Fairy Tale: The Red Shoes

Who would have thought a new pair of shoes could cause so much grief? Shoes are a tool for folks that live in Northern climates and keep feet sunburn free in Southern climates. Footwear, at times is vital to a person’s survival. Shoes keep our feet warm, dry and injury free. Evolving over time, shoes became a fashion statement to wear first by royals and wealthy people and later was available to the everyday person.

This story has a moral weaved throughout it vanity may become ones own undoing.

In the past this was one of the seven deadly sins of Christianity and this particular tale reflects this theme throughout. It also has a deeper meaning, craft your own pair of shoes, instead of wearing someone else’s shoes. (pertaining to ones own creativity and instinct.)

In Clarissa Pinkola Estés book “Women Who Run with The Wolves,” on page 222, Dr. Estés writes, “The fact that the shoes are red the process is going to be one of vibrant life, which includes sacrifice.”

We will read just how much sacrifice our protagonist Karen experiences in this story.

The Red Shoes, originated as a Fairy Tale written by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, published in 1845. It’s a story of a young orphan girl named Karen that wore a pair of old scuffed up shoes that she lovingly crafted for herself. Once her biological mother dies she is adopted by a very well to do woman. Karen spots a pair of fancy red shoes in a shop window and insists her adoptive mother purchase them for her to wear. Karen is literally carried or danced away by her dangerous red shoes into difficult situations she can no longer control.

Once upon a time,

There was a wee, bonny, underprivileged child named Karen, who would go barefoot during the summer wearing old hand crafted wooden shoes that rubbed her ankles making them very itchy and red.

In Karen’s village an old woman shoemaker named “Old Mother Shoemaker,” helped craft from red cloths a pair of shoes for the wee girl.

Karen first wore these shoes at her mother’s burial. They were not the most appropriate looking shoes for mourning but Karen only had one pair of shoes so she had to wear them without stockings sadly, following her mother’s casket.

Suddenly, a huge coach pulled up beside the girl, carrying an older, full-sized lady inside it. The woman felt compassion towards Karen so she went to the village Vicar and stated, “Give the young girl to me and I will make sure she is well cared for.” Karen believed her dowdy red shoes had brought her good fortune. The old lady which was a Queen, took one glance at the girl’s scuffed up shoes and told Karen that her shoes were horrible and commanded her staff to burn them, so the poorly crafted shoes would never be worn by Karen again. The Queen bought Karen who was now a Princess, proper new clothes to wear. She was taught to read, write and sew. Karen began to blossom into a very pretty girl, she also became vain. Several town folks complimented her daily causing Karen’s vanity to grow.

Karen also owned a talking mirror, the wardrobe mirror said,”You are more than attractive, you are stunning!”

One day while the Queen and Princess Karen were shopping in town for all to see. Princess Karen was dressed in a stunning white dress, great for twirling! Once Karen reached the age of Confirmation into the Church, she needed brand-new clothes and the latest shoes. The Queen and Princess visited the shop of a well to do shoe cobbler. The cobbler measured Karen’s tiny feet. The shoemaker owned large glass encased shelves displaying an array of fancy shoes and polished boots. Karen was impressed and excited by such fabulous footwear! The old Queen’s vision was failing so she never noticed all the lovely shoes especially a beautiful ruby red patent leather ones that caught Karen’s eye. These beautiful red new shoes reminded Karen how much she loved her old pair of red shoes. The cobbler explained that these new red shoes were crafted for a daughter of a Count but didn’t quite fit right. The old Queen allowed Karen to purchase the new red shoes for her Confirmation. The old Queen had not noticed the red coloured shoes, if she had she would have chosen black shoes for Karen in order for the girl to appear properly dressed at her Church.

The big day came for the confirmation of Princess Karen. Once there Karen proudly strolled down the aisle of the Church wearing her brand-new, shiny, red shoes! Throughout the ceremony Karen and the congregation’s attention focused on the new shiny red shoes. Later that day, the Queen was informed about Karen’s shiny red shoes that were worn during the girl’s Confirmation. The Queen scolded Karen about her improper shoes and that they shall never be worn at Church ever again. She made it clear that for Church, Karen must always wear black dress shoes.

The very next Sunday, Karen observed her shoe wardrobe knowing full well that she was to wear her black dress shoes to Church. She was about to grab her black dress shoes, but the new shiny red shoes beckoned her to wear them instead of her Church shoes. Princess Karen chose her new shiny red shoes and placed the on her wee feet. It was a bright sunny day the Old Queen and Karen chose the winding dusty, cornfield path to Church. Once the service was over, an old bearded soldier leaning on his crutch stood at the front door of the Church. His beard was a reddish colour, fiery red to be exact. He followed the Queen and Princess Karen to their carriage. The old soldier bent over asking the Queen if he may dust off her shoes, Karen placed her foot out towards him so he may brush the dust off her new red shoe too. The soldier gave a eerie grin then said “Oh such lovely red shoes!” “Best for dancing!” “Never come off while dancing!” he said to the wee girl’s red shoes, rapping the soles of Karen’s new red shoes with his fingers.

The old Queen gave the soldier some money to thank him for dusting off their shoes.

Karen beamed with pride over the soldier’s compliment of her dancing red shoes. The young Princess began dancing showing off her new red shoes to the old soldier. Karen felt she was no longer in control of her dancing red shoes. They danced her around the church, the coachman had to chase after her and carry her back to the carriage.

She even danced in the carriage and once there her shoes kicked the old lady making her very sore and irritable. Karen took them off once home and placed them in her wardrobe. Over time the Queen became very ill while Princess Karen obsessed over her shiny red shoes. The Queen expected Karen to care for her, unfortunately for the old lady there was a immense ball being held in the town. Karen glanced at the old lady then at her beautiful shiny red shoes. She chose the red shoes over the old lady and went to the ball where she began to dance and dance. Suddenly, Karen noticed her dancing red shoes had taken over her and they began to make Karen dance all over the ballroom. Karen tried to turn right but the shoes danced left until they danced her straight out the ballroom into the street and into the creepy dark woods! Once in the dark woods Karen spotted a bright light it was so big she thought it was a full moon. The old fiery red bearded soldier had appeared again, holding his cane. He stated, “Oh, What lovely red shoes for dancing!” The shiny red shoes danced furiously! Karen could not control them and they danced over fields, pathways, gardens and even the graveyard! Karen struggled to take them off but the feisty red shoes would not allow it! Karen was in tears as she danced throughout the countryside. She attempted to sit on a pauper’s grave where the fennel grew sadly, there was no place where she could be at peace with her shoes.

The new red shoes danced her in the rain, the sun all day and all night until Karen was so exhausted she felt she was going to die! She danced to the front of the Church whee she noticed a large brilliant white glowing angel with gigantic wings. He stood tall and strong and had a very fierce stare holding a huge, wide, sparkling, sword. This was not a kind Angel to Karen. He commanded the red shoes to dance until the girl withered in them. The shoes were told to dance to the houses of vain children and knock at their doors to see the consequences of vanity.

Karen cried, “Have mercy upon me!” She did not hear the Angel’s answer. The red shoes became fiery red dancing her away across the road, over the fields, in the rain in the sun, all over towns and villages, by the highways and old country paths. The red shoes danced Karen to a cemetery where she remembered her real mother’s burial. She noticed a casket being carried with flowers laid on top. She recognized a familiar hymn, she knew in her heart the Old Queen had died from her neglect. The young girl realized she had been cursed by an Angel doomed to dance to death.

One day the red shoes danced her to the executioner’s house there the girl cried out to speak with the executioner. He came out and she begged him to cut off the red shoes since she could not take them off. “I strike off the heads of evil people,” said the executioner. Karen replied “Do not cut off my head for I need it to repent of my sin.”

So she did.

The executioner felt empathy for the pale bruised, weary girl and cut her shoes off.

The bloody red shoes danced off into the sunset with Karen’s wee feet inside them. The rest of Karen was beyond exhaustion and bright red blood seeped out of her ankles where her feet once wore the shiny new red shoes. The executioner crafted some wooden feet and a crutch for Karen to help her walk. The young girl thought to herself “I will hobble to the Church for all to see me!” again with the vanity.

Once there her bloody red shoes danced in front of the door scaring her near to death so she hobbled away. The Pastor of the church felt sorry for the girl and invited her to stay with him, his wife and family. Each Sunday Karen would attempt to hobble into the Church’s front door only to be halted by hew own bloody red shoes dancing in front of her. Karen would return to the Pastor’s home where she would sincerely pray and repent. She studied the scriptures and began to teach the evils of vanity to the children of her village. Every Sunday, Karen was encouraged by the Pastor and his family to attend the Church service but she declined knowing full well her bloody red shoes would be waiting for her. Over time Karen kept praying and asking God to forgive her vanity and neglect of the old lady. One day it happened, the same huge Angel stood before her and told Karen she was now forgiven because she was truly sincere and repentant. this time he held a rose branch in his hands and touched the Church inside and out so Karen could attend Sunday service. Karen found herself seated in a church pew with sunlight streaming down upon her. She could hear the organ play a familiar hymn, her heart was so touched by love and peace that it broke in two. Karen’s soul lifted and followed the stream of sunlight to heaven where she was never asked about her red shoes again.

The End.

Source & Reference:

  • Clarissa Pinkola Estés,“Women Who Run with The Wolves,” ©1992,1995 by The Random House Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-345-39681-5
  • The Wayback Machine Library of Congress
    Fairy tales from Hans Christian Andersen
    by Andersen, H. C. (Hans Christian), 1805-1875

    • Featured image Copyright 2019 Bryn Buckles.
  • Featured image Copyright 2019 Bryn Buckles.
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