I’m continuing a series of hidden-picture, storytelling art pieces. Thus far, I’ve completed “Beauty and the Beast” and “Sleeping Beauty”–and yesterday, I added the third card, which is “Thumbelina.”
Completely familiar with the story–like most people who grew up reading fairy tales–I still wanted to look up the original version to make sure I had my facts straight. No telling what a retelling will do to a fairy tale. What I discovered was a surprise.
In Andersen’s original story, pretty, tiny Thumbelina was kidnapped from home by a toad, who thought the little human would be the perfect bride for her son. With the help of friendly wildlife, Thumbelina escaped this fate–only to be captured again, this time by an enamored “cockchafer,” which is a type of beetle. The beetle’s peers, however, managed to convince him that the tiny two-legged creature was much too ugly for him to take as his wife, so he set Thumbelina loose in the middle of the wilderness. Alone, lost, and frightened to begin with, Thumbelina now also carried the memory of the words that the beetles had slung at her–“How ugly she is!” She wept to herself over the thought that she was so ugly that even the beetles did not want to have anything to do with her. When, all the while, as Andersen quotes, “she was really the loveliest creature that one could imagine, and as tender and delicate as a beautiful rose-leaf.”
Desperate to escape the elements, Thumbelina found shelter with a kind-hearted field-mouse. Yet even this friendship worked against her, for the field-mouse arranged a marriage between the girl and a rich old mole. When Thumbelina demurred, the field-mouse scolded her for being foolish, telling her that she was lucky the wealthy old mole would even have her, as she was poor and completely without prospects. Believing this, Thumbelina sadly resigned herself to her fate. Yet once again, a rescue came, as a result of her own good heart. While dwelling with the field-mouse, Thumbelina had saved the life of an injured swallow; just before her wedding, he returned, and offered to take her away with him as he flew South for the winter. Happily, Thumbelina agreed.
Love–true love–awaited her in the South. The swallow placed her among the flowers, where she found herself face-to-face with a winged man who was only a bit taller than she. He was the King of the Flower Dwellers. The King thought she was the loveliest creature he had ever seen, and told her so, instantly asking her to be his bride.
With awe–for she was immediately taken with the handsome King–Thumbelina agreed. She could see that he would be a “very different sort of husband” from the ones she had been faced with marrying before. The Flower Dwellers rejoiced, and brought a pair of shimmering wings for her, that she may fly among them. And her Lover gave her a new name, to better reflect the beauty that he saw in her.
Andersen has captured a poignant metaphor within this tale. How many voices in this world–both inside and outside our own thoughts–tell us negative things about ourselves? You’re not good enough…you’re not strong enough…you’re not attractive enough. You can’t expect the better things in life, so you should take what you can get and be satisfied with that. “Happily Ever After” is for the people in fairy tales. When we hear these things often enough, we start believing them. But, all the while, the real truth is within us–the truth that we are beautiful, and able to choose our own path in life. The truth that we’re worthy of love…and our own Happily Ever After.
Only when someone else sees that in us can we recognize it in ourselves. So take a look around. Tell someone the truth about themselves today. And know that the same holds true for you, as well.