Fairy Tale Friday: Little Tiny

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. 

Little Tiny (pg. 62-77)

“The poor child was very unhappy at the thought of saying farewell to the beautiful sun” (73).

It’s Thumbelina! I was not expecting that from the title.

I’ll say upfront that I kind of love this fairy tale. I don’t think about it often, but when I read it, I couldn’t help mythologizing it and automatically seeing it as a mythology and story root for my writing.

Also lovely description of the tulip with its “red and golden-colored leaves” (62). Being compared to a tulip makes me think of Persia, which makes me think of a particular set of islands in my writing…

Toads don’t live in water; they’re not aquatic. Well, they are amphibious, but they live more on dry land. The way these toads are described sounds a little too wet. But wait! If Andersen’s referring to the common toad (I’m going to start calling it the witch toad), it’s says here that live in wooded areas near marshes. And the toads here live “[i]n the swampy margin of a broad stream in the garden” (63).

From the marsh, she escapes into the river, where

“A graceful white butterfly constantly fluttered around her, and at last alighted on the leaf. Tiny pleased him, and was glad of it, , for now the toad could not possibly reach her, and the country through which she sail was beautiful, and the sun shone upon the water, till it glittered like liquid gold. She took off her girdled and tied one end of it round the butterfly, and the other end of the ribbon she fasten to the leaf, which now glided on much faster than ever, taking little Tiny with it as she stood. Presently a large cockchafer flew by; the moment he caught sight of her, he seized her round her delicate waist with his claws, and flew with her into a tree. The green leaf floated away on the brook, and the butterfly flew with it, for he was fastened to it, and could not get away.

Oh, how frightened little Tiny felt when the cockchafer flew with her to the tree! But especially was she sorry for the beautiful white butterfly which she had fastened to the leaf, for if he could not free himself, he would die of hunger” (65).

Poor butterfly! I hope he escapes. And what kind of insect is that? A cockroach? Wrong! It’s a May bug or doodlebug! Ooh, and they’re from the Scarabaeidae family

I noticed that Tiny has a smiliar arc as the ugly duckling – neither are initially accepted. This lack is linked to different perspectives.

For the duckling, it was the perspective of the other water fowl, the cat, and the hen who believed they were irrefutably right. Meaning that, because the duckling deviated from what they considered normative and beautiful, he could only be ugly. Similarly, the other insects critique Thumblina’s beauty:

“After a time, all the cockchafers who lived in tree came to visit her. They stared at Tiny, and then the young lady cockchafers turned up their feelers, and said, ‘She has only two legs! how ugly that looks.’ ‘She has no feelers,’ said another. ‘Her waist is quite slim. Pooh! she is like a human being'” (66).

What I like here is that it’s just an alternate perspective; why should insects finds a tiny human beautiful? I like that. But I usually like perspective of non-humans.

Additionally, they both have struggles of winter: “She felt dreadfully cold, for her clothes were torn, and she was herself so delicate and frail, that poor little Tiny was nearly frozen to death” (67).

I realized while typing up the quotes that Tiny is constantly referred to as delicate, frail, or dainty. On one hand, it could be seen as equating femininity with such traits, but I saw it as a logical assumption. If she was born out of a flower, she might have some of their biology in her. And petals are far from the hardiest parts of nature.

Around now, she meets the field mouse. It was here, I noticed a thread of natural environments: sea (toad) –> tree (cockchafer) –> fields (mouse) –> underground (mole) –> sky (swallow). This is reminiscent of my writing, especially Romance of Three Jewels and Nights of Heroes (?), as well myth. In particular my fairy tale myths.

Additionally, some other thematic and narrative similarities I noticed:

  • The mole feels like the myth of Persephone.
  • Mole = prejudice and differences, pov of culture and experiences. He has an alternate view on sunlight derived from his experiences and underground culture. I can respect that.
  • Lots of marriage rejection.
  • A love of the sky and sun, loosing correlative to The Little Mermaid. Leads to sky with the swallow.

What the text says about the swallow – that “[i]n autumn, all the swallows fly away into warm countries, but if one happens to linger, the cold seizes it, it becomes frozen, and falls down as if dead” – is that true science (70)? I can’t find any confirmation one way or another.

Either way, the swallow takes Tiny to a new place:

“Here, on the hedges, and by the wayside, grew purple, green, and white grapes; lemons and oranges hung from trees in the woods; and the air was fragrant with myrtles and orange blossoms…

At last they came to a blue lake, and by the side of it, shaded by trees of the deepest green, stood a palace of dazzling white marble, built in the olden times. Vines clustered round its lofty pillars, and at the top were many swallows’ nests” (75).

This indicates to me that the swallow flies her to Italy. Or at least I think it is, with its description of plants and ruins. Because of this, I’ve linked this fairy tale myth with the Emery Isles and in particular Flenna from my writing.

I love how the flower spirit is described: “But how surprised she was to see, in the middle of flower, a tiny little man, as as white and transparent as if he had been made of crystal!” (75). Crystal and translucent; it’s a very different and neat image than what I normally see for flower spirits.

She gains a new name: Maia. The same as the goddess of spring in Greek myth.

The swallow told the author, omg!

“‘Farewell, farewell,’ said the swallow, with a heavy heart, as he left the warm countries, to fly back into Denmark. There he had a nest over the window of a house in which dwelt the writer of fairy tales. The swallow sang ‘Tweet, tweet,’ and from his song came the whole story” (77).

Overall: very creatively and mythologically engaging for me in general and for me as a writer and my stories. Love the nature stages she goes through, how she’s kind but resistant to marriage and gains wings without the suffering of the little mermaid.

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