LITTLE CLAUS AND BIG CLAUS: SECOND QUESTIONABLE FRAGMENT

From Journal of Dano-Norwegian Letters, Summer 2011

The text below purports to be still another discovery from the ceiling of an Australian bamboo cultivator. The “discovery” is alleged to have been made when ceiling insulation caught fire. Some of the manuscript is illegible where there has been fire damage. There is also evidence of fresh beer spills. It is not known if this second manuscript was offered to the Murdoch press. The person concerned has suggested that the premises were once occupied by the Australian poet Ern Mallee, and that Mallee may have been the translator of the “lost” HCA text.

We at first hesitated to publish a likely fraud. Nonetheless, so vibrant is the current critical climate around Hans Christian Andersen, we feel a call, as scholarly analysts, sometimes to publish what is of doubtful value. Even the clumsy mimicry of a hoax or “tribute” piece may serve to illuminate tiny facets of the complex and prismatic psyche behind the Eventyr.

Needless to say, our main focus should be elsewhere, on the stupendous critical achievements of the last half-century. The Marxist and (more recently) Derridan critiques of Hans Christian Andersen have revealed a systemic layering of social/political resonances within the simplest and shortest of Andersen’s tales. Lately, a Paglian analysis has yielded much psycho-sexual texturing of the more mythic characters, including the recurrent strain of sado-eroticism and the phallic/cthonic tensions evident in such major pieces as Lille Claus øg store Claus.

The questionable text printed below yields nothing to critical analysis. Yet the inept and sensationalist juxtaposition of characters from two of the better known tales may at least provide insight into the crass populism that has pasteurised and homogenised Andersen’s magical-naïf weave of ambiguity – and thereby enlisted his subtle proto-Marxian social analysis into the dubious service of Disney, Goldwyn and the shopping mall promotion. 

If this is indeed a translation of a genuine HCA piece, both translation and original are of miserable quality. We stress: it is here submitted to scrutiny, with trepidation, as a curiosity only. – Eugenia D. Strangways.

***

When Little Claus came round to the farm of Big Claus to take half his livestock, he spoke not one word and looked very blue in the face from holding his breath. Big Claus was so delighted that he puffed and panted for pleasure. The great material loss was nothing compared to sheer freedom of breath, and the dejection of his annoying neighbour.

As the year wore on to late spring, and all remained cool, Big Claus forgot about the conference in Copenhagen and was content to sit before his house breathing in great explosions after hours of tempestuous physical labour. He was rather missing his livestock.

One day a man came past who had a big hunch on his back, though it looked more like a pillow, for there were feathers poking from it. The stranger was in tears. Big Claus called to him:

“Hi there, fellow, why are you weeping so?”

“Sir, I was the bellringer at Saint Ansgar, but I have had to quit my post. The air is beginning to burn like a furnace high in the bell tower.”

“But where are you going?”

“Sir, I must eat to live, and am now without an occupation. I have heard of a miracle upon the Amager beaches. Millions of fish are floating ashore – already poached! I must hurry along, for I am without means, my identical cousins will do nothing for me, so I must get some fish before…”

Big Claus looked hard at the hunchback.

“Stop a moment. Is one of your cousins called Little Claus?”

“Yes, but he breathes so wheezily these days that we have taken to calling him Blue Claus.”

“And is your other cousin a scholar?”

“Oh, a very great scholar. He has a green hat.”

“Now sir, I will give you some money if you will go to your cousin, the scholar, and inform him that I shall hold a great feast in the Grand Pavilion of Copenhagen. Tell him to come thither a week hence and the landholders of the region will be there to hear him and give him all he requires. Here is your coin.”

The bellringer looked at the copper coin and shook his head.

“Alas, sir, as a member of the Holy Sodality of Saint Knud, patron of bellringers and fish-roe smokers, I am only allowed to touch silver. I cannot receive your copper.”

So Big Claus was forced to give the bellringer one of his few remaining silver coins.

[Fire damage for some lines makes text illegible. A small mercy. – ed.]

By the end of that day, Big Claus had mortgaged his land to a banker in Lombard Alley and sent a message to all the landholders of the region that a scholar in a green hat had warned that they would all soon sizzle. The air, he wrote, was already like a furnace in the bell tower of Saint Ansgar, and the waters off the Amager coast were so hot that the fish were floating ashore already poached. They must all meet in Copenhagen, there to decide on a remedy, with the help of the scholar.

Many of the landholders lived near Saint Ansgar and could clearly see that the bells were being rung normally by the usual ringer. One of them owned a fishing boat which regularly combed the Amager strand, and he had seen or heard nothing of hot water or ready-poached fish. Yet all fancied themselves as men of some education who were above common observation and the gossip of peasants. So they preferred to put their faith in science, and scholars in green hats. More than half of the landholders sent a message to Big Claus, agreeing to come to his conference in Copenhagen.

This was a good response. However, Big Claus knew that it would not suffice if only half the landholders were to offset their exhalations by paying others to toil less and breathe less. So he went back to Lombard Alley and borrowed still more money by agreeing to a still higher rate of interest. Now he sent out a message that the conference in the Grand Pavilion would be combined with a feast such as Denmark had never seen. He promised an oyster stuffed in a mussel stuffed in a prawn stuffed in a cray stuffed in a crab stuffed in a lobster stuffed in a cuttlefish stuffed in a squid stuffed in an octopus  stuffed in a giant squid stuffed in a shark stuffed in a small whale. With caper sauce.

All the landholders agreed to come, except old Knudsson, who loathed capers.

***

Some days later, a scholar with a green hat was walking along the road to Copenhagen when he encountered two tailors coming the other way. They seemed in a very great hurry. One of them stopped, looked about stealthily, then addressed the scholar:

“Scholar, I see that your cloak is torn in the back. Allow us to mend it for you where you stand.”

The scholar peered hard at the tailor before answering:

“Tailor, I fear that you will mend my cloak but cut my purse while you are about it.”

The tailor looked angry for a moment, then, after he had examined the scholar’s face, burst into mad laughter. All three began to laugh greatly.

For they were old companions and had shared a cell in debtors’ prison not long before.

“Tell me, sirs, why are you travelling in such distress?”

“Little Claus, we are but newly come from the emperor’s palace in Nether Neustria. We sold the emperor a very special suit that earned us many guilders. We were obliged to flee the empire when a young child pointed out what all of Nether Neustria had failed to observe. The emperor had no suit. For we have found that, when one is charging a great deal of money for something, it is better to give the customer nothing. In this way, fussy critique and odious comparison are rendered impossible.”

“Indeed,” said the scholar, who was, of course, Little Claus, “I seem to recall hearing of this. But for that tattle-tale brat, you had made a good affair. But did you not escape with much treasure?”

“Alas, in making our escape we lost our money in a swamp. Now we must live in fear of imperial agents, who are seeking us all over Europe.”

“Tish, I have heard that the emperor is a kind fellow. Perhaps if you made him a suit that is slightly more visible…”

“Indeed, but Nether Neustria, like the rest of the world in this nineteenth century, has gone constitution mad. The emperor is no longer above the law, and may not alter any prescribed punishment. As you know, the ancient Nether Neustrian punishment for poor imperial tailoring is the loss of three major limbs. Whether we are each to lose three limbs or the punishment is to be divided is uncertain.”

“In that case, I invite you to join me in a certain business affair in Copenhagen.  And remember your own words, that when one is charging a great deal of money for something, it is better to give the customer nothing, except praise for his judgement……………..

***

The rest is illegible. Surely, no loss! – ed

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About mosomoso

Growing moso bamboo on the mid-coast of NSW, Australia.
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