awakens to her prince’s arrival, and in Grimm to his kiss.

Beyond that, smaller differences can be found scattered throughout the stories. In Sun, Moon, and Talia, the fatal splinter is of flax. In Sleeping Beauty in the Wood, the Ogress accepts her demise in a pit of vipers, whereas in Sun, Moon, and Talia the evil Queen is cast into a fire along with her accomplice (who does not appear in the other stories).  In Grimm, there is no evil figure in the prince’s family, which makes the ending rather gentler. Amusingly, Grimms’ Briar Rose also notes that Sleeping Beauty is dressed like the prince’s great-grandmother. This is also the only tale of the three in which Sleeping Beauty does not have children – instead, the tale ends with a wedding and a happily ever after.

Overall, it seems that Sleeping Beauty in the Wood is a middle ground – it has some similarities with Sun, Moon, and Talia, and some similarities with Briar Rose. In terms of evolution, I would speculate that its origins occurred between those of the other two.