1) The Shadow. We've probably all experienced the sensation: somewhere, somehow, we saw a new possibility open up before us, or felt a strange impulse to follow a desire that we could hardly name. We were wise, or so we thought, to resist the temptation, to stay on the path of our sober-minded, plan-in-advance selves. And then, perhaps years later, we wondered why, and what things might have been like if we hadn't.
"The Shadow" takes up this question -- decidedly one that haunts adults rather than children -- in a strange allegory that reads like a fairy tale but burns at the soul like some mad tale of Poe. And like Poe (and Shelley, Gogol, Dostoyevsky, and many others), Andersen hit upon the folk legend of a double, or doppelgänger, as a metaphor for this desire deferred. With roots deep in popular folklore, these tales of someone with an uncanny resemblance to one's self are chilling enough as far as they go -- for it seems that there's only room in the universe for one of them: either the double or the self must die.
In Andersen's tale, the "learned man" (perhaps "scholar" would be a more apt English translation) permits his shadow to do pursue a course of action he himself was too timid to attempt, and initially counts himself fortunate. The lack of a shadow, after all, was but a minor inconvenience -- what of it? The twist here is that this decision precipitates the birth of a separate entity, one that eventually comes to possess all of the boldness and sense of purpose that the student lacked. The student, gradually and inexorably, is fated to become the shadow's shadow, and eventually even less than that.
2) The Red Shoes. A bloodcurdling tale of "friendly" woodcutters who chop off girls' legs, dancing disembodied limbs, and bloodied toes. No, it's not SAW VIII, it's another strange tale from the twisted mind of Andersen, designed it seems to haunt children throughout their lives and cast a shadow on the love of shoes. Not surprisingly, perhaps, it's the tale of his most often "bowdlerized"-- in many editions up through the 1960's, the whole bit about the woodchopper and the legs was left out -- a fate that befell other stories as well, among them the Little Matchgirl and the Snow Queen. And yet, despite the grim turns of the tale, it's been a favorite of many readers, and the inspiration for a number of adaptations.
The best known of these is certainly the 1948 film, produced and directed by the legendary team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Filmed in luminescent three-strip Technicolor, it tells the tale of a tragedy within a tragedy -- of a young woman whose ambition to become a star ballerina, and her appearance in an ballet adaptation of Andersen's tale, foreshadows her own tragic romance and death. Martin Scorsese has spoken often about his love for this film, and although panned by critics at the time, it's risen steadily in the estimate of film scholars and historians; the British Film Institute rated it #9 in its list of the Top 100 British Films of all time.
3) The Little Mermaid. It may be one of the best-known fairy tales of all time, but it took its time to het there. Although written in 1837, it wasn't translated into English until 1872, and although Andersen considered it one of his fairy tales "for children," there seems to have been some shyness about handing a tale to little girls that clearly seems to take as its underlying theme the subject of sexual maturity. Andersen himself sealed the ending of the story with what may be one of the most moralistic morals ever penned"
"For every day on which we find a good child who pleases his parents and deserves their love, God shortens our days of trial. The child does not know when we float through his room, but when we smile at him in approval one year is taken from our three hundred. But if we see a naughty, mischievous child we must shed tears of sorrow, and each tear adds a day to the time of our trial."As P.L. Travers (Mary Poppins) said, "A year taken off when a child behaves and a tear shed and a day added whenever a child is naughty? Andersen, this is blackmail. And the children know it and say nothing. There's magnanimity for you."
Disney, in converting Andersen's antique moralizing into modern family fare, actually did a remarkable job of holding on to the charged understory of a girl coming of age with desire, not just for the human world, but for a human prince. They discretely applied two scallop shells, along with water-bound as well as air-bound sidekicks, and made the sisters into the same sort of annoying wannabes as those of Cinderella. But it was with the Sea Witch that they worked the best magic; by having her, with Ariel's stolen voice (thankfully not her actual tongue) embody Ariel's rival they considerably upped the ante on the final climax. And of course, the little mermaid -- who doesn't die -- gets both legs and man.