Study Guide

Andersen's Fairy Tales Memory and The Past

By Andersen, Hans Christian

Memory and The Past

It was late and Councilman Knap, who was getting ready to go home, was so engrossed in thinking about the times of King Hans that he put on the magic galoshes instead of his own. As he stepped out onto East Street, he was back in the time of King Hans, which means that he put his foot down in half a foot of slush and mud because in King Hans's times there was no such thing as a sidewalk. (The Magic Galoshes.7)

Sure, maybe some things were better in the past, but sanitation wasn't one of those things. So we guess we shouldn't romanticize the days gone by so much? Also, since kitten memes weren't invented yet, we're really not interested anyway.

"Well," said the little girl in the tree, "some people call me Mother Elderberry; others call me the dryad; but my real name is memory. I sit in the tree that grows and grows; I can remember everything and therefore I can tell stories." (Mother Elderberry.54)

This Mother Elderberry chick, she's both a tree and the embodiment of memory. She pops up in several of Andersen's tales, not just the one that's named after her. Seems like memory is, indeed, an important thing to notice in Andersen's writing.

This was to be the last night that the old lamp would shine down upon the pavement…Other thoughts came: memories of all he had seen. He had cast his light upon many a curious sight and had seen more than all the six and thirty men of the town council put together. (The Old Street Lamp.4)

Close your eyes and imagine what the inanimate objects in your living room have witnessed. Like, whoa, right? We think Andersen's getting at something here about inanimate things being containers for human memories.

"My parents say that you are terribly lonely," said the little boy. "Oh," the old man smiled, "that is not altogether true. Old thoughts, old dreams, old memories come and visit me and now you are here. I am not unhappy." (The Old House.17-18)

So apparently awesome memories make good company and can keep you from getting lonely. So, um, let's go make some!

"The seed planted in your soul this night shall grow and produce poetry. For all that is truly good and all that is truly beautiful on this earth is not forgotten, it lives in songs and legends." (The Old Gravestone.9)

Word. So, not only do people, events, etc., that have passed survive in the memories of the living, they also survive in art! Our art is our legacy to future generations. But does art only record "all that is truly good and… truly beautiful?" Judging by the existence of some very controversial (and very famous) artists like Damien Hirst, we think not.

"I can fly now, Mother," said the child, "fly together with all the other happy children, right up to God. I would like to so much, but your tears hold me back. When you weep I cannot leave you, and I want to. Please let me go, may I?" (The Dead Child.22)

Sometimes the past can weigh you down and shackle you to earth… as in this case of a dead child who can't go to heaven because his mom keeps crying over him. Not exactly your typical example of being punished for clinging to the past, but it works.

The color of the bonnet tells of mourning, and the expression in the girl's face tells of it even more plainly. The sorrow is hidden in the heart but it will never be forgotten. (Hidden But Not Forgotten.19)

People don't exactly wear their memories on their sleeves. Just like you, we've got a lot in our hearts that's hidden, but not forgotten.

"We are the old… We should like to spend the time we have together in telling you what has happened to us and to our great-grandparents. It will be the history of a city, Copenhagen." (Godfather's Picture Book.12)

Part of the point of remembering the past is to transmit it to others. In a way, our personal experiences are what, over time, make up history. And who better to illuminate the past than a lamp? (Corny, we know.)

"In the old times they used to burn old wise women like me at the stake, and the poets had empty stomachs as well as empty pockets." (A Question of Imagination.9)

The past wasn't all fuzzy bunnies and rainbows. Some bad stuff went down, ya know? Like witch hunts, the Bubonic plague, and bellbottoms. At least only one of those came back.

Great-grandfather was such a kind and intelligent old man, we all admired him… "Old times were good times," he would say. "Life was more leisurely and you knew what to expect. Now everything has to move so fast—at a gallop—and values have been turned upside down." (Great-Grandfather.1)

There'll always be people who say, "Blah, blah, blah, the past was so great, blah." Chances are, though, these are the same people who would benefit from maintaining the old systems of government and social class. Think about it.

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