The Steadfast Tin Soldier

February 20, 2011 at 2:32 pm (Book Commentary, Faery tales) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Fairy Tales. Fairy tales are old, almost ancient. Only myths are older. Or so the myth goes…

How does one construct a fairy tale?

With words like:

  • There was once…
  • With talking animals, trolls, goblins, soldiers and graceful ballerinas. ..
  • Who are seeking their deepest desires and true enduring love…
  • Beyond home, without brothers or beyond the castle gates…
  • In spite of being created out of an old tin spoon…
  • Overcoming pride and learning patience…
  • Facing three difficulties (the fall, the boat ride and the fish)…
  • Only to end, in a circular fashion, back where they started.

This is the journey of Hans Christian Andersen‘s Steadfast Tin Soldier. This is one of the first original fairy tales, that is, it was not based upon any previous oral folk tale. It was published in 1838 and to me, feels very Victorian. It is a tale only incidentally about brothers; individualism rules the day. The description of the birthday party sets the scene in a middle-class merchant’s household in a fancy nursery overflowing with the sort of toys a rich family would buy for their children. Poverty, aka street boys, is only briefly mentioned. There is magic in the language itself.

There were once five and twenty, rather than the more common, twenty-five soldiers.

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These are Victorian soldiers, proud to serve King and country.

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The steadfast soldier falls out a window but cannot shout for help because “he did not think it proper to shout when he was in uniform.”

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His pride keeps him from talking to the ballerina he has fallen in love with.

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He can only admire her from afar and this love is both their undoing.

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These are very Victorian sentiments.

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.

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The Victorians, after all, thought it possible for one to lose all your entire gay colour because of sorrow and grief. The English watched their gay, young Queen turn into a drab, colourless matron after the death of her husband.

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The Victorians lived lives of duty, governed by Fate and because of this were weary of happy endings. The poorer you were, the less likely your life would end “Happily Ever After. A soldier’s lot was duty and death not everlasting love.

Yet, in spite of all this, the Victorians had an unshakable belief in fairy tales, mediums and magic. They still believed in Everlasting Love. In their tales, a blackened heart was the ruin of many a great man.

I always wanted to be a ballerina. I wanted to dance for Kings and Queens; to race through the grand halls of palaces; and to trade poverty for not necessarily fame, but the certainty of a calling, a destiny. How very Victorian!

Does this come from being raised on Fairy Tales? The earliest books and stories I read were British, European, and reflected my current life not at all. I was a poor, small town girl with little prospects and great dreams. I learnt early that I could never have my heart’s desires. I learnt early that love lead only to blackened hearts; best not to dream at all.

I always wanted a box of tin soldiers. There was beauty in their old-fashioned, regimented, uniformity. I would never get any for these were boy’s toys not suitable for me. There is a certain beauty, a yearning still, for men in uniforms.

I almost grew up a military brat. I and my two older sisters were born when my dad was in the Canadian Air Force. My dad was not a steadfast man.

My grandfather, my mother’s father, was a steadfast man. He was loyal but unchangeable. I wish he had taught me how to sharpen knives. I wish someone had bought me toy tin soldiers. I wish they had shown me how to be both steadfast and changeable. For to be able to love truly, I must learn how to be both or end up, like the Steadfast Tin Soldier and his ballerina, nothing but ash and a blackened heart.

P.S. February 2011 is my Fairy Tale month. The next post will finish off my month of Fairy Tales.

P.S.S. You know what I hate? Having a book in my head and not being able to find it. There was an enchanting novel about poverty and a poor Russian girl who is discovered and sent to the Imperial Russian Ballet School. I loved that book and read it when I was a teenager so it would have to have been published before 1980. If I was back in my home town library I would be able to find it on the shelf still (I bet). But since I’m not going to be there any time soon… this book has the same basic plot and sounds interesting.

My second favourite ballet book is Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes. Emma Watson starred in a good movie version while she also did Harry Potter. I recommend both the book and the movie.

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