Hans Christian Andersen wrote over 160 fairy tales, many of which have become beloved and classic children’s stories. Read about the man behind the fairy tales, and learn about some of his more popular creations.
Hans Christian Andersen, the internationally acclaimed Danish writer, was born in Odense, Denmark, on April 2, 1805, as an only child. Andersen grew up poor and awkward. His tall height, large nose, and love of singing made it hard for him to fit in. Luckily, his father tried to encourage Andersen’s creativity by taking him to the theater and handcrafting toys.
When Andersen was only 10 years old, his father tragically died. Within a few years, his mother remarried and sent Andersen off to a school for underprivileged children, where he was forced to support himself financially. At the age of 14, he moved to Copenhagen to try his hand at acting. Though he was accepted into a theater group as an operatic singer, his voice did not last long. The theater’s director empathized with Andersen and set him up with a better education so that Andersen could pursue another art – writing.
|The Princess and the Pea
This story was one Andersen had heard as a child. Though it did not receive much critical acclaim at the time of publication, it has since become a classic tale. The story is that of a prince desperately seeking a real princess, but finding only frauds. One stormy night, a woman caught in the rain shows up at his castle seeking shelter. She claims to be a princess, but her disheveled appearance makes the royal family hesitant to believe her.
They decide to slip a pea under her bed, made up of 25 mattresses, without telling her. In the morning, the princess complains of having a terrible night’s sleep, thus proving to the prince that she felt the pea and is in fact a true princess. The two are married and place the pea in a royal museum as a kind of trophy.
The Little Mermaid
You may be familiar with Disney’s version of The Little Mermaid, inspired by Andersen’s fairy tale. And while they both begin similarly, with the Mermaid falling in love with a prince and sacrificing her voice in order to get legs and the chance for true love, Andersen’s tale takes a much darker turn. Because mer-people do not have souls, the Mermaid wants to turn into a human both to fall in love and to ascend into heaven after she dies. Unfortunately, the Prince does not choose her, and instead marries a princess. Broken-hearted, the Mermaid turns again to the Sea Witch, who offers to grant her an immortal soul in exchange for the Prince’s life. The Mermaid’s love for him keeps her from slitting his throat, and she flings herself into the sea.
Instead of dying, however, she becomes a spirit and learns that if she continues to do good deeds, she will be allowed into heaven.
The Ugly Duckling
This story, Andersen claimed, reflects his own struggles to fit in growing up. The Ugly Duckling tells the tale of a bird that faces a life full of rejection.
After hatching, the other birds notice that he is noticeably different-looking. They all mock him and harass him until he cannot take it anymore and runs away. The ugly duckling continues to struggle, as wherever he goes, he is teased and taunted for his ugly appearance. Just when he thinks he cannot take the solitude anymore, he spots a flock of swans and decides to throw himself at the flock and die amongst their beauty.
He is shocked to discover that the swans embrace him as one of their own and, that, in fact, during the winter, he has shed his ugly appearance and grown into a beautiful swan.
Here is a short list of some other famous Andersen tales:
Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) was a Danish writer who received international attention for his fairy tales’ humor, authenticity, and dark imagination. Growing up poor, awkward, and under-educated, Andersen left home to pursue singing, before eventually receiving support to pursue a career in writing. Famous publications and corporations have taken in many of his stories.
Disney, for example, has animated versions of The Little Mermaid and The Ugly Duckling. Andersen grew so famous that the Danish government gave him a stipend and called him a national treasure. Before dying of liver cancer, Andersen managed to write over 160 fairy tales that have since been translated into over 125 languages.