Hans Christian Andersen wrote a lot of fairy tales. But he tends to be forgotten for the more aptly named Grimm Brothers, despite the fact that Andersen was the author of, among others, “The Little Mermaid”, “Thumbelina”, and “The Snow Queen”. One of my favorites is “The Red Shoes“. Like most of Andersen’s stories, “The Red Shoes” is a moral tale and tells the story of the vain, selfish and disobedient Karen who is condemned to dance until she dies because of her red shoes. Redemption comes at the end when the chastised Karen feels true repentance.
Plenty of illustrations have been made for this particular story. My sister’s favorite is the lovely watercolor version by Chihiro Iwasaki (right). The website SurLaLune Fairy Tales has a short list of other illustrations for the story here. The color illustrations of course give prime importance to the red shoes. Interestingly enough, most illustrators depict Karen as a young girl. Most likely Andersen did not mean for her to be thought of as such since a young girl would not attend balls. But like most fairy tales, many people assume that they are about/for children when in reality, they are not.
There have been other adaptations of “The Red Shoes” as well. My sister and I used to watch a film version as kids. The whole thing seems to be on Youtube now and is definitely one creepy ballet. (Quality is not the best.)
Speaking of ballet, the 1948 movie The Red Shoes starring Moira Shearer is a well known movie loved by ballet and fairy tale fans alike. Loosely based on Andersen’s story, Shearer plays Victoria, a woman torn between dancing and the man she loves.
Also loosely based on the original tale is the Korean horror movie, The Red Shoes. I have not seen it, so I can offer no real insight about it here. Imdb.com has all the info here.
Personally, I love red shoes. I am wearing a gorgeous pair of red lace-up boots as I write this and I own about 5 or 6 more pairs of red shoes. Considering I only own about 25 pairs to begin with, that’s quite a bit. But I can promise you, I always remember the story of Karen when I put on a pair of red shoes, which I suppose is Andersen’s entire point to the story.
But as Andersen himself says, “nothing in the world can be compared with red shoes.”