Fairy Tale Friday: The Red Shoes

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 Red Shoes, 78-87

It opens with backstory:

“There was once a little girl; she was a tiny, delicate little thing, but she had to go about barefoot in summer, because she was very poor. In winter she only had a pair of heavy wooden shoes, and her ankles were terribly chafed” (78).

Well, that gives me feelings. It’s understandable why she’d be so attached to her shoes.

There was more than one red shoes? They were less well fitted and nice (Quote:) but they were all she had. The woman who takes her in burns them. I wonder if this is important. Also Karen moves up in society and learns reading and such and begins to be (potentially) vain. Quote: “Karen was well and neatly dressed, and had to learn reading and sewing. People said she was pretty, but her mirror said, ‘You are more than pretty, you are lovely'” (78).

Yikes. You should be paying attention to Christian principles in Andersen. Quote: “She thought of nothing else when the minister laid his hand upon her head and spoke to her of holy baptism, the covenant of God, and that from henceforth she was to be a responsible Christian person. The solemn notes of the organ resounded, the children sang with their sweet voice, the precentor sang, but Karen only thought about her shoes” (80).

Who’s the soldier? “By the church door stood an old soldier, with a crutch; he had a curious long beard, it was more red than white, in fact it was almost quite red” (80). Does he curse her? For her behavior? Is he the Devil?

They get the shoes off!?

Okay going to a party wearing shoes YOU KNOW are (probably) enchanted is not a smart decision. Also leaving an ill person isn’t nice. (But then what would I do?)

The shoes have control over her. I think this important.

Oh god! That soldier is creepy. I didn’t remember him! Quote: “Something shone up above the trees, and she thought it was the moon, for it was a face, but it was the old soldier with the red beard” (82).

Is God (and Angels) so cruel that he’ll punish her vanity so that her only recourse is to have her feet chopped off? (Compare to the Queen in Snow White: the hot iron shoes.) Or is this some kind of retribution by the crippled solider? Like he resented her behavior so he wants her to be like him??

The shoes are haunting her, holy geez.

Her love of beauty has been snuffed out. That feels excessively cruel. While vanity is probably not good, having a healthy pleasure in ones’ appearance isn’t a bad thing. The dichotomy of lessons for women: be beautiful and humble (see: Cinderella, Snow White). Here, Karen becomes “industrious and thoughtful” (84).

There are roses with the angel when it comes back.

She dies!? She’s so happy and enraptured she dies? How is that fair? Or might heaven be nicer since she’s escaped the cursed red shoes?

Overall: creepy and sad. Strong values imbedded in the story: don’t be vain and think of God. It shows the hypocrisy of feminine values and the equivalent punishment. Painful to read. Ugh.


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