I have quoted from Clarissa Pinkola Estes’s wonderful book, Women Who Run With the Wolves, on facebook many times and I have also mentioned her telling of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, “The Ugly Duckling”, on the blog. I highly recommend reading it for yourselves, but, because several of you have been communicating with me about your own sense of displacement, I wanted to share excerpts from it here today:
Clarissa Pinkola Estes on The Ugly Duckling
Sometimes life goes wrong for the wildish woman from the very beginning. Many women had parents who surveyed them as children and puzzled over how this small alien had managed to infiltrate the family…
See to it now that you spend less time on what they didn’t give you and more time on finding the people you belong to. You may not belong to your original family at all.
“The Ugly Duckling” is about the archetype of the unusual and the dispossessed, a perfect Wild Woman demi-history. For the last two centuries “The Ugly Duckling” has been one of the few stories to encourage successive generations of “outsiders” to hold on until they find their own.
The Ugly Duckling
… Everything was going as it should for this mother duck, and finally, one by one her eggs began to tremble and shake until the shells cracked, and out staggered all her new ducklings. But there was one egg left, a very big egg. It just sat there like a stone.
An old duck came by… and tried to dissuade the duck mother from sitting on that egg any longer. But the duck mother felt she had been sitting for such a long time, a little longer would not hurt.
…eventually the big egg began to shudder and roll. It finally broke open, and out tumbled a big, ungainly creature. His skin was etched with curly red-and-blue veins. His feet were pale purple. His eyes, transparent pink.
The duck mother cocked her head and stretched her neck and peered at him. She couldn’t help herself: she pronounced him ugly… [But] she groomed the ugly duckling’s feathers and licked his cowlicks.
… the others did all they could to harass the ugly duckling. They flew at him, bit him, pecked him, hissed and screeched at him. And their torment of him grew worse as time went on. He hid, he dodged, he zigzagged left and right, but he could not escape. The duckling was as miserable as any creature could be.
…even [his mother] grew tired of it all, and exclaimed in exasperation, “I wish you would just go away.” And so the ugly duckling ran away. With most of his feathers pulled out and looking extremely bedraggled, he ran and ran until he reached a marsh. There he lay down at the water’s edge with his neck stretched out and sipped as he could from the water now and then.
Suddenly shots rang out… The ugly duckling dived for cover and all around were shots and smoke and dogs barking…
Toward nightfall he came to a poor hovel… Here lived a raggedy woman with her uncombed cat and her cross-eyed hen. The cat earned her keep… by catching mice. The hen earned her keep by laying eggs. The woman felt lucky to have found a duck. Maybe it will lay eggs, she thought, and if not, we can kill it and eat it. So the duck stayed but he was tormented… In the end, it was clear there would be no peace for the duckling there, so he left to see if things would be better down the road.
He came upon a pond and as he swam there it became colder and colder. A flock of creatures flew overhead, the most beautiful he had ever seen. They cried down to him, and hearing their sounds made his heart leap and break at the same time. He cried back in a sound he had never before made. He had never seen creatures more beautiful, and he had never felt more bereft… he felt a desperate love for those great white birds, a love he could not understand.
… the duckling had to swim faster and faster in circles to keep a place for himself in the ice. One morning the duckling found himself frozen in the ice and it was then that he felt he would die. Two mallards flew down and skidded onto the ice. They surveyed the duck. “You are ugly,” they barked. “Too bad, so sad. Nothing can be done for such as you.” And off they flew.
Luckily a farmer came by and freed the duckling by breaking the ice with his staff. He lifted the duckling up and tucked him under his coat and marched home… but [the duckling] was afraid… The farmer’s wife chased him with her broom, and the children screamed with laughter.
The duckling flew out the cat’s door and, outside at last, lay in the snow half dead. From there he struggled on until he came to another pond, then another house, another pond, another house, and the entire winter was spent this way, alternating between life and death…
And even so, the gentle breath of spring came again… And on a pond nearby, the water became warmer and the ugly duckling who floated there stretched his wings. How strong and big his wings were… Also paddling on the pond were three swans, the same beautiful creatures he had seen the autumn before; those that so caused his heart to ache. He felt pulled to join them.
What if they act as though they like me, and then just as I join them, they fly away laughing? thought the duckling. But he glided down and landed on the pond, his heart beating hard.
As soon as they saw him, the swans began to swim toward him. No doubt I am about to meet my end, thought the duckling, but if I am to be killed, then rather by these beautiful creatures than by hunters, farm wives or long winters. And he bowed his head to await the blows.
But, la! In the reflection in the water he saw a swan in full dress: snowy plumage, sloe eyes and all… And it turned out he was one of them after all. His egg had accidentally rolled into a family of ducks. He was a swan, a glorious swan. And for the first time, his own kind came near him and touched him gently and lovingly with their wing tips. They groomed him with their beaks and swam round and round him in greeting.
And the children who came to feed the swans bits of bread cried out, “There’s a new one.” And as children everywhere do, they ran to tell everyone.
HOLD ON UNTIL YOU FIND YOUR OWN!
Love to you all,
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