Short Story Review: The Wild Swans by Hans Christian Andersen


A widowed king remarries, but his new queen turns out to be a witch who doesn’t like her twelve step-children. So she schemes to get rid of them by casting a spell to turn them into swans. And she succeeds in the case of the eleven princes, but her efforts are hampered when it comes to the princess Elisa.

However, Elisa doesn’t forget her brothers.  In fact, she takes it upon herself to save them, no matter the personal cost to herself, which turns out to be quite high…

Favourite Quote

You have the powers to set your brothers free, but have you the courage and determination?


I came across this Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale while researching some of the less well-known fairy tales that he had written.  Everyone’s heard of The Little Mermaid and The Snow Queen, but I was looking for something a little different. The purpose: to write a short fairy tale re-telling about an evil queen / step-mother character from a fairy tale for a call for submissions I had seen.  To boost my chances of acceptance, I thought it best to try and find one of the less popular stories. (On a side note, the story was accepted and will be released as part of an anthology later this year – yay!)

One thing that really struck me as I read The Wild Swans was the strong religious aspect to it.  Modern retellings tend to ignore religion / religious themes in these stories as they aren’t necessarily what a modern audience wants to read.  This most of all, I found hardest to read as in places it was laid on fairly thick.  There was a lot of praying, piety and self-sacrifice going on – heavy stuff for a children’s story.  And, I think reading the original made me aware of how old the story is (it was first published in 1838), and how it’s a product of its time.

Apart from that, the story-telling and imagination of the author really shone through, allowing me to enjoy the rest of the fairy tale.  Elisa is a strong character, a young woman with a determined attitude, who puts the well-being of her brothers above her own.  And of course, all the usual fairy tale elements are present too – a prince, the fairy godmother and the triumph over evil.

I’m pleased I found this, pleased that I read, but reminded of the fact there is a reason why many fairy tales are being retold for a modern audience.


I downloaded a copy of Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales Volume 2, containing The Wild Swans, for free from Project Gutenberg


Short Story Review: The Squire’s Story by Elizabeth Gaskell

Set between 1769 and 1775, The Squire’s Story tells the tale of a new arrival to the Derbyshire town of Barford.  This gentleman’s name is Mr Robinson Higgins and he quickly takes up residency is the grandest home in the area, The White House.  Where his money has come from, none know, but every few months he disappears.  He claims to travel down south to go and collect his rents, but he always goes alone.

On the outside, Mr Higgins is everything a popular man is expected to be.  He is a good rider, can tell good stories and plays jokes on those who he knows he can get away with.  Everyone seems to like.  He even ends up marrying Squire Hearn’s only daughter.

But there is always one who refuses to be deceived.  The elderly Miss Pratt suspects him.  Of what, she’s not sure, but unlike the others in Barford, she has a feeling that the face Mr Higgins wears for the county is not his real one.  But just what is his story?

The Squire’s Story was an interesting, quick read.  Although the answer to who or what Mr Higgins is isn’t answered until the end of the story, clues to his character are to be found throughout.

Even though the tale covers six years, I found it to be a little slow moving for my liking.  That being said, it was the characters that moved the story along, doing their bit to reveal the real Mr Higgins.

Short Story Review: The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant

Matilda Loisel is a pretty young woman who marries a clerk from the Ministry of Public Instruction.  Although she has never been accustomed to living in luxury and having the finer things in life, she longs for them.  Furthermore, even though she doesn’t live in poverty, she cannot see the merit in what she and her husband have.  So she spends her time lamenting the things she doesn’t have and what she believes she is missing out on.

One day her husband returns home from work, excited, with a surprise for his wife: an invitation to an evening reception hosted by the Ministry.  And, he explains, invitations are hard to come by.  Who could have guessed where such a well-intentioned act could lead?

The Necklace is an interesting moral tale, with an even more interesting main character.  At the beginning, I found that I did not like Matilda Loisel and felt really sorry for her husband.  However, by the end my opinion of her had changed, to the point that I actually felt sorry for her as well.

An entertaining, thought-provoking cautionary tale, that I highly recommend to fans of short fiction.

Short Story Review: The Sphinx Without a Secret by Oscar Wilde

The Sphinx Without A Secret centres around two college friends, who, after not seeing each other in ten years, meet by chance in Paris.  The first is our narrator, who notices that his friend, Gerald Murchison, is much changed and concludes his problem must be a woman.

So, he proceeds to ask his friend about it, who shares his tale over dinner.  It all begins when Murchison shows a photograph of a beautiful woman, and he asks, ‘does she look trustworthy?’

It transpires that the woman is Lady Alroy, a mysterious beauty whom Murchison fell in love with instantly.  Even though they see a lot of each other, she remains quite mysterious and has a tendency to disappear for an afternoon without explanation.  Murchison believes she has a secret she is unable to share.

One day, as Murchison is walking home, he takes a short cut through ‘a lot of shabby little streets’ when he sees Lady Alroy walking ahead of him, veiled and walking very quickly.  So, he decides to follow her.  She enters a house a little further along.  Murchison decides to go home and speak to the lady about it when they next meet.  On meeting Lady Alroy that evening, she denies she went out that day, but Murchison presses her, at which point she bursts into tears and claims there isn’t anything to tell and she met no one.

But does he believe her?  Can it be as simple as she makes out?  Is she really a ‘sphinx without a secret’?

A nice, enjoyable, quick read.  My favourite quote:

‘…women are meant to be loved, not to be understood.’

I came across this short story in Short Stories from the Nineteenth Century, selected by David Stuart Davies.