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Hans Christian Anderson

Updated on October 22, 2011

If you have ever been a child, you can hardly imagine this world without fairy princesses and secret castles and magical spells. Little do we know that we owe most of such fantasies to one tall, skinny man from almost two centuries ago.

His childhood

Hans Christian Andersen was Danish. He was born in Odense, Denmark on April 7, 1805. His father was a shoemaker, and his mother was a washerwoman who worked for rich people living in big houses. As a poor child, Andersen's first 14 years of life were very impressionable for him, and later on, they were to pave the way in shaping his literary works. His disturbing social experiences, utter poverty and his great desire to break away and realize his true potential also pushed him into the world of arts. This desire became stronger throughout his childhood.

At the age of 14, he left home for Copenhagen to make a fortune for himself. This venture of his, however, did not prove to be very successful. But he went to university in the capital city of Copenhagen and began his writing. These were harsh times. He had to often go without food. He received some money and could afford to continue his education with the help of the director of the Royal Theatre. And all these hardships only pushed him further in his venture which would later give him world wide fame.

Hans, the writer

At first, he became known for his poetry which won him many patrons and also enabled him to travel throughout Europe. He gradually came to be a regular guest at Danish and foreign manor houses and at the residences of kings and princes in Denmark and abroad.

When he actually started writing extensively, he came to be known by different titles - novelist, poet, fairy-tale writer. He published his first novel, The Improvisatore in 1835, the same year as his first collections of fairy tales. He earnestly thought that it is the novels that would make him famous. The Improvisatore was quickly translated into German and then into a number of other languages. It was surely well received. As a matter of fact, Hans was known all over Europe as a novelist before he became famous as a teller of tales.

In 1835, Hans published his first book of fairy tales. The book was a success, and this gave him all the propel he need to follow it up by numerous other volumes of children's stories. He wrote almost one volume a year, right up until 1872! Soon, Anderson became known as the greatest writer in Denmark, and it was all because of his wonderful fairy tales. Children all around the world adoringly read his tales till today, and will continue to do so for years to come. Hans Christian wrote more than one hundred and fifty fairy tales, and his stories have been translated into over 100 languages!

That special thing about his stories...

Hans Christian Anderson was a tall, skinny man with a big nose. He always used to think that he is very ugly. It is no surprise then that many of his stories and fairy tales contain an element of heavy compassion for those who are suffering or are social outcasts. We see a classic example of this in the beloved tale, The Ugly Duckling, the story of a sad little baby swan to whom all the ducklings were mean because he was too ugly for them. Little did anyone know that this ugly little baby would one day grow up to be a graceful swan, one of the most beautiful of birds. And that's precisely what happened.

Hans was also very poor and had seen the prolonged sufferings of those living at the subsistence level. His stories are therefore about the poor as well. The story of The Little Match Girl is one beautiful example of such a story about the sad life of a little girl who used to sell matches.

Anderson's switch of homes from Odense to Copenhagen also had a great impact on his life. He had to initially settle in strange surroundings among strangers and completely start from scratch. It seems he has reflected his feelings in The little Mermaid, the story of a little mermaid who leaves her watery home and family to live in a world of humans.

Despite the sometimes sad element to his tales, Hans Christian never lost touch with humour, intelligence, happiness, true beauty which lies in inner goodness, and, above all, finding magic in the most ordinary of places and people. It is the blend of all these elements that makes his stories so endearing and memorable. Through sheer wit and humour, Hans's stories make fun of the spoilt and conceited, and condemn the cruel. Two of his most familiar and beloved works remain Thumbelina and The Princess and the Pea.

His home in Odense is now a museum, and thousands of people visit it every year, cherishing his life by reading his stories and visiting his home. Hans Anderson passed away on August 4th, 1875.


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