Author: Hans Christian Andersen/Translator: Anthea Bell
Illustrator: Chihiro Iwasaki
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Ever since she was small, red shoes have been an obsession for Karen, a fascination that society frowns upon as quite improper. And yet, she can’t seem to give up her shiny new red shoes; they make her feel beautiful, make her feel like dancing. But when she chooses beauty and lightheartedness over loyalty and love, Karen finds herself cursed to dance and dance and dance her life away in those beautiful, dangerous red shoes. And the cost to escape this curse may be greater than any she could have imagined.
I know Hans Christian Andersen is something of a “classic” author, and of course I’ve heard his name all my life, but I think the extent of my actual exposure to his writing has been basically one poor retelling of The Little Match Girl and an endless string of poorly illustrated versions of The Ugly Duckling. So reading The Red Shoes was an interesting cultural experience for me, if only to gain greater exposure to this renowned author. The story is certainly classic fairy tale material: morally weighted, dark, macabre even at times. This is one of those things that always seems to get glossed over in the cheesy children’s retellings; most true fairy tales are really dark and dangerous, and plenty of them don’t end happily ever after, whatever we may wish. The Red Shoes actually does get, well, a non-tragic ending at least, although it’s awfully moralizing by the end. The whole story is really quite weighty in that regard, which I suppose is largely a reflection of the age and culture in which Andersen was writing. Still, it’s an interesting tale, and Bell’s translation is wonderful. (I actually seek out books translated by her, regardless of the original author, because I love her translation work!) And even if you don’t read this for the story itself, I would recommend browsing through the book for the pictures alone–Iwasaki’s watercolors are gorgeous in every detail. I can’t say The Red Shoes is a favorite of mine, but it certainly was worth the short time it took to read (for the story, the cultural experience, and especially for the art). Recommendation: pick it up at the library or buy used if possible.