Illustration by Kay Nielsen from Fairy Tales by Hans Andersen, 1924.

I’m still looking at some of the Favorite Fairy Tale characters whose stories I haven’t read yet. Today’s character is the ballerina girl from “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” by Hans Christian Andersen. Many of Andersen’s tales are beautifully written but so sad, like this one.

On his birthday, a boy receives a set of 25 toy soldiers and arrays them on a table top. One soldier stands on a single leg, having been the last one cast from an old tin spoon. Nearby, he spies a paper lady with a tinsel rose on her dress in front of a cardboard castle. She is a ballerina and is standing on one leg too. The soldier promptly falls in love. That night, when the people are alseep, al the toys wake up, speaking and moving on their own, except the soldier and the ballerina who are both silent and stay in their poses. A goblin pops out of a box and angrily warns the soldier to take his eyes off the ballerina, but the soldier ignores him. The next day, the soldier falls from a windowsill (possibly the work of the goblin) and lands in the street. Two boys find the soldier, place him in a paper boat, and set him sailing in the gutter. The boat and its passenger wash into a storm drain, where a rat demands the soldier pay a toll. Sailing on, the boat is washed into a canal, where the tin soldier is swallowed by a fish. When the fish is caught and cut open, the tin soldier finds himself once again on the table top before the ballerina. Inexplicably, a boy throws the tin soldier into the fire. A wind blows the ballerina into the fire with him; she is consumed at once but her rose remains, charred. The tin soldier melts into the shape of a heart.

It’s not surprising the goblin warns the soldier away from the ballerina. She lives in a castle, he lives in a dark box with 24 others. She’s beautiful and socially above him. Andersen is very aware of society’s expectations and his stories don’t tend to rebel against them.

Neither admits their love for each other in life, but they are united in death. It seems so sad to me, even though they’re toys. It’s good to remember that death in Andersen’s stories is generally not considered tragic. He believes strongly that death is more of a rebirth to a new life, a release from the miseries of life on earth. For other examples, look at “The Little Match Girl” and “The Little Mermaid.” Of course, the tin soldier is the only one reshaped by death. The ballerina just burns away. And we only have insight into his thoughts, not hers. I assumed she loved him, but maybe that’s not true, after all she never speaks, shows any feelings. She was blown into the fire purely by chance. She didn’t jump into the fire to join him. Maybe she’s more the sterotypical girl who lives in a castle with a mirror as a lake: selfish and vain, not interested in a common, even deformed, soldier.

Joan G. Haahr writes in The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales: “The story is unusual among Andersen’s early tales, both in its emphasis on sensual desire and in its ambiguities. Blind fate, not intention, determines all events. Moreover, the narrative questions the very decorum it praises. The tin soldier’s passive acceptance of whatever happens to him, while exemplifying pietistic ideals of self-denial, also contributes to his doom. Were he to speak and act, the soldier might gain both life and love. Restrained, however, by inhibition and convention, he finds only tragedy and death. The tale is often read autobiographically, with the soldier viewed as symbolizing Andersen’s feelings of inadequacy with women, his passive acceptance of bourgeois class attitudes, or his sense of alienation as an artist and an outsider, from full participation in everyday life.”

I don’t think the ballerina in the with the mirror lake will qualify as one of my favorite characters. She’s altogether too passive. I do like Andersen’s writing style though, so descriptive and flowing.

The flames lighted up the tin soldier, as he stood, the heat was very terrible, but whether it proceeded from the real fire or from the fire of love he could not tell. Then he could see that the bright colors were faded from his uniform, but whether they had been washed off during his journey or from the effects of his sorrow, no one could say. He looked at the little lady, and she looked at him. He felt himself melting away, but he still remained firm with his gun on his shoulder. Suddenly the door of the room flew open and the draught of air caught up the little dancer, she fluttered like a sylph right into the stove by the side of the tin soldier, and was instantly in flames and was gone. The tin soldier melted down into a lump, and the next morning, when the maid servant took the ashes out of the stove, she found him in the shape of a little tin heart. But of the little dancer nothing remained but the tinsel rose, which was burnt black as a cinder.

I read the story on-line at Sur La Lune. It is from Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, translated by Mrs. Henry H. B. Paull, published 1872.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.


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