Fairy Tale Friday: The Garden of Paradise 

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 Garden of Paradise (pg. 21-40)

Happy Earth Day


” If it had only been I it would not have happened! never would sin have entered the world'” (21).
“‘I looked at the mighty river, saw where it dashed over rocks in dust and flew with the clouds to carry the rainbow'” (26).
“‘He shall be laid in a coffin, but not now; I only mark him and then leave him for a time to wander about on the earth to expiate his sin and to grow better'” (40).

So much is set up in the first paragraph: what the Prince is like, what his upbringing was like, how he views the world (and whether that’ll be relevant later) and what will be his central goal through the story.

Namely, he’s a very cerebral person interested in knowledge, he never had to want for or search for anything, he views the world (and himself) in a simple and idealized manner, and he wants to reach the Garden of Paradise since he would not make the same mistake of Adam and be kicked out.

There is clear transition from the usual and everyday into a place outside the normal world when he wanders in the forest and it rains. There he meets an old woman who does not look or act the way he expects she should.

“An oldish woman, tall and strong enough to be a man dressed up, sat by the fire throwing on logs from time to time” (22).

And later,

“‘Oh, indeed!’ said the prince. ‘You seem to speak very harshly, and you are not so gentle as the women I generally see about me!'” (23).

She remains unaffected and uninterested in his critique, for she tells him that “‘I have to be harsh if I am to keep my boys under control!'” (23). Namely, she is the mother of the four winds.They are distinctly distinguished. They also have an air (ha!) of the wondrous; they signal supernatural/other forces in a world that is not run by the same rules as reality.

First, the Northwind is cold and talks of the north and upsetting a walrus hunt. He is described as

“dressed in bearskin trousers and jacket, and he had a sealskin cap drawn over his ears. Long icicles were hanging from his beard, and one hailstone after another dropped down from the collar of his jacket” (23).

Second, the Westwind is wild, like America. Interestingly, he seemed more Bacchus meets the American Frontier (or the idealism of it).

“He looked like a wild man of the woods, but he had a padded hat on so as not to come to any harm. He carried a mahogany club cut in the American mahogany forests. It could not be anything less than that” (25-6).

Third, the Southwind is heavily stereotyped, and “appeared now in a turban and a flowing bedouin’s cloak [sic]” (26). He talks about camels and deserts and Africa.

“‘I have been chasing the lion with the Hottentots in Kaffirland!…I went to the desert with its yellow sand. It looks like the bottom of the sea. I met a caravan! They were killing their last camel to get water to drink, but it wasn’t much they got… Then I burrowed into the fine loose sand and whirled it up in great columns–that was a dance! You should have seen how despondently the dromedaries stood, and the merchant drew his caftan over his head… Now they are buried, and there is a pyramid over them all'” (27).

The first sentence about Africa is especially painful and yeech. There’s nothing entirely wrong with describing a caravan or the perils of a sandstorm, but I was struck by how ruthless the Southwind was compared to his brothers. Also, he was the first one to actually mention real world people. (The Northwind mentions them, but he doesn’t distinguish them as clearly as the Southwind.)

At his arrival, there’s a conflict of temperaments between Northwind and Southwind:

“It is fearfully cold in here,’ he said, throwing wood on the fire; ‘it is easy to see that the Northwind got here first!’

‘It is hot enough to roast a polar bear,’ said the Northwind.

‘You are a polar bear yourself!’ said the Southwind” (27).

Their mother threatens to put the Southwind in the bag and settles that.

It’s peculiar how and why he gets in trouble (because he’s later thrown in the bag anyway for causing trouble). The Northwind says he did good deeds; their mother only has to ask. The Westwind seemed to cause mischief, but nothing deemed bad. But the Southwind is a troublemaker. And the Eastwind is her favorite. And speaking of him…

Fourth, the Eastwind has come back from China and “was dressed like a Chinaman” (28).

Of the Winds, the North and West are the least offensive with more elaborate stories of what they’ve done, while the South and East are more painfully stereotypical and vital to the plot. The Eastwind knows where the Garden of Paradise is and the Southwind has the letter from the newly hatched phoenix. As the Southwind tells the Eastwind,

“‘He bit a hole in the leaf I gave you, that is his greeting to the Princess'” (29).

Which, I have to admit is cute.

The next morning the Eastward carries the Prince to where the Garden of Paradise is located, as he’s on his way there to give her the phoenix’s note.

This is why I love Andersen.

“A river ran there as clear as the air itself, and the fish in it were like gold and silver. Purple eels, which gave out blue sparks with every curve, gamboled about in the water; and the broad leaves of the water-lilies were tinged with the hues of the rainbow, while the flower itself was like a fiery orange flame, nourished by the water, just as oil keeps a lamp constantly burning. A firm bridge of marble as delicately and skilfully carved as if it were lace and glass beads led over the water to the Island of Bliss, where the Garden of Paradise bloomed” (32-3).

Every translation I read of his writing is guaranteed to have beautiful language in it. And it’s not simply the words; there’s a visual beauty in the crisp combinations of adjectives and the striking use of metaphors. I just love it.

Why is there a fairy in Paradise? I don’t know. But she agrees to let the Prince stay in the Garden on the condition that he not follow her or kiss despite how much it will seem like a good idea.

The Prince doesn’t last long. I attribute it to his cerebral nature; he conceptualizes everything theoretically but has never been tempted or desirous of anything. It was always a thought experiment in his head. So when he’s faced with real temptation, he has no resistance and automatically assumes he can stop.

It’s a bit sad that kissing her tears away counts as sin.

Speaking of that, what is sin here? It’s disobeying a command, but especially one that should be difficult. I don’t necessarily think that’s how it worked in Genesis since the implication for me has always been that Eve considered whether she wanted to eat the fruit. The command wasn’t to keep them from eating it, since neither would have thought of doing so until the serpent mentioned it to Eve. But isn’t that the whole problem with commands in fairy tales about doing a certain thing or looking into a certain room – once the knowledge is a command it can make it difficult to resist because now the knowledge you don’t know is lodged in your brain. Or at least that’s how I think of it.

Paradise vanishes when he’s unable to resist and he ends up back at the mother of the Wind’s cave. She scolds me, and then Death appears and becomes his new watcher, adding that,

“‘When he least expects me, I shall come back, lay him in a black coffin, put it on my head, and fly to the skies. The Garden of Paradise blooms there too, and if he is good and holy he shall enter into it; but if his thoughts are wicked and his heart still full of sin, he will sink deeper in his coffin than Paradise sank, and I shall only go once in every thousand years to see if he is to sink deeper or to rise to the stars” (40).

That’s morbid. Is his sin really worth all that?

I suppose you could read it as if a man kisses a sleeping woman, he should be punished. Even if the action seemed to spring from compassion because the fairy was crying. Still invading a sleeping woman’s bodily space is a definite no regardless of how much compassion the Prince felt. Though the text presents the sin more a matter of not following the rules than anything to do with relations between men and women.

Overall: It had a nicely compact story. Some of the distinguishing traits of the winds were unpleasant, but their general natures fit a fairy tale tone. A bit severe at the end with death, and a bit not since he invaded a woman’s space when she told him not to. It lends itself to thoughts of sin and paradise.

Works Cited:

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

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