It has been said that the blessings of money and property give rise to both leisure and art. But in the poignant tale of Hans-My-Hedgehog, the birth of a musically gifted young poet-hedgehog is not perceived as a blessing by the rich farmer.
According to the wisdom of this folk tale, prosperity without offspring makes for a meaningless life. But life with a sickly child or a child that does not match the physical ideal poses its own challenges. Both parents are embarrassed by their misshapen son, let him languish behind the stove because they do not know what to do with him and finally wish him dead. Below the prickly surface of his hedgehog skin lies a deep poetic temperament and musical ability, but all his parents see are the rough edges. His outward appearance is not the only thing that places the young hedgehog in a peculiar class all by himself. Rather, it his quiet self-confidence and focus on becoming who he is that set him apart. Taking his destiny in his own hands, he decides to dedicate his life to the study of bagpipe playing and donkey and pig-herding. In these endeavors he is peerless. His life, which seemed so useless and embarrassing to his parents, confers practical riches on the community in the form of his greatly enlarged herd. But his beautiful music feeds the soul. Music was long considered a gift from the gods and the first musicians were believed to be gods or demi-gods. Hans-My-Hedgehog shares some attributes of the Ancient Greek god Pan, who was the herders’ god and therefore lived in wild and remote places. Travelers through desolate mountain or woodland settings attributed unusual sounds in the forest to Pan’s beautiful pipe playing. The god was also constantly falling in love but rejected by those he wooed because of his ugliness.
In the end, Hans-My-Hedgehog distinguishes the true bride from the false bride (in a rather grisly way) and his wedding culminates in a startling transformation through fire. He sheds his hedgehog skin and becomes a beautifully shaped young man. Only then is the wedding feast celebrated. This might be based on a long-forgotten wedding ritual, where the marriage partner is reborn or becomes a new person through the symbolical removal of old skin. In his new, all-human form, he now seeks out his father. Although he has pledged never more to return and his father was glad to be rid of him, their reunion is a happy one, attesting to the powerful bonds of love and family.
To read the fairy tale: