Children’s Library: ‘The Nightingale’

Children’s Library: ‘The Nightingale’

September 10, 2011, Epoch Times

A tale of enlightenment brought by a simple bird’s song


“The Nightingale” is one of Hans Christian Andersen’s most beloved fairy tales. Since its initial publication in 1843, it has inspired all manner of adaptation, from the famous Stravinsky opera (“Le Rossignol”), to musicals, television, and film.

The recent republication of this classic from NorthSouth Books features the beautiful watercolor illustrations of Pirkko Vainio, who manages to capture the inner beauty that permeates this story in rich detail and expression. The paintings lie at the heart of the story’s underlying moral.

Andersen’s tale takes place “long, long ago” in the land of China, where a well-respected emperor rules from a wondrously beautiful palace. Visitors the world over admire the lavishness of the emperor’s palace and gardens, but are always taken aback by the extraordinary song of a simple nightingale dwelling in the forest beyond the gardens. “This is better than anything,” they all say.

Talk of the nightingale reaches the emperor and he orders the bird to be brought to him. Members of the court search aimlessly without success, until a young kitchen maid says she knows the nightingale well and will bring them to it.

The song of the nightingale brings tears to the emperor’s eyes. He keeps the bird in a cage, allowing it out “twice each day and once each night,” under the careful watch of servants.

One day, the emperor receives a gift—a musical statue fashioned in the likeness of the nightingale and adorned with “diamonds, rubies, and sapphires.” With it comes a note that reads, ”The Emperor of Japan’s nightingale is poor compared to that of the Emperor of China’s.”

The emperor, taken with the mechanical bird, turns his attention away from the real nightingale, who flies back to the forest. In a year’s time, the emperor and his courtiers have grown quite fond of their mechanical singer. One day, however, the bird suddenly breaks and can hardly be played again.

Five years pass and the emperor grows ill. He feels a weight on his chest and senses that “Death himself” has come: “And all around, in the folds of the velvet curtains, strange heads appeared. Some of them were ugly; others were lovely. These were all the Emperor’s bad and good deeds standing before him …”

The Emperor longs for the song of his broken bird to drown out the terrifying noises, when “suddenly the loveliest song came through the window.” The little nightingale has returned, and its song sends away the strange faces and Death himself.

The next morning, the emperor awakens, his health restored. When asked to stay, the nightingale replies, “I will sit on the branch by your window and sing to cheer you and to make you thoughtful I will sing about the good and evil hidden around you.” And to the surprise of his returning courtiers, the emperor proclaims, “Good morning.”

A meaningful tale of life’s true wonder and beauty, “The Nightingale” is an enduring example of fine children’s literature. This is a top shelf version of a must-have classic.

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