The Wild Swans

H.C. Andersen freely admitted that he based his story, The Wild Swans, on an old folk tale called The Eleven Swans, which may be found in Danske Folkeeventyr collected by Mathias Winther.[1] The two stories are essentially the same; and upon superficial reading may seem very similar although Andersen’s will instantly appear the more polished of the two in wording and transition. However, Andersen has changed the story in much more than simple wording. He has added some motifs, changed some and completely omitted still others. So much so, that it is amazing that the story should have been able to keep its original form. Andersen has, in The Wild Swans, succeeded in one of the most artistic uses of folk lore to be found in literature. He has taken a strong, true folk tale, shorn it of its brutality without taking away its strength, added literary elements without destroying the folk element, and brought in various other folk motifs without incongruity. He managed this by making very little change in the plot of the story and by consistantly returning to the actual details of the original story, sometimes almost to the actual words. Therefore, his additions could enrich the story rather than destroy it with the burdon of literary effects.

Some of the points of return are very close to one another. In others, Andersen adds considerable elaboration. In only two places in the story does he really approch the simplicity of the folk tale. The first is the episode in which Elisa meets the old woman in the woods and asks about her brothers. The old woman has seen no princes but tells of eleven swans in a nearby brook. Andersen is quite brief, considering his usual style.

Hun gik nogle Skridt fremad, da mødte hun en gammel Kone med Bær i sin Kurv, den Gamle gav hende nogle af disse. Elisa spurgte, om hun havde seet elleve Prindser ride igjennem Skoven.

„Nei,” sagde den Gamle, „men jeg saae igaar elleve Svaner med Guldkroner paa Hovedet svømme ned ad Aaen her tæt ved!”

Og hun førte Elisa et Stykke længere frem til en Skrent; nedenfor denne bugtede sig en Aa; Træerne paa dens Bredder strakte deres lange, bladfulde Grene over imod hverandre, og hvor de, efter deres naturlige Vækst, ikke kunde naae sammen, der havde de revet Rødderne løse fra Jorden og heldede ud over Vandet med Grenene flettede i hverandre.

Elisa sagde Farvel til den Gamle og gik langs med Aaen, til hvor denne flød ud i den store aabne Strand.

Except for one long sentence describing the trees along the river, this episode is brief, despite the importance to the plot. The folk version is also brief, but more grim.

… og hun kom da til en Hytte, hvor der sad en gammel Troldhex og spandt. Hende spurgte hun, om hun ikke havde seet elleve Drenge, den ene større end den anden; Men Hexen svarede, at hun kun havde seet elleve deilige Svaner i Dag, der svømmede paa Aaen. Da fulgte Søsteren med Haab i Hjertet langs med Aaen og kom til sidst til en lille Straaehytte.

The second very close rendering of the folk style in Andersen comes at the climax of the story. Here, in the most tense and dramatic moment of the tale, Andersen apparently finds folk simplicity of style more suited to the situation than the more elaborate one which he generally uses throughout the story. Also at this same point in the story is presented the youngest brother who is turned back into a man by the shirt of nettles but who still has one swan’s wing instead of an arm because one arm of the shirt is lacking. This man with a swan wing is one of the most striking details of the entire story, yet Andersen gives him no more attention than does the folk version. It may be seen that Andersen merely smooths and dramatises the climax but does not really add elaboration although his buildup is greater. The folk version says:

Men da hun nu kjørte i Karethen til Retterstedet, kom der elleve snehvide Svaner flyvende efter den; og de fløi i Kredse rundtomkring hende og satte sig endelig paa Karethen, og flagrede med deres hvide Vinger. Da kastede hun den ene Skjorte efter den anden ud til dem, og som de fik Skjorterne bleve de til Mennesker. Men den Ellevte som fik Skjorten med det ene Ærme i, beholdt sin ene Svanevinge. Da sagde hun Kongen det Hele.

Andersen says:

Og de trængte Alle ind paa hende og vilde sønderrive det; da kom elleve hvide Svaner flyvende, de satte sig rundt om hende paa Karren og sloge med deres store Vinger. Da veg Hoben forfærdet til Side.

„Det er et Tegn fra Himlen! Hun er vist uskyldig!” hviskede Mange, men de vovede ikke høit at sige det.

Nu greb Bødlen hende ved Haanden, da kastede hun i Hast de elleve Skjorter over Svanerne, og der stode elleve deilige Prindser, men den Yngste havde en Svanevinge istedetfor sin ene Arm, thi der manglede et Ærme i hans Pand-serskjorte, det havde hun ikke faaet færdig.

„Nu tør jeg tale!” sagde hun, „jeg er uskyldig!”

Although in both of these examples, Andersen’s version is about twice as long as the folk version, yet they are as close to the original as Andersen comes. There are several other points in the story at which he may be said to touch the firm rock of the original folk tale; but many of these points are elaborately decorated with much description and extra action. An exellent example of extra description may be found in the opening few lines of each story. The folk version is brief.

Der var engang en Konge, som havde elleve Sønner og een Datter. Da de nu vare bleven store døde hans Dronning. Herover sørgede han saa meget, at han aldrig tænkte paa at forvinde den Sorg. Men da de tolv Børn vare blevne voxne, giftede han sig igjen, men denne Kone var en leed Troldhex.

The folk tale emphasises death and grief and tells little about the children. Andersen is just the opposite. His opening is all glory with not a word of sorrow.

Langt borte herfra, der hvor Svalerne flyve hen, naar vi have Vinter, boede en Konge, som havde elleve Sønner og een Datter, Elisa. De elleve Brødre, Prindser vare de, gik i Skole med Stjerne paa Brystet og Sabel ved Siden; de skrev paa Guldtavle med Diamantgriffel og læste ligesaa godt udenad, som indeni, man kunde strax høre, at de vare Prindser. Søsteren Elisa sad paa en lille Skammel af Speilglas og havde en Billedbog, der var kjøbt for det halve Kongerige.

O, de Børn havde det saa godt, men saaledes skulde det ikke altid blive.

Deres Fader, som var Konge over hele Landet, giftede sig med en ond Dronning, der slet ikke var de stakkels Børn god, …

However, even more than in additional description, Andersen dramatized the original events much more than did the folk tale. This may be clearly seen in the account of the king’s meeting with Elisa. The folk version merely says that as it was a nice day, Elisa took her work outside in the sunshine. The king rode by; and, seeing her, thought she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen; so he took her home with him. There he married her. Andersen could never be content with such a simple happening. Instead, he starts this episode with the sound of a hunting horn in the distance. Elisa, frightened, hides in her cave with her bundle of nettles. A whole series of big, loud-barking dogs come bounding out of the woods and rush about. They are followed by huntsmen who all station themselves before the cave. Out of the rough, noisy group steps a handsome king who speaks kindly to Elisa. She can only hide her blistered hands. The king immediately adopts her, takes her home to his castle, and speaks in a fatherly way to her; but she can only weep despite all the splender around her. Not until she is dressed in lovely clothes does the king decide to marry her. Here, Andersen skillfully introduces a villain — the archbishop — who whispers that Elisa is a forest spirit instead of human flesh and blood. It is by this type of extra dramatization that Andersen achives two stylistic effects never found in folk tales; i.e. delineation of definite personalities and complete descriptions of the settings of the story. One other point in The Wild Swans deserves mention in this connection. In the folk tale, the eldest prince dreams of the way in which Elisa might free her brothers. Andersen loved to have dreams in his stories. He used them often and mostly as a prophetic element; so this dream was a great chance to use one of his favorite devices, and he took full advantage of it. However, instead of using it as a prophet, he used it as a history. In the dream, the ocean mirages and clouds and the old woman with the berries are brought forth again. Also, the instructions for deliverance are discussed in full and lurid detail. This dream also has a special use in the technical construction of the story. It is a bridge between two parts of the story. In the first part, Elisa had troubles, but they had been resolved; and she was, at the time of the dream, comparatively happy. The progress of her fortunes had been steadily climbing up until this point. Then came the dream. Immediately upon waking from it, Elisa plunged into other, more painful and serious troubles; and her fortunes began a sinking which they were to continue until the very end of the story. In using an unreal thing such as a dream to bridge this change in the story, Andersen showed real artistry. With the dream, he could link the two parts very successfully and at the same time, execute one of the basic techniques in short story writing. This technique is that of repeating the material several times so that the reader does not miss anything important. The story of a dream is perfect for this since Andersen could repeat the lovely ocean images, representing the happiness Elisa was then having, the old woman in the woods, representing the sorrows she had had, and the instructions of making the shirts, representing the sorrows she would have. The dream in itself also led the tone of the story down from the pleasant cave to the first stinging nettle by the same order just mentioned, namely, present happiness, old sorrows, and new sorrows.

In the six points mentioned above, almost the entire plot of the story is included. The king has twelve children but marries a queen who dislikes them; an old woman directs Elisa to the swans who are her brothers; a dream tells how they shall be disenchanted; a king marries Elisa; she is taken to execution but saved by the swans; and one brother still has a swan wing instead of an arm. On a few other points, Andersen touches the original story again, but these six are the most important. Much more material remains in both stories. Some of the elements of the original folk tale are completely omitted by Andersen. Others are transformed. Also Andersen adds many outside elements of both literary and folk origin.

One of the most interesting changes is Andersen’s ability to transfer part of the folk tale to a different part of his own story. Of course, the feature is considerably metamorphised in the change, but it is still recognisable. Two of these changes stand out. The weakest of the two is that of the silver spoons. In the folk tale, the Princes’ eleven silver spoons are used as an identifying mark for the sister. When she starts out to seek her brothers, she takes the spoons. When she finds the brothers’ hut, she leaves the spoons as a signal that she has been there. This is the only mention of glory and finery in the first part of the story. Andersen omits the significance of the spoons entirely, but he takes eagerly the finery and tranfers it to the introduction of his story to help describe how happy the twelve children were.

De elleve Brødre, Prindser vare de, gik i Skole med Stjerne paa Brystet og Sabel ved Siden; de skrev paa Guldtavle med Diamantgriffel…. Søsteren Elisa sad paa en lille Skammel af Speilglas og havde en Billedbog, der var kjøbt for det halve Kongerige.

Possibly Andersen would have included all these fine things in his tale without prompting from eleven silver spoons; but it is interesting that they were there. Andersen had a fertile imagination, but golden grandure is not unknown in folk lore. Besides the eleven fine spoons in The Eleven Swans, there is finery in another story, The Merman, in the same book, collected by Mathias Winther, from which Andersen read the first story. The Merman has a resplendent fish prince.

Men da Broderen nu aabnede Kisten, var Fisken bleven til den deiligste Prinds, man vilde see, som istedetfor de guldgule Skjæl, bar deilige gyldenstykkes Klæder.

The connection between Andersen’s introduction and the silver spoons is weak; but the other transfer is a very strong one. In the folk tale, Elisa wanders into the forest to seek her brothers. Eventually, she meets an old witch sitting in the door of her little hut and spinning. The witch directs Elisa to the eleven swans. She is not a formidable witch. Indeed, she does nothing which shows her to be witch so that only fact that she is said to be so shows that she is not any ordinary old woman. However, by folk tale standards, any old woman who lives alone far from other human beings is bound to be a witch, so a witch she is. Andersen does not seem to think so at first. When he has Elisa ask direction, she asks them merely from an old woman with berries; but really, Andersen takes the witch idea very seriously, for she reappears as Fata Morgana in Elisa’s important dream. Here she is very powerful and deserves entirely every magic name — fairy, witch, etc. — which one might choose to give her because she can thwart the powerful spell of another witch, the queen, although only at a terrible cost to an innocent.

… da forekom det hende, at hun fløj højt op i Luften, til Fata Morganas Skyslot, og Feen kom hende imøde, saa smuk og glimrende, og dog lignede hun ganske den gamle Kone, der gav hende Bær i Skoven og fortalte hende om Svanerne med Guldkronerne paa.

Andersen has put this witch in quite a peculiar position. Her nature is very hard to determine. Andersen might have started with the idea of the witch in the woods but then decided to make Fata Morgana assume the shape of the old woman in the woods, then appear in the dream. Fata Morgana is a fairly common figure in Danish folk culture. She is not such a powerful figure as she is in the Arthurian cycle or the Song of Roland. She is most often, in the Danish folk tales, a friendly old witch. In one tale, she is even the Virgin Mary.[2] However, if Andersen really wanted Fata Morgana to help Elisa, he did poorly by her for he gave her no more power than a common woods witch. The spinning witch of the folk tale could have old Elisa to make shirts of nettles. The fight of magic against magic is always difficult, but the wicked queen was not a strong witch. The power of the Danish Fata Morgana would normally be strong enough to release the brothers from their spell without involving such suffering and peril for Elisa. Andersen has represented the Fata Morgana figure with only the power of a common witch. However, it is an interesting change from the figure of a passive woods witch of the grandure of Fata Morgana in the clouds — a change characteristic of Andersen.

The two major elements which Andersen chose to omit were well chosen. One is the whole involved first meeting of Elisa and her brothers with the complication of the silver spoons, the hut, and the net. The other is the old episode of the jealous queen mother changing the two good babies of two puppies. In shearing away these two episodes, Andersen has let his version carry a straighter, less involved plot and has thus greatly improved the story for his style of writing. Andersen was never really simple. He always had to elaborate and dramatize the simple folk elements. Both of these episodes are important in the original folk version. They would have complicated Andersen’s version unnecessarily. Besides achieving more simplicity by omitting them, Andersen did away with the two parts which were least in character with his interpretation of the story. He saw in The Eleven Swans, a young, noble girl undergoing great hardship to free her brothers. The episode with the hut is a very confusing one. The Princess follows the stream until she finds a hut with eleven beds, pots, and wooden spoons. She takes the spoons and leaves in their place the silver ones. When the swans return at night, they recognise the silver spoons but can not find their sister. The next day, she has made a strong net which she throws over the swans and catch them. Rejoicing, they alle return to the hut. None knows how the enchantment can be broken. That night all the Prince sleep with their heads in their sister’s lap, and the eldest dreams of the means to break the charm. Two or three hundred years ago, perhaps the meaning of all this was perfectly clear to the hearers of the tale. Today the meaning is lost and all this only seems a very confusing way for brothers and sister to meet. Andersen apparently thought so too, for he only keeps one small detail in which the youngest brother stays with Elisa and rests his head on her breast. The meeting itself is simple.

Idet Solen var under Vandet, faldt pludseligt Svanehammen og der stode elleve deilige Prindser, Elisas Brødre. Hun udstødte et høit Skrig; thi uagtet de havde forandret sig meget, vidste hun, at det var dem, følte, at det maatte være dem; og hun sprang i deres Arme, kaldte dem ved Navn og de bleve saa lyksalige, da de saae og kjendte deres lille Søster, der nu var saa stor og deilig.

In leaving out the incident of the step-mother changing the children to puppies, Andersen also acted wisely. This incident is completely unconnected with the general theme of the story as Andersen interpreted it. The folk version uses such bare and simple style that it can introduce such an outside element without too much trouble.

Nu kom der engang Bud til Kongen, saa at han maatte ud i Krigen. Medens han var borte fødte Dronningen to deilige Børn, men den gamle Dronning tog dem fra hende, og befoel en Svend at dræbe dem, og lægge i deres Sted to brogede Hundehvalpe. Imedens sad den unge Dronning og spandt, og vævede, og tænkte paa sine Brødre, og hvor de nu vel vare.

Da nu Kongen kom hjem, og han hørte at hans Dronning havde født to Hundehvalpe til Verden, blev han saa vred, at han dømte hende til Døden.

Andersen would have had to devote much time to this sort of episode since he could not be abrupt as could the folk style. This theme, jealous mother-in-law changing children, is found in many places in folk literature. It is in several folk tales, in ballads, and even in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. It is the sort of theme which could easily be added to many folk tales. Andersen, although he did not use this theme, did naturally use the idea of a wicked person in the court working against Elisa. He changed the jealous mother-in-law to an archbishop because the archbishop could be worked into the plot more naturally than could a king’s mother especially since Andersen could then use the idea of Christianity fighting the remnants of a pagan religion as a reason for Elisa’s final downfall while still keeping the focus of attention of the heroine, which was very skillfully done.

Although Andersen omitted a few of the more confusing and rough parts of the original folk tale, he added many elements of his own, both literary and folk. It is only to be noted that none of these additions really distract from the central point of the story. One of the first important additions is the episode in which the wicked stepmother prepares a bath for Elisa just before she is to see her father.

I den tidlige Morgen gik Dronningen ind i Badet, der var bygget af Marmor og smykket med bløde Hynder og de deiligste Tæpper, og hun tog tre

Skrubtudser, kyssede paa dem, og sagde til den ene: „sæt Dig paa Elisas Hoved, naar hun kommer i Badet, at hun kan blive dorsk, som Du! Sæt Dig paa hendes Pande,” sagde hun til den anden, „at hun kan blive styg, som Du, saa at hendes Fader ikke kjender hende! Hvil ved hendes Hjerte,” hviskede hun til den tredie, „lad hende faae et ondt Sind, at hun kan have Pine deraf!” Saa satte hun Skrubtudserne ud i det klare Vand, der strax fik en grønlig Farve, kaldte paa Elisa, klædte hende af, og lod hende stige ned i Vandet, og idet hun dukkede, satte den ene Skrubtudse sig i hendes Haar, den anden paa hendes Pande og den tredie paa Brystet, men Elisa syntes slet ikke at mærke det; saasnart hun reiste sig op, flød der tre røde Valmuer paa Vandet; havde Dyrene ikke været giftige og kyssede af Hexen, da vare de blevne forvandlede til røde Roser, men Blomster blev de dog, ved at hvile paa hendes Hoved og ved hendes Hjerte; hun var for from og uskyldig til at Trolddommen kunde have nogen Magt over hende.

Probably this whole episode is to be found in some folk tale which Andersen either read or heard in his childhood. Toads are frequent in folk lore. In Stith Tompson’s Motif Index of Folk Literature several referances to toads may be found which suit this episode exactly. Motif B 177.1 is of a magic toad which causes sickness.[3] Also, there are two motifs mentioning toads punishing undutiful children. Motif number Q 557.1 records a poisenous toad sitting on the food of bad children. Motif Q 551.1 records a toad clinging to the face of a bad son.[4] These strengthen the idea that Andersen had the toad bath idea from folk lore. Also the flowers which are left floating on the water are from folk lore. They may be regarded as roses since Andersen indicates that they should have been so had not the toads been so vile. In the Motif Index, Stith Tompson lists the Rose as „a chastity index” (H 432.1) „Fading rose indicates unfaithfulness”.[5] The strong red color of the flowers, which indicates Elisa’s purity is emphasised by the red poppies being left instead of red roses. Roses in medieval lore were strongly symbolic of the true and innocent since the rose was a symbol for the Virgin. Therefore, as regards both toads and the red roses, Andersen had conciously or unconciously kept the episode true to all the specifications of folk lore. Andersen’s genius lies in the fact that he could combine folk elements with true folk tale spirit.

The second noticably added episode in Andersen’s version is Elisa’s dream in the forest before she meets her brothers. Dreams were a favorite device of Andersen’s, and this one seems to serve the purpose of prophecy.

Hele Natten drømte hun om sine Brødre; de legede igjen som Børn, skrev med Diamantgriffel paa Guldtavle og saae i den deiligste Billedbog, der havde kostet det halve Rige; men paa Tavlen skrev de ikke, som før kun Nuller og Streger, nei de dristigste Bedrifter, de havde udført, Alt hvad de havde oplevet og seet; og i Billedbogen var Alt levende, Fuglene sang, og Menneskene gik ud af Bogen og talte til Elisa og hendes Brødre, men naar hun vendte Bladet, sprang de strax igjen ind, for at der ikke skulde komme Vilderede i Billederne.

This dream would seem to convey the idea that in the end, everything would turn out happily for the eleven royal children. Certainly, its tone is as cheerful as it is possible to be. There is also a touch of genuine folk lore here, although whether or not Andersen knew of the motif is unknown. That is, that the pictures in the book come alive. This idea is listed in the Motif Index (D435.2.1).[6] It is the type of idea which fills Andersen’s stories, but he might have originally had the idea from an old folk tale.

Soon after the dream, a detail is introduced which probably came straight from another folk tale in Mathias Winther’s collection. The old woman in the wood says that she „saw eleven swans who wore golden crowns”. Several other times in the story are the golden crowns on the swans’ heads mentioned. In The Eleven Swans, no such ornaments are introduced; but in the folk tale of Svanehvide, in the same Danske Folkeeventyr by Mathias Winther, a lovely princess is changed into a swan with a golden crown on its head and three gold rings around its neck. Andersen surely used this detail after reading Svanehvide.

The next notable addition is the fine description of the ocean which Andersen includes just before he has Elisa meet her brothers. In many of his travel books, Andersen often says how much he loves the sea and how every Dane loves the sea. Here is a bit of that love coming out in a fairy tale. Andersen was a master at description and a great lover of natural beauty, so he would never lose such an opportunity as this to use his gift. This description is one of the best examples in Andersen’s work of showing how purely literary matter can be fused with folk material so as to complement instead of contrast. The whole description points up traits in Elisa or mirrows the moods of her fortunes so that the description enriches the folk heroine rather than distracting from her. First, she is taught patience and hope by the smooth sea-worn pepples on the shore for she quickly sees how the persistance of the soft waves has shaped the hard stones to their will and realises that she can do the same with her troubles. Then the weather changes on the sea. Elisa might see her whole future blocked out, the rough dark stormy period to come and then the quietness during which the sea looked like a rose petal (the rose theme again) and finally the quiet happy movement of a normal life. To use one small incident to parrallel an entire story is a technical device muchly admired by many modem writers. Andersen used it often and skillfully. This description of the sea is an example of the use of this device.

Along with Elisa’s meeting with her swan brothers, Andersen used another folk idea which is lacking in The Eleven Swans but is found in many folk tales. That is the younger brother theme. In almost all folk tales there are three brothers, the youngest succeeds where the elder two fail. Andersen used the younger brother here to be the one nearest to Elisa. He is the only of the brothers who shows any definite character, The eldest is the spokesman for the group, in conformity with the original folk tale, but the youngest has the most personal relations with Elisa.

… men een af dem, den Yngste, blev tilbage; og Svanen lagde sit Hoved i hendes Skjød, og hun klappede dens hvide Vinger; hele Dagen vare de sammen.

Ved hendes Side laae en Green med deilige modne Bær, og et Bundt velsmagende Rødder; den havde den Yngste af Brødrene samlet og lagt til hende, og hun tilsmilede ham taknemmelig, thi hun kjendte, det var ham, som fløi lige over hendes Hoved og skyggede med sine Vinger.

„Nu skal vi see, hvad Du drømmer her inat!” sagde den yngste Broder og viste hende hendes Sovekammer.

… og den yngste Broder græd, og hvor hans Taarer faldt, der følte hun ingen Smerter, der forsvandt de brændende Vabler.

Da susede mod Aften, tæt ved Gitteret, en Svanevinge, det var den Yngste af Brødrene, han havde fundet Søsteren ; ….

… men den Yngste havde en Svanevinge istedet for sin ene Arm, thi der manglede et Ærme i hans Pandserskjorte, det havde hun ikke faaet færdig.

This folk motif was very useful to Andersen in this story. It supplied him with a link between Elisa and her brothers which was well suited to his own idea of family contact.

The flight of the brother swans across the ocean is one of the most puzzling of all the things which Andersen added. From the swans account of the flight, it would seem that part of their enchantment included exile into the land across the ocean although this is not explained very well. It may be that only by such a barrier could they escape their stepmother’s spite. Nevertheless, the ocean flight is a strange one. Flights of humans with birds are not unknown in folk lore. Sinbad the Sailor flew on the back of a great bird. Stith Tompson lists a bird flying a man to safety as motif number B 542.1.[7] The original folk version mentions a net which the sister uses to catch the swans. This may have given Andersen the idea of using the net to carry Elisa. However, he might have read of such a flight elsewhere. In How Sharp Snaffels Won His Wife, an American folk tale, there is a humorous account of a man being carried in a net by a flock of ducks. The island in mid ocean is the sort of thing that might be found in sailors’ tales, but how Andersen thought of it is unknown. The most interesting idea that Andersen added in connection with the ocean flight was the vision of Fata Morgana. Fata Morgana was originally known in world folk lore as a mirage. In Danish popular thought she has kept much of that quality, but she has long and varied international fame. Fata Morgana is Morgan le Fey in English, and in French from which much of the British romance material comes, and is known in British Celtic lore as a very powerful fairy in the medieval sense of the word fairy. She is a fairy in the medieval meaning of a human sized and appearing, supernatural being. The land of Fey, or Fairyland, was a very real place in medieval supernatural lore. Some idea of this land may be had from the English ballad Thomas Rhymer which tells of a man who follows a beautiful woman to the Land of Fey for seven years. A note on this ballad says that Ogier le Danois (Holger Danske) had the same experience with Morgan le Fey as Thomas Rhymer had with his beautiful lady.[8] Morgan le Fey also appears in the Arthurian cycle and is thus connected with Celtic lore. Also in Celtic lore is a lost magic land somewhere in the western seas called Hy Brasil. (This might also appear in more modern days as the strange belief in Atlantis, the lost continent.) Andersen has masterfully used all of this wealth of ancient material in his representation of Fata Morgana while at the same time keeping close to the simple modern Danish meaning of a mirage. Here is Elisa, ignorant of the wide world, flying high in the air over the sea, a whole days journey away from anything she had ever known before. An inexperienced traveler is naturally the one to believe every mirage that he sees. Also, Elisa is over a nameless ocean going in no designated direction — a perfect setting for Hy Brasil, the Land of Fey, and Fata Morgana. Medieval knights had much trouble with Morgan le Fey. Once she had lured them into her enchanted land, it was almost impossible to leave again. Most knights were not as fortunate as Thomas Rhymer and Ogier le Danois, both of whom returned to the realistic world. Andersen fully catches the spirit of this magic, beautiful, but dangerous land in his description.

Hun spurgte, om det var Landet, hun skulde til, men Svanerne rystede med Hovedet, thi det hun saae var Fata Morganas deilige, altid omvexlende Skyslot; derind turde de intet Menneske bringe. Elisa stirrede derpaa; da styrtede Bjerge, Skove og Slot sammen, og der stode tyve stolte Kirker, alle hverandre lige, med høie Taarne og spidse Vinduer. Hun syntes at høre Orgelet klinge, men det var Havet, hun hørte. Nu var hun Kirkerne ganske nær, da bleve disse til en heel Flaade, der seilede hen under hende; hun saae ned, og det var kun Havtaage, der jog hen over Vandet.

Although Andersen omitted the jealous Queen Mother with her puppies, he added, in her place, the spiteful archbishop and hard hearted people of the country. In eliminating the puppy incident, Andersen left himself with no agent to cause Elisa’s final downfall. In choosing the archbishop supported by the people, Andersen had the most natural agent from both a supernatural and a sociological point of view. From the archbishop’s point of view, Elisa was an evil spirit. She represented the pagan spirits of the woods against whom the church was constantly at war.

… og Kongen kaarede hende til sin Brud, skjøndt Erkebiskoppen rystede med Hovedet og hviskede, at den smukke Skovpige vist var en Hex, hun blendede deres Øine og bedaarede Kongens Hjerte.

The ideological conflict is the most probable explanation of the archbishop’s attitude since no personal reason appears. However, Andersen added the people of the country to support the archbishop. The popular prejudice against strange innocence is one of the oldest themes in all literature. It is an easy and natural factor to be used here. The situation is perfect for the rise of popular prejudice and the jeers of the crowd even further point up Elisa’s fine character and are an additional trouble for her to bare. Andersen did not make this factor very important. He only used teasing street boys and the crowd around the death wagon. The highest point of this evil mood is the place at which it causes the mob around Elisa to try to tear her work from her.

„See til Hexen, hvor hun mumler! ikke en Psalmebog har hun i Haanden, nei sit lede Kogleri sidder hun med, riv det fra hende i tusinde Stykker!”

Although Andersen had to find the subjects to present this necessary element in the story, they are not particularly interesting factors. The one advantage to these agents is that they may be woven naturally into the story.

At the end of The Wild Swans, Andersen has two details which are minor to the story but which in themselves have a considerable background which Andersen has thoroughly respected. These are the graveyard wampires and the rose hedge. He uses the vampires in the chain of troubles which beset Elisa, but that is not the most important thing about them from the technical point of view. Many other things could just as easily have been used to accuse Elisa. The vampires importance to the effort to understand Andersen as a writer is the way in which they are represented. They are completely in the folk character. Andersen has Elisa go to the graveyard at night to pick more nettles. She sees the horrible vampires sitting on the graves eating old corpses. Stith Tompson says:

Retaining some of his human characteristics, but essentially goaslike, is the vampire, who comes out of his grave at night and sucks blood.

Andersen may have heard of vampires during his childhood and the impression of this idea would have been strong enough to resist change even by his fertile imagination. The rose hedge is much more symbolic. Suddenly it rises, grown from the very wood which was to have destroyed Elisa. It is a proof and a symbol of her innocence, a miracle come to help the lovely girl. At this point, the fairy tale reads like a saint’s legend. The symbolism of the rose has already been discussed in this paper in connection with the frog bath. It is perfectly used here.

… og medens han talte, udbredte sig en Duft, som af Millioner Roser, thi hvert Brændestykke i Baalet havde slaaet Rødder og skudt Grene; der stod en duftende Hæk, saa høi og stor med røde Roser; øverst sad een Blomst, hvid og skinnende, den lyste, som en Stjerne; den brød Kongen, satte den paa Elisas Bryst, da vaagnede hun med Fred og Lyksalighed i sit Hjerte.

 

Noter

  1. ^ Jean Hersholt (editor and translator), The Complete Andersen, page xvii.
  2. ^ Georg Christensen, „H.C. Andersen og de danske folkeeventyr” a chapter from Danske Studier edited by Marius Kristensen and Axel Olrik.
  3. ^ Stith Tompson. Motif Index of Folk Literature Vol. I page 309.
  4. ^ Ibid. Vol. VI page 576.
  5. ^ Ibid. Vol. Ill page 316.
  6. ^ Ibid. Vol. VI page 421.
  7. ^ Ibid. Vol. VI page 214.
  8. ^ George Lyman Kitteredge and Helen Child Sargeant. English and Scottish Popular Ballads, page 64.
  9. ^ Stith Tompson, The Folktale, page 256.

 

 

Bibliography

  • Andersen, H. C. Eventyr og Historier, Vol. 2. Odense: Flensteds Forlag, 1951.
  • Christensen, Georg, „H.C. Andersen og de danske Folkeeventyr”, Danske Studier edited by Marius Kristensen and Axel Olrik, København.
  • Hersholt, Jean, (translator). The Complete Andersen. New York: The Heritage Press, 1942.
  • Tompson, Stith. The Folktale. New York: The Dryden Press, 1951.
  • Tompson, Stith. Motif Index of Folk Literature. Helsinki: FF Communications Nos. 106—109, 116, and 117, 1932—36.
  • Winther, Mathias (collector). Danske Folkeeventyr. København.

 

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