Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates
Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates (full title: Hans Brinker; or, the Silver Skates: A Story of Life in Holland) is a novel by American author Mary Mapes Dodge, first published in 1865. The novel takes place in the Netherlands, and is a colorful fictional portrait of early nineteenth-century Dutch life, as well as a tale of youthful honor.
The title of the book refers to the beautiful silver skates to be awarded to winner of the ice-skating race Hans Brinker hopes to enter. The novel introduced the sport of Dutch speed skating to Americans, and in U.S. media Hans Brinker is still considered the prototypical speed skater.
The book is also notable for popularizing the story of the little Dutch boy who plugs a dike with his finger.
Dodge, who never visited the Netherlands until after the novel was published, wrote the novel at age 34. She was inspired by her reading of John L. Motley's lengthy, multi-volume history works: The Rise of the Dutch Republic, and The History of the United Netherlands. Dodge subsequently did further bibliographical research into the country. She also received much firsthand information about Dutch life from her immigrant Dutch neighbors, the Scharffs, and Dodge noted in her preface to the 1875 edition of the book that the story of Hans Brinker's father was "founded strictly upon fact".
Full of Dutch cultural and historical information, the book became an instant bestseller, outselling all other books in its first year of publication except Charles Dickens's Our Mutual Friend. The novel has since been continuously in print, most often in multiple editions and formats, and remains a children's classic.
In Holland, poor-but-industrious and honorable 15-year-old Hans Brinker and his younger sister Gretel, yearn to participate in December's great ice-skating race on the canal. They have little chance of doing well on their handmade wooden skates, but the prospect of the race and the prize of the Silver Skates excites them and fires their dreams.
Hans' father, Raff Brinker, is sick and amnesiac, with violent episodes, because of a head injury caused by a fall from a dike, and he cannot work. Mrs. Brinker, Hans, and Gretel must all work to support the family and are looked down upon in the community because of their low income and poor status. Hans has a chance meeting with the famous surgeon Dr. Boekman and begs him to treat their father, but the doctor is expensive and gruff in nature following the loss of his wife and disappearance of his son. Eventually, Dr. Boekman is persuaded to examine the Brinkers' father. He diagnoses pressure on the brain, which can be cured by a risky and expensive operation involving trephining.
Hans offers his own money, saved in the hope of buying steel skates, to the doctor to pay for his father's operation. Touched by this gesture, Dr. Boekman provides the surgery for free, and Hans is able to buy good skates for both himself and Gretel to skate in the race. Gretel wins the girls' race, but Hans lets a friend — who needs it more — win the precious prize, the Silver Skates, in the boys' race.
Mr. Brinker's operation is successful, and he is restored to health and memory. Dr. Boekman is also changed, losing his gruff ways, thanks in part to being able to be reunited with his lost son through the unlikely aid of Mr. Brinker. The Brinkers' fortunes are changed further by the almost miraculous recovery of Mr. Brinker's savings, thought lost or stolen ten years ago.
The Brinker parents live a long and happy life. Dr. Boekman helps Hans go to medical school, and Hans becomes a successful doctor. Gretel also grows up to enjoy a happy adult life.
Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates has been adapted into several films and plays, all of which center around the dramatic ice-skating competition as the climax of the story, in keeping with the book. The film adaptations include:
- A 1962 made-for-television Disney film, starring Rony Zeaner. Shown in two parts in the U.S. on the Walt Disney anthology television series.
- A 1969 NBC made-for-television musical film, called simply Hans Brinker, starring Robin Askwith as Hans, Richard Basehart as Dr. Boekman, Eleanor Parker as Dame Brinker and Cyril Ritchard as Mynheer Kleef the Innkeeper.
- A 1998 very loose modern adaptation or homage, Brink!, a made-for-television Disney Channel film. The story takes place in Los Angeles, California, and centers around competitive inline skating rather than ice skating. It stars Eric von Detten as Andy "Brink" Brinker.
Popular culture: the legend of the boy and the dike
A small fictional story within the novel has become well known in its own right in American popular culture. The story, read aloud in a schoolroom in England, is about a Dutch boy who saves his country by putting his finger in a leaking dike. The boy stays there all night, in spite of the cold, until the adults of the village find him and make the necessary repairs.
In the book, the boy and the story are called simply "The Hero of Haarlem". Although the hero of the dike-plugging tale remains nameless in the book, Hans Brinker's name has sometimes erroneously been associated with the character.
This small tale within Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates has generated numerous versions and adaptations in American media. Poet Phoebe Cary — at whose New York City literary gatherings Dodge was a regular guest — wrote a lengthy poem about it called "The Leak in the Dike", published posthumously in 1873, which has been widely anthologized in books of poetry for schoolchildren. Cary also gave the boy a name: Peter.
The tale has also inspired full-fledged children's books of its own, which include:
- The Hole in the Dike, by Norma Green (1974)
- The Boy Who Held Back the Sea, by Lenny Hort (1987)
Statues of the boy and the dike
For tourism purposes, statues of the fictional dike-plugging boy have been erected in Dutch locations such as Spaarndam, Madurodam and Harlingen. The statues are sometimes mistakenly titled "Hans Brinker"; others are known as "Peter of Haarlem". The story of the dike-plugging boy is, however, not widely known in the Netherlands — it is a piece of American, rather than Dutch, folklore.
Origin of the story of the boy and the dike
Versions of the story prior to Hans Brinker appear in several English-language publications from 1850 onward, including the following British and American publications:
In the United Kingdom:
- An 1850 edition of Sharpe's London Journal of Entertainment and Instruction: "The Little Hero of Haarlem"
- The 'Sixth' Standard Reader, compiled by J.S. Laurie (1863): "The Little Dutch Hero"
In the U.S.:
- The 1852 edition of The Ladies' Repository: "The Little Hero of Haarlem"
- In 1854, Literary Gem: Van Court's New Monthly Magazine: "The Little Hero of Haarlem"
- Julia Matilda Olin's 1856 book, A Winter at Wood Lawn
- In 1857, McGuffey's New High School Reader for Advanced Classes: "The Little Hero of Haarlem"
- In 1858, The Rhode Island Schoolmaster: "The Boy at the Dike"
- In 1858/1859, Sargent's School Monthly: "The Boy at the Dike"
The actual authorship and genesis of the story of the boy and the dike is currently unknown, but it is possibly from a hypothetical-but-unidentified story by French author Eugenie Foa (1796–1852), appearing as an alleged English translation, "The Little Dykeman", in Merry's magazine in 1868.
In sum, although Dodge was not the originator of the story of the boy and the dike, the immense popularity of her novel Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates made the story very widely known. The story-within-a-story of the nameless little boy's heroism also parallels and emphasizes Hans Brinker's own heroism in the novel.
- Dodge, Mary Mapes. Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates; 2003 Dover edition.
- Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates complete book readable free online on Google Book Search.
- Gannon, Susan R.; and Thomson, Ruth Anne. Mary Mapes Dodge. Twayne Publishers, 1993.
- "It Beats Freezing To Death: America Gets Its First Indoor Speed-Skating Rink". Newsweek. January 4, 1993. Accessed August 15, 2008.
- Gannon, Susan R.; and Thomson, Ruth Anne. Mary Mapes Dodge. Twayne Publishers, 1993; p. 10.
- Gannon, Susan R.; and Thomson, Ruth Anne. Mary Mapes Dodge. Twayne Publishers, 1993; p. 55.
- Dodge, Mary Mapes. Hans Brinker; or, The Silver Skates: A Story of Life in Holland. Scribners: 1886, p. 9.
- Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates at the Internet Movie Database
- Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates at the Internet Movie Database
- Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates (1962) DVD at Amazon.com
- Hans Brinker at the Internet Movie Database
- Hans Brinker (1969) DVD at Amazon.com
- Brink! at the Internet Movie Database
- Dodge, Mary Mapes. Hans Brinker: Or, The Silver Skates, a Story of Life in Holland. Scribner, 1896; pp. 105–109.
- Cary, Alice; and Cary, Phoebe; compiled by Mary Clemmer Ames. A Memorial of Alice and Phoebe Cary With Some of Their Later Poems. New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1873; p. 69.
- Cary, Alice; Cary, Phoebe; and Clemmer, Mary. The Last Poems of Alice and Phoebe Cary. Riverside Press, 1873; pp. 223–229.
- Text of "The Leak in the Dike"
-  Link to some of the many anthologies over the decades which contain "The Leak in the Dike"
- Green, Norma B. The Hole in the Dike (1974)
- Hort, Lenny. The Boy Who Held Back the Sea. (1987)
- Sharpe's London Journal of Entertainment and Instruction. 1850; 12:8–9.
- Text of "The Little Hero of Haarlem" from Sharpe's Magazine reprinted in: Anonymous. Gems Gathered in Haste. Boston: January 1, 1851.
- "The Brave Little Hollander". Eliza Cook's Journal. (London) February 23, 1950. Mentioned in this GoogleBooks source.
- Gannon, Susan R.; and Thomson, Ruth Anne. Mary Mapes Dodge. Twayne Publishers, 1993; p. 72.
- Laurie, James Stuart; ed. The 'Sixth' Standard Reader. London, 1863; pp. 49–51.
- "The Little Hero of Haarlem". Harper's Magazine. Vol. 1, Issue 3; August 1850; pp. 414–415.
- "The Little Hero of Haarlem", The Ladies' Repository, Rev. Henry Bacon, ed. Boston: A. Thompkins; 1852, Vol. 20; pp. 100–101.
- "The Little Hero of Haarlem," Literary Gem: Van Court's New Monthly Magazine. Philadelphia: 1954; Vol. 1, No. 1; pp. 120–121.
- Anonymous (Julia Matilda Olin). A Winter at Wood Lawn. New York: Carton & Porter, 1856; pp. 40–42.
- McGuffey, William Holmes, ed. McGuffey’s New High School Reader: For Advanced Classes. Cincinnati: Wilson, Hinkle, & Co, 1857; pp. 237–242.
- Rhode Island Commissioner of Public Schools, William A. Mowry, ed. The R. I. Schoolmaster, Vol. IV, 1858. Providence, R.I.: Wm. Mowry, Pub., 1858. pp. 214–215.
- Sargent, Epes (ed). Sargent's School Monthly, for Home and School Use (Vol. 1, Nos. I–XII, Jan.–Dec. 1858). Boston: Philips, Sampson & Co., 1859. p. 222.
- Gannon, Susan R.; and Thomson, Ruth Anne. Mary Mapes Dodge. Twayne Publishers, 1993; p. 72
- Text of "The Little Dykeman" by Eugenie Foa (1796–1852) anthologized here in Merry's Museum for Boys and Girls (Boston, 1868). The "translation" is signed S.W.L., which would be Sarah West Lander (1810–1872), known for her German translations, but not for French translations.
- Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates (1896 edition) – full scanned copy
- Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates (1910 edition) – full scanned copy
- Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates – e-text from Project Gutenberg
- Hans Brinker (2007) by Bruce Covill – 40-page illustrated retelling of Hans Brinker for young readers
- A Dutchman pronounces the Dutch names and words in the book, and comments on the many mistakes