24 December 2010


Fairy Tale Face-off: The Christmas Eve Edition

There are some really lovely Christmas-set fairy tales. I almost made another Top 5 List until I realised I was inspired by no more than four. =P

So I decided to pick one of them and just do my usual face-off.

Yesterday's post about minions and toys (and a belated idea that to many "masters," their minions are indeed nothing but toys) put me in the mood for the following pairing . . .

The Nutcracker vs. The Steadfast Tin Soldier

Heroes: Both are unusual in that they are both toys--and both "handicapped" in some way. One of them is a prince who was turned into a nutcracker doll--which is several rungs lower than the already lowly status of frog. The other is missing a leg: there wasn't enough tin in the big spoon that was melted down to create his entire regiment, and apparently the toymaker didn't care.

WINNER: The Steadfast Tin Soldier--because princes are transformed back and forth in dozens of fairy tales . . . but magic doesn't heal amputees in fairy tales any more than God does in real life.

Heroines: And where there is a prince figure, there must be a princess figure. Those fish-and-bicycle laws don't apply to fairy tales. Do we go with a young girl who bravely whacks an attacking mouse king with her slipper--or with a paper doll who keeps an enigmatic silence through nearly the entire story until she makes a final unexpected act of love?

WINNER: The Nutcracker--because Clara is easier to relate to as a character, even if she doesn't get much of an arc, either.

Toys: A theologian might get me for this, but I'm pretty confident that the existence of a toy presupposes the existence of a toymaker. It's certainly true for both stories: the first has a fun, Father Christmas-like godfather who makes delightful presents for his godchildren; the second, a toymaker who obviously didn't care enough to make sure a whole set of soldiers passed "quality control" standards.

WINNER: The Steadfast Tin Soldier--because there is something godlike, and not just "bishop-like" about this toymaker, in his apparent cruelty in the soldier's design . . . which leads to the terrible mercy in the soldier's death.

Nurseries: Children's rooms are like portals which open into two different worlds. The first story shows us that they can lead to a fairy land where it is candy-coated Christmas everyday; the second, that they also lead to a harsher world where toys (and often children) are shown no compassion. Visits to fairy land are usually dismissed as dreams, while visits to the "real world" are often one-way trips into maturity.

WINNER: The Nutcracker--because we can afford to let nurseries be magical for a little longer . . . can't we?

Villains: Neither story takes a very traditional route: here we have two of the most unusual baddies in fairy tale lore. In the first story, a mouse king with several heads wants to take over the prince's kingdom and tries to assassinate him. In the second, a jack-in-the-box wants the tin soldier out of the toy room and gets him thrown out of the window into the gutter--a fate worse than death for a small toy.

WINNER: The Steadfast Tin Soldier--because there's a dark, demonic edge to that jack-in-the-box, a toy designed to startle and to scare, that makes us believe it can also plant malicious suggestions in our minds.

Rats: Why do rats get such a bad reputation when the domesticated sort are actually smarter and more affectionate than mice? We automatically assume, without knowing anything about the history or politics involved, that the rat king in the first story is the villain. And we are fearful for the tin soldier when the rats in the sewers notice his little boat.

WINNER: The Nutcracker--because rats in sewers can't help having been brought up badly, but we do expect more class from royal rats.

Ending: No happily-ever-afters here. The first story has a beautiful, enchanted ending which turns out to have been a beautiful dream--although we are, of course, free to believe isn't really a dream. The second ends with the tin soldier and his paper love perishing together in the same fire: the only evidence of their love swept up with the ashes by a chambermaid who does not understand what they mean.

WINNER: The Steadfast Tin Soldier--because dreams come true every day but some secrets have to wait until the end of time to be revealed.


The Nutcracker vs. The Steadfast Tin Soldier

WINNER: The Steadfast Tin Soldier

Yes, the former has the Christmas setting (and a ballet by Tchaikovsky!)--but that's not all it takes to win a face-off, even on Christmas Eve.

Image Sources: a) The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffmann, b) The Steadfast Tin Soldier by Hans Christian Andersen


r said...

You have that version of Nutcracker? I wish I still did.

Michael said...

...because there's a dark, demonic edge to that jack-in-the-box, a toy designed to startle and to scare,...

Those toys always remind me of the Joker from Batman lore. Or is it vice-versa?

You are a talented writer and I love how you think in many ways.

It is still 13 days away for me but for you it is today - Merry Christmas E and if I don't check in before then (which is highly probable), happy new year!

take care

Michael said...

Ooops, I am a few hours late. It is now the day after Christmas in the Philippines. :P

Enbrethiliel said...


R: I have several books with illustrations by Maurice Sendak, but I'm afraid that The Nutcracker is not one of them! =(

Michael: I'm sure the Joker was inspired by all those clown toys. (It's still a wonder to me how many parents think clowns are cute rather than scary. There's something wrong about that huge red smile that doesn't quit . . .)

Thank you for your greetings! It doesn't matter at all that they're "late"! =)

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

Wonderful face-off! This has to be my favourite one so far. You chose two amazing stories and compared them so well. This post is deep and thoughtful and I completely agree with the winner. You made good arguments, and it is also a beloved childhood story of mine. There is something very bitter sweet about the toy soldier with only one leg. He enters the world as an outcast, but although he is only happy in death, so to say, love wins.

Hehe, someone already mentioned what I wanted to say. The moment I read about the villains, the Joker came to my mind. Jack-in-the-box toys freak me out, always have, and they remind me of the Joker. So, naturally the winner among the villains in his face-off must be a Joker-like toy.:)

Great job! And thanks for the post!

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks, Irena! I'm so happy you like it. =D

Yes, it is true that love wins at the end--even if it is "just" the end. I think it is true for all Andersen's fairy tales, which is why they are so beautiful even when they are so sad.

(A friend of mine has mentioned that he is reading Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles for Christmas. And it made me think that Tess is very much like an Andersen heroine: willing to suffer for love, even if . . . Well, I'd better not finish that sentence, as it could be a big spoiler!)

Michael said...


(It's still a wonder to me how many parents think clowns are cute rather than scary. There's something wrong about that huge red smile that doesn't quit . . .)

Check out this version of Ronald McDonald (second photo down)

The Hamburglar

And according to Wiki (on Coulrophobia - an abnormal or exaggerated fear of clowns):

A design study carried out by the University of Sheffield found that children are frightened by clown-themed d├ęcor in hospitals.[2] According to a psychology professor at California State University, Northridge, young children are "very reactive to a familiar body type with an unfamiliar face."[3]

So while some may think its abnormal, it looks like you hit the nail on the head when it comes to children and clowns.

Enbrethiliel said...


Am I supposed to see a difference between that picture and the real Ronald McDonald? LOL! =P

Now that I think about it, though, I rarely see him around these days. McDonalds seems more successful branding itself with the neutral Golden Arches. (No surprise there . . .)