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Matchless: An Illumination of Hans Christian Andersen's Classic "The Little Match Girl" [Paperback]

Gregory Maguire
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 20 2010

With Matchless, Gregory Maguire has reinvented the Hans Christian Andersen classic The Little Match Girl for a new time and new audiences. Originally asked by National Public Radio to write an original story with a Christmas theme, the New York Times bestselling author of Wicked and A Lion Among Men was once again inspired by the fairy tales we all loved in childhood—and he composed a poignant and enchanting tale of transcendence. A lovely and beautifully illustrated gift, Matchless places Andersen’s pitiful waif in the august company of Maguire’s previously re-imagined Snow White (Mirror, Mirror), Cinderella (Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister), and, of course, the Wicked Witch and other denizens of Oz. 

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An Indie Next List Notable (IndieBound)

“The little match girl’s story is now getting its due thanks to novelist Gregory Maguire of ‘Wicked’ fame…. Matchless glows with aching beauty.” (Huntsville Times)

“Maguire’s story has the weight and solidity of a treasured folk tale, something to be handed down and retold.” (Ellen Trachtenberg, author of The Best Children’s Literature: A Parent’s Guide)

From the Back Cover

The beloved New York Times bestselling author of Wicked reimagines Andersen's "The Little Match Girl" for modern readers, putting a new twist on a timeless classic.

In Matchless, Gregory Maguire adds a different dimension to the story, exquisitely intertwining the match girl's tale with that of Frederik, a young boy who builds a city out of trash, and whose yearnings are the catalyst for a better future for himself and his family. Maguire uses his storytelling magic to rekindle Andersen's original intentions, suggesting transcendence, the permanence of spirit, and the continuity that links the living and the dead.

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Maguire Does what He Does Best Sept. 24 2009
By B. Breen TOP 500 REVIEWER
Maguire is the type of author whom people seem to either love or hate. There's not so much middle ground and this book will likely evoke reactions similar to those of his more substantial books.

Make no mistake however, this is not one of Maguire's typical books.

What Maguire does better than most authors is to take an archetype of folklore and then to weave a tapestry around it that pulls it into modern times and make it more understandable and real to readers. Reading a Maguire tale may serve better in some ways to show the tale to better advantage than the original tale where many nuances and temporal elements are lost over the years.

Many of those elements are true to form in this shorter tale but added to it as well are the line drawings of the author that reinforce the verbal themes with pictures that do more than just illustrate the scenes being depicted. Here Maguire uses his drawings to futher elicit and evoke feeling and emotion. A reader would do well to pause and linger just a moment more to see what Maguire is doing with these illustrations.

Matchless, as a Christmas Story (the original was set on New Year's Day) with the additional tale woven in pulls out some of the story in a way that probably brings the reader into it to understand better what a contemporary reader of that day, age and place would have seen and felt. The typical western reader doesn't live with infant mortality, young children forced to the street to eke out a living and certainly not a young girl freezing on the streets with the hallucinations of a slow death recounted. This is not something that would draw memories and emotions from most readers.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Unmatched May 16 2010
Gregory Maguire is the king of giving new twists to old stories. So it comes as no surprise that he chose to subtlely rework one of Hans Christian Anderson's more depressing tales, namely the story of the doomed Little Match Girl. "Matchless: A Christmas Story" is a bittersweet but hopeful little tale that intertwines the story of the Match Girl with a more fortunate, imaginative young boy.

Frederik Pederson wanders the local docks in search of fish that the seagulls drop, so he can feed himself and his widowed mother. Mrs. Pederson has a slightly more exalted job repairing torn hems for the "lead toed" Queen. When he isn't scrabbling to find enough enough food to survive on, Frederik also tends to his "secret" -- a tiny town made of bowls, spools, boxes and netting -- and searches for more discarded items to add to the secret town.

But there are those more unfortunate than Frederik, including a penniless child trying to sell matches on Christmas Eve, who loses her shoe in the street. Tragically, she dies having visions of a warm, luxurious Christmas and her dead mother. One of her shoes found its way into Frederik's hands, and it leads him to a life-changing encounter with the girl's family -- and the realization that those that are gone are never quite lost.

I'll be honest here: I like happy endings, and so the depressing end of "The Little Match Girl" has always bothered me (spiritual themes or not). "Matchless: A Christmas Story" contains the same story in its second part -- poverty, chills and a little girl freezing out in the snow while nobody bothers to help -- but Maguire fleshes it out with a framework story that is a lot more uplifting. Big message: forgiveness, family love, and how the dead look after the living.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Bittersweet Dec 20 2009
By Nicola Manning-Mansfield HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Reason for Reading: I have several of the author's books but haven't read any as of yet plus The Little Match Girl is one of my favourite fairy tales.

Summary: The story of a young boy who lives with his widowed mother. They may be poor, but they have just enough to get by and that is enough for them. Their lives very briefly cross paths with a little match girl who dies in the night cold one evening. Then due to that crossed path they are brought together with her distraught family.

Comments: A bittersweet, little story that is really much more than a retelling of The Little Match Girl. Macguire uses Andersen's tale as a starting point to expand upon and from which to create his own tale. Chapter 2 of the book does retell Andersen's tale pretty much keeping to the original though he does make it clear that the little girl is hallucinating and it is her dead mother she sees at the end instead of her grandmother.

Set in the past, in a time of horse and buggies, there is a sentimental ambiance that floats throughout the story. One feels that things are not going to go particularly well and after the death of the little girl any small act of joy becomes poignant. Macguire shows how the small things in life can (and maybe should) mean so much. As in the original tale there is that heavy feeling in the heart but there are bright moments and humour added by Frederick's mom. The fairy tale aspect comes into play when Frederick and his mom meet up with the little match girl's widowed father and two other young daughters and there is a special magical ending on Christmas Eve.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.6 out of 5 stars  47 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Maguire Takes on a Master Oct. 13 2009
By ck - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
It takes a certain kind of courage to retell a classic holiday tale, especially one by a master such as Hans Christian Andersen. Modern storyteller Gregory Maguire has a special ability to comprehend the life and emotions of someone whose life has been wind-whipped by challenge -- and to share that person's story with subtle power and sympathy.

Clever puns and wordplay are among the most noticeable elements of the half-dozen Wicked stories that have vaulted Maguire to international notice. This time out, Maguire mutes his voice in the short Christmas story he crafted at the request of National Public Radio. Using simple words and phrases, he reworks Andersen's "The Little Match Girl," making the story line a bit gentler for 21st-century ears and yet preserving the simple spareness of Andersen's message.

I found myself rereading "Matchless" and finding nuances that weren't obvious the first time through, even though the writing is clear and comprehensible. Without spoiling any aspect of the story for you, although the story is brief, it's not superficial. It includes a section that can be interpreted literally or allegorically.

Maguire wrote this to be read aloud -- indeed, its first appearance was on Christmas Day, 2008, as he read it on the NPR air waves, and its rhythm, cadence and pace all are well-suited for the spoken voice. The line art that Maguire drew to accompany his words has an unpolished charm of its own, which adds to the keepsake nature of this little volume, but the tale is most powerful when read aloud.

One of our family traditions is for me to read Francis Pharcellus Church's "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" to our children, even though they're teenagers and well past the age where they could read to themselves. I'm thinking that adding "Matchless" to this tradition can only enrich it.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars gilding the lily Sept. 22 2009
By William Sommerwerck - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This review is based on an uncorrected proof.

In the early '60s, "Hans Christian Andersen" was first shown on TV, with a promotional LP offered as a tie-in, of Victor Borge reading several Andersen stories, including "The Little Match Girl". I can't imagine how the story or Borge's reading of it could be improved. (This recording should be reissued. It's on the same level as E B White reading "Charlotte's Web".)

Maguire's enhancement includes a new character who unknowingly interacts with the little match girl. Their relationship leads to a "miraculous" event at the end. It's clever without being cute -- and it softens the harshness of the original story.

Unfortunately, "The Little Match Girl" /is/ a brutally harsh story, with an ambiguous ending. By indicating that the girl's death has taken her to a better existance (rather than leaving us wondering whether what she saw was just her imagination), Maguire removes most of the harshness.

His illustrations range from mediocre to good. I don't feel they add much, though they permit the book to be described as "An Illumination of Hans Christian Andersen's Classic". In the literary context, "Illumination" has two senses, and Andersen's story needs neither illustrations nor additional insight into its meaning. It can stand on its own.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Adding Some Light To A Morbid Holiday Classic Sept. 26 2009
By Susan K. Schoonover - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
As a kid I was always fascinated by my mom's account of THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL. She told the story as it had been told to her by her blind Polish born grandmother but the story's basic points remained the same as what Denmark's Hans Christian Anderson published in the mid nineteenth century. The plot of Anderson's very short classic is quite simple. On a very cold New Year's Eve night a poverty stricken little girl is sent out by her family to sell matches. Her shoes are her mothers and way too large and she loses one and another is stolen by an "urchin". Reluctant to go home because she knows it is just as cold there as well as by the fact she will likely be beaten by her father for not selling any matches she stays out in the freezing weather and lights her unsold wares for warmth and comfort. At the lighting of the matches she sees beautiful visions the most compelling being of her deceased grandmother who provided the only love she had ever known in her harsh life. The little match girl is found frozen to death the next morning with a beautiful smile on her face we assume is from the lovely visions she experienced that night.

Anderson's original story is retold in part two of Gregory Maguire's four part (but still very brief) "illumination" which is being packaged just in time for the holidays as MATCHLESS. In part one of this retelling we are introduced to a new character, Frederik, a male contemporary of the little girl who turns out to be the urchin who steals one of her shoes. Though the little match girl still meets her sad fate there is more hope in Maguire's story. Frederik, his single mother and the father and siblings of the dead little girl do find happiness together in part three. And part four certainly ends on an optimistic note.

This would make a great read aloud which is not too surprising since it was written in 2008 for a holiday broadcast on National Public Radio. I was annoyed with Maguire that with his retelling of the story he changed the time from New Year's Eve to Christmas as well as making the girl's deceased mother appear to her instead of her grandmother. I forgave him when I saw in his author's note he acknowledges these changes in the "interest of drama." Maguire illustrates his story with some spare drawings which are not really to my taste but do go with the bleakness and poverty of at least the first part of the story. This is a very quick read which could become a holiday tradition.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally, an homage worth writing about Nov. 24 2009
By J. Roberts - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I'll be honest, I get confused when people refer to Maguire's work as an "homage" to the original. He subverts, reinterprets and in some cases outright perverts the original stories into something new and different, sometimes with the clear intent of mocking the original - as an example, his most famous book, Wicked, can clearly be read as lampooning the idea that good and evil are dichotomous and one must be one or the other.

With Matchless, Maguire puts away irony and subversion and creates a wonderful Christmas story that speaks to renewal, create beauty from tragedy, and in the process invokes a Dickensian England that is as visible as any the old father ever came up with and with far fewer words.

Brevity can often be a curse in literature, as meaning gets lost in an edited text, but Maguire is able to speak volumes in his sparse prose, creating a book that can be read in very little time whose impact will last long afterwards.

I love this book. I highly recommend it as a stocking stuffer for your more literate family members and I think that this will be one of those books I always pull out and enjoy during the holiday season.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Beautiful Little Tale Sept. 24 2009
By HardyBoy64 - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
The reason I enjoyed this book had nothing to do with the author's name or other writings. In fact, I've not read anything he's written before, so I had no preconceived notions about him or his literary talent. The tale of "The Little Match Girl" is so tragic that I remember as a child avoiding it at all cost. Hearing that story just made me miserable! Mr. Maguire couches this famous Hans Christian Anderson tale into a more tolerable context which ultimately leaves the reader with hope and peace. The newly-framed story fits nicely into the well-known tale of the little girl and the ending reveals a spiritual connection that we can share with our loved ones who have passed on. The message is very universal and is more spiritual in nature than religious.

For me, the illustrations are the weak part of this book. I realize that Mr. Maguire drew them, but all singers are not songwriters and I think that putting this beautiful version of this tale into the hands of a more efficient illustrator would have been a wiser choice.

Nonetheless, I recommended this.

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