THE RED VIOLIN
A retelling of "The Red Shoes" by Hans Christian Anderson
As a kid, my favorite fairy tales were written by Hans Christian Anderson. I especially loved "The Red Shoes." There were two versions I grew up with - the original and the "friendly" version. The original goes something like this: a girl really wants a pair of red shoes she sees in a shop window, but her grandmother won't get them for her, but instead buys her boring old black ones. So the girl saves her money until she can buy the red shoes herself. But when she wears them, all she can think about are how beautiful her shoes are, and how everyone must be envious of them. Worse, she has these thoughts in church (!!). So one night she wears them to a party, and discovers to her horror that she can't stop dancing. She dances out the ballroom and into a church graveyard, where an angel tells her that she's cursed to dance for all eternity for her vain thoughts. So she dances and dances and dances all across the world, and her grandmother thinks she's dead.
Finally, the girl comes to a woodcutter's house, and the woodcutter cuts her feet off after she begs and pleads for him to do it. Her feet go dancing off, the woodcutter fashions her wooden feet, and she's so repentant for her vanity that her heart bursts and she dies. The "friendly" version goes like this - girl wants shoes, grandmother won't get them for her, the evil cobbler gives them to her anyway, she can't stop dancing because the evil cobbler cursed them, and she dances and dances all across the world until she comes across her grandmother crying in a garden (because her granny thinks she's dead). The girl repents her vanity, and right when she's about to dance over a cliff she turns into a colorful bird and the shoes fall off. My version if "The Red Shoes" kind of draws on both versions, and also incorporates my love for the violin (I am a fiddler, after all). This retelling has actually been in my head for a very long time, so I'm excited to
have finally written it! I hope you enjoy!
They say that in the ballroom of Straussen Place there is a violinist who cannot put down his violin. He plays all day and all night, never stopping for a rest, never breaking in between tunes. His music can be heard throughout the house, no matter where one might be. He plays rousing dance tunes and lighthearted ditties. But throughout it all, he cries silent tears.
I did not believe it. So, being the curious young girl that I was, I went to Straussen Place and sought the violinist who could not put down his violin. As soon as I entered the deserted townhouse, I heard the faint strands of a violin. It played a waltz. I followed the music through the dark, dusty halls until I came to the ballroom door. The music was strongest there.
I pushed the door open, beholding a ball in ruins. There still hung from the ceiling and about the windows ribbons, now faded and dusty from the years. Withered flowers still sat in their vases, and tablecloths covered long tables piled with cobwebby delicacies.
And on a dais stood a tall, thin man, as dusty as the rest of the room, and quite old. He stared vacantly before him, his startlingly blue eyes bright with tears waiting to be shed. And indeed, the merrier the waltz became, the more thickly the tears began to fall. The violin upon which he played was blood-red in color, the scrollwork shaped with intricate care and love, and its voice was the sweetest that anyone had ever heard. It was an instrument whose equal could never exist.
I quietly approached, and the violinist's eyes moved to acknowledge my presence. They darkened with further sorrow as he took in my bright dress and beautiful red dancing shoes, for I had scampered away from a social ball to satisfy my curiosity.
“Red is a cursed color,” the violinist murmured. “Return those shoes, dear child, to whatever cobbler gave them to, before they curse you as my violin did me.”
“I thought you to be a ghost story,” I replied, my voice barely rising above a whisper. Anything louder seemed wrong in such a setting as that ballroom.
The violinist's lips trembled with something between a smile and a sob. “I wish I were a ghost, dear child. Ghosts find more peace than I can ever dream of.”
“Why can you not stop playing?” I asked.
“The same reason you shall soon not be able to stop dancing,” replied he. “Hear me, dear child. I was once a young man with a golden future before me. I was born to a great talent for music, but I was not happy with sharing it with those who truly appreciated it. I wished to play before kings and popes and great sultans. I was vain about my music and I wished to be a name people spoke with admiration and reverence.
“It was my misfortune to wander into a instrument shop one day, and there I beheld this violin you now see me playing. It was the most beautiful instrument I had ever clapped eyes on, the light glowing warmly off its blood-red wood. It sung under my fingers like nothing ever had, and I knew that it could belong to no one else. I must have it, and I should hate any other man who owned it.
“For many nights, I was obsessed with thoughts of this violin. There were sleepless nights, intense jealousy and hatred for imagined nobles' sons who dared play upon the instrument. Finally, I went back to the instrument maker and demanded that he give me the red violin. He begged me to not take it, that it was meant only for those who truly appreciated it. But I ignored him; I would play before kings and must have an instrument worthy of the court.
“You can imagine my pride as I took that beautiful instrument home. You had the same glow of ecstasy when you carried your red shoes home, did you not? You thought of nothing but how people would look and admire those red shoes. I knew that many would cast an envious eye towards my red violin, and I would be the owner of the item they all coveted.
“I realized my dream. I played before lords and ladies and even kings. The Pope invited me to the holy city to play privately for him, and I basked in the attention.
“But it was not to be. I did not appreciate my music as I should have, and I did not share it with a willing heart. My vanity was my undoing. This here was my last and eternal performance. I was invited to the coming-out ball of the lord and lady's daughter at Straussen Place, and I played before many a titled person that night.
“I felt myself weary and wished to rest for a while. But as I wished to set my red violin aside, my fingers would not stop their dancing, my arm would not stop its movement of the bow across the strings. No matter how I tried, I could not stop playing. And I realized, with dawning horror, that my wish had truly been fulfilled. I would play before lords and ladies, kings and popes, sultans and emperors, for the rest of my entire life.”
The violinist's eyes filled with tears once more and I felt my heart soften to him. No one deserved such a punishment for vanity, for no one was innocent of the sin. “Can nothing be done to end your suffering?” I asked.
“I fear not, dear child,” he said. “I have repented more times that I may say, and I can only accept that my fate is to serve as a warning to others against vanity. And I say to you now, dear child: cast those red shoes aside before your feet no longer obey you and you dance to your grave.”
My sleep was greatly troubled by the violinist's words, and my mind would not rest until I had gotten up and taken my newly purchased red shoes and cast them to the street below. It was a silly thing to be vain about, dancing shoes. They would be worn out in less than a year anyway, and then where would my companions' envious looks be?
A week later, people began to say how they had not heard the music of the violinist in Straussen Place for a while. Curious, I visited the haunting ballroom again one night. The drapings, table, and banquet was as before. But the room was silent, and where the violinist had once stood playing with sorrowful eyes was the red violin, its bow resting beside it. Waiting for another to pick it up.
©Copyright 2014 by Mara A.
(Find out more about Mara and her stories on the Writer's page)