Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays, dear readers! We here at Lit.Scribbles are off celebrating the spirit of Christmas, but cunningly wrote this post in advance and scheduled it to be published today. No matter what you celebrate – we’re of an interfaith family ourselves – we hope you’re having a lovely season.
Of course, it wouldn’t be the holidays without Gregory Maguire. In fact, it wouldn’t be a fairy tale blog without Gregory Maguire, now would it? NPR had Maguire write a new take on Hans Christian Andersen’s classic The Little Match Girl, which he calls Matchless.
First of all, Andersen’s original tale is about a little match girl who happily freezes to death while seeing visions of her grandmother in heaven. It’s heartbreaking:
But in the corner, at the cold hour of dawn, sat the poor girl, with rosy cheeks and with a smiling mouth, leaning against the wall–frozen to death on the last evening of the old year. Stiff and stark sat the child there with her matches, of which one bundle had been burnt. “She wanted to warm herself,” people said. No one had the slightest suspicion of what beautiful things she had seen; no one even dreamed of the splendor in which, with her grandmother she had entered on the joys of a new year.
Not exactly filled with good cheer. Andersen’s religiosity and politics are too complicated to go into here…though he was certainly obsessed with glorifying submissive characters and death experiences. Maguire takes this story (which you can both read and listen to on NPR’s site here) and tries to change it up; the Match Girl’s story is still there, but now surrounded by a frame story about Frederick, who lives with his mother the seamstress and dreams of building a miniature world in his attic. There’s the potential for a lovely story, and Maguire does manage some lovely passages, such as this one at the very end:
The water lapped higher as bells began to ring in the muffling fog. He blinked, and then he saw a little light, a momentary flare held out by an invisible hand. He reached toward it and the light went out. But, look, another! — several feet beyond, so he took a step forward. A third flame winked beyond that, and then a fourth. Small brief lights, but helpful as matches struck just in time.
Frederik followed the chain of evanescent stars across the dark water to safety. Some people know better than to announce if a little light has appeared to them.
Frederik didn’t confide in his mother when she returned the next morning, with pastries and lingonberry jam. He wanted to tell his stepfather there were reasons not to be sad on this Christmas anniversary. But he didn’t know how. Instead, he said to his sisters, “Eat up your marzipan. I have a surprise upstairs to show you.”
Then he carried both girls up the ladder, to share with them his secret town, whose population had enjoyed a marked increase over the past year. His sisters clapped their hands, unaware that high above them, even in the daylight, exists a population of stars.
Just lovely; Maguire at his best. He did a beautiful job of taking what was a very, very heartbreaking story and turning it into a delicate illumination of the bonds of togetherness, that run even between the living and the dead.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Gregory Maguire if there weren’t some missteps along the way. The dialog is pretty uneven, and Maguire’s prose can often be choppy and his transitions rough. Gregory, listen to me, I’m your fan, and I love you even when your best efforts fail: stop writing dialog. Stop. Use the descriptive powers with which nature has blessed you. Less is more. Hearing people talk is not the sole purpose of fiction. Please oh please.
I hope you all are having a lovely, non-stressful holiday season. Here’s to Andersen, Maguire, and to all the old and new stories that keep us warm in the winter.
*Note: It has come to Dae’s attention that yes, this Maguire piece was written for *2008’s* Holiday Season. She’s busy rationalizing her error by telling herself that most of the people she studies are dead anyways, and that it’s more Maguire’s fault than hers. That’s what you get for daring to be contemporary.