måndag 23 december 2013

A not so Merry Christmas at all

As is the case in many of Hans Christian Andersen's so called fairy tales, The Little Match Girl is a tragic story, not at all suitable for small children. The poor girl is forced by her parents to sell matches in the street a freezing Christmas Eve. Nobody buys from her but she doesn't dare top go home. To keep warm she lights one after of the matches and sees the loveliest sights, hallucinating from cold, until she freezes to death in a corner, while people are hasting by on their way home to their families. Now there's a nice goodnight tale for your toddler!
Little Match Girl, Grosset and Dunlap 1944
Anyway, in 1944 Gustaf Tenggren illustrated this story for Grosset and Dunlap. When I first saw this book, I was not surprised that the end was changed: the little girl doesn't die at all, she gets rescued and wakes up in a warm bed in a rich house where she could stay. Of course, that's natural; a commecial book company simply can't give children the brutal facts of cruel poverty.
The little match girl gets rescued and wakes up in a warm bed
with a caring old lady that wants her as her grandchild.
The very last image of the book where The Little Match Girl is lying
on a cushion, but still in her raggedy beggar's clothes. The painting is ambiguous;
is she really sleeping or is she in fact dead after all?
But I hadn't expected Gustaf Tenggren to produce such a lame ending, since he was a stern and realistic artist and with a deep respect towards the literature classics. I always suspected that Tenggren was unwillingly forced to change the ending; at least I hoped so.
That's why I was quite pleased when I browsed through the dummy for Little Match Girl in The Kerlan Collection - there it was, the real end illustration. Gustaf had meant to illustrate the actual story as it was, in all its sadness. But naturally, the drawing had been rejected. So here they are, both of the endings. You choose.
Gustaf's suggestion from the book dummy for the last image.
This is a dead Little Match Girl, no doubt about it; Gustaf has even written so in the text above.
The last picture in the actual book bears a certain similarity to this one.
Kerlan collection of the University of Minnesota Libraries
with permissions from the Archives and Special Collections.

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