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The motif Plant spirit in HCA : The Elder-Tree Mother (1844)
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The Hans Christian Andersen Center

The motif Plant spirit in HCA : The Elder-Tree Mother (1844)

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See also Fairies, elves

Example 1:

And the little boy looked toward the teapot. He saw the lid slowly raise itself and fresh white elder flowers come forth from it. They shot long branches even out of the spout and spread them abroad in all directions, and they grew bigger and bigger until there was the most glorious elderbush - really a big tree! The branches even stretched to the little boy's bed and thrust the curtains aside - how fragrant its blossoms were! And right in the middle of the tree there sat a sweet-looking old woman in a very strange dress. It was green, as green as the leaves of the elder tree, and it was trimmed with big white elder blossoms; at first one couldn't tell if this dress was cloth or the living green and flowers of the tree.

"What is this woman's name?" asked the little boy.

"Well, the Romans and the Greeks," said the old man, "used to call her a 'Dryad,' but we don't understand that word. Out in New Town, where the sailors live, they have a better name for her. There she is called 'Elder Tree Mother,' and you must pay attention to her; listen to her, and look at that glorious elder tree!"

Comment on this quote: The dryad in "The Elder-Tree Mother" appears in a tale in the tale, told by an old man. The dryad becomes real to the ill and dreaming boy, though. This tree spirit is the very body and voice of the fairy tale as such, like the dryad in "The Dryad" is in the modern Paris, but she's wrapped in layers of stories and tales, that both create and reflect her existence; is she real or not?

Example 2:

"No," the Elder Mother said, "that wasn't a story. But now the story is coming. For the strangest fairy tales come from real life; otherwise my beautiful elderbush couldn't have sprouted out of the teapot."

Then she took the little boy out of his bed and laid him against her breast, and the blossoming elder branches wound close around them so that it was as if they were sitting in a thick arbor, and this arbor flew with them through the air! How very wonderful it was! Elder Mother all at once changed into a pretty young girl, but the dress was still green with the white blossoms trimming it, such as the Elder Tree Mother had worn. In her bosom she had a real elder blossom, and a wreath of the flowers was about her yellow, curly hair. Her eyes were so large and so blue, and, oh, she was so beautiful to look at! She and the little boy were of the same age now, and they kissed each other and were happy together.

Comment on this quote: The elder-tree mother is a creature of transformation, just like the dryad in Paris, that does not have a shape of its own, but glimpses, shines and changes with the ease and speed of a soap bubble. The elder-tree mother is a creature of magic, a fairy tale teller, who commands the mind of he listener, a seductive woman.

Example 3:

"Yes, that's the way it is," said the little girl in the tree. "Some people call me Elder Tree Mother, and some call me the Dryad, but my real name is Memory. It is I who sit up in the tree that grows on and on, and I can remember and I can tell stories. Let me see if you still have your flower."

Then the old man opened his hymnal, and there lay the elder blossom, as fresh as if it had just been placed there. Then Memory nodded, and the two old people with the golden crowns sat in the red twilight, and they closed their eyes gently and - and - and that was the end of the story....

Comment on this quote: The concept of memory is especially notable here. The fairy tale in real life or the fairy tale of life is life in retrospect, memory's composition of life's moments in a tale – a fairy tale about life itself, lived life. The old people's flower in the hymnal is a recurring motif in Andersen's tales.
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