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It’s probably one of the most well known Dutch legends.  Holland is a low country, beneath sea level, and a boy sticks his finger into a dike to keep water from flooding his village.  Well, upon closer inspection, the boy’s name is Hans Brinker, and he came from Haarlem.  However, the root of the legend may be more American than Dutch, as this post attests:

The legend of the brave Dutch boy – by others thought to be named Hans Brinker – who supposedly put his finger in the dyke to prevent a flood, was actually a literary invention by the American writer Mary Elizabeth Mapes Dodge (1831-1905), who was born in New York.

Hans Brinker was made famous in the USA by her children’s novel Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates, dating from 1865. In the chapter called ‘Friends in Need’ there is this story read out in class called ‘The Hero of Haarlem’. This is the story – quoted above – of the heroic boy who saves the land from drowning by putting his finger in the dyke all night long. The adventure is situated near Haarlem, not yet in Spaarndam (both in the province of North-Holland). Actually, the hero in the story remains anonymous, but still the adventure is mostly attributed to Hans Brinker, Hansie Brinkers or Peter of Haarlem. (By the way, several of the names Mary Mapes Dodge invented perhaps look or sound Dutch for Americans, but they are not, and sometimes they look more like German names – Hans’ sister for instance is called Gretel, like in the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale)

The post goes on to state:

The art historian Annette Stott states that with Hans Brinker Mary Mapes Dodge created a work of pure fiction: “She had not visited Holland when she wrote it and relied on a variety of published sources about Dutch life, literature, and art for her information. She also mined the memories of a Dutch-born couple living in the United States.” (Holland Mania, p. 240). Stott concludes her research on the book by saying: “The fanciful tale of a finger in the dike, which was repeated by other authors of juvenile literature, undoubtedly went some distance toward establishing in young American minds a belief in the courage, independence and trustworthiness of the Dutch” (Holland Mania, p. 241). Somehow, Mary Mapes Dodge tried to depict Holland as an ideal and idyllic nation of brave, righteous, godfearing farmfolk on wooden shoes.


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