"Genredialektikken i H. C. Andersens eventyr".
This paper has been published in Andersen og Verden, Odense 1993.
The Tale within the Tale - Genre Dialectics in Andersen's TalesNiels Ingwersen
(summary for pages 161-76)
From 1835 to 1872, Andersen inserted tales within his tales - the student's fanciful, humorous stories and the dream sequence in "Little Ida's Flowers" and another student's sad, autobiographical sketches and nightmare in "Auntie Toothache". That those insertions - or mini-tales - serve a narrative and thematic function is obvious, but the function varies from tale to tale and is begging for scrutiny.
At times "the tale within the tale" seems to offer thematic support to the story told. In "The Travelling Companion" the inserted tale about the puppets foreshadows that all will end well, and all, indeed, does so; in "Under The Willow Tree" and "The Garden of Paradise", the inserted stories have the same foreshadowing effect, suggesting, respectively, the protagonist as lacking touch with reality and this world as being a glorious, if dangerous, place that must be enjoyed by the human being. The inserted stories in the latter text take on a good deal of autonomy and add depth to the main plot.
In "The Snow Queen" the tales within the tale do not seem to be in thematic harmony with the main story. The flower-stories (told to Gerda in the nice witch's garden) suggest a sexual awareness and a maturity for the characters with which the remainder of the plot does not come to grips: Kay and Gerda return to a childhood world devoid of sensuality. Perhaps the snow queen and her palace should be associated with sexuality and, likewise, the robber girl be seen as Gerda's sexual alter-ego; the protagonists flee from the snow queen's palace and the robber girl rides out of the story; thus, the way is paved for a return to childhood. It is as if two storytellers, who are not in agreement, relate the tale and, thus, create an inconsistency or a dialectic between two views of what "rite-of-passage" means.
The coldness of heart that one finds manifested in the manipulative stories told by the sneaky and murderous protagonist in "Little Claus and Big Claus" is also reflected in "Something". In the inserted story of the third brother, one meets a youngster who aims high socially, realizing that in order to reach his goal, he has to pretend to be what he is not, and that pretense he calls "mask-freedom". The attitude was one with which Andersen could identify, but its dangers he also knew. The protagonist in "A Happy Disposition" continually plays a role in pretending that all is well, but the stories he tells reveal that he is indeed playing a role and is scarcely a participant in life. The protagonist, Ole, in "The Watchman of the Tower" has removed himself, too, from life, and Andersen recognizes that some people's refusal to take part in ordinary life on society's moral terms may gain a certain strength through that position - as evidenced by such con-men as the immoral Little Claus and the Shadow. Ole's distance to life - his independence from the norms of the ruling culture - may, likewise, endow him with some authority as he praises a book that seems to advocate evolutionary thoughts (in 1859!).
Another person who is an observer of, rather than a participant in, life is the narrator of "Heartache", who relates a series of stories that show that he is above the common human fray. It is, however, that elevated position which enables him to understand that the little girl feels a deep grief because she is kept from joining the other children. These stories about observers, those who do not participate in life but understand it well, probably comment on the artist's position, one that was problematic to Andersen throughout his life. In "The Flying Trunk" as well as in "The Flea and the Professor", it is clear that both the tricky storytellers are artists who are trying to make good in the world through their talent. In "The Will o' the Wisps Have Come to Town" the view presented of the artistic vocation seems sad, for the artist feels that all his inspiration has been used up. The bog woman, another nice witch of sorts, informs the artist that there is, nevertheless, much to write about and that he may interpret reality in any way possible, i.e., without any consistency.
That view may seem gloomy, but it is finally suggested that, in the genre of the tale, Andersen found a liberating form, one that allowed him to experiment - and probe existentially - to his heart's delight, without being confined by the rules for well-established genres. Andersen was, of course, inspired by folktales, and it has been recognized that a number of his stories are based upon well-known magic tales or prose-fabliaux (skæmteeventyr). It should be noted that the magic tale and the prose-fabliau have diametrically opposed world views; the fact that Andersen wrote imitations of both (some very free, like "The Shadow") may account for the supposed inconsistency in his writings, i.e., his tales' seeming to contradict one another. In short, he probed reality through a dialectical approach, one that he knew from the various genres of the folktale. It is finally suggested that in spite of Andersen's talented use of the genres of both the magic tale and the prose-fabliau, it is possibly a third genre, the legend, that has had the deepest impact on his writing. That possibility is difficult to prove, but the tragic vision that can be found in many tales suggests impulses received from legends (e.g., the inspiration for "The Dead Child" and "The Story of a Mother"). Unlike the former two genres, magic tale and prose-fabliau, the legend is without a consistent world view; the legend's views of life fluctuate from text to text. A similar fluctuation is found in Andersen's body of tales.
In many tales, Andersen seems to use his inserted texts to add more dimensions to or "dissentions" from, his main story. Thus, a dialectics arises within a text. Likewise, a dialectics exists between many tales that contradict one another. The dialectics that Andersen found in the folktale and developed further was one that he put to splendid use.