Miniature Books—David Turshyan, Guest Blogger
Updated: Aug 6
Today we share a post by David Turshyan, who was a student in our Summer 2022 Introduction to the Fairy Tale course.
Once, I saw a tiny illuminated manuscript in Matenadaran (Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts), and I fell in love with the world of miniatures. I started making tiny pocket notebooks to write down inspiring quotations from books. Later, I started making mini books of poems, fables and short stories, playing with typography and illustrations to embellish the text. I especially like experimenting with the literary fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, as they are so beautiful and have such a rich history of illustration by various artists from around the world. Pictured is a mini book, containing Andersen’s “The Nightingale” and Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Woodlark.”
When visiting The Hans Christian Andersen Museum in Solvang, one may see a portrait of the opera singer Jenny Lind, also known as the “Swedish Nightingale.” Andersen’s fairy tale “The Nightingale,” (in Danish: "Nattergalen") is likely his silent tribute to her. In his autobiography My Fairy-Tale Life Andersen writes: “Through Jenny Lind I came to understand the sacred nature of art. Through her I learned that we must forget ourselves in the service of something higher. For a time no books and no people had a nobler influence on me as a writer than did Jenny Lind” (282). Andersen wrote “The Nightingale'' when he was thirty-eight years old. The tale tells about an Emperor who ultimately lives to appreciate the beauty of the nightingale’s song, as well as her friendship. The setting—the Emperor’s palace and garden—is likely inspired by Andersen’s second visit to Copenhagen’s celebrated Tivoli Gardens on October 11, 1843. That night, inspired by the garden’s pagodas, peacocks and Chinese lanterns, Andersen notes in his almanac that the tale “began in Tivoli” (“Nightingale” 80). It was completed the next day. According to Maria Tatar, Andersen’s tales are “unusual in inspiring us to ask ‘why?’” (282). Why does the song of the nightingale move the Emperor to tears? Why does the nightingale return after being banished? There may be as many answers as there are readers, but beyond all wisdom, in Andersen’s tales we eventually find beauty, as lovely and fresh as hearing the song of the nightingale for the first time. As Dr. Del George reflects in her lectures: “Anderson turned his personal pain into beauty.” In one of his later tales “The Old Oak Tree’s Last Dream,” Andersen offers the following dialogue to the reader: “Will all the beauty of the world come to an end when you die?” asks a little fly to an oak tree. “Ah no!” says the tree, “It will certainly last longer, infinitely longer than I can imagine” (287-88). Works Cited Andersen, Hans Christian. My Fairy-Tale Life. Translated by W. Glyn Jones, Dedalus,
---. “The Nightingale.” The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen, edited by Maria Tatar, W.W. Norton, 2013, pp. 78-98.
---. “The Old Oak Tree’s Last Dream.” Forty-two stories. Translated by M. R. James, Faber and Faber, 1968, pp. 287-292.
Del George, Dana. “Hans Christian Andersen's Influence and Sad Endings.” Introduction to the Fairy Tale, Summer 2022, Week 5, Santa Monica College. Course Lecture. Tatar, Maria. “Introduction: Hans Christian Andersen.” The Classic Fairy Tales, edited by Maria Tatar, W. W. Norton Company, 2017, pp. 278-83.