4 World's Greatest Bedtime StoriesThe definition of a classic might be something that is still around even as jobs such as "radio bedtime story man" -- or spellings such as "to-day" -- come and go. Still, imagine yourself snug in your 1930 bedroom, no doubt sharing it with your many brothers and/or sisters, the tang of the woodsmoke from the nearby Hoovervilles wafting through the air, and a gentle, yet stentorian voice, cured to gentleness by the smoke of a thousand thousand cigarettes, takes up "The Ugly Duckling", and, as you drift off to Slumberland, you hear
Hans Christian Andersen had an extraordinary capacity for amusing children. Were he living to-day he might be in great demand as a radio bedtime story man.
...The poor Duckling was hunted about by every one; even its brothers and sisters were quite angry with it, and said, “If the cat would only catch you, you ugly creature!” And the mother said, “If you were only far away!” And the ducks bit it, and the chickens beat it, and the girl who had to feed the poultry kicked at it with her foot.Everyone hates you! Good night! And that's not even the part, two paragraphs later, where he makes friends with some geese who immediately get shot by hunters.
I imagine, however, that scary bedtime stories were the least of the concerns to the 1930 child, what with all the polio around and all. Besides, "The Ugly Duckling" makes two excellent points:
1. Ugly as you are, you are not uglier than people pursuing their self-interest.
...And the Cat was master of the house, and the Hen was the lady, and always said “We and the world!” for she thought they were half the world, and by far the better half. The Duckling thought one might have a different opinion, but the Hen would not allow it.Opinions are not ours by right, but are earned from usefulness. Nowadays we call this "lobbying".
“Can you lay eggs?” she asked,
“Then will you hold your tongue!”
And the Cat said, “Can you curve your back, and purr, and give out sparks?” “No.”
“Then you will please have no opinion of your own when sensible folks are speaking.”
2. Beauty on the inside good, beauty on the outside better
SPOILER ALERT: The Ugly Duckling was a swan all along! It all turned out okay, because it was handsome! In fact, while U.D. is a friendly sort, he, like many a model I suppose, doesn't actually do anything for anybody. We feel like his virtue was rewarded, because all he wants is a friend and he never finds one, but if virtue reveals itself in action, then U.D.'s only virtue was being damn good-looking.
I might also add that reading these stories straight (well, translated) from Andersen is fun, because he fills them with little asides that a vigilant editor might be tempted to remove:
“See, that’s how it goes in the world!” said the Mother-Duck; and she whetted her beak, for she too wanted the eel’s head. “Only use your legs,” she said. “See that you can bustle about, and bow your heads before the old Duck yonder. She’s the grandest of all here; she’s of Spanish blood—that’s why she’s so fat.She's of Spanish blood. Like the kids gazing at the handsome swan at the end, we are easily dazzled. It's like being all excited because someone you know saw Halle Berry coming out of a Coffee Bean on Sunset -- although, to be fair, I was quite excited when I saw Pete Sampras at a Coffee Bean in Beverly Hills. I was cool, though.