When I found this book in our libraries, I meant to feature it for our Goddesses, Faeries, Spirit-Stars theme for November/December 2013. However, I realized that as it featured kings, queens, princes, and princesses, it would also fit quite snugly into our present bimonthly theme which Fats has launched a few days back.
While most everyone has heard of Hans Christian Andersen, not everyone may know of Edmund Dulac, reputed to be one of the most illustrious children’s book artists during the Golden Age of Children’s Literature. I knew when I discovered this book lying unloved in our library shelves, that I have quite a rare treasure in my hands. Originally published in 1911, this book has survived the times and landed quite dearly in my yielding hands.
And I was reminded of this quote from C. S. Lewis. I created this beautiful meme by taking a photograph of Edmund Dulac’s artwork found in this book (culled from the story The Mermaid) and edited it using an iPhone app.
The stories found in this book are familiar to me. When I read The Snow Queen, I just finished watching Frozen in the cinema with my then-eleven year old girl (she turned twelve a few days after).
The story entitled The Real Princess in this book is what we commonly know of as The Princess and the Pea. There is also The Mermaid, or what we know of as Ariel thanks to Disney movies sans the happy ending, and the cautionary tale against vanity The Emperor’s New Clothes.
From the first pages on the distorted mirror created by a wicked hobgoblin, I was smitten:
He was one of the worst kind; in fact he was a real demon. One day he was in a high state of delight because he had invented a mirror with this peculiarity, that every good and pretty thing reflected in it shrank away to almost nothing.
On the other hand, every bad and good-for-nothing thing stood out and looked its worst. The most beautiful landscapes reflected in it looked like boiled spinach, and the best people became hideous, or else they were upside down and had no bodies.
The lyrical beauty of the words make me gasp still. Both a child and an adult can take away something meaningful from these words, depending on where they are at a significant point in their lives.
One of my favourite stories though was The Garden of Paradise which also shows how this book is perfect for our Blue Blood theme:
There was once a king’s son; nobody had so many or such beautiful books as he had. He could read about everything which had ever happened in this world, and see it all represented in the most beautiful pictures. He could get information about every nation and every country; but as to where the Garden of Paradise was to be found, not a word could he discover, and this was the very thing he thought most about.
A prince with lots of books! And he isn’t a beast! He managed to visit the Garden of Paradise through the help of his friend, the Eastwind,
and fell in love with the Fairy Queen, to his own detriment.
Andersen seems more like an echo whispering to me from 1911, his woven words traveling through time and space, living and breathing through me as I type these words, heart in my mouth. Edmund Dulac’s illustrations show grace, elegance, and a boundless respect for a child’s aesthetic sense and capacity to appreciate fine art. My experience in reading this tome of a book was a bit surreal as I felt that it was like visiting an old friend as I was reading through the tales and seeing that friend through deeper, grown-up eyes. Yet somehow the friend has grown old with me as well. Now I see it tinged more with sadness than fairy-tale wonder, I can quite grasp its tragic beauty while still marveling at its comfort with strangeness.
More than just love stories, I thought that the tales also spoke of unremitting courage. These are risk-taking adventure stories filled with characters who would gladly embrace death, if it means a single day with a beloved. Hardly pragmatic, yes, but with a full wide-eyed realization of what it means to live. And love.Stories from Hans Christian Andersen with illustrations by Edmund Dulac. This Calla Edition published in 2008 is an unabridged republication of Stories from Hans Andersen, originally published by Hodder & Stoughton, New York and London, in 1911. Book borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.
Reading Challenge Update: 3 of 25