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Places to Go: Little Ida’s Flowers by Hans Christian Andersen

Written by Rachael Norris, 3rd April 2020
Amusing stories & pretty pictures
I am currently rereading a collection of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales. They are all familiar to me - I grew up with them as a child, and they remind me of home. I need literature to help me with that at the moment. The fairy tales also serve as a good counterbalance to Middlemarch, which I am spending time with too.
I love 'Little Ida's Flowers' because the main question feels simple and yet so important to ask: Why do flowers die? I wonder if we can remember asking similar questions when we were children? Or perhaps our own children or grandchildren have asked them to us? There's something quite unsettling about the first experiences of things being transient - in whatever shape or form it comes. It feels as if adolescence and adulthood make us more used to it and to the rational reasons behind things changing. However, in this fairy tale, the young student doesn't tell Ida how it really is. Instead he creates a new world in which flowers attend balls and dance during the night. I'd be interested in hearing from other readers how they are finding this imaginary world? Why might it be important to sometimes enjoy and go with what in this story is described as 'amusing stories and pretty pictures?'. Can it help us as adults as well?
Earlier on this week, I was sat in my backyard incredibly bored. I felt like I had read enough, watched enough, cleaned enough, spoken to people on the phone enough. It took me back to childhood and being so bored that you'd actually say it out loud in the hope that someone would come to the rescue. In this case, no one did. Instead, I caught a glimpse of snail and suddenly these random questions popped into my mind: 'Are snails born with their shell? And if so, does it grow bigger as they grow bigger?'. For the rest of the day, I withheld from Googling and instead I asked some friends for their thoughts. One suggested that maybe there is a ceremony in the back alley once a year where they receive their shell. A bit like confirmation. I now have a fantastic image of this in my head. It makes me laugh and it makes me want to build on it even further. And perhaps that's the point of everything I've written here... that in these difficult times, we also need amusing stories and pretty pictures which give us a break from what unfortunately is very real and rational at the minute, such as death tolls, statistics and exponential curves.
In order to stay mentally well right now, we need literature which sparks our imagination. The student (not the tiresome lawyer) in 'Little Ida's Flowers' is a good advocate for this. He inspires us to visit new and more fun places in our minds when the outside world feels tough. Despite everything, there's still lots to wonder and make up stories about - even as a bored adult in a scruffy backyard. A place to start is perhaps to listen to an extract from the fairy tale below or to read it aloud with a friend or grandchild over the phone. The whole story, including the hopeful ending, can be found here: .
Enjoy x

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