A Red Shoes Collection

3.2a. - The original fairy-tale
from Hans Christian Andersen

Back to Moments 3.2.

[ordered by date]

From: "Karen L. Newcombe" <kln@crl.com>
Date: Thu, 14 Oct 1993 19:42:45 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: TRS - HCA version

I'm back from Birmingham AL, a lovely city, and I'd like to thank all Love Hounds who laboriously typed in (and will doubtless type more) --it was wonderful to come home and find those waiting for me in my box.

I have a copy of Hans Christian Andersen's original story (which I think is one he collected from an elderly person long ago); it's in an old childhood book of my mother's. If anyone is interested I can post it Monday or Tuesday after I'v had time this weekend to type it up, or I could upload it (someone needs to tell me where), or I would be willing to make a xerox for anyone who will send me a self-addressed stamped envelope.

The story is somewhat different than what Kate has used for her movie. The interview in which she talked about the shoes that don't want to stop dancing, and which kidnap a young girl every night seems to be a fusion of both The Red Shoes (shoes which can't be removed and which dance endlessly) and The Twelve Dancing Princesses (who slip away and dance all night long and are exhausted every day).

Would a few people who have preferences e-mail me at kln@crl.com and let me know if you'd like the story and in what format. I don't want to retype it twice -- though it may be a tad long to send to love-hounds.



Date: Mon, 18 Oct 1993 20:41:55 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Karen L. Newcombe" <kln@crl.com>
Subject: The Red Shoes - Andersen

The Red Shoes

by Hans Christian Andersen

There was once a little girl. She was a tiny delicate little thing, but she always had to go about barefoot in summer, because she was very poor. In winter she had only a pair of heavy wooden shoes, and her ankles were terribly chafed.

An old mother shoemaker lived in the middle of the village, and she made a pair of little shoes out of some strips of red cloth. They were very clumsy, but they were made with the best intention, for the little girl was to have them. Her name was Karen.

These shoes were given to her, and she wore them for the first time on the day her mother was buried. They were certainly not mourning shoes, but she had no others, and so she walked barelegged in them behind the poor pine coffin.

Just then a big carriage drove by, and a big old lady was seated in it. She looked at the little girl and felt very, very sorry for her, and said to the parson, "Give the little girl to me and I will look after her and be kind to her." Karen thought it was all because of the red shoes, but the old lady said they were hideous, and they were burnt. Karen was well and neatly dressed, and had to learn reading and sewing. People said she was pretty, but her mirror said, "You are more than pretty. You are lovely!"

At this time the Queen was taking a journey through the country, and she had her little daughter the Princess with her. The people, and among them Karen, crowded round the palace where they were staying, to see them. The little Princess stood at a window to show herself. She wore neither a train nor a golden crown, but she was dressed all in white with a beautiful pair of red morocco shoes. They were indeed a contrast to those the poor old mother had made for Karen. Nothing in the world could be compared to these red shoes.

The time came when Karen was old enough to be confirmed. She had new clothes and she was also to have a pair of new shoes. The rich shoemaker in the town was to take the measure of her little foot. His shop was full of glass cases of the most charming shoes and shinyleather boots. They looked beautiful but the old lady could not see very well, so it gave her no pleasure to look at them. Among all the other shoes there was one pair of red shoes like those worn by the Princess. Oh, how pretty they were! The shoemaker told them that they had been made for an earl's daughter, but they had not fitted. "I suppose they are patent leather," said the old lady. "They are so shiny."

"Yes, they do shine," said Karen, who tried them on. They fitted and were bought, but the old lady had not the least idea that they were red,or she would never have allowed Karen to wear them for her confirmation. This she did however.

Everyone looked at her feet,and when she walked up the church to the chancel she thought that even the old pictures, those portraits of dead and gone priests and their wives, with stiff collars and long black clothes, fixed their eyes upon her shoes. She thought of nothing else when the minister laid his hand upon her head and spoke to her of holy baptism, the covenant of God, and said that henceforth she was to be a responsible Christian person. The solemn notes of the organ resounded, the children sang with their sweet voices, and the old precentor sang,but Karen thought only about her red shoes.

By the afternoon the old lady had been told on all sides that the shoes were red, and she said it was very naughty and most improper. For the future, whenever Karen went to the church she was to wear black ones,even if they were old. Next Sunday there was holy communion, and Karen was to receive it for the first time. She looked at the black shoes and then at the red ones. Then she looked again at the red shoes and at last put them on.

It was beautiful sunny weather. Karen and the old lady went by the path through the cornfield, and it was rather dusty. By the church door stood an old soldier with a crutch. He had a curious long beard; it was more red than white -- in fact it was almost quite red. He bend down to the ground and asked the old lady if he might dust her shoes. Karen put out her little foot too. "See what beautiful dancing shoes!" said the soldier. "Mind you stick fast when you dance." And as he spoke he struck the soles with his hand. The old lady gave the soldier a copper and went into the church with Karen. All the people in the church looked at Karen's red shoes, and all the portraits looked too. When Karen knelt at the altar rails and the chalice was put to her lips, she thought only of the red shoes. She seemed to see them floating before her eyes. She forgot to join in the hymn of praise, and she forgot to say the Lord's Prayer.

Now everybody left the church, and the old lady got into her carriage. Karen lifted her foot to get in after her, but just then the old soldier,who was still standing there, said, "See what pretty dancing shoes!" Karen couldn't help it: she took a few dancing steps, and when she began her feet continued to dance. It was just as if the shoes had a power over them. She danced right round the church. She couldn't stop. The coachman had to run after her, take hold of her, and lift her into the carriage; but her feet continued to dance, so that she kicked the poor lady horribly. At last they got the shoes off and her feet had a little rest.

When they got home the shoes were put away in a cupboard, but Karen could not help going to look at them.

The old lady became very ill. They said she could not live. She had to be carefully nursed and tended, and no one was nearer than Karen to do this. But there was to be a grand ball in the town and Karen was invited. She looked at the old lady, who aft er all could not live. Then she looked at the red shoes -- she thought there was no harm in doing so. She put on the red shoes -- that much she thought she might do -- and then she went to the ball and began to dance. The shoes would not let her do what she liked: when she wanted to go to the right, they danced to the left. When she wanted to dance up the room, the shoes danced down the room, and then down the stairs, through the streets and out of the town gate. Away she danced, and away she had to dance, right into the dark forest. Something shone up above the trees and she thought it was the moon, for it was a face, but it was the old soldier with the red beard. He nodded and said, "See what pretty dancing shoes! "

This frightened her terribly and she wanted to throw off the red shoes,but they stuck fast. She tore off her stockings, but the shoes had grown fast to her feet. So off she danced, and off she had to dance, over fields and meadows, in rain and sunshine, by day and by night, but at night it was fearful.

She danced into the open churchyard, but the dead did not join her dance; they had something much better to do. She wanted to sit down on a pauper's grave where the bitter wormwood grew, but there was no rest nor repast for her. When she danced towards the open church door, she saw an angel standing there in long white robes and wings which reached from his shoulders to the ground. His face was grave and stern, and in his hand he held a broad and shining sword.

"Dance you shall!" said he. "You shall dance in your red shoes till you are pale and cold. Till your skin shrivels up and you are a skeleton! You shall dance from door to door, and wherever you find proud vain children, you must knock at the door so that they may see you and fear you. Yea, you shall dance --"

"Mercy!" shrieked Karen, but she did not hear the angel's answer, for the shoes bore her through the gate into the fields, and over roadways and paths. Ever and ever she was forced to dance.

One morning she danced past a door she knew well. She heard the sound of a hymn from within, and a coffin covered with flowers was being carried out. Then she knew that the old lady was dead, and it seemed to her that she was forsaken by all the world and cursed by the holy angels of God.

On and ever on she danced. Dance she must, even through the dark nights. The shoes bore her away over briars and stubble till her feet were torn and bleeding. She danced away over the heath till she came to a little lonely house. She knew the executioner lived here, and she tapped with her fingers on the windowpane and said, "Come out! Come out! I can't come in for I am dancing!"

The executioner said, "You can't know who I am? I chop the bad people's heads off, and I see that my ax is quivering."

"Don't chop off my head," said Karen, "for then I can never repent of my sins. But pray, chop off my feet with the red shoes!"

Then he made her a pair of wooden feet and crutches, and he taught her a psalm, the one penitents always sing. And she kissed the hand which had wielded the ax and went away over the heath.

"I have suffered enough for those red shoes!" said she. "I will go to the church now, so that they may see me." And she went as fast as she could to the church door. When she got there, the red shoes danced right up in front of her, and she was frightened and went home again.

She was very sad all the week and shed many bitter tears, but when Sunday came she said, "Now then, I have suffered and struggled long enough. I should think I am quite as good as many who sit holding their heads so high in church."

She went along quite boldly, but she did not get further than the gate before she saw the red shoes dancing in front of her. She was more frightened than ever and turned back, this time with real repentance in her heart. Then she went to the parson's house and begged to be taken into service. She would be very industrious and work as hard as she could. She didn't care what wages they gave her, if only she might have a roof over her head and live among kind people. The parson's wife was sorry for her, and took her into service. She proved to be very industrious and thoughtful. She sat very still and listened most attentively in the evening when the parson read the Bible. All the little ones were very fond of her, but when they chattered about finer and dress and about being as beautiful as a queen, she would shake her head.

Next Sunday they all went to church and they asked her if she would go with them, but she looked sadly, with tears in her eyes, at her crutches. And they went without her to hear the word of God, while she sat in her little room alone. It was only big enough for a bed and a chair. She sat there with her prayer book in her hand, and as she read it with a humble mind she heard the notes of the organ, borne from the church by the wind. She raised her tear-stained face and said, "Oh, God help me!"

Then the sun shone brightly round her, and the angel in the white robes whom she has seen that night at the church door stood before her. He no longer held the sharp sword in his hand, but a beautiful green branch covered with roses. He touched the ceiling with it and it rose to agreat height, and wherever he touched it a golden star appeared. Then he touched the walls and they spread themselves out, and she saw and heard the organ. She saw the pictures of the old parsons and their wives. The congregation were all sitting in their seats singing aloud -- for the church itself had come home to the poor girl in her narrow little chamber, or else she had been taken to it. She found herself on the bench with the other people from the parsonage. And when the hymn had come to an end, they looked up and nodded to her and said, "It was a good thing you came after all, little Karen!"

"It was through God's mercy!" she said. The organ sounded and the children's voices echoed so sweetly through the choir. The warm sunshine streamed brightly in through the window,right up to the bench where Karen sat. Her heart was so overfilled with the sunshine, with peace, and with joy, that it broke. Her soul flew with the sunshine to heaven, and no one there asked about the red shoes.


Well, o best beloved, there you have it. Karen, by the way, is the Danish form of Catherine.

Perhaps we can prevail on Professor Manchester to give us some background on the morality lessons that were laid over old folk tales during the Victorian era to make them suitable for frightening small children into piety and virtue. Plenty of mythological material here. Note similarities to Little Red Riding Hood -- another old story that was appropriated for the purpose of expounding a moral lesson.

Hope you enjoyed it nontheless!


Date: Wed, 20 Oct 1993 01:41:55 -0400 (EDT)
From: Peter Byrne Manchester <PMANCHESTER@ccmail.sunysb.edu>
Subject: H.C. Andersen's "Red Shoes"

Many thanks to Karen Newcombe for transcribing Hans Christian Andersen's version of "The Red Shoes." After it she writes:

> Perhaps we can prevail on Professor Manchester to give us some background on the morality lessons that were laid over old folk tales during the Victorian era to make them suitable for frightening small children into piety and virtue. Plenty of mythological material here. Note similarities to Little Red Riding Hood -- another old story that was appropriated for the purpose of expounding a moral lesson.

The question of "the morality lessons that were laid over old folk tales" is exceptionally important--important in itself, as well as for reaching Kate in her new work--and I wish I had much to contribute to it. Unhappily, all the experience I have in studying the manipulation of mythical material for moral effect is ancient: the adaptation of ancient Near Eastern myth by the Bible, and of epic and tragic literature in Greece by the philosophers.

But I'll bet the farm that there are plenty of lurkers here who know their way around post-medieval European folk tales well enough to have comments and suggestions about the scenes, themes, colors, characters, etc. in the Hans Christian Andersen telling of the story. I will be glad to compile and edit all such, throw in what I can on my own, and post the result for Halloween.

If you recognize what Karen Newcombe is asking about and have something to contribute, send me e-mail (rather than posting to gaffa/love-hounds) by Friday, October 29.

On first quick read-through, what strikes me most immediately about the HCA "Red Shoes" is the weight that the reader is expected to attach to Karen's (Cathy's) fixation on thinking of herself in her red shoes at her Confirmation and at the Eucharist--where she even forgot to join in the "Lord's Prayer." In the plot of the story, this is the heart of the iniquity that justifies the grotesque details of her purgation and repentance, and it is also the point of contact between the erotic and the spiritual. Which is where the magical finds its power. Children know this instinctively and understand it with complete authority. Efforts by adults to tame the magical for morality inevitably have completely contrary results with children.


Date: Sun, 31 Oct 1993 00:49:38 -0500 (EST)
From: Peter Byrne Manchester <PMANCHESTER@ccmail.sunysb.edu>
Subject: Mythic dimension of "The Red Shoes"

I was not left lonely when I volunteered to organize research into the mythical aspects of "The Red Shoes" story tradition, about which Karen Newcombe had expressed interest a week or so ago. Tipped off by Brian Gallagher (thanks a ton!), I now discover that a great deal of the relevant work has already been done:

>Date: Wed, 20 Oct 1993 08:57:24 -0700 (PDT)
>From: briang@efn.org (Brian Gallagher)
>Subject: RE: H.C. Andersen's "Red Shoes"

>Look into a book entitled Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Chapter 8, "Self-preservation:

>Identifying leg traps, cages, and poisoned bait", reproduces an ancient version of the story and interprets it in the light of the author's 20+ years as a storyteller and practicing Jungian psychologist.

The version Estes presents is "a Magyar-Germanic version my Aunt Tereza used to tell us when we were children" (p. 215). That means that her text is an original, currently in print (and a best-seller to boot), so I don't want to transcribe it. Her knowledge about the substance of the story and about its traditions means that she has probably very accurately portrayed a version current in medieval, maybe even early medieval times. But she also talks about the roots of the 'red shoes' myth motif in very ancient Persian, Indian, and Egyptian 'threshold' rites for young women at the time they enter into their roles with respect to the passage of blood, in which they paint their feet red. There are a lot of layers between that stratum and the early European story!

Clarissa Pinkola Estes <what a trip of a name to type!> really doesn't need to reconstruct all that history in order to get at the archetypal dimension of the one we know from Hans Christian Andersen, about which Karen raised her question. Her family's version makes loud and clear the manipulations HCA used to 'moralize' the story. I can briefly outline the major changes or additions he made, assuming his source tradition was close to the one Estes tells from.

First you need to know this much about Estes' interpretation: she is clear that the brutal ending is truthful about the nature of the red shoes. The story is "variously known by the names 'The Devil's Dancing Shoes', 'The Red-Hot Shoes of the Devil', and 'The Red Shoes'." Her theme is that the girl (called Karen by HCA, but nameless in Estes's version) has had the Wild Woman in her captured and injured in instinct by the dry and near-blind rich woman who 'domesticated' her, so that when she later tries to let the Wild Woman out, she is vulnerable to "Leg Traps, Cages, and Poisoned Bait" (title of the chapter). Brian generously transcribed the specific hazards that Estes discusses:

>The traps:

> #1 The Gilded Carriage, the Devalued Life

> #2 The Dry Old Woman, the Senescent Force

> #3 Burning the Treasure, Hambre del Alma, Soul Famine

> #4 Injury to Basic Instinct, the Consequences of Capture

> #5 Trying to Sneak a Secret Life, Split in Two

> #6 Cringing Before the Collective, Shadow Rebellion

> #7 Faking it, Trying to be Good, Normalizing the Abnormal

> #8 Dancing Out of Control, Obsession and Addiction

This last, the most drastic, is the one dramatized by the story. It ends in disaster, with the girl quite abject. The last line: "And now the girl was a poor cripple, and had to find her own way in the world as a servant to others, and she never, ever again wished for red shoes." (Several times in the chapter, Estes talks about Janis Joplin, as an illustration of how it can go if the 'dancing-out-of-control' Wild Woman gets an audience who egg her on for vicarious excitment.)

I'll summarize HCA's major changes quite schematically:


A little girl, poor, whose mother dies.

A motherless poor girl

Taken to "old mother shoe maker" for her childhood red shoes; given to her, first worn when mother dies.

Makes her own red shoes, sewn from cloth straps, crude, but she loved them and they help her accommodate her hard life.

Wealthy old woman in gilded carriage takes her in, cleans her up, burns her shoes.

Big old lady portrayed as kind and feeling sorry for her, asks the parson if she can take care of her. Shoes burned.

Spurious sub-plot involving Queen and Princess, tempting Karen to vanity and envy.

Finds red shoes in shop of old crippled cobler. He winks at her as the old woman, color- blind, buys them for her. Shoes said to "glow."

Goes to rich shoemaker; thinks of the Princess's shoes; is told these were made for an earl's daughter; shoes are said to be "shiny."

Confirmation on the "Day of The Innocents.

Merely said to be old enough to be confirmed.

Details on red shoes in church emphasize lusciousness: "like burnished apples, red-washed plums...bright like crimson, bright like raspberries, bright like pomegranates."

Karen "thought only of the red shoes," but the story details not how she thought about them, but all the pious activities going on that she was ignoring.

Old soldier with red beard taps the soles of her shoes with a little song that made the soles of her feet itch.

Old soldier with red beard simply "struck the soles with his hand."

Old lady hides the red shoes. She becomes bed-ridden, and so Karen is free to search them out, obsessively. When she finds them and puts them on, they dance her out the door.

Old lady becomes very ill. Has to be nursed and tended, but Karen is invited to a grand ball. Looks at lady "who after all could not live, " at the shoes, goes to the ball, and there the dancing shoes take over.

A Spirit of Dread prevents her from entering the churchyard; he pronounces her curse.

Gets in among the gravestones, but is accosted by an angel at the church door. Curse toned down, and a moralizing note on "proud, vain children" is added.

Executioner cuts off her feet, the shoes dance them off into the forest, she becomes a cripple and a servant. End.

Asks feet to be chopped off so she can "repent of my sins." He makes her wooden feet and crutches, teaches her a penitent's psalm. She keeps trying to go to church, but is blocked by the dancing shoes. Frightened, and seeking "real repentence in her heart," begs the parson to be taken into service.

The whole rest of the 'redemption' stuff from there on is totally spurious preachment. How "She proved to be very industrious and thoughtful. She sat very still and listened most attentively in the evening when the parson read the Bible." It gets progressively more ghastly, until finally, "Her heart was so overfilled with the sunshine, with peace, and with joy, that it broke. Her soul flew with the sunshine to heaven, and no one there asked about the red shoes." Bleuch!

What I expected to find as the "magic" in this, as a children's story, is actually some pretty drastic and violent action (an authenticating aspect, as Estes makes clear)--some pretty powerful "voodoo" as Kate Bush's lyric has it. (Anybody reading Alice Walker lately is aware that the social pathologies around this whole area can be pretty drastic, too.)

So far as I can tell at this point, in the kb song only the shoes themselves and the frenzied dancing come from the folk story. The dramatic situation ("She," dancing like the Diva <'Goddess', Sanskrit> in red shoes, dancing like "I" would love to, but can't, because "all her gifts for the dance had gone") seems quite different. Also, it is not clear that for Kate the shoes are the devil's only: is the stanza with "your eyes are lifted to God" supposed to be redemptive?

On to Moments 3.2b. - The original film "The Red Shoes"

Written by Love-Hounds
compiled and edited
Wieland Willker
August 1995