In case folks haven’t had a chance to see the Twilight Zone episode “Night of the Meek” it is an often overlooked holiday treasure well worth a viewing. I’ve included the link at the end of this post to where you can watch the full episode on Hulu. Rod serling is one of those great examples of a committed UU in so many ways. He only started focus his writing on Science fiction because he was frustrated by all the cuts being made to his work by network executives and sensors. Committed to causes like civil rights, peace, and economic justice and so would try and address those subjects in his screenplays but it all got taken out or reworked because the networks were afraid of taking up controversial subjects like racism and possibly losing advertisers. Sterling was needed in a pinch for a sci fi script and as always he used the story to engage people around their prejudice but because of the fact that it was speculative fiction about a universe that doesn’t exist or an invented idea of the future his work went to screen without editing. Where they just not seeing it through the space suits or did the higher ups just feel that the public would react better to this once removed way of talking about hot button issues? I suspect it was a bit of both. In any event I hope folks will watch and enjoy it as much as I do.
While I featured the story of the Little Mermaid in my illustration for the Advent Calendar it is really because of some of his holiday stories that he has been included. And of course the more seasonally relevant stories include The Snow Queen which is the primary inspiration behind the animated feature Frozen. Frozen is adapted quite a bit and is truly a different story than the work that served as its main inspiration. Most significantly being that the snow queen who is in frozen named elsa is not redeemed in andersen’s story but defeated. But there are other stories by andersen that made it into the movie. The character — is taken from another far less well known story titled simply the Snowman and is about a snowman who is pining with the love he feels for the stove and stovepipe he can see through a nearby window of the house. He is warned of the doomed reality should he be reunited with his love and it is only on discovering that the snow man was given for support a poker that came with the stove when it was purchased his ill fated desires are at last understood. Much like the little Mermaid the story of the snowman is also thought to be written as a metaphor for the relationship he had with a dancer at that time which is thought to have been the authors only sexual relationship of his life. But you will if you explore the topic find quite a number of additional andersen stories that are at least alluded to in Frozen.
By Contrast Disney’s the Little mermaid sticks strikingly close to the original story up until the happy ending. In the original the prince does mary the other girl but one of her sisters makes an arrangement with the witch and presents the former mermaid with a knife she is to use to kill the prince allowing her to return to her life in the sea. Having come to love the prince in an unselfish way she can not do that and instead takes her own life. That ending was so unpopular that anderson changed it and adds what some find an even more disturbing ending where the mermaid is made a spirit who can some day earn entrance to heaven but only by children not crying and instead laughing. When I recently reread this story which was by far my favorite as a child I noticed something that we do not see brought to the film. The Mermaid’s motivation is explained in the book in a way that helps the story break out of the love sick princess trope. We are told that mermaids have no eternal soul of their own for only humans have been given that however if a man were to truly lover her and marry her then she would have a claim to share his eternal soul and so through that love share in eternal life herself. She is clearly seeking that eternal life in the way the original fairy tale is written which as I said takes it in a much different direction.
I have to give a tip of the hat to my other favorite Andersen story which is the Steadfast Tin Soldier. Andersen is also the source of what is become for me and some others I imagine a veritable archetype for the whistleblower that being the one in which the little girl announces what they all were evading or pretending not to notice – that the emperor is wearing no cloths.
This was for me one of the more delightful discoveries. I had never before heard mention of the Unitarian ties to the man credited with being the first department store Santa. As I note in the Calendar Edgars is as formally affiliated with Unitarians as with 2 other churches in his community. What I don’t make clear in the calendar are some details about this man that further support the idea that 1) he may have felt a particular affinity to the Unitarian church and 2) regardless of the exclusivity of his Unitarian religious self understanding Edgars was a man who lived according to commitments to right action and service of others that make him a worthy model of the sort of social responsibility we wish to nurture through the ministries of our congregations and the witness of ever Unitarian Universalist in their own living. I have included a link to a great account given as a memorialization of James Edgars by someone who knew him in which you will see some of what I am talking about.
OK so December 7th is over but Hanukkah is still going so let me just confess to some historically inaccurate illustrating. The image featured is modeled after the Menorah from the first century relief showing Rome plundering the Temple in Jerusalem which could have been the Menorah at the time of the Maccabean revolt, why not. However I decorated around and outside the frame with spears and shields as if from the rebel victors. But the symbol I put on the shields to make it look clearly topically relevant if not just a bit seasonally festive is a six pointed star called a star of David and a common symbol of Judaism in modern times. Unfortunately the Jewish tie to this design as one of its sacred symbols is found in the tradition of Jewish mysticism that comes long after the First Hanukkah. Bassically it is the Kabbalistic tradition that introduces the Star of David as a symbol of Jewish Faith. If the Maccabees had a symbol on their shields they would have been more likely to use a hammer, menorah, representation of the temple, palm tree, or stylized pomegranate all of which appear on later Hasmonean minted coins and most of which seem to get a pass on the whole no graven images norms since the instructions for the adornment of the temple include instructions to use a number of those images in the gold covered reliefs of the temple sanctuary. Hardly a big deal but worth knowing.