When I started to read this story by Hans Christian Andersen, I did not have high hopes. Anyone who has read my review of his very famous Ugly Duckling knows that I am not a very big fan of his. As I read the beginning of the story, I thought my fears were not unfounded. First of all, the story is based on fantasy just like the Ugly Duckling is, but instead of a lamenting little duck we have a beautifully singing nightingale(who as it turns out is an infinitely stronger and believable character). This story is doomed like the previous one I thought and looking at the length of it, it seemed like it was going to be a hard read. So midway, through the story I stopped reading.
I did not particularly like the emperor who seemed to be very fond of having his people trampled. There comes an element of comedy in the story as the courtiers scramble to find the nightingale so that they are not the ones to be trampled upon after dinner. I was relieved that not only do they locate the dear old nightingale, but the nightingale agrees to sing for the emperor.
So far so good, I thought. It was not a spectacular story by any stretch of imagination up to that point, but it was much better than the ugly ‘Ugly Duckling‘. I could see a spark when the nightingale refuses any sort of material rewards for its song and insists that she has gotten more than her due by invoking tears in the mighty emperor’s eyes. Here the children should understand that to a true artist, touching people with their art means much more than any material wealth that they might gain from the art.
Quoting the nightingale from the story – “I have seen tears in an emperor’s eyes,” she said, “that is my richest reward. ”
Though she is reluctant to leaver her home in the green woods, she does so because she wants to sing for the emperor and soon is caged, but continues to sing to him. The story was getting much more interesting and staying true to human/animal nature and emotions without making much of a hullaboo that was done in the ‘Ugly Duckling’
The story takes a turn for the better when the emperor gets presented with a mechanical bird that sings just like the nightingale but is far prettier and sparkly adorned with all kinds of precious jewels. Everyone falls in love with this new nightingale, that can sing without getting tired and sing the same old tunes so that people can follow it better unlike the ‘real’ nightingale which is prone to getting tired and singing whatever it feels like doing. So our good old nightingale looking at all the attention the sparkly one is gathering, decides to slip out unnoticed. I loved how Andersen describes the emotions of the courtiers when they discover that the old nightingale has left without singing the duet they want it to with the sparkly one.