Hey Red, where you goin’?
Once upon a time an unsuspecting Antwerpenaar went to Hasselt to indulge in some shopping and sightseeing. Little did she know that when she got off the train she would encounter a magical and inconspicuous place called the Literair Museum Hasselt. Shocked and amazed by this unexpected delight, she entered into the realms of this enchanting house where fairy tales temporarily come to life.
The fantastical and dark worlds of fairy tales beckon from Hasselt
Yes, boys and girls, that Antwerpenaar was me. I was beckoned inside a 19th-century neo-classic house by the irresistible title Zeg Roodkapje, waar ga je heen? (Say, Little Red Riding Hood, Where Are You Going?).
Since the 1990s, fairy tales have been making quite a comeback in Flemish literature. Authors like Peter Verhelst, Bart Moeyaert, Toon Tellegen, Anne Provoost and many more have been using these timeless classics either as a basis for their own stories or revamping them aided by a wide variety of talented illustrators. In this colourful and fun exhibition for both adults and kids, these contemporary adaptations take centre stage.
You walk in to find a modern-day enchanted forest,which isn't only beautiful but also interactive. Countless objects from frogs to sparkling toadstools were created in papier-mache by Gent artist Micheline Vandervreken, who has done a spectacular job.
You can sit down in the big bad wolf's chair, listen to what Snow White's mirror has to say or follow the trail that the seven dwarfs have left, it's up to you. If you can rip yourself away for a bit of reading, Dr Vanessa Joosen, a researcher at the University of Antwerp, has equipped this display with explanations about the nature of fairy tales. These texts are accompanied by original drawings by Flemish illustrators Sabien Clement and Golden Owl winner Carll Cneut, among others.
Besides this great little show, the Hasselt Literary Museum has a permanent exhibition called Giftige appels op gouden bordjes, eten en drinken in sprookjes (Poison Apples on Golden Platters: Food and Drink in Fairy Tales). This also dream-like collection was brought to life, again, by Vanderveken, a papier-mache artist, who is responsible for turning this small and little-known museum into a true work of art.
Fairy tales are packed with references to food, like poison apples and gingerbread houses, all of which are illustrated quite vividly. Familiar tales by The Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson and other penners of fairy tales are here, together with information on the meaninng behind these seemingly innocent bedtime stories. Don't forget to explore the lower floor of the house, which is stuffed with Vanderveken's creations that are slightly reminiscent of the Land van Laaf in the Netherland's amusement park De Efteling. Be sure to look up at the ceilling and the lavishly decorated table that resides there.
An ingenious display of small, wooden cabinets enclose a short biography and the works of several Limburg children's books authors and illustrators. Discover how each earned their cabinet, along with a delightful diorama of one of their most cherished memories or experiences.
Even the basement has been turned into a unique adventure. Get a flashlight at the front desk and explore the literally dark and gloomy world of coal mining. In this intricately recreated shaft, books, objects and photographs tell you the story of that famous Limburg coal. Beware, small kids might not take to this very well, but older ones will relish this grim experience where things just might go bump in the night.
The last permanent feature in the museum is Van Schrijver tot Lezer, hoe een boek gemaakt wordt (From Writer to Reader: How A Book is Made). The entire second floor is dedicated to explaining to kids and adult book enthusiasts alike how books are put together. Starting with a few ideas or notes that the author is toying with, to the publisher, the illustrater, over to the printing and finally selling of the books. Brightly decorated panels take you through these various steps along with several draft versions of chidren's books that illustrate the process for youngsters. (It's an eye-opener for grown-ups, too.)
Located between the train station and the city centre, the Literary Museum, at a mere €2.50 entry, is well worth the visit. The setting both inside and out will leave you feeling like you might just live happily ever after.
Until 20 February 2010
Hasselt Literary Museum