Among the more than ten collections of the celebrated author’s work, in display and available for purchase at the Hans Christian Andersen Museum in Solvang, California, none includes the story entitled “Theepotten.” Or in English, “The Teapot.” Every collection’s table of content was perused, during a recess before the start of the town’s annual wine & food festival.
The best known English version, in roughly 650 words translated by the Danish actor Jean Pierre Hersholt (1886-1956) , is an easy read. Perhaps the story pales in comparison to the author’s masterpieces like The Little Mermaid and The Ugly Duckling, yet the first paragraph alone reaffirms that the universal appeal of Andersen’s work lies in his resolve not to veneer the flaws of human nature and its harsh reality; never to sugarcoat – not even a fairy tale – and in his respect for human intelligence. In this case, his respect for the precociousness of some of his very young readers is apparent:
There was a proud Teapot, proud of being made of porcelain, proud of its long spout and its broad handle. It had something in front of it and behind it; the spout was in front, and the handle behind, and that was what it talked about. But it didn’t mention its lid, for it was cracked and it was riveted and full of defects, and we don’t talk about our defects – other people do that. The cups, the cream pitcher, the sugar bowl – in fact, the whole tea service – thought much more about the defects in the lid and talked more about it than about the sound handle and the distinguished spout. The Teapot knew this.
One Jeopardy! category that used to bewilder me was The Bible. I was vexed by the absolute disadvantage faced by those contestants who had never read the religious bestseller. (The category seems to have been officially eliminated since 2007.) Prior to writing this post, I had no knowledge of the Biblical reference and association of the brass teapot with pain and financial predicament, which inspired the short story The Brass Teapot, which in turn calved the 2012 film, The Brass Teapot, which will never make its way to my Netflix queue. The wife and husband characters – middle-aged in the short story and twenty-something in the motion picture – discover that whenever they self-mutilate – or inflict emotional and physical pain on each other – money appears inside their brass teapot. Sound like an over-ambitious attempt to produce a modern day fable?
There are masterpieces that I should not have attacked in my youth. Lolita became an indispensable read less than ten years ago. There are literary works that I periodically re-visit. Mr. Darcy, Captain Wentworth, Mr. Knightley have not aged at all in my imagination; Jane Austen’s novels touch mainly a female audience though. Then there are works that will be interpreted, deciphered, critiqued forever and ever into posterity, with readership ranging from first graders to octogenarians, stories that remain favorite every single day of one’s life – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, Voltaire’s Candide, and some of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, perhaps?
Images courtesy of the contributor.