When you become a parent, raising a kid often makes you feel like you're living a ‘second life.’ I frequently experience this sensation when I am singing children’s songs, relearning lyrics that I haven't sung in decades, or analyzing how Hangul, which I use in my daily life without thinking about it, works to teach my child. Every time I engage in these activities, I feel like stepping into a time machine and relearning things I've forgotten for a while.
Aesop's Fables and Andersen's Fairy Tales were my child’s favorites to read every night before bed. As an adult, the works of Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) and the tales of Aesop are highly appealing, as they prompt us to contemplate various thoughts through the lessons of each story. There's a reason why they are considered masterpieces.
"Andersen's "The Ugly Duckling" is one of them. As we all know, the story is about a duckling who blends into a flock of ducks and is ridiculed and hated for being different but turns out to be a beautiful swan. What makes this fairy tale particularly remarkable is that it draws from Andersen's own life experiences.
Born in Odense, Denmark, the son of a poor shoemaker, Andersen's original dream was to become a theater actor. Due to his impoverished upbringing and lack of formal education, he was unable to succeed as an actor due to his inaccurate pronunciation. After studying literature at a Latin school, he pursued a new dream of becoming a writer and published fairy tales and novels. However, he initially went unrecognized by the established literary community due to incorrect grammar and typos occasionally found in his works. "The Ugly Duckling" is a piece that reflects his own early rejection by the literary community at the beginning of his career.
In addition to “The Ugly Duckling,” Andersen wrote many masterpieces, including “The Little Match Girl,” inspired by his own impoverished and unhappy mother, and “The Little Mermaid,” inspired by his own unfulfilled love. Although Andersen is no longer with us, these works have remained classic fairy tales enjoyed by children worldwide for hundreds of years. Grammatical errors and typos have not diminished the power of the stories' message.
We've all experienced moments of feeling like the ugly duckling at some point in our lives. Some of us have changed jobs, seeking better opportunities, only to be unexpectedly disheartened by the attitudes of our new colleagues as we adapt to a different workplace. Others have endured isolation from being a little 'different' and have faced hurtful remarks from relatives during holiday gatherings, such as ‘Will you get a job?’ or ‘When will you get married.’ As I reread "The Ugly Duckling," I realized that even in the midst of difficult situations, I hope not to get stuck in the 'ugly duckling' stage defined by others' perspectives. Instead, I aim to shake it off, spread my wings, and rise above like a swan. We continue to learn life lessons from children's fairy tales, even at the age of 40.