2018 Classics Challenge #3- A classic by a woman author
Hans Brinker (or The Silver Skates), by Mary Mapes Dodge
Hans Brinker (or The Silver Skates) had been on my TBR list for ages. I finally found it- and bought it- at a tiny second hand book store. This sounds similar to what happened with Rob Roy, except this time there is a happy ending to the story.
But before stating why, let me ask you to take a rocking-chair trip with me to that far country, where you may see, perhaps, for the first time, some curious things that Hans and Gretel saw every day.
The story of Hans Brinker takes a bit of juggling to follow, since there are so many characters and plot threads to keep track of. The whole book anticipates who will win the race and earn the silver skates; meanwhile there are broken family connections to be restored, kith and kin do all they can to help one another, and a group of boys take a holiday in the city.
In another moment they were laughing together, as hand in hand they flew along the canal, never thinking whether the ice would bear or not, for in Holland ice is generally an all-winter affair. It settles itself upon the water in a determined kind of way, and so far from growing thin and uncertain every time the sun is a little severe upon it, it gathers its forces day by day, and flashes defiance to every beam.
The section with the group of boys going into the city may frustrate some, as it seems to distract from the main story and doesn’t even include Hans (aside from a brief appearance). But I loved that section! It reminded me of a 1902 schoolbook I have on my shelf: Youth’s Companion Series: Northern Europe, which shows things with such a sense of amazement that it makes one wish to be there. As the boys take a tour through olden-days Netherlands, so do I. I get to see the sights and hear all sorts of history trivia (history trivia is my favourite thing, no matter where I go)! It’s quite the vacation.
In Haarlem he had wondered that the air did not still resound with the cries of Alva’s three thousand victims. In Leyden his heart had swelled in sympathy as he thought of the long procession of scarred and famished creatures who after the siege, with Adrian can der Werf at their head, tottered to the great church to sing a glorious anthem because Leyden was free! He remembered that this was even before they had tasted the bread brought by the Dutch ships. They would praise God first, then eat.
That’s part of the charm of Hans Brinker. It lets you sit back and munch gingerbread while enjoying the festival of St. Nicholas- or Sinterklaas. Then you tighten your skates, and enter the stream of the story again. The many plot threads tie together à la Dickens, and still we do not lose sight of the goal in mind: the silver skates! The race itself was masterfully done, even with the added intensity of a broken skate strap. Overall the story is like the gingerbread so often featured: sweet, nicely spiced (with trivia!), and warms you from the inside.