H. C. Andersen and Ion Creanga; - Two National StoryTellers

Denmark is rich in old legends of
historical persons, churches and manors of hills,
of fields, of bottomless moors; sayings from the days of the great plague, from the times
of war and peace.
H. C. Andersen: Danish Popular Legends

This paper aims at pointing out the fact that H. C. Andersen, as well as his contemporary, faraway Romanian Ion Creangă (18371889) represent the most comprehensive artistic consciousness occurring from the cultural folklore background of their countries, crowned by a supreme synthesis of the oldest and steadiest native, creative processes.

The main feature of this artistic synthesis is its oneness explainable not only by these writers' genius, but also by their inborn skill to get deeply rooted in the surrounding realities.

Ion Creangă's traditional image as the representative of Moldavian mountain civilization should be completed by this original synthesizing quality, that H. C. Andersen himself is also endowed with. One of the outstanding Romanian classics, Creangă was born in the village of Humules7ti, in northern Moldavia, a mountainous region inhabited by a population of ancient descent.

In 1859 he graduated from the Iasi seminary and took orders. He soon found himself in difficulties with the church authorities for frequenting the theatre, shooting rooks and having his hair cut in the ordinary style, so he gave up wearing the religious clothes and registered at a teachers' training school, eventually becoming a teacher. But the clerical authorities intervened and he was expelled from the teaching profession.

In 1874 his case was reviewed and Ion Creangă could go back to teaching. He joined the literary circle called "Junimea", where his "peasant witticisms" were much relished, and established a close and lasting friendship with the greatest of Romanian poets, Mihai Eminescu.

In 1875 Creangă began to publish stories and tales in the "Convorbiri literare" periodical. Between 1880 and 1882 the first three parts of Memories of My Boyhood appeared, while the last part was to be published posthumously.

The spell of the Memories of My Boyhood lies in its picture of village life and traditional customs, and in its recording of Moldavian speech patterns in the last century. Family life, childish pranks, methods of schoolteaching, church festivals, carolling on festive days, country fairs, the beauty of the countryside - everything is brought back with a quiet nostalgia, tempered by wisdom and humour.

Like the Danish writer H. C. Andersen, Creangă is more than a story
teller for children or simply a humorist. His work is a human and social document of the ways of thinking and the life of a Romanian village in the nineteenth century. It may seem of restricted interest, owing to the local peasant setting, as well as to the language in which it was written; it carries nevertheless all the joy and pathos of a book of universal significance. Creangă's Memories symbolically picture the destiny of every child walking the path toward maturity and experience. The work inaugurates an original formula in the art of memoir writing, and represents a monument of high spirits and verbal abundance. A jovial verbal torrent, a kind of lexical spree, generously courses through this rhapsody of perennial childhood.

In Creangă's Tales,1 as so often in Andersen's work, the level of normal human relationships (conflicts between husband and wife, the gap between generations, the sad fortunes of stepchildren, maternal devotion) co-exists and occasionally collides with a mythical level where the right and the wrong are embodied in people, animals, birds or insects, possessing supernatural powers and interfering in human affairs. The heroes step lightly out of daily reality into the fabulous, helped by kindly spirits (Holy Friday or Holy Sunday), by animals with magic powers, defying monsters and giants. Beyond the boundaries of rationality, in dreamland, Creangă's heroes act and talk simply, with peasant humour and common sense. This juxtaposition of strata, evident at the linguistic level, is mainly observable in Danila Prepeleac, The Tale of Stan the SorelyTried, and Ivan and His Bag, in which the common people speak the idiomatic language of mortals, when addressing either God, Saint Peter or Old Nick. It appears, too, in The Tale of Harap Alb, as well as in Fat-Frumos, The Mare's Son, only the phenomenon is here reversed: magically endowed creatures converse in everyday speech, thus reinforcing, by means of language, a sensation of osmosis between the natural and the supernatural, between the real and the fantastic.

As the literary critic Mircea Scarlat stated: "Among the Romanians, Ion Creangă represents the most comprehensive artistic conscience coming up from the folklore cultural background". And we think that this statement adapted to the Danish framework and traditions is valid also for H. C. Andersen. Both writers stem from modest families, enjoying the picturesque nature around, filling their boyhood memories with the everlasting songs, fairy tales and stories orally conveyed from generation to generation.

Creangă's initial way from the native village of Humules7ti to the town of Iasi, or Andersen's travel from Odense in Funen to Copenhagen has gradually developed into larger routes and significant patterns. But their first parting with the native realm should be looked upon as the starting point of the initiation periplus.

The metaphor of "travel" is omnipresent in the literary work of these two writers, becoming one of its principles for compositional structuring. The image of "the world as a performance" is the result of the creative approach; the means leading to such a result is mainly the metaphor of "travel". We shall point out the manner in which this metaphor can contribute to the better understanding of Creangă's work by reordering its elements: according to the nature of the travelling they choose and the way they do it, it is possible to classify Creangă's heroes, to clearly distinguish their character traits, life philosophy and destiny. The significance gets even wider, because this prevailing metaphor helps us understand the inner nature of the author himself. Thus, for H. C. Andersen "to travel is to live"; like Ion Creangă, he can easily pass from the admiration of the natural setting to meditation, historical and cultural evaluations in front of the proofs of older or modern civilisations.

It is true that H. C. Andersen's travel parameters are much wider than Creangă's, covering different parts of Europe, Romania included. This varied range of trips brought about interesting experiences expressed in the literary form.

Another aspect these two outstanding writers share, is the way in which they build up their specific "world of remembrances and fairytales", out of the everlasting treasure of folklore traditions. Relevant in this respect are the following issues:

a) restructuring the expressive form of folklore narrations;
b) the emotional tinge of this restructuring;
c) the transfer of narration from the orality status to the writing status by means of specific artistic devices and syntactic strategies.

It is this orality of style which so often causes difficulties in translating the two national storytellers under discussion, ranging among the so
called "untranslatable" writers of the world. One of the translator's major concerns is to render the rhythm of Andersen's or Creangă's oral speech, the tone of a story sedate and nostalgic or spritely and full of fun. In many cases, semantic and syntactic equivalences are a matter of thorough linguistic competence, patience and imagination, of sensitiveness to the text under translation and its inner musical flow.


1. Preface to My Tales: "Beloved reader, a good bit of rubbish you may have read in your lifetime. Read these my stories, too, and if you can't fancy them, pick up your pen and produce something more choice; as to myself, that's all the skill I had, and that much have I done."

Ion Creangă's Tales:
"The Old Woman and Her Three Daughtersinlaw"; "The Goat and Her Three Kids"; "The Purse with Coppers Two"; "Danila Prepeleac"; "The Tale of the Pig"; "The Tale of Stan the SorelyTried"; "The Tale of HarapAlb"; "The Two Stepsisters"; "Ivan and His Bag"; "The Tale of a Lazy Man"; "Human Folly"; "Five Loaves"; "FatFrumos, the Mare's Son". back

Bibliographic information about the text:

Dumitrescu, Anca: "H. C. Andersen and Ion Creanga; - Two National StoryTellers", In: Johan de Mylius, Aage Jørgensen and Viggo Hjørnager Pedersen (ed.): Hans Christian Andersen. A Poet in Time. Papers from the Second International Hans Christian Andersen Conference 29 July to 2 August 1996. The Hans Christian Andersen Center, Odense University, Odense University Press. 576 pages, Odense, Denmark 1999.