I read Hans Christian Andersen’s short story “The Last Dream of the Old Oak” and I’m seeing a theme running through his stories – or at least the ones I’ve read recently. The theme that nothing lasts forever seems strange for fairy tales, but somehow it works.
(photo obtained from goodreads.com)
The oak tree in this story is 365 years old. One year is like a human day to the tree. It is awake for three seasons and sleeps during the winter. During the course of the story, a fly enjoys buzzing around the oak’s branches. The fly’s life is only a human day. The oak has difficulty understanding how the fly could be so happy when his life is so short. The fly’s answer, while in fairy tale language, is essentially: it’s all relative. The fly is perfectly happy with it’s lifespan so why should the oak be sad for it. Personally, the idea of time being relative is a pleasant idea, especially within a fairy tale of this sort. It’s not something I would have any problem sitting around pondering for a long time – even if I wouldn’t come up with any type of concrete conclusion. Unfortunately, there are pesky things like “a job” that keep me from pondering these things as much as I would like. Maybe that’s a good thing?
Eventually the oak goes to sleep for the winter and has a dream that it’s summer. In the dream, it grows taller and taller and brings the rest of the forest along with it, growing up and up into something that might be called heaven. In the real world, the tree has been uprooted by a storm on Christmas Day and sailors, who had used the tree as a guide when they came to shore, sing a carol over the dead tree. So the dream isn’t real – it’s just a dream. Or is it? Something else to ponder.