Petri: The Emperor’s New Island (a lost Danish tale is found)

‘I need a new land to make great again,’ said the Emperor. ‘What do you have that needs a golf course?’

By Alexandra Petri

The Washington Post

Hans Christian Andersen and Greenland have something in common: They are both Danish national treasures! Amazingly, this story was discovered this week among the unpublished works of the former:

The Emperor was sad.

(He was not, in fact, an emperor, but his advisers were too craven and self-interested to remind him of this fact except on special occasions, because they knew it would upset him.)

The Emperor had many beautiful things, but they no longer gladdened his heart. He had ordered many fine tanks to accompany him to celebrate the country’s birthday, but they had not delighted him. He had a fine long report to read about his innocence, but maybe it was not about his innocence, and he had thrown it into a well.

He had a beautiful economy that was his constant delight to gambol and gamble with, which he had inherited from his predecessor with stern instructions not to break it, and he had tossed it gleefully around, delighting to see how high it bounced, until it had made a crunching sound and fallen down the well where he could not get it back.

He sat sullenly in his palace and stared at his array of locked-up birds and his tiny model wall. Nothing cheered him.

His advisers went to him and tried to cheer him.

“You possess a country rich in wonderful things,” his advisers said to him. “Consider the beautiful island of Puerto Rico, which could be even more beautiful if you cared for it at all.”

But the Emperor would not consider it.

“Consider the riches of the land, and the many sorts of birds and beasts and winged insects that abound in it,” his advisers said.

But the Emperor was sad. “I do not care for the birds and beasts and winged insects,” he said. “I wish them all to be destroyed.”

His advisers rushed off quickly to see it done.

“Consider the millions of people who would like to come to this beautiful land because it is not like any other place in the world.”

But the Emperor was sullen. “I do not care for the people who would like to come to this beautiful land,” he said. “I wish them all to be destroyed.”

His advisers rushed off quickly to see it done.

“What else do you wish, Emperor?”

The Emperor sighed. “What have you heard about Greenland?” he asked his advisers.

His advisers looked from one to the other. “Tell us,” they said.

“We should buy Greenland,” the Emperor said. “Harry Truman wanted it, and there are very few things Harry Truman wanted that I do not also want.”

“Are you sure you are not thinking of Andrew Jackson?” one of the advisers asked.

“I am always thinking of Andrew Jackson,” the Emperor replied.

The advisers glanced from one to the other. They were not exceptionally skilled or wise, and their one task was to keep the Emperor from becoming upset. “If you want it,” one said, “I am sure that it can be arranged.”

“That is good,” said the Emperor. “It is right there. I am certain it must be strategically significant! And it says in the name that it is green. It contains golf courses already and might be induced to contain more. I wish to possess all the finest lands. I will spare no expense until I have Greenland, too.”

“All told,” the advisers agreed, “it is an excellent plan, although there is one small matter. Denmark owns it.”

“That is no great concern,” the Emperor said. “I will offer Denmark a great sum of money, and it will part with it. I am sure Denmark cannot want it very much.”

“But; why Greenland?” the advisers asked. “All we know about Greenland is that once a man went there and lied that it was green, and then it became Greenland, even though it was not.”

“Precisely,” the Emperor said. “I wish to live in such a place, where you can say such a thing and it can be so. Now it is only so when I gaze into my mirror, but if I had the island, I could give it whatever name I wished, and it would be so all the time. If I could only say that a thing was so and it could then be so, then I might know rest. Then I might truly be content.”

“But it is a lie!” cried a little boy who was passing by.

The Emperor shrugged. “It has never stopped me before.”

Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter @petridishes.

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