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