Fairy Tale Relevance: ‘The Traveling Companion’ by Hans Christian Andersen
‘The Traveling Companion’ is Andersen’s retelling of a popular folk tale, ‘The Riddle’. The story is set in no particular time making it easy for a reader or a listener to imagine a place that is close to home for them, but also allows the imagination to draw pictures. The story deals with the importance of helping someone in need. This tale deals with the separation of mind and body and becoming one whole person. These topics are cross culturally relevant for parents to teach their children by explaining the values one would want to instill in children. It also is a good extended metaphor of overcoming the separation that society teaches and becoming a fully functioning person. And finally, no matter the religion, the tale teaches of washing away the bad in your life to become a new person.
After the death of his father, Johannes takes what little he has and sets off in the wide world. One night, while he was out, a storm blew in sending him into a church. He slips in to escape the storm outside. So far this seems like any place in the world or any time. The reader/listener could imagine a countryside or even small village.
He continues his journey after being joined by a companion on the road. Many can imagine meeting someone out of nowhere and joining with them in a journey. The popular phrase ‘the more the merrier’ comes to mind when I think of this scene. Together they continue through the countryside or imagined world to an inn outside of a castle. In many cultures, children are familiar with some form of royalty and can imagine a castle or form of kingdom.
The imagery from here to the end of the story is purely beautiful and imaginative. The princess riding through the streets on ‘a milk white steed with diamonds and rubies, her riding costume was of pure gold’. Her twelve hand maidens rode beside her in ‘white silk dresses and a golden tulip in their hand’ and rode ‘ jet black horses.’ This scene is very colorful in the mind’s eye.
Then the picture of the mountain that the princess travels to at night to see the troll king seems beautiful to the eye, but is symbolic of how deep the dark curse runs. His kingdom is filled with imagery and color. Just to name some; green flies, gleaming spiders, sunflowers of red and blue. This is only gives an idea of the color detail Andersen uses to bring the troll’s kingdom to life. So beautiful and enticing for the eye to behold.
The whole tale is of one helping someone in need. It begins this way when Johannes pays the robbers at the church to allow the dead man in the casket to be buried in peace. After helping to lay this man to rest in peace Johannes meets a man on the road who joins him in his journey in the wide world. This man proves to be helpful to Johannes in his quest to court and win the hand of the princess in the kingdom. Not once does this traveling companion help Johannes but three times. For each time the princess visits the troll in his mountain in his kingdom, the traveling companion follows to discover what it is the princess will be thinking about. He then goes back to the inn and hints to Johannes as to what he should ask the princess and solve her guessing game. And in the final trip he helps Johannes even more by giving him proof of the princess’s spell by giving him the head of the troll. His final help for Johannes is the swan’s wings and his advice to bathe the princess on their wedding night. In this way he also helps the princess by ridding her of the horrible curse that left her spell bound and unable to love Johannes.
Finally this tale deals with the separation of mind and body and becoming a whole person. The first example we see is at the inn and the puppet show. The dog comes and steals the head of the queen in the puppet show. To repay the puppeteer, the traveling companion repairs the puppet and and a few of the other marionettes. These puppets now were able to get up and dance on their own without the help of the puppeteer. This now made the puppet show more complete and whole.
The next time we see an example of the separation of mind and body is in the princess’s garden. She was wicked and beheaded her suitors and placed their skeletons in her garden as a warning to any suitor. Johannes must overcome this obstacle to gain the princess’s hand in marriage. In order to do this he must be able to guess what the princess is thinking about. His companion helps him overcome this obstacle and become a whole person or a whole unit with the princess when he cuts off the troll’s head and gives it to Johannes to present in court. With the presentation of the troll’s head separated from his body, Johannes could break the spell on the princess and marry her.
The final separation came when Johannes dunks his new bride’s head under water in a tub three times to cleanse her completely of the evil curse. This is used to cleanse her of her wickedness and make her whole and removing all the evil in her head. The troll used the eyes and mind to entice the princess and seduce her. By dunking her head underwater Johannes was able to rid her of her evilness and open her eyes to his love. This allowed the two to be happily married.
Andersen’s ‘The Traveling Companion’ is cross-culturally relevant in his colorful descriptions, the lesson it teaches and the use of a setting without specific time or place for the imagination to draw on.