It was lovely out in the country. Summer had come; the wheat in the fields was golden, the oats were still green, and the new-mown hay had been built into haystacks in the meadow, where the storks walked around on their long red legs talking to each other in Egyptian.The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen. Trans. from Danish by Anthea Bell.
Thus begins one of the loveliest children’s stories ever written—The Ugly Duckling, by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875).
I don’t remember my parents reading stories to me as a child. That doesn’t mean they didn’t do it, only that I have no memory of it. For my children, it was different. I spent many enjoyable hours after work and on weekends reading classic children’s stories to them. Also, every summer, they stayed with their grandparents at a log cabin on Passamaquoddy Bay in New Brunswick, Canada. During each stay, their grandmother wrote, produced, and directed a film in which the children starred. Literary fairy tales were the source of many of the movie scripts — some of them by Hans Christian Andersen. “The Princess and the Pea” is one of his I particularly remember. Another fun one was “The Frog Prince” based upon a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm.
For me, however, reading and enjoying children’s stories came only as an adult. I have benefitted greatly from my wife’s collection of children’s books, ones she owned as a child. These books fill one entire room in our house. Of course, a book read to you when you are nine years old, is different than the same book read by you when you are twenty-nine or forty-nine or sixty-nine years old.
What I like about The Ugly Duckling, and who has never felt like one, is that it helps us to deal with situations in which we are mistreated or misunderstood. The world often misjudges us by applying the wrong standard; its measuring stick is inadequate. Many times the world fails to see the swan we are.
Every evening, I take our collie for his last walk of the day. On our way to the field he enjoys, we pass through a long brick walkway. Often there are groups of young people who have gathered. They are loud, shouting at one another, laughing, pushing and shoving each other. All of them are swans. Some of them seem to know this already. But others, well, they’re not there yet. I wish I could speak to them, those who don’t know yet, talk to them in a way they could understand, tell them to be patient. One day, I would say to them, you will look in the mirror and find the beautiful person you are looking back at you.
“Kill me!” said the poor bird, and he bent his head and waited for death—but what did he see there in the clear water but his own reflection? He had grown into a swan himself…He felt really glad to have been through so much suffering and hardship, because now he could enjoy his own good fortune and the beauty around him all the more.The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen. Trans. from Danish by Anthea Bell.
In 1952, Danny Kaye starred in the movie Hans Christian Andersen. Charles Vidor directed the movie, inspired by the life of the great Danish storyteller. In it, Kaye sings the following, my favorite.
Enjoy your week!