For this week's edition of Fairy Tale Fridays, I wanted to revisit a classic story that I remembered and loved from my childhood. The Emperor's New Suit (or "The Emperor's New Clothes" as it is often called) by Hans Christian Andersen relates a fable about a vain ruler whose "only ambition was to be always well dressed." This seems a very selfish goal for someone in such a high position but it is this attribute that leads to his troubles and ultimately to the grand lessons of the tale. As the story begins,
"...two swindlers came to this city; they made people believe that they were weavers, and declared they could manufacture the finest cloth to be imagined. Their colours and patterns, they said, were not only exceptionally beautiful, but the clothes made of their material possessed the wonderful quality of being invisible to any man who was unfit for his office or unpardonably stupid."
Neither wants to admit to being unfit for their position or to be declared "unpardonably stupid" (love that phrase), so both of them lie and report to their leader that the cloth is beautiful, the design and colours exquisite. At this point in the story, I always wonder what would happen had the emperor sought to see for himself rather than sending others in his stead. The emissaries he sends to report for him are both described in the tale as "honest" and yet neither is truthful to the emperor. Here we see one of many important lessons coming out of the tale and it's not only that honesty is the best policy but it's caution in whom we trust. In a quote usually attributed to Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott wrote,
"Oh what a tangled web we weave,
when first we practice to deceive."
Yes, it was foolish of the courtiers and the people to pretend to see what they did not, but in the end, the emperor was the only one who went so far as to don the imagined clothing! The ending of the story is rather amusing as a young child finally declares - as the emperor is paraded through the streets - "But he has nothing on at all". This is both a testament to childlike innocence as well as an observation of mob mentality. Once the statement is made it ripples through the crowd until reaching the ears of the ruler. Andersen closes the tale with the statement, "That [hearing the crowd] made a deep impression upon the emperor, for it seemed to him that they were right; but he thought to himself, 'Now I must bear up to the end.'" So despite knowing the truth, he goes on with the pretense in order to once again save face, providing Andersen a final satirical barb.
The Emperor's New Suit by Hans Christian Andersen marks 3/12 in my 2011 Fairy Tale Challenge and continues Fairy Tale Fridays originally started by Tif of Tif Talks Books! Feel free to share your thoughts on this tale in the comments below or join in the fun with a post of your own! I'd love to hear about what fairy tales - new, old, reinvented, retold - you're reading this week as well!