In Defense of Thumbelina

Brief History: Hans Christian Anderson claimed to write this story based on what a bluebird told him. In reality, it was included in one of his story fairy tale books that had little success when first published in 1835. A peasant woman plants a barleycorn which was given to her by a beggar and a girl sprouts from the flower that grows. However, this woman has little time with her new child when Thumbelina’s walnut shell bed is kidnapped by a toad. The toad tries to force the kidnapped girl to marry her warty son, but a fish and butterfly rescue her from matrimony… this time. This is followed by ill treatment from a beetle, almost freezing to death in winter, and being pressured by a field mouse to marry a pretentious mole who hates sunlight. Luckily, a swallow who the mole had left for dead takes Thumbelina to a patch of flowers (not home to her mother, because that’s not a happy ending I guess). She meets a flower fairy prince, marries him, and gets wings. Because apparently she was cool with getting married so young, just not to a non-human-like creature.

Analysis: Why did everyone want to marry this girl? And what was with all of the inter-species dating? But Thumbelina isn’t just the story of a girl who must marry to have a happy-ever-after. It’s the story of escaping and making one’s one choices. She gets away from Toad, she doesn’t allow the Beetle to shake her confidence, and, despite the field mouse trying to manipulate her, she runs away from her wedding to the mole (who some historians think was based on a distasteful professor Anderson had in school).

Blame It on the Victorians: Marrying up is the only chance at socio-economic advancement a young lady has. Remember that, kids. But, luckily Thumbelina holds out for her choice of husband, not the rich, but gross mole.

Last Thoughts: But really - where’s the mom’s happy ending? Her kid was taken almost instantly. Not cool.


In Defense of Jenny Lind (still a fairy tale topic, I swear)

This is a little change from the usual blog. Recently, many of my friends have been renting the Greatest Showman. I saw this movie in theaters with my boyfriend, who knew I'd want to pick it apart and felt it might be best if I only annoyed him about it. But no. There is one element which I must share my irritation over with the world -  how they portrayed Jenny Lind. *Side note: Even though the movie is a beautiful lie and a fairy tale itself, I do still own the soundtrack because I can never resist Wolverine singing. Ever. It is the weakness some evil villain will find a way to use against me someday, I know it.

Brief History: I am going to keep this super brief, but know that you can find out more through the books at our local library. Jenny Lind (born 1820) was a Swedish Opera singing child prodigy who almost destroyed her career before it began because her parents never thought to get her proper training. Luckily, a teacher stepped up, found her, and saved her voice. In her 20s, she toured Denmark, Germany, England, and Austria where her fame once again sky rocketed. She had several supposed relationship that did not turn out, usually because of her career and travel. The one that will be notable for this blog is one I have mentioned before. Hans Christian Andersen asked her to marry him and was refused, which some historians believed inspired several of his fairy tales (see Nightingale and the Snow Queen for both positive and negative depictions).

In her late 20s/early 30s, Lind was invited to New York by the great humbug himself, P.T. Barnum. I could tell you so much about Barnum right now, so much that would upset the character created by Hugh Jackman, but plenty of blogs and list videos have already been dedicated to that topic. I'm simply going to focus on what he did which effected Lind. First of all, Jenny Lind had never been particularly keen on her own looks. Yet, when she arrived in the U.S., she discovered her own face everywhere. This was because Barnum had advertised her arrival by printing a mask of the "Swedish Nightingale's" face in the newspaper. Seeing so many New York children walking around with a print of her face made her dislike of Barnum start pretty much right away.

Thanks to Barnum's hype of his newest attraction, he had to auction off tickets to her show and the U.S. and Canada developed "Lind mania". Look it up! There are almost a dozen places and objects named after her in North America alone. She hated the publicity, but still agreed to go on tour. After nearly a hundred concerts with Barnum (a lot the money from these that she earned went to different charities she selected), she was so sick of Barnum's crap that she finished the tour on her own with her soon-to-be husband, a pianist named Otto Goldshmidt. When the tour was finally over, she and her husband went back to Europe and only occasionally put on concerts (usually only charitable events because she pretty much invented the celebrity charity concert). Besides still singing, she raised 3 kids and became a singing professor at a college.

Analysis: [SPOILER ALERT FOR THE GREATEST SHOWMAN HERE] So why did I just give you the brief history of Lind's life? For those of you who have seen the Greatest Showman - what did I leave out? What? I forgot that very public kiss she gave Barnum that was reported in the newspapers and almost cost him is marriage? And I didn't mention what a bitch she was when he rebuffed her? THAT NEVER HAPPENED! The man turned her face into a paper mask as a publicity stunt. Would you make-out with someone who did that? No.

Blame it on the Theatre: Where does this myth of Lind and Barnum have a secret attraction come from? For once, Hollywood isn't to blame. Most films about Lind did not make Barnum her love interest. It wasn't until 1980 when a musical called Barnum came out on Broadway starring Jim Dale and Glenn Close (which I have to admit was probably fabulous). The film the Greatest Showman takes many plot points from this production, most notably Barnum falling for Lind, but choosing his wife. It creates great drama, but it does an injustice to Jenny Lind, who is barely remembered now. She was giving, talented, and once the biggest star in the world, but instead an entire generation will remember her as that bitch who almost ruined P.T's marriage to Michelle Williams. Dang it.

Last Thoughts: Despite all of my grousing, I was totally listening to the Greatest Showman soundtrack the whole time I wrote this blog - just not the Jenny Lind song because I hate it.

In Defense of the Nightingale

Brief History: In yet another of Hans Christian Andersen's rare happy ending stories, The Nightingale is about a Chinese emperor who demands a kitchen maid to ask a nightingale to appear in his court, because he was told that the bird's song is the most beautiful thing in his kingdom. He adores and favors the nightingale until someone gives him a mechanical bird that he obsesses over instead, so the real songbird leaves. Years later, the mechanical bird breaks and the emperor is dying, but the nightingale sings to Death personified and the emperor is granted a few more years of life. Some historians believe this was yet another of Andersen's tributes to his unrequited love for the Swedish Nightingale, singer and good-deed-doer Jenny Lind.

Analysis: Bad emperor! Bad! Stop prizing material possessions over mechanical ones. Need I say more?

Blame it on the Victorians: A part of this story may have been inspired by the growing industrialization which had started in England. Machinery was replacing what had been known as "cottage industry" and, although mass production made item easier to make and more affordable, the factories changed living conditions and social-economic issues. It also spread urbanization (which is fun to say - try it), which several of Andersen's fairy tales showed in a negative light. Looking at you, Little Match Girl!

Last Thoughts: The emperor was once played by Mick Jagger. Close your eyes. Imagine the cultural appropriation. The 80s were a confusing time.

In Defense of the Princess and the Pea

Brief History: Hans Christian Andersen (of Little Mermaid, Little Match Girl, and other depressing tales) wrote this simple story of an unconventional princess. She appears on the castle door of a prince in search of a bride without an entourage and soaked from a storm. The prince is instantly taken with this quirky young woman. The queen suspects that she’s a fraud and, although offers her a bed for the night, places a single pea under 20 mattresses and 20 quilts. She tells her son that only a true princess would be sensitive enough to feel a pea under such a high bed. The next day, the princess politely reports that she didn’t sleep well and that something in the bed bruised her. The prince marries her right off and they put the pea under glass in a museum.

Analysis: This concept creates many questions. When the queen was a princess, was she that sensitive which was how she knew this? Now that she was queen, was she still that sensitive? Did the princess really feel the pea or was she just freaked out all night by being so high up? On the positive side, this is a princess who is purposely unusual. She had to be quirky to make the queen suspicious, yet she is the one the prince wants. This is also sweet because he wants her even if she wasn’t a true princess.

Blame it on the Victorians: What! Andersen wrote a happy story? This must’ve been an off-day for him. As far as Victorian writers go, let’s face it, most of his stories are the pits.

Last thoughts: Best version is the Faerie Tale Theatre episode staring Liza Minelli. Anyone remember that?

*If you want know any of the places where some of my research comes from, just contact me.