HCA Acceptance Speech, Copenhagen, 7 September 2008
Your Majesty, distinguished ladies and gentlemen of the IBBY, distinguished jury, congress participants, esteemed delegates of The Swiss Institute of Children’s and Young Adult’s Media, my dear friends.
The news that the jury had selected me to receive the H.C. Andersen Award 2008 reached me in a roundabout way. I had just left to do a reading in Graz. This was at the same time that the jury reached its decision in Bologna. My wife heard the message on our answering machine. She didn’t know how to contact me. I had forgotten to give her the address of my hotel, which I normally always do before leaving home. I don’t have a mobile phone. A little later she was rung up by Franz Hohler, my friend and sometime co-author. “Have you heard?” Franz had often visited the Literaturhaus Graz, and recalled that he had stayed at the Castle Hotel. My wife rang the hotel. I had not yet returned from my reading session. The night porter didn’t know what to do. He offered to write a message and slip it under the door of my room. When I finally got back to my room, I was met by a slip of paper fluttering in the draft from the door, inscribed in big, coloured, marker-pen letters, like an invitation to a child’s birthday party: “Congratulations! Won the Andersen Award!” The quaint form of the announcement suited my state of mind. Something had evidently happened in reality – I just didn’t know which reality.
I have related this rather circumstantial story because I am convinced that fortunate things come to us in roundabout ways. The direct road from life-plan to life-goal (which Heinrich von Kleist, for example, believed in so ardently in his youth), or from wish to fulfilment (which we are all tempted to believe in from time to time) ends at best in a soothing disenchantment or resignation. H.C. Andersen has shown us this very clearly in the tale of “The Galoshes of Fortune”.
Two fairies, Dame Care and a novice errand-girl called Dame Fortune, tell of their day’s work. The fairy of good fortune tells that she has been trying out a special pair of galoshes. Whoever puts them on is whisked straight off to where he wants to be. Dame Fortune is counting on a magnificent result: at last, mankind will find happiness on earth. Dame Care is sure of the opposite. Several men from different walks of life are in turn clad in the galoshes. This results in a series of various, often nightmarish, adventures – as well as a revue of the social life that H.C. Andersen knew.
The first episode concerns Justice Councillor Knap. He has been absorbed in reading about the time of King Hans. Still deep in thoughts of what he has read, he mistakes Fortune’s galoshes for his own, puts them on – and immediately steps out into a puddle of mud and filth on the road, which at that time was not cobbled. “The whole pavement is gone,” he observes, “and all the street lamps are out!” There he is in a late medieval night – fog in the air, the moon not up – and he tries to summon a cab.
After a great many adventures, he ends up in a disreputable public house. Raffish women serve him mead and Bremen beer. At last he spies a way out. He ducks under the table and crawls toward the door. But his companions grab him by the legs. In doing so they pull of the galoshes, and the enchantment is broken. Two minutes later Councillor Knap is sitting in a cab, happy to be back in his own time, which despite all its many faults was better than the one he had just visited. “And that,” says the author in conclusion, “was sensible of the Councillor.”
Dame Care wins the wager: Everyone who tries on Fortune’s Galoshes is glad to get rid of the treacherous footwear at last. And that’s that. But only as far as wishes and galoshes go. That is not the last word to be said of Fortune’s powers and her ways. Andersen hints as much from the start, and after having followed him through all the shifting, lavishly painted episodes, we have almost forgotten his admonition. Care, we are told in the beginning, always runs her own errands. She has no evenly matched opponent in the galoshes experiment. The other fairy is not really Fortune herself, but only “the serving maid of a lady in waiting”. What would happen if Fortune herself joined the game? This crucial question, which Andersen does not pose directly as such, but which he forces the reader to pose, remains moot.
In this context I would like to present a story, which was published 30 years ago in my first slim children’s book:
The Girl and her Luck
A girl left her home to find her luck. But she did everything wrong. When the village was lying behind her she took the road to the right instead of taking the road to the left. Then she went down the valley instead of climbing up the hill. She jumped over the fence instead of crawling underneath it. She petted a pig instead of feeding a chicken and taking one of its feathers. She crossed a river instead of following its course. During all this time the girl sang different songs that she couldn’t even sing off by heart, instead of saying to herself, “Lucky me, lucky me, I’ll find my luck behind a tree.”
The path suddenly came to an end in a quarry. Here at the end of the path and leaning against a willow she found a new big red bicycle. She got on the bicycle and cycled home.
What would have happened if she had taken the left road, if she gone left instead of going right, if she had climbed up the hill instead of staying in the valley, if she had crawled underneath the fence instead of jumping over it, if she had fed the chicken and taken one of its feathers with her instead of petting the pig, if she had followed the river instead of crossing it, if she had sung, “Lucky me, lucky me, I’ll find my luck behind a tree!”, instead of singing different songs that she couldn’t even sing off by heart?
I was wondering what it would have been like if H.C. Andersen was presented with the H.C. Andersen Award. How he would have returned thanks standing before an international audience such as this. Andersen spoke Danish and German. For such an ardent traveller, he got on remarkably badly in other languages. His linguistic lapses are said to have inspired him to some breathtaking verbal somersaults. He supplemented these with deep bows and sumptuous waves of his long arms.
Grazie tanti. Saint-Honoré. Jeg er helt ude af flippen af glade og stolthed. Oh dear me! Ich danke Ihnen untertänigst für eine Auszeichnung, die ich zu verdienen hoffe mit dem, was künftig noch aus meiner Feder fliesst. IBBY urbi et orbi.
Translated by Eva Glistrup, Copenhagen
For original German version, click here.