Canon and counter-canon. Early on, the work of Hans Christian Andersen inspired much the same urge to panic in me that department store mannequins did. Later on, of course, my baby sister and I could spend a happy Saturday morning laughing it up at the expense of a campy early '70s TV version of "The Little Match Girl," and who wouldn’t enjoy the comic touch of Danny Kaye, but initially there was something about the Andersen stories that disturbed me on a visceral level: the Snow Queen. The Mermaid. The Red Shoes. Not so much the Steadfast Tin Soldier, since he was more of a can-do type despite being you know, horrifically maimed and all. But the Nightingale, the Duck, those people. What strange narcotic power did they represent?
No need to accomplish anything is expressed in "The Ugly Duckling." Things are simply fated and unfold accordingly, whether or not the hero takes some action, while in the fairy story it is the hero’s doing that changes his life.
OPTION ONE. Now, Louis Pauwels was no shrieking modern, having given Alain de Benoist a job, coughed up some francs for Nouvelle Ecole and, in the words of an admirer, "se prononce, sans haine et sans crainte, pour la hiérarchie des capables." And yet this notorious traditionalist, this magician's midwife, once wrote:
"There are no essential differences in the ultimate aims of two civilizations such as the USSR and the USA. The Europe of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries supplied the motive power that is still functioning. The engine does not make exactly the same noise in New York as in Moscow, but that is all. It was not in reality a mere temporary coalition of basic enemies that went to war with Germany, but a whole world – a single, united world that believe[d] in progress, justice, equality and science. One world having the same vision of the cosmos, the same understanding of universal laws, and one that assign[ed] to man the same place, neither too exalted nor too humble, in the universe. One world that believe[d] in reason and the reality of things. A world, in a word, which was to have disappeared altogether to leave room for another of which Hitler felt himself to be the prophet.
"It was, nevertheless, the 'little men' of the free world, the inhabitants of Moscow, Boston, Limoges and Liege -- the little man with his positive and rationalistic philosophy, a moralist rather than a religious fanatic, uninterested in metaphysics or the world of fantasy -- the type Zarathustra described as the imitation-man, a caricature -- it was this little man, a replica of Flaubert's Monsieur Homais, who was to annihilate the Great Army whose mission it was to prepare the way for the Superman, the demigod who would reign supreme over the elements and the stars."
The child who feels misunderstood and not appreciated may wish to be of a different breed, but he knows he is not. His chance for success in life is not to grow into a being of a different nature as the duckling grows into a swan, but to acquire better qualities and to do better than others expect, being of the same nature as his parents and siblings. In true fairy tales we find that, however many transformations the hero undergoes, including being turned into an animal or even a stone, in the end he is always a human being, as he started out.
OPTION TWO. The death of his brother Nitya on December 13, 1925 at age 27 from tuberculosis, however, shook his fundamental belief in the masters, the leaders of the Theosophical Society and the whole idea of the world teacher project. He had prayed for his brother's life to be spared and it was not. The experience of his brother's death shattered his remaining illusions.
That one’s fate is inexorable -- a depressive world-view -- is as clear in "The Ugly Duckling" with its favorable outcome as in the sad ending of Andersen’s "The Little Match Girl," a deeply moving story, but hardly one suitable for identification. The child in his misery may indeed identify with this heroine, but if so, this leads only to utter pessimism and defeatism. "The Little Match Girl" is a moralistic tale about the cruelty of the world; it arouses compassion for the downtrodden. But what the child who feels downtrodden needs is not compassion for others who are in the same predicament, but rather the conviction that he can escape this fate.
HOMAGE TO: Bruno Bettelheim (italicized text), Louis Pauwels, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Nitya Krishnamurti, Ivan Bilibin (pictures), Alexander Pushkin, Mrs. W.K. "Lucy" Clifford. NO THANKS TO: Hitler, Andersen, Besant, Leadbeater.