The Danish author Hans Christian Andersen wrote down many children’s stories and folktales, and the peoples of the world have been enjoying those tales for nearly two centuries. Perhaps his most remembered is the one about Hans Brinker and his silver skates — brought to folks of a certain age in a 1962 Disney movie. A little less memorable, although popularized as well, was the tale about a princess and a pea, immortalized in the early 1960s Broadway stage musical, “Once upon a Mattress.”
Andersen’s collections are as varied as Aesop’s Fables, the sayings of Confucius, aboriginal creation myths, the parables of Jesus and other stories whose kernel of truth can be debated, but seldom denied. They’re stories, not eye-witness accounts. Nevertheless, we consider most of them true; some folks consider them infallible.
We smile at the seeming improbability of stories like “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” also one of Andersen’s. It’s a story about a vain emperor who was so wrapped up in his self-esteem that he quite eagerly believed that his tailors used only the finest weavings available to create his new set of robes; they were, after all, bowing to his vainglory. The material was so “fine” in fact that it appeared to be translucent if not, almost, transparent. This creative, meticulous fabrication allowed the emperor to travel throughout his fiefdom dressed in nothing more than his imagination.
Now, the peoples of that land were sore afraid and could literally lose favor (or their heads) if they spoke out individually or democratically against the emperor. And so, they kowtowed to his whimsy and bought in to his ego-driven desires, not daring to mention his obvious unmentionables.
Until, that is, one innocent child (children do say the darnedest things) pointed to the emperor in his gilded carriage with his coarsely outfitted courtiers and said, “Where are his clothes?”
The child’s spontaneous naivete sparked some initial “Hush!”, “Be quiet!”, “Don’t you dare!”, “Off with his head!”, “To the pillory!” kinds of comments, but these almost immediately gave way to relieved, revealing peals of laughter and the hurling of verbal raspberries, as well as the happily riotous tossing of over-ripe bananas and spoiled eggs at the royal entourage. The emperor, the king, the despot, the vain and not-so-mighty monarch was heartily chastened. He crouched down in fear and demanded a guardian’s shield to protect his royal staff. Truth had claimed a victim.
This revealing circumstance threw a metaphorical blanket over the emperor’s re-selection ceremonies, circled in red (on at least one popular calendar) for the 6th (or 7th, or TBD?) of August at which he had planned to wear his “new clothes.” In fact, he had worn these same clothes during the indeterminate period of his de-selection, too, but that’s another story.
Where is the child who uttered the truth about the emperor’s new clothes? Where is the one who will point out the pertinence of this impertinent story?
It seems that both Andersen and Jesus said: “... and a little child shall lead them.”
Where is that child?
Cris Torp is a resident of South Beach.