Friday, February 10, 2012

Fairy Tale Fridays - The Little Match Girl

One of the fairy tales I loved best when I was young was Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Match Girl." Perhaps it's because I'm especially fond of Andersen on the whole, being of Danish descent. But I'm more inclined to believe that it's because the story is so sad and yet so filled with hope. Unlike so many fairy tales, while this one pulls no punches, there is nothing in the story that has to be sanitized for children. In fact, in reading our copy of The Little Match Girl, illustrated by Rachel Isadora and published in 1987, I found that I was reading exactly the same story as the one I had just read in my "grownup" collection of Andersen's tales. The story of "The Little Match Girl" was first published in 1845 and was intended by Andersen to be a moral lesson about the plight of Europe's poor.

On New Year's Eve, a poor girl is on the streets, barefooted, cold and hungry. No one is buying her matchsticks and she can't go home until she sells some or her father will beat her. Finally, she seeks solace in a sheltered corner and lights one of the match sticks to keep warm. Suddenly she is seeing visions of a roasted goose. When that match stick burns out, she quickly lights another and can feel the warmth of the fire she sees before her. In one vision she sees a shooting star. Her grandmother had told her that shooting stars mean a soul is going to heaven, and when she lights her next matchstick, she sees her grandmother. Quickly the girl lights the rest of her matchsticks because she so wanted her grandmother to remain with her. The grandmother grabbed the girl up in her arms and together the two ascended to heaven. In the morning, the body of the little girl was found in the corner, a smile on her face.

Lovely and touching, yes? I think so. Which is why I can't, for the life of me, explain how Rikki Ducornet took that story as inspiration for her story "Green Air" which appears in My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me. In her story, an unnamed woman (I assume it's a woman, she is locked in a drawer in a cedar chest the entire story so can it be a human), is married to a brute of a man who dreams of nothing but violent sex and abuses the woman. The only correlation I can see between this story and Andersen's tale is a note that the woman has a matchbox tucked in her pocket which she begins lighting, that and the idea of an abused person looking for an escape from an untenable life. At the end of this story, I had no idea what the heck had happened. Usually if I'm stumped with these stories, the author's notes at the end did nothing to enlighten me. It was the first tale I've read in the book that I didn't enjoy.

That wasn't the strangest thing I discovered as I researched the story of "The Little Mermaid." I had no idea that it had ever been made into a musical. I love musicals and I love this story but even I couldn't possibly see how you could take such a short story and stretch it that far (although I guess if you can turn Where The Wild Things Are into a feature film, anything is possible). Still, when I found this 1987 television adaptation of the movie on YouTube, I found myself irresistibly drawn to what I was certain would be nothing short of a train wreck of a movie. In that I was not disappointed. The music is awful, the story preposterous. Let's face it, if you're a movie starring Roger Daltry and Twiggy, there's not much hope for you. I'll give the little girl playing the match girl props - she did have a terrific voice. I wonder if she was ever able to recover from starring in this bomb?

Next, in honor of Valentine's Day, my focus will be on love in fairy tales.


  1. I wrote a lovely long comment but then the internet ate it...suffice it to repeat, I love Fairy Tale Fridays and enjoyed reading about the light of hope and escape of the original HCA story, one of my favorites from my youth.

    The musical does sound awful, and Green Air tough to read.

  2. The Little Match girl always killed me! By the way, in the book "Breadcrumbs" she makes an appearance, along with a bunch of other fairy tale characters.

  3. The Little Matchgirl has always made me cry. I love the story, but it's such a blended mix of bittersweet sadness. I don't know what I would make of Green Air, but it does sound highly disturbing. I have a hard time reading about people who are being kept prisoner against their will, and while it sounds fascinating, it also sounds hair-raising as well.

    I can't wait for your Valentine's Day themed post!

  4. I've long heard the title The Little Match Girl but never knew the story. Thank you! What a sweet way this story has of touching on a very difficult subject.

  5. The Little Match Girl is heartbreaking and then wham, that other interpretation totally is bizarre!!! Ha! The cover to that movie looks dreadful too!!

  6. I had forgotten about The Little Matchgirl. It's one of the Anderson stories I probably took to heart as a child. Even though she died with a smile on her face I still think it has a sad ending. The other adaptation sounds horrific and I can imagine the movie is rather sentimental.
    Glad you had a good week and hope you have a good Sunday with your family and another good week to follow.

  7. Just goes to show...the book is always better than the movie - even when the book is a fairy tale.