Hello my lovely readers!
It’s time for another Fairy Tale Friday and this Friday I break from the Grimm tradition with…
The above was the least depressing picture I could find. Seriously. I found a lot of artwork with crying baby swans and they were just so sad.
Oops. Have I just spoiled this??!!
The fairy tale for this week feels relatively more straight forward than previous weeks and it is in part due to the fact that there is one version as opposed to a trillion.
Hans Christian Andersen wrote this as an original fairy tale in 1843 and included it in a collection with three of his other stories (The Angel, The Nightingale and The Sweethearts). This particular collection is considered to be more autobiographical than his others and did very well in Denmark upon release.
Let’s take a look.
a duck was minding her nest of eggs when a swan’s egg rolled into it.
(Oh phew I didn’t spoil the story)!
Despite knowing that the egg was different from the rest, the duck sat on it and waited. One by one all the eggs began to hatch revealing cute, fluffy little ducklings…
Finally, after some time, the large egg hatched and revealed…
Awww!! But clearly not a duckling.
Unfortunately because it was not like the rest of the nest, our poor ‘duckling’ was considered ugly and was constantly mocked for it. He was mocked for it by his duckling siblings, by the other ducks in the pond and by the animals in the farm.
It got to the point where the ‘duckling’ began to worry that his mother duck would join in with the excessive bullying and turn against him and so decided to leave before that could happen.
And this is where our cute, fluffy friend only found more misfortune. He came across some friendly geese who were all, ‘come fly with us’ but luckily the ‘duckling’ was too young. Because it was hunting season, the minute the geese took to the air they were shot down. In front of our newly exposed to the world baby bird. Ouch.
Then the ‘duckling’ came across an old woman who lived (no, not in a shoe) in a cottage with her hen and cat. The old woman was particularly fond of the ‘duckling’ and even though the ‘duckling’ found that he longed for the water, he was happy.
But my friends if we know anything we know this – hens and cats are dicks. Did we know this? I feel the cat thing is not the world’s best kept secret but can we add ‘henny’ to the term ‘catty’ because…. they were dicks.
The hen and cat began to bully the ‘duckling’ about how useless he was, how he couldn’t purr or keep the old woman comfortable and how he couldn’t provide eggs like the hen could. Not surprisingly, the ‘duckling’ then left and went wandering away. In winter.
Yes, if you’re thinking, ‘wow, this little bird cannot catch a break,’ you would be right. But huzzah! A nice farmer found him and took him home, thinking that he’ll keep him safe in the winter.
Unfortunately (it’s just one ‘unfortunate’ thing after the other) the farmer had two happy, noisy little children that wanted to play with the ‘duckling’ and because our feathered friend had never experienced ‘play’ he took it to mean that they were going to hurt him and he fled into the night. Possibly. It could have been night. But it was still winter.
The ‘duckling’ somehow survived winter, alone and cold and miserable. No, I’m not crying. It’s raining indoors. But with the spring came sunshine, grass and a flock of swans who landed on the lake.
Our ‘duckling’ felt compelled to go over to them but not because he wanted to join them, oh no, but because his life had been so miserable that he’d rather be killed by them then exist any longer.
Jeez. This is for children?? I’m just so sad right now.
But when he went over to the swans he was welcomed with open
arms wings and when he looked down at his reflection he realised that he had never been a duckling but a cygnet and now he was a fully grown swan.
Our swan joined the flock and was admired by all people who saw him as he was the most beautiful swan of them all.
Meanwhile I cry at this story but still make sure to avoid the swans in the park I walk through.
Of all the fairy tales I’ve done so far this one is probably the least horrific, least complicated and most heartwarming.
I think it is quite sad that Hans Christian Andersen considered this to be his most autobiographical tale to the extent that when asked if he would write an autobiography he referred them to this story.
Apparently he was an ugly child who was bullied for his appearance and his interests (such as theater and writing) and he spent a large portion of his childhood wishing he was more attractive and could fit in.
In his adult life there were rumours that he was one of the many illegitimate children of the King of Denmark and so this also manifested within ‘The Ugly Duckling’ as a wish fulfillment.
I just think this is deeply sad and says a lot about a person if they consider this to be representative of their life.
For me this is a straight forward story about bullying, being different and being accepted.
In my humble opinion I think there are several morals to this story and so I’m going to bullet point them below:-
- Some people are late bloomers in life and people don’t stay as they were at one point in time;
- Bullying is a nasty and destructive action that causes deep seated harm and negative consequences;
- You may not be accepted by everyone but the right people will accept you for who you are
I think I have warm, fuzzy feelings towards this story because of the third point –
The right people will accept you for who you are
And though I think that everyone should be accepted for who they are, I know the world sadly doesn’t work like that.
Hans Christian Andersen didn’t want to spoil the ‘twist’ ending for readers and so changed the title from ‘The Young Swan’ to ‘The Ugly Duckling.’ But then he still kept in the reference to a swan’s egg rolling into the duck’s nest so…
HCA enjoys a bit of suffering (I’m thinking of his other stories as well) and has a tendency to martyr those who suffer. This could very much be because of his feelings towards himself.
All writers have a ‘thing’, I think this is his.
If I had a qualm it would be this – the wish fulfillment at the end is high. Not only does the swan get to be a beautiful swan but he gets to be the most beautiful swan. If this is a bit of an autobiographical tale does this mean that Hans is a Gary Stu?
Ducklings are cute and cygnets are cute. Ducks are lovely. Swans are lovely. But is one better than the other? I don’t think so. I feel like this story may be pushing the swan agenda because at the end it seems to be saying that being a swan is better.
I feel like that may go against the whole ethos of the story which is you know, not judging?
I’m thinking this is the true author… Hans Christian Swandersen.
The emphasis on beauty at the end is almost a bit of a shame. It’s ok that the cygnet was not as pretty as the ducklings because hey, he grew up to be a swan.
Even if someone grows up to be decidedly average then it’s still ok that they weren’t as pretty or as talented as anyone else when they are younger. You don’t have to suddenly ‘blossom’ into a stunner or supreme talent to be worthy.
The cygnet was always beautiful because he was a lovely creature who just wanted happiness. He just needed to find his people.
You don’t need to be the best of the best to find your people. You just need to find them.
I feel that this story could be used to highlight the issues with racism, sexism, homophobia and ableism and how we often view beauty as being similar to ourselves and how badly people end up treating others they consider different.
Remember, it starts with the ducklings.
There are suggestions that Hans Christian Anderson was bisexual and so if we look to The Ugly Duckling as a story about not fitting in this may also explain why he found it autobiographical.
Generally fairy tales based on animals don’t have a lot of retelling’s. The ‘beautiful all along’ trope found in The Ugly Ducking is quite a common one and so I’ve also looked at that.
Some other versions of The Ugly Duckling are:-
- The Ugly Duckling (movie) – 1931 & 1939 by Disney
- Princess Tutu (anime)
Some versions of the ‘beautiful all along’ trope are:-
- Miss Congeniality (movie)
- She’s All That (movie)
- The Princess Diaries (movie)
- Strictly Ballroom (movie)
I’ve got nothing. Literally… nothing.
If I did a retelling the characters would have to switch from animals to people because I honestly don’t think I could do a retelling based on birds.
The only thing I can think of is to follow the plot of The Ugly Duckling but with people instead. This could mean that a child is different from the rest of their family in some way and the story becomes a positive one about life and acceptance.
If anyone else has any ideas please share as the inspiration well is dry today!
If all goes according to plan, the next Fairy Tale Friday is on Goldilocks.
As always, let me know your thoughts on the fairy tale and I welcome discussion and suggestions for future Fridays!