Searching for a happy ending

Aug 16th, 2012 | By | Category: International

Once Upon A Time was on one of the satellite channels this evening; the American fantasy-drama series. The weaving of tales populated by characters from  fairy stories recognizable to almost everyone has proven successful.  The re-writing of fairy stories does not seem such a bad thing to do; if a story is fictional, and the world is a happier place if it is changed, then why not change the plot?

In the early-90s, when our son was small, I remember changing Hans Christian Andersen’s The Tin Soldier. I remembered it from primary school, a story I didn’t like. What was the point of the story of the poor tin soldier who had been through such experiences only for him to be melted in the fire? I came to the closing paragraphs of the story, the part where a boy throws  the soldier into the hearth and where a sudden draught suddenly catches the paper dancer and blows her into the fireplace after the soldier, both of them being consumed in the flames.

It seemed a sad story to inflict upon a three year old. If a cleric in his early-30s could not see a point in it, what hope was there for a small boy?

It was time for some editorial work. Instead of reading the words on the page, I looked up and said, “The boy threw the tin soldier from the window and as the window was open, there was a gust of wind that caught the dancer and carried her out through the window as well. The wind blew and carried them upwards and far away until they landed in a wood together, far from anyone who could harm them and there they lived happily ever afterwards.”

The three year old thought this a good ending to the story, it provided inspiration for future story telling. We discovered we could dispense with books altogether; we could weave our own tales of Thomas the Tank Engine and Fireman Sam and anyone else who caught our attention. In our stories, anything could happen and unlikely people could appear. Our stories always had a happy ending.

There’s enough sad stuff out there; there are friends in Rwanda who can tell tales from hell. If embroidering old stories makes us smile, makes the world seem a more cheerful place, allows us to sleep easier, then who worries if Pinocchio and Snow White are in the same storyline?

Once upon a time . . .

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  1. The flaw is in your idea of a happy ending.In your version the reality would have been a weighty tin solider falling to the ground and a paper fairy fluttering away. I believe the Andersen story ended with the the tin melting and the paper burning before mixing with the tin and forming a tin heart – everlasting togetherness.

  2. I think I prefer a magical realism where tin soldiers can soar into the sky to Andersen’s metaphor in the fireplace!

  3. I remember the story from primary school as well and still have a hazy recollection of the final illustration in the book of the soldier and the ballerina in the fire……I didn’t like it at the time either, but then at that age it was probably because I didn’t understand …….

  4. Miss Rabbage always did stuff in a plain, untarnished way!

  5. Yes she did, and then finished up with that kindly smile.

  6. I often wonder about her now – it can’t have been a very exciting life.

  7. I think Bette is right – about the melting heart togetherness. However, I prefer your ending.
    My Dad used to tell us stories about a boy called Woody. As sisters arrived, they became the Woody and Rachel stories – rescuing runaway horses, stopping train wrecks, that sort of thing.
    Imagine my happiness when as an adult I gained a friend called Woody.
    When he started going out with a girl called Rachel, the excitement was almost too much.
    Didn’t have a fairytale, fiery or airborne ending though. They split up. He’s with another. No idea about her.

  8. Sounds better than being burned in the hearth!

  9. You’ve got me wondering now, one record of her private life stands, there is a photo of her playing the recorder in the High Ham W.I. book .

  10. Teaching us can’t have been very inspiring!

  11. Ian, they weren’t ‘burnt’ they were melted together in eternal bliss!

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