In Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates, Mary Mapes Dodge tells the story of Hans Brinker, a fifteen year old boy, and Gretel, his sister. Hans finds himself responsible for his family after his father’s accident.
“There’s a pretty pair just coming upon the ice! The little ragpickers! Their skates must have been a present from the king direct.” this is said of Hans and Gretel by Carl, a rich boy who sees the two go unto the ice with their wooden skates. Here we see how Hans and his family fares compared to the rest of the townspeople: they are one of the poorest families. Their father, Raff Brinker, became invalid after an accident. One day Hans and Gretel learn of a race in which silver skates are to be the prize. Meanwhile, Hans by chance sees Dr. Boekman, a famous old doctor, and convinces the doctor to treat his father. Hans and Gretel eventually obtain steel skates needed to join in the contest, and Gretel wins the silver skates. The doctor manages to treat Raff successfully, and Raff remembers where he hid some “treasure”, and all goes well in the end.
One constant problem is the conflict between Han’ personal wants and his sense of responsibility and morality. For example, when he finds the purse that contained some money, he must decide whether to keep it or return it; when Hans wants to spend the money on steel skates, while knowing that his family could really use the money; and the dilemma on how he should react to those who humiliate him because of his poverty.
The book contains a lot of textbook descriptions, which I think does not work in the its favor, as it is unlikely that a reader will pick a book with the intention of simultaneously reading a good story and “textbook” material on a country’s history and geography.
With all the fiction encountered by modern people today—on television, books, movies—the story of Hans Brinker comes off as somewhat hackneyed, but of course this was probably not the case in the 1860’s, when the author wrote the book. I would not say that I actual learned anything from the book. At best, it reminds the reader of the continued existence of the extremely poor even in these modern times. And of course the the book reminds us of the importance of the usual “goodness of the heart” of of “advantages” in life that are only superficial and ultimately meaningless.
- Dodge, Mary Mapes. Hans Brinker, Or, The Silver Skates: A Story of Life in Holland. Place of Publication Not Identified: Scholar Select, 2016. Print.
- Dodge, Mary Mapes, Malvina G. Vogel, and Floris Freshman. Hans Brinker. New York: Baronet, 2008. Print.
- “Mary Mapes.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Mar. 2017. Web. 23 Mar. 2017.