Thinking about Red Shoes…


It’s a writing day today. It’s drizzling outside and I’m procrastinating inside, the cat is restless and the storyteller within is twitchy and disjointed; all fairly predictable  after a few days away from my desk. I find the best way for me to kickstart the creative process (and avoid all the pen twiddling and window gazing) is to re-read my research. I realised early on in my writing adventure that visuals, for myself at least, are incredibly inspirational: the walls surrounding my desk are a collage of images that leaf by leaf make up the heart of my story. As words follow words, so faces, places, art, poetry and wild things fill up the waiting walls around me, and when I sit in my work space their presence is upon me, ready to be brought to life.

And my research follows a similar pattern; I get to the heart of my subject through the winding trails of art and poetry, with a little old fashioned book learning thrown in to hang the whole lovely edifice upon. So as another devious procrastination I offer up a snippet of my research on my main protagonist – The girl in the  Blood Red Shoes…

This Fairy story is an old one. Hans Christian Andersen’s version is the most familiar but it is the scholar, psychologist and writer Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ re-telling that appeals to me most with her vision of the addiction and desensitisation that comes with the loss of our precious  ‘Handmade Shoes”.

Pick up her book ‘Women Who Run With The Wolves’ and change your life.

“We cannot control who brings us into the world. We cannot influence the fluency with which they raise us; we cannot force the culture to instantly become hospitable. But the good news isThe_Red_Shoes_by_MyVictorianSecret that, even after injury, even in “a feral state,” even, for that matter, in an, as yet, captured state, we can have our lives back.”

“Whether the injuries be to your art, words, lifestyles, thoughts, or ideas, and if you have knitted yourself up into a many-sleeved sweater, cut through the tangle now and get on with it. Beyond desire and wishing, beyond the carefully reasoned methods we love to talk and scheme over, there is a simple door waiting for us to walk through. On the other side are new feet. Go there. Crawl there if need be. Stop talking and obsessing! Just do it.”

“And so we long for the equivalent of those red images-5shoes; we dance and dance in them and discover that we can’t stop. Our meaningful lives (represented in the story by the little girl’s experiences in church) are seduced away by glitter. By those things we seek when we’ve lost our connection with what is real, with what matters. We consume, among other reasons, because we are empty, and we’re looking for things to fill us up. And it’s late enough now that the only way we can stop the dance that we’ve started – the dance that is destroying the earth – is by doing something drastic: by cutting our feet from under us. Letting that dance go. Starting again, learning to walk again.” – Clarissa Pinkola Estes.


I stand in the ring
 in the dead city
and tie on the red shoes.
Everything that was calm
is mine, the watch with an ant walking,
the toes, lined up like dogs,
the stove long before it boils toads,
the parlor, white in winter, long before flies,
the doe lying down on moss, long before the bullet.
I tie on the red shoes.

They are not mine.
They are my mother’s.
Her mother’s before.
Handed down like an heirloom
but hidden like shameful letters.
The house and the street where they belong
are hidden and all the women, too,
are hidden.

All those girls
who wore the red shoes,
each boarded a train that would not stop.
Stations flew by like suitors and would not stop.
They all danced like trout on the hook.
They were played with.
They tore off their ears like safety pins.
Their arms fell off them and became hats.
Their heads rolled off and sang down the street.
And their feet – oh God, their feet in the market place -
their feet, those two beetles, ran for the corner
and then danced forth as if they were proud.
Surely, people exclaimed,
surely they are mechanical. Otherwise…

But the feet went on.
The feet could not stop.
They were wound up like a cobra that sees you.
They were elastic pulling itself in two.
They were islands during an earthquake.
They were ships colliding and going down.
Never mind you and me.
They could not listen.
They could not stop.
What they did was the death dance.

What they did would do them in.

The Red Shoes – Anne Sexton.

Photograph by Katerina Plotnikova.
Photograph by Katerina Plotnikova.

…On the day when her mother was buried she received the red shoes and wore them for the first time. They were certainly not suited for mourning; but she had no others, and therefore thrust her little bare feet into them and walked behind the plain deal coffin…

Print by Melissa West.

…She was obliged to dance a few steps; and when she once began, her legs went on dancing. It was just as though the shoes had obtained power over her. She danced around the corner of the church—she could not help it; the coachman was obliged to run behind her and seize her: he lifted her into the carriage, but her feet went on dancing, so that she kicked the good Old Lady violently. At last they took off her shoes and her legs became quiet….

Aledin on Deviant Art

…She danced, and was compelled to dance—to dance in the dark night. The shoes carried her on over thorn and brier; she scratched herself till she bled; she danced away across the heath to a little lonely house. Here she knew the executioner dwelt; and she tapped with her fingers on the panes, and called,—

“Come out, come out! I cannot come in, for I must dance!

And the Executioner said,—

“You probably don’t know who I am? I cut off the bad people’s heads with my axe, and mark how my axe rings!”

“Do not strike off my head,” said she, “for if you do I cannot repent of my sin. But strike off my feet with the red shoes?”…

…The clear sunshine streamed so warm through the window upon the chair in which she sat; and her heart became so filled with sunshine, peace, and joy that it broke. Her soul flew on the sunbeams to heaven; and there was nobody who asked after the Red Shoes…

Illustration - Anne Andersen.
Illustration – Anne Andersen.

The big question is when did you first slip on your own Red Shoes, and are you still dancing?

‘We do not discover ourselves in ‎myth; we make ourselves through myth.’ (Dan McAddams 1993)


Links: (Unfortunately I’m having issues keeping these links live, but please check out these amazing artists, poets and scholars.)

Katerina Plotnikova:


 Melissa West:‎

Anne Sexton:

The Red Shoes by Hans Christian Andersen:

Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes:

Kate Bush:


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