Fairy Tale Friday: The Fir-Tree 

Andersen’s Fairy Tales

by H. C. Andersen

This was an old Christmas present from my mom that I re-found at the beginning of the year. It’s a lovely old book, probably from a used book store. There’s a handwritten note in it dated to June 1961. And while I have other books with a lot of the same stories, there’s something adorable about this one so I’m going through reading all them. 

The Fir-Tree (pg. 9-20)

“And the wind kissed the tree, and the dew watered it with tears; but the fir-tree regarded them not” (11).
“And the tree saw all the fresh bright flowers in the garden, and then looked at itself , and wished it had remained in the dark corner of the garret” (19-20).

As any good story, it opens with a problem: the fir tree wants to be tall.

First thing we hear is how

“Sometimes the children would bring a large basket of raspberries or strawberries, wreathed on a straw, and seat themselves near the fir-tree, and say, ‘Is it not a pretty little tree?’ which made it feel more unhappy than before” (9).

The childrens’ “little tree” reinforces its size, which upsets the fir-tree and makes it even more self-conscious about its height. It wants to be tall for reasons:

“‘Oh! how I wish I were as tall as the other trees, then I would spread out my branches on every side, and my top would overlook the wide world. I should have the birds building their nests in my boughs, and when the wind blew, I should bow with stately dignity like my tall companions'” (9).

It summary, it wants to see the world, spread out, and feel wind in its branches.  It wants to have dignity. And because it isn’t as tall as the fir-tree would prefer, it’s unhappy with its situation. As a result, it can’t see what’s around it (e.g. sunshine, prettiness).

“The tree was so discontented, that it took no pleasure in the warm sunshine, the birds or the rosy clouds that floated over it morning and evening” (9).

It continues to grows and is still unsatisfied.

As it waits, other trees are taken by woodsmen. The fir-tree wants to know where they go. This question indicates a desire to know more. The fir tree wants to learn. Later, it sees other trees taken in a different manner. It learns from the birds that those firs are decorated around Christmas although their ultimate fate is unknown. It feels a longing to be one and thinks it must lead to something grand because of how beautiful it sounds. Here, the fir-tree equates goodness with beauty without knowledge. It assumes if it imagines something to be beautiful, it must be good.

The fir continues to ignore the gifts around it.

But finally it is selected by the woodsmen. Although the experience of being cut down is unpleasant.

“As the axe cut through the stem, and divided the pith, the tree fell with a groan to the earth, conscious of pain and faintness, and forgetting all its anticipations of happiness, in sorrow at leaving its home in the forest” (12).

Furthermore, “Neither was the journey at all pleasant” (12).

Once it’s set up and decorated for Christmas, the fir-tree wonders: ” ‘Will the trees of the forest come to see me? I wonder if the sparrows will peep in at the windows as they fly?'” (13). Aw. Now that it has what it longed for, it wants to share with others (the birds and other trees).

As it waits to discover what will happen to it, the fir is anthromorphozied. It’s aching bark is like a human headache: “But guessing was of very little use; it made his bark ache, and this pain is as bad for a slender fir-tree, as a headache is for us” (13).

It also has a (understandable) fear of fire (this is when it’s decorated with candles, I believe). The fir tries to be proper and control itself despite its fear.

But, oh, ho, as in Andersen, we get ungrateful children.

“Then the children received permission to plunder the tree. Oh, how they rushed upon it, till the branches cracked, and had it not been fastened with the glistening star to the ceiling, it must have been thrown down. The children danced about with their pretty toys, and no one noticed the tree” (14).

Also, no one pays attention to the tree as a full individual for “he had already amused them as much as they wished” (15). No one in the house had any more need to think about the tree, other than as something to discard now that they’re done with it. How sad.

Additionally, I think that’s an unusual phrase and word structure. In comparison to another translation, the same sentence reads: “…but it had already done what it was expected to do” (Classic, 69).  This carries the same sentiment — the fir’s use was over so the people had no more interest it in — and I think it makes a little more sense.

Now that Christmas is over, the fir is put in storage and is lonely. It thinks fondly of its memories in winter prior to being cut down and naively believes in a positive outcome. Namely, that people care about it and mean to do well by it. It begins to hope for a future, which coincides with telling its story to the mice.

The rats dis its story (well, it’s a reiteration of Humpty Dumpty) because it’s not about anything the rats care about, so the the mice stop visiting!

“‘We think it is a miserable story,’ said the rats. ‘Don’t you know any story about bacon, or tallow in the storeroom?’ ‘No,’ replied the tree. ‘Many thanks to you then,’ replied the rats, and they marched off. The little mice also kept away after this” (18).

Finally, it’s brought out of storage. ” ‘Now I shall live,’ cried the tree, joyfully spreading out its branches: but alas! they were all withered and yellow” (19). Look how it’s spreading out its branches like it wanted to do at the beginning. But, oh, poor fir. It’s happy to be out but then realizes it’s dried and shriveled up.

Then the children come and are cruel and mock it. In particular,

“The youngest saw the gilded star, and ran and pulled it off the tree. ‘Look what is sticking to the old ugly fir-tree,’ said the child, treading on the branches till they crackled under his boots” (19).

Poor little fir.

It laments its youth and is turned into firewood. The language as it is chopped and thrown into the fire is direct and compose the last words the fir speaks. The fir remembers its life in pops as the fire burns it.

“But at each ‘pop,’ which was a deep sigh , the tree was thinking of a summer day in the forest, or of some winter night, where the stars shone brightly; and of Christmas evening, and of ‘Humpty Dumpty,’ the only story it had ever heard or knew how to relate, til at last it was consumed” (20).

Then it dies. For “[n]ow all was past; the tree’s life was past, and the story also,–for all stories must come to an end at last” (20). This speaks to the sentiment that stories end, just like life ends.

Overall: Sad. It wanted more so it ignored its happiness. It was positive and shared its joy, but others didn’t pay attention to it or dismissed its stories and experiences. It lost its youth which it didn’t enjoy as much as it could. Others (children) are cruel to it.

Works Cited:

Andersen, Hans Christian. Andersen’s Fairy Tales. trans. Mrs. E. V. Lucas and Mrs. H. B. Paull. New York: Grosser & Dunlap. Print

Andersen, Hans Christian. Classic Fairy Tales. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2010. Print

 

 

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