NOTE: Throughout the month of May I’m raising money for the American Cancer Society, Please read to the very end of the post to see how you can help.
“Are there any of you who wish to live happily ever after?” – A tantalizing offer from the Genie of the Lamp
Aladdin: genies, magic lamps, flying carpets, vast deserts, beautiful princesses, wicked viziers, it’s just your basic Arabian fairytale from The One Thousand and One Nights, right?
Though the stories within The One Thousand and One Nights (aka The Arabian Nights) were collected by Asian, Arabic, and African authors over several centuries, Aladdin was shoehorned in by Antoine Galland as part of his French translation of the anthology. It was based on a folktale that Galland claimed he heard from the Syrian storyteller Hanna Diyab in 1709. This “original” iteration takes place in China though it retains the Arabian elements we’ve come to expect, including there being a sultan instead of an emperor. There’s also an unusual epilogue where the evil sorcerer’s brother disguises himself as a medicine woman as part of an elaborate ruse to get revenge on Aladdin. Considering the bizarre, forced turns many of the Disney direct-to-video sequels took in order to justify their existence, I’m surprised none of the Aladdin sequels decided to take a page from there and give us “JAFAR’S CRAZY BROTHER!!”
With the advent of cinema and rise of filmmaking technology, Aladdin and Aladdin-type stories became a recurring staple of adventure-fantasy flicks set in the Middle East (as viewed through the West’s warped exoticism-heavy lens, of course). The earliest surviving animated film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed, boasts elements of Aladdin, as does Richard Williams’ unfinished masterpiece The Thief and the Cobbler; the latter, in addition to The Thief of Baghdad and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, would go on to inspire the best-known (and overall best) version of the story in modern culture, the 1992 animated Disney classic. Today’s Faerie Tale Theatre episode is one of the last adaptations of Aladdin before Disney swallowed everything that came before and after it. So how does it hold up?
“The people care not one whit for the inner workings of government. They only care that I look the part. If I’m to appear as a slovenly, disheveled ragamuffin, the subjects would assume that I am as common and ordinary as they are and unfit to rule this vast kingdom. No, they want to look up to me. They need to admire me. They demand I oppress them! And I shall.” – The Emperor’s raison d’etre that proves to be his undoing
Now we go from one fashion-centric fairytale about maintaining royal appearances to another. The Emperor’s New Clothes is the story that best encapsulates the lesson “clothes (don’t) make the man”. Though popularized by Hans Christian Andersen, the original version goes as far back as 1300s Spain. It’s one of many cautionary tales collected by Prince Juan Manuel of Villena in his moralistic compendium Libro de los ejemplos. Leaning into the fact that these stories were not intended for children, the king in this narrative is tricked into buying a suit that’s “invisible” to any man who’s not the son of his presumed father. A similar story is told in India, where the ruse is exposed when the commoners ask their king if he’s become a naked monk.
Andersen was unfamiliar with the Spanish original but based his take on a German translation. The alterations he made reflected his ire towards the vanity, pride, and false intellectualism of the upper class. One such change, however, reflects an incident in Andersen’s own life. As a boy, his parents took him to see the king’s procession through town; so much hype was built up around him that upon seeing the monarch for himself, young Andersen declared “But he’s only a man!” Despite his family shushing him, he would not be silenced. There’s little doubt that this scene influenced the climax of his story.
Hollis Robbins, in her critique of The Emperor’s New Clothes, states that the tale is so transparent that there’s no need for scrutiny. If you’ll forgive the expression, it wears its moral on its sleeve. And yes, I can see where Robbins is coming from, but that doesn’t make it any less important. In the wake of certain administrations and the ongoing battle to bring them to justice, it’s more important than ever to point out the naked truth regarding corrupt, self-serving officials instead of swallowing the lies they deck themselves in. This story is foundational in teaching those young and old that change can begin when someone has the courage to say that the Emperor has no clothes.
“Bootmaker, I’m looking for a boot as light as air and fast as the wind. A boot that makes no sound, leaves no tracks.” “You’re in luck, I’ve got one pair left!” – A feline acquires his defining bit of footwear
Fairytales are full of trickster mentors that aid the hero in their quest. The amount of stories where the mentor takes the form of a wily animal are beyond counting. Cats are a particularly popular choice for the role on account of folklorists making their natural stealthiness and hunting prowess shorthand for cunning and guile. And there’s no fairy tale feline more renowned for their craftiness than Puss in Boots.
Walking into this review I assumed Puss in Boots was going to be a Charles Perrault original, which is how I was introduced to it, but the story actually has Italian roots. The oldest known version is 1550’s Constantino Fortunato, or “Fortunate Constantine” by author and fairytale collector Giovanni Francesco Straparola. One of several tales included in the two-volume collection The Facetious Nights, the story is about a poor boy who marries a princess thanks to a clever cat. It’s interesting to note that this cat isn’t just a magical talking cat but a fairy in disguise; a detail that fell by the wayside in future retellings. Writer Girolamo Morlini wrote his version of Puss in Boots shortly afterwards (fair turnabout since Straparola often borrowed from Morlini), followed by Giambatta Basile in 1634. Then Charles Perrault popularized the tale in France as part of his fairy tale collection (the same that also launched the character of Mother Goose), and the feline’s fame hasn’t dwindled since. He’s even well-known in Japan, where a popular film by Toei Animation has made him the studio’s mascot.
Puss in Boots is one of those fairytales that falls into a gray area where the moral is concerned…in that there isn’t really one at all. If you go by a purely textual reading of the story, the takeaway is that lying, cheating and stealing will get you what you want without any consequences; not much of a lesson (but one that’s far too relevant if you look at the current state of the Republican Party). On the flip side, Puss uses his wits to make the most of his and his master’s lousy circumstances. He’s simply doing what he can with what little he has to improve their situation. The story takes place in a society that favors the first-born son, so it’s easy to root for the youngest son stuck with naught but a wisecracking mouse-catcher while his selfish brothers have the means to support themselves. The men and monsters Puss deceives are largely deserving of his trickery.
Tying into that is the unusual choice of clothing this cat in footwear. It’s not just for aesthetics, I assure you. Shoes were a luxury afforded only to young people of the upper-class in the Middle Ages because they were outgrown or worn through so quickly. As such, boots were a sign of wealth and status. In both the original fairytale and today’s episode, the king refuses to grant Puss an audience until he learns he wears boots. Appearances and presentation played as all-encompassing a role in society then as they do now, but the story of Puss in Boots shows that anyone with brains and the ability to pass off as refined can game the system. Make what you will of that.
“So you’re telling me you had a good time?” “And I owe it all to you.” “Rubbish! You did it all yourself. The cake was already made, all I did was add the frosting.” – The Fairy Godmother lays down the truth about our long-lasting fascination with the original rags-to-riches story
Did I say Snow White held the record for the fairytale with the most variations? Silly me, how could I forget Cinderella, the story that’s so known worldwide that when I tried to research every single version for this review my computer exploded? In fact, I questioned the point of recapping this episode since you don’t need me to remind you of the plot. This is a fairy tale so widely spread across thousands of years, continents and cultures, from Ancient Greece to the Tang Dynasty, that everyone knows it in some form or another.
It’s only when I stopped to compare Faerie Tale Theatre’s Cinderella to other iterations of the story that I came to this conclusion: the devil is in the details. Cinderella’s timelessness has left it open to a multitude of interpretations, analyzations, deconstructions, reconstructions, subversions and spoofs. There is no one definitive version, which is great. You can do whatever you want with the tale if you play with the beats creatively enough. Want to change the setting to high school and make the prom the ball? Sure, why not? Remove the magical elements and place it in Renaissance-era Europe for that historical fiction approach? Whatever floats your boat. Flip the perspective to the stepsisters’ side of the story? Go nuts. Have Cinderella’s servitude be a literal curse she has to break by tearing the fairy who enchanted her a new one? Boom, done.
Cinderella has also been subjected to plenty of criticism, as a good many traditional fairy tales have lately. Forgive me for beating a dead mouse-turned-horse, but those espousing the negatives of Cinderella, from All-4-One to The Cheetah Girls to Andrew Lloyd Webber, to a whole slew of bad-faith “feminist” critiques and even YA retellings I love like Kaylnn Bayron’s Cinderella is Dead and Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Just Ella, have gotten it completely wrong. Cinderella is not, and never has been, about marrying a prince. It was, and always will be, about maintaining hope in dark times and escaping poverty and abuse through kindness and determination. That’s the eternal appeal of Cinderella, that anyone can rise to the top when it seems like the whole world’s against you. It’s also what makes a straightforward rendition in a sea of postmodern adaptations so refreshing (when done right, of course).
“‘Please your honors,’ said he, ‘I’m able, by means of a secret charm, to draw all creatures living beneath the sun that creep, or swim, or fly, or run, after me so as you never saw! And I chiefly use my charm on creatures that do people harm: the mole, and toad, and newt, and viper; And people call me the Pied Piper.’” -An introduction to a character that needs no introduction
For 300 years, a stained glass window depicting a colorfully dressed piper stood in the church of the German town of Hamelin. Although the window was destroyed in 1660, records detail the message enshrined upon it:
In the year of 1284, on the day of Saints John and Paul on June 26, by a piper, clothed in many kinds of colors, 130 born in Hamlin were seduced and lost at the place of execution near the koppen.
Another entry in Hamelin’s town records dating from 1384 follows up with a grim assessment:
It has been 100 years since our children left.
It’s said that every folk story and fairy tale has a grain of truth to them…which can make the tale in question even more disturbing when there are written accounts to back it up. Such is the case with The Pied Piper of Hamelin. We know something terrible right out of a fantasy story did indeed happen, but the details and reasoning behind it are lost to time. From there the human imagination takes over and fills in the spaces with dark suppositions. What of this enigmatic Piper who lured so many victims to an unknown fate? Is he Death personified? One of the fae? A remnant of the mysterious dancing plague that struck 14th century Europe? Was he a colorful recruiter of German colonizers looking to settle further east? A metaphor for the Children’s Crusade, where thousands of children were rounded up to take the Holy Land only to never return? Or, perhaps, a dark manifestation of the fear of child predators?
Curiously, neither the window nor documents make any mention of a rat plague that so often accompanies retellings of the Pied Piper story. That aspect didn’t appear until the 16th century. The wonder and terror surrounding the Piper’s doings have inspired one interpretation after another. Can Faerie Tale Theatre recapture the magic, or is it full of sour notes?
“Cold be hot and friends be kind when love unites the heart and mind.” – The Snow Queen’s moral wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a slide puzzle
I might as well get this out of the way, my feelings toward Frozen are…mixed. Granted, I understand why the story was altered to the point of barely resembling its literary counterpart. Hans Christian Andersen painted the original fairy tale with a ton of heavy Christian overtones that can be preachy at times. Said original is also very episodic like most of Andersen’s works, which means changes for the screen aren’t just inevitable but encouraged.
I stand by what I’ve said before about alterations in adapting fairy tales, they need to be done for modern audiences. The problem lies in the story completely shifting so the filmmakers can soapbox in as ham-fisted a manner as possible about past Disney romances being unrealistic, and then said story balloons in popularity to such a degree that Disney can’t go five minutes without pushing it in your face at the cost of other excellent films, and…well, that’s when one tends to grow more critical over it over time.
But what of the narrative that inspired Frozen in the first place? The Snow Queen is one of Hans Christian Andersen’s most popular tales, as well as his longest. The story is divided into seven chapters and is almost novel length. As this is a fairytale from Andersen, The Snow Queen is wholly authentic; it’s been speculated, however, that he based the cold-hearted character on one of his unrequited loves.
You know how some people write to cope and provide happy endings where real life couldn’t? Andersen wrote like a teenager using fanfiction to vent.
Andersen included a different origin story for The Snow Queen in his biography: his sick father on his deathbed drew a figure not unlike a woman with outstretched arms on the icy window, and joked to his young son “She comes to fetch me.” He died soon after, and Andersen’s mother told him “The Ice Maiden has fetched him.” This “Ice Maiden” has her own story separate from the Snow Queen, but the idea of coldness connected with death, specifically in form of an elegant but dangerous woman, is a reoccurring motif in many of Andersen’s fables.
Another symbol that can be found here as well as other Andersen stories is that of the wise beloved grandmother, a nod to Andersen’s own grandmother from whom he learned many Danish fairy tales. Bible imagery is also included in The Snow Queen as previously stated, from various Christian verses worked into the text, to the main conflict being kicked off by a school of demons trying to reach God with their evil mirror and getting struck down like the Tower of Babel. The Snow Queen is rife with the themes of growing up, devotion, bravery and love conquering all – but unlike Frozen, the love between our main characters is supposed to be read as platonic, not romantic.
I promise that this will not be a review bashing Frozen, but the differences between it and the source material are like night and day. Revisiting The Snow Queen I was reminded of how many missed opportunities there were to tell a very different story about love, adventure and maturity in a compelling way. No one work of fiction should be held as the definitive version as nearly all stories deserve to be retold. So for the sake of this review and for all the angry Frozen fans that are going to come after me, can we just…
“I’ve got to learn about the shivers, and this seems like such a sure thing.” “Do you not want the treasure?” “Treasure? What would I do with treasure?” – Our protagonist’s reasons for seeking danger
I usually begin these reviews with a brief discussion of each fairy tale’s origin and history. This time, however, let’s talk a bit about a certain folkloric archetype: The Fool.
When I first started writing these reviews, I considered combining this episode with a later one, The Princess Who Never Laughed, because both have fools at the heart of their story. A fool’s true purpose is to provide more than just comic relief. They are uninhibited by social conventions and often maintain a childlike innocence towards the world. Through their ridiculous words and actions – or the appearance of such – they reveal truths that the characters and audience might not have discovered otherwise.
The most notable example is in Shakespeare’s King Lear. Lear’s Fool is the only one allowed to openly criticize him without repercussion thanks to phrasing his jibes to sound like harmless jokes. Perhaps if the mad monarch listened to him, his story wouldn’t have ended so tragically. Likewise, Lady Olivia’s fool Feste in the play Twelfth Night is quick to snap her out of her melancholy by pointing out the folly of grieving her late brother: “The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul being in heaven.” (Act One, Scene Five)
In other cases, the Fool demonstrates how selflessness and kindness will always outweigh strength and wit, like in the Russian folktale The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship. The story even contains the line “God loves a fool, and will turn things to their advantage in the end.” Though denigrated by his own family for his perceived simple-mindedness, this Fool is a caring soul to everyone he meets, and hits the karmic jackpot as a result: a cabal of super-powered friends, the hand of a princess, the adulation of his fellow countrymen, and of course, the only airborne schooner known to man.
The Fool archetype has gone even beyond the written word. In the tarot Major Arcana, The Fool is the first numbered card in the pack. He’s often depicted as a cheerful youth, sometimes accompanied by a dog, making his way down a sunny path without really looking where he’s going. Should The Fool wander into your tarot reading, it signifies the start of an exciting new journey in your future…or, perhaps, a fool’s errand.
This all ties into today’s episode and the story it entails. It’s another tale brought to us by the Brothers Grimm. Though there were a few variants beforehand, this iteration was directly influenced by an Arthurian story of Sir Lancelot spending a night in a haunted castle. Alternate titles in various fairy tale collections replace the word “Boy” with “Youth” or “Fool”; no matter the difference in sobriquet, it’s the same main character with the same foolish attributes. In keeping with both themes, this fool teaches us that some common fears might not be as terrible as they seem, and other things that are actually worth fearing may never have crossed our minds before…
“Love can make a man into a beast. Love can also make an ugly man beautiful.” – The Prince laying down the story’s message, with emphasis on the former in this case…
CONTENT WARNING:This review features a brief mention of violence and sexual abuse, and discusses a portrayal of an abusive relationship.If you or someone you love is in an unsafe situation with a family member, spouse or partner, it is okay to reach out for help.Links to various hotlines and organizations that can assist you will be posted at the end of the review.
Perhaps the most iconic of the “animal bridegroom” folktales spanning across the globe is Beauty and the Beast. The motif of a beautiful woman being paired with a beastly man is indeed a tale as old as time; the oldest recorded story, The Epic of Gilgamesh, includes an anecdote about a savage wild man, Enkidu, falling in love with a virtuous priestess, Shamhat. Like Snow White, though, the origins of the Beauty and the Beast story we know today can be found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, this time through the tale of Cupid and Psyche:
Psyche was the most kind and beauteous of three sisters, yet all who came to admire her only did so for her looks, not to pursue a wife. The attention Psyche received earned her the ire of Venus, the goddess of love. She commanded her son Cupid to make Psyche fall for a hideous creature as revenge. But on seeing Psyche for himself, he fell in love with her. Cupid vowed to protect her from his mother’s wrath. When Psyche’s father went to visit an oracle, he was told she was going to marry a horrible monster and had to be left alone on top of a mountain for it to claim her. Psyche accepted her fate, not expecting the West Wind to carry her to an enchanted palace in the clouds instead. Her lover came to her invisible each night to dote on her every whim, asking only that she never try to see his face. Psyche was happy for a while, but began to miss her family. Despite Cupid’s misgivings, he allowed her sisters to pay her a visit. The sisters were bitterly jealous of Psyche, however, and planted doubt in her heart about her mysterious husband. They convinced her to look upon him as he slept to find out who he really was. Psyche was thrilled to learn she was wife to a god, but some hot oil spilled from her lamp onto Cupid. Burned in more ways than one, Cupid abandoned Psyche, and she was forced to undertake some herculean labors in order to prove her faithfulness and win him back.
One can see how the tale would evolve into a parable about love, loyalty, and how beauty is only skin-deep. The story even took a step into reality with Petrus Gonsalvus, “the man of the woods” or “the hairy man”. Gonsalvus suffered from hypertrichosis, a condition involving hair growing all over his face. Because of his animal-like visage, people of the time barely considered him human. In 1547 he was brought to the court of King Henry II of France where he more or less filled the post of “royal freak show”. He was married to a beautiful woman, Margaret of Parma, and they had children who likewise inherited their father’s hypertrichosis. Some scholars claim it was Gonsalvus who inspired author Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve to write Beauty and the Beast. Her version of the story was published in 1740, then abridged and re-published by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont sixteen years later, with many more iterations by authors such as Andrew Lang following after.
It’s widely agreed that Villeneuve wrote her story as a way to prepare young ladies for arranged marriages. It’s easy to see the metaphor when you read it through that lens: Beauty is more or less traded to a suitor by her father in exchange for riches, she’s sent away from her family to live him, and emphasis is put on his kindness, wealth and higher standard of living as reasons to overlook his less pleasant qualities. Though the story can rise above it and the implied Stockholm Syndrome inherent when told well, only one version has successfully done so:
But since this episode came out almost a decade before Disney’s, it had to take inspiration from elsewhere…
“For I’ll be your prince, and you’ll be my…dwarf.” – The Prince’s tune after receiving a surprise audience
I have a confession to make: I feel like I skimped out on Thumbelina’s origins last month. Had circumstances not prevented me from doing so, I would have done a deep dive into other thumb-sized characters in folklore around the world, how they fed into her creation, and the similarities and differences between them. Well this month’s review isn’t gonna leave the history buffs high and dry, baby. I’m going the full hog with Snow White, one of the most iconic fairy tales with a rich, detailed historical background to match, so strap in!
The Fairest One of All might just hold the record for most variants of her story worldwide. In the Aarne-Thompson-Uther classification of folklore, she has a category all to herself! Richilde, Gold-tree and Silver-tree, Myrsina, The Young Slave, Bella Venezia, Bright Star of Ireland, Hajir, La petite Toute-Belle, Der zauberspiegel, Rose-Neige, Lé Roi Pan, La hermosa hijastra, and Anghjulina are but a few folktales from around the globe that retell Snow White’s adventures. Each one shares the tropes common to the story we know (a jealous queen, a magical fairness-rating artifact, multiple assassination attempts, poisoned objects, glass coffins, a prince partly responsible for waking her, etc.) though the details vary. For example, the dwarfs who take Snow White in aren’t always dwarfs, or even miners. Sometimes they’re robbers, sometimes they’re the twelve months personified, sometimes they’re purely magical characters like djinns and dragons!
The biggest revelation one can take away from these retellings, however, is that Snow White usually isn’t menaced by a wicked stepmother but her own mother. Indeed, the German oral tale recorded by the Brothers Grimm in 1812 had the evil Queen be Snow White’s birth mother, until they revised it seven years later to keep the fable more in line with their patriarchal beliefs. See, Jacob and Wilhelm envisioned motherhood as something pure and infallible. They didn’t want to rock the familial boat by suggesting mothers could be capable of spite and cruelty. So they pinned the queen’s jealousy and murderous tendencies on a figure that was already on the outs with the family unit, one seen as new, unfamiliar and untrustworthy: the stepmother. It also doesn’t help that the Queen is the most proactive character in the story, spinning the narrative that clever women with agency and authority are evil, self-serving and dangerous. Between this, Cinderella, and Hansel and Gretel, it’s not much of a stretch to say that the Grimms are the source of the evil stepmother/queen stereotype that’s plagued so many narratives and even negatively colors real women to this day.
As for her origins, Snow White and her assorted fair counterparts have roots going all the way back to Ovid’s Metamorphoses. One story featured within, the legend of Chione (whose name translates to “Snow”, by the way) is about a woman described as the most beautiful in the land, which earns her the enmity of the goddess Diana and the lust of gods Apollo and Mercury. Apollo visits Chione disguised as an old woman and…has his way with her, as deities do (blegh). One could also draw parallels to Adam and Eve and the infamous apple, if you’re willing to dig that deep.
That’s not the half of it, though. Scholars may have found precedence that the tale of Snow White might be based on actual historical figures. According to German historian Eckhard Sander, young countess Margaretha von Waldeck fits the bill for a real life Snow White. She was renowned for her beauty, raised by her stepmother, her father owned several copper mines that employed child labor (which explains the dwarfs), she had to travel to the next kingdom “seven hills” over for a goodwill mission, and she died tragically young; the rumor circulating the court was that she was poisoned. Another theory that was initially tongue-in-cheek but turned out to have some credibility was that Snow White was inspired by Baroness Maria Sophia Margarethe Catharine of Lohr. Mirrors from Lohr were said to always speak the truth thanks to their high quality, hence the Magic Mirror. One such Lohr mirror that still exists was owned by Maria’s stepmother, Claudia Elizabeth von Reichenstein. Claudia is described as a domineering woman who favored the children from her first marriage. There’s a history of nightshade poison growing in abundance in Lohr, a mining town stood close to there, and the glass coffin may be another nod to the city’s famous glassworks. While there are sound arguments disproving these hypotheses, I find it fascinating that Snow White has taken such root into culture as a whole that historians and folklorists alike are willing to connect the dots between the story and factual occurrences.
When it comes to modern iterations, though, the Disney film is the one that obviously stands foremost in the public consciousness. It’s inspired nearly every adaptation going forward since 1937, and Faerie Tale Theatre’s is no exception…
“I’m always the bride, and never the bridesmaid.” – Our heroine’s fourth wall-leaning lament
The idea of tiny people going on huge adventures is nothing new in fairy tales. Hans Christian Andersen took most of his inspiration for today’s story from the seventeenth-century English tale of Tom Thumb, but his own flourishes make Thumbelina a slightly original creation. It was published in 1835 as part of the second fairy tale collection Andersen released that year, which included The Princess and the Pea. It received the same criticisms, namely the lack of clear morals, informal chatty nature and passive characters. Discouraged, Andersen returned to novel writing for a full year before trying his hands at fairy tales again.
Now, it’s no secret that Andersen used most of his stories to vent his own insecurities and frustrations. Thumbelina is no exception, though he’s a bit subtler about it this time around. It’s been theorized that Thumbelina’s platonic relationship with the swallow was a “distant tribute” to a confidante named Henriette Wuff, though there’s little evidence to support it. There’s also the beetle who admires Thumbelina’s beauty but changes its tune when he shows her off to his fellow bugs and they deem her “ugly”; an on-the-nosecritique of his fickle audience if ever there was one. What’s certain, however, is that while studying in Slagelse, Zealand, Andersen was tutored by a short, stout, balding, contemptuous classics teacher named Simon Meisling who frequently abused his pupil. “You’re a stupid boy who will never make it,” he once berated him in front of the entire class. Meisling is all but confirmed to be the inspiration for the odious Mole, which proves the adage of never pissing off the writer.
Then there’s the story’s lesson, which is…complicated. On the one hand, Thumbelina bouncing around from one miserable suitor of differing species to another until she finds someone exactly like her can come across as “stick to your own kind”, which borders on yikes. On the other, when Thumbelina finally meets her fairy prince, she’s not pressed into marrying him. She chooses to marry him. Thumbelina is really a story about a woman running away from futures she has no say in to charter her own course in life, an empowering message for women in Andersen’s time – and even today, when put in the right hands.