"Matchless" by Gregory Maguire

In celebration of this special holiday, I bring to you both a gift and a review. While fractured fairy tale guru Gregory Maguire's short story, Matchless: An Illumination of Hans Christian Andersen's Classic "The Little Match Girl" is based on a Christmas story, I thought it was still appropriate to share today. The book came about during the 2008 holiday season. Every year, NPR has an author write and read a Christmas story for its radio show. Here is where the gift comes into play: You can read and listen to Matchless online right now (or do both!). It's always nice hearing an author's words from his own lips and adds an extra dimension to the story. NPR and Gregory Maguire gifted us with this special treat, which I am re-gifting to you. Happy Easter to those who celebrate! If you don't know the Hans Christian Andersen's story The Little Match Girl, Sur La Lune has a version available for you to read online. Disney also put together a beautiful wordless short set to music with the last DVD release of The Little Mermaid, which can you watch right now on YouTube:

The best reason for owning a copy of Matchless and not relying solely on the above links is this: The accompanying pictures. Gregory Maguire drew each and every one. I had no clue he was an artist in addition to a writer. The pictures are quaint and fit in perfectly with the tone of this short story. The illustrations made this tale much more precious than it already was. The cover hints at what is to come with a box full of matches, their tips embossed with red foil. Each new page of the box uncovered a new delight; I wanted to see each drawing as much as I wanted to see the way Maguire wove two tales together.
For you see, Matchless isn't solely the story of The Little Match Girl. Told in three parts, it's also the story of her father and sisters as well as a poor boy named Frederik and his mother. The stories come together in a way that's both bittersweet and heartwarming, if such a thing can be both.

Frederik's family is so poor, they can't always afford matches. His mother works long hours as the Queen's seamstress. On Christmas Eve, she attempts to buy matches after work, but can't find a vendor. This is the same night the poor little match girl can't find anyone to buy her matches and freezes in an alley. This coincidence tears on the heartstrings and makes what happens to the poor girl more poignant. On top of that, Frederik also plays a part. Making a village to play with out of bits and bobbles such as netting, broken cups, and empty thread spools, the boy decides he needs a boat for his village. He goes out to find one and comes the little match girl's shoe, which she lost in an accident. In the story's third part, he discovers a house key in her shoe, and it is this key that brings the two family's together in an unexpected fashion.

Matchless is both new and familiar, merging two stories together in a way that creates a tale of its own. Reading certain parts gave me the chills; others made me sit back and wonder, "What if?" There's so much new food for thought in this rendition of Andersen's classic tale. As tragic as the original is, this version brings an uplifting element as well. Even if you're well-versed in The Little Match Girl, there's still something new to love.

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  1. Just wanted to say thanks for your comment on my "Japanese fairy tales" post on Ashley's blog :) That's awesome you did the JET program, because I was a JET participant too, for a year! And I love the story of Hachiko as well (I actually made sure to pose with the Hachiko statue at Shibuya station when I was there, LOL.)

  2. Sounds like a good story, but sad. Is it supposed to be a Christmas read? Cuz I have a challenge I do for Christmas, I could add this to my list to read, if it is.

  3. You're welcome, Danya! We'll have to talk more about JET! I made sure to pose with Hachi-ko in Shibuya, too! :)

    Gina: It is a sad story, yes, but I like that this version also had "hope" in it. This is a Christmas story, yes, so you can totally do it for your Christmas Challenge!


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