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Hans Christian Andersen and his fairy tales

Updated on August 23, 2014
Portrait of Hans Christian Anderson.
Portrait of Hans Christian Anderson. | Source
The statue of "The Little Mermaid," to commemorate the fairy tale of the same name written by Hans Christian Anderson.  Statue sculpted by Edward Eriksen in 1913.
The statue of "The Little Mermaid," to commemorate the fairy tale of the same name written by Hans Christian Anderson. Statue sculpted by Edward Eriksen in 1913. | Source
Nyhavn, Copenhagen, Denmark.  The street on which Anderson lived for a time; the house is now a museum.
Nyhavn, Copenhagen, Denmark. The street on which Anderson lived for a time; the house is now a museum. | Source

1805 - 1875

I have always loved fairy tales. When I was a child, I especially loved them when I sat on my father's lap and he read them to me. I was safe and secure no matter how many hobgoblins, witches, ice queens, or mean step-mothers were out there. Sitting in Dad's lap, the warm glow of the lamp lighting the pages and illustrations as I turned the pages, I felt none of these scary characters could every harm me.

I loved fairy tales so much, I even chose to live in the fairy tale kingdom of them all, Germany. There I was able to experience, up close and personal, the greatest fairyland of all. All the castles of my childhood stories and imagination come to life in Germany. The Brothers Grimm for sure.

But, in Scandinavia, Denmark specifically, there was another writer of fairy tales who I loved just as much as the Grimm Brothers. Hans Christian Andersen. His fairy tales have enchanted and entertained me all my life. I have also visited Denmark and in the Copenhagen harbor on the shores of the North Sea, stands the statue of "The Little Mermaid," to commemorate the fairy tale of the same name written by Anderson and in remembrance and honor of Denmark's and Scandinavian's greatest fairy tale writer.

Hans Christian Andersen was a Danish author, fairy tale writer and poet but is best known for his children's stories. Anderson was acclaimed duirng his lifetime for having delighted children world-wide with his fairy tales. His tales have inspired motion pictures, plays, ballets and animated films. I, and many of my generation, grew up hearing and reading his stories and fairy tales. Some of my personal favorites:

  • The Emperor's New Clothes
  • The Ice Maiden
  • The Little Match Girl
  • The Little Mermaid
  • The Nightengale
  • The Princess and the Pea
  • The Red Shoes
  • The Snow Queen
  • Thumbelina
  • The Ugly Duckling

Many of these tales are indelibly printed in our brains and we have enjoyed these stories over the years since childhood. Following are a few of my favorites.

Illustration from "The Little Mermaid," written by Andersen.
Illustration from "The Little Mermaid," written by Andersen. | Source
Illustration from the fairy tale, "The Princess and the Pea," by Andersen.
Illustration from the fairy tale, "The Princess and the Pea," by Andersen. | Source

Some favorite fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen

The Little Mermaid

This tale by Andersen was written originally as a ballet and published in 1837. This original story is much different than the Disney animated film produced in 1989. This popular fairy tale is about a young mermaid willing to give up her life in the sea and her identity as a mermaid to gain a human soul and the love of a human prince.

The Little Mermaid sees a ship at sea with a handsome prince, and falls in love with him from a distance. Later a great storm hits and the Little Mermaid saves the prince from drowning. She delivers him unconscious to the shore near a temple and waits with him until a young girl from the temple finds him. The prince never sees the Little Mermaid as she quietly slips back into the water.

The Little Mermaid longs for the prince and an eternal soul but there are many obstacles to her love and obtaining the prince for herself. Of course, the Little Mermaid must work with an evil Sea Witch, and what is interesting about this tale and many of Anderson's fairy tale, it does not end happily ever after for the mermaid and the prince. The prince marries not the Little Mermaid but the young girl at the temple and the Little Mermaid dies. It is then that she is carried to heaven by angels.

The Red Shoes

Andersen wrote this tale in 1845 and it is not at all like the story presented in the film of the same name made in Hollywood in the 1940s. It is the story about a girl forced to dance continually in her red shoes to learn that vanity is a sin.

The main character is Karen, who is very vain and wears beautiful red dancer's shoes. She believes no one can dance better than she does. The shoes eventually take over Karen and she cannot stop dancing, she cannot control them and they are stuck to her feet for eternity.

An angel appears and condemns Karen to dance even after she dies and the tale becomes a warning to vain children everywhere. Karen even goes so far as to have her feet amputated, but the feet still dance in the red shoes.

Karen now wears wooden shoes and walks with crutches made for her and works in a parsonage. Daily, she prays for God's help. Only then, does the angel reappear, Karen's heart becomes so filled with sunshine, peace and joy that it bursts! Her soul flies on sunshine to heaven and the red shoes finally quit dancing.

The Emperor's New Clothes

This is the famous tale of the two weavers who promise an emperor a new suit of clothes that is invisible to those unfit for their positions, stupid or incompetent. When the emperor parades his new 'clothes' before his subjects, they all exclaim how beautiful the new 'clothes' are as no one wants to be found incompetent or unfit for their jobs. It is the innocent truthfullness of a child who cries out, "But he isn't wearing anything at all." Then, the emperor realizes he has been swindled and made fool of by the two weavers who have left with payment of a hefty bag of gold.

This tale is actually based on a story from medieval Spain by Juan Manuel, Prince of Villena (1282 - 1348) that Andersen had read and/or heard by word of mouth. He simply rewrote the tale and modernized it for 1800's Denmark.

Many critics have said that Andersen wrote this tale as his expose of the hypocrisy and snobbery he found when he was finally accepted into The Salon, a group for literary writers in Denmark.

This has also been one of the most favorite of Andersen's tales for children, because it is a tale of the courage of one's convictions and those convictions being expressed by a child, not a hypocritical adult.

The Princess and the Pea

This tale of Andersen's has long been one of my favorites. It is the story of a prince who must find a princess to marry but the prince, and his parents, the king and queen, are having difficulty finding a princess that is true and appropriate for the prince.

One stormy evening, a woman, claiming to be a true princess, knocks on the castle doors and requests lodging as her carriage has broken down in the mud on the nearby road. Once she is dried and cleaned up, the prince is taken by her, but his parents warn that this wayward lodger may not be a true princess as she claims to be.

The queen says that they will run a test to see if the woman is a true princess as she claims to be. The bed the princess is to sleep on is piled high with twenty mattresses. But, under the first mattress at the bottom on the bed is placed a small pea. If the princess is a true princess, the small pea will disrupt her sleep by irritating her delicate body and skin all the way through twenty mattresses, If she sleeps soundly she is not a true princess, but if her sleep is disturbed she is a delicate and lovely princess and the prince may marry her.

The next morning, the princess appears for breakfast, in pain and with bags and dark circles under her eyes, as she has not been able to sleep properly. The pea has disturbed her sleep and she has not slept a wink all night. To the great relief of the prince, she is a true princess and they are married. This is one Andersen tale that ends happily ever after for the prince and princess.

This tale even entertained us as adults as the smash hit Broadway play, "Once Upon A Mattress," during the 1960s with Carol Burnett playing the lead part of the sleep-deprived princess.

The fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen have become so popular that they have entered our lexicon as idioms. The phrases 'the ugly ducking' and 'the emperor's new clothes' add a metaphorical meaning when used and come from Andersen's beloved tales. Andersen's fairy tales became so popular and beloved in Denmark, Scandinavia and throughout Europe that he was feted by Danish and European royalty.

I grew up listening and reading the tales of Andersen and they have remained beloved to me all these years.


Submit a Comment
  • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

    Suzette Walker 

    6 years ago from Taos, NM

    Nell Rose: Thanks for reading this one Nell. I can appreciate your enthusiasm.

  • Nell Rose profile image

    Nell Rose 

    6 years ago from England

    Hi Suzette, I love him too! I remember watching all the films when I was little, and at Christmas my mum would buy me a book full of the stories, it was magical! great hub!

  • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

    Suzette Walker 

    7 years ago from Taos, NM

    vox: That's right, you are living in the fairy tale land of them all! These bring back memories of childhood - I hope good ones. Thanks for reading and enjoy Germany and all those castles, fortresses, and walled medieval towns. I have pleasant memories of all those things.

  • vox vocis profile image


    7 years ago

    I've always loved fairy tales, too. I remember reading the Grimm's and Andersen's works over and over again when I was a child. I still read them sometimes. Like you said, old German houses, fortressess and castles really do remind us of the Brother Grimm fairy tales.

  • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

    Suzette Walker 

    7 years ago from Taos, NM

    Hi dreamseeker2: I am so glad you enjoyed reading this. Fairytales are interesting at any age in life. Andersen's tales were always so sweet and interesting. Glad it brought back good childhood memories. Thanks for visiting - most appreciated!

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    I love that you captured each story he wrote with a summary. I recall 'The Ugly Duckling' and 'The Princess and the Pea' most. Thanks for sharing such a delightful hub and biography of a great writer who has survived the centuries through tales of childhood magic and lessons. Voted up and awesome! : )

  • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

    Suzette Walker 

    7 years ago from Taos, NM

    Hi Docmo: The Brothers Grimm were too scary for me and I tended to gravitate to Hans Christian Andersen when I was small. Grimm's fairy tales certainly could be like horror stories - you are so right. I was always one for fairy tales, I still like to read them to this day. Thanks so much for your insightful and interesting comments. I appreciate the visit!

  • Docmo profile image

    Mohan Kumar 

    7 years ago from UK

    These archetypal stories brought to life by the genius of Hans Christian Andersen are so unforgettable. I love the way the originals get reinterpreted and redrawn for various audiences and still never lose the heart fo the tale. I remember reading the original brothers Grimm tales and found how dark, thrilling and Gothic they were on par with modern horror writers. I am sure both Grimm brothers and andersen sources their materials from old wives tales and word of mouth mythology... this is the true spirit of a creative mind: wonder and wander, link and leap, mix and match, synthesise and summarise, experience and empathise. These are my mantra too. And can I see they are yours , Suzette.

  • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

    Suzette Walker 

    7 years ago from Taos, NM

    Well, you are pretty close to being an expert, mckbirdbks. Those are indeed Dulac illustrations - good call! I think they are beautiful illustrations and so classy, so I included them. I'm glad you enjoyed them and recognized them! Thanks so much for your visit.

  • mckbirdbks profile image


    7 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

    I am no expert, but those look like Dulac illustrations, very nice accents to your stellar presentation.

  • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

    Suzette Walker 

    7 years ago from Taos, NM

    Oh yes, MHatter, I wrote this one just for you. I just love the Princess and the Pea! Glad to hear you do too. I grew up on HansChristian Andersen. Glad you enjoyed this.

  • Mhatter99 profile image

    Martin Kloess 

    7 years ago from San Francisco

    Oh, you wrote this just for me. Thank you. Hans Christian favorite storytellers. It has something to do with The Princess and the Pea.

  • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

    Suzette Walker 

    7 years ago from Taos, NM

    robie2: You must be Danish! I love Denmark and the Danish people are so friendly. I'm so glad I was able to get there - I even got to the countryside of Denmark which is beautiful. I love Tivoli Gardens and I agree with you. Glad you enjoyed this and like this hub. Thank you!

  • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

    Suzette Walker 

    7 years ago from Taos, NM

    Glimmer Twin Fan: Thank goodness my dad read to my sister and I. We learned to love reading because of that early interest and it was great role-modeling. So glad you enjoyed reading this and your library sounds great with the leather bound books. Thanks for the visit and I'm glad you enjoyed this piece.

  • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

    Suzette Walker 

    7 years ago from Taos, NM

    Eiddwen: You are one I thought for sure would love fairy tales. I bet you have read then to your granchildren. (Although you don't look old enough to have grandchildren) Thanks so much for your visit - it always brightens my day!

  • robie2 profile image

    Roberta Kyle 

    7 years ago from Central New Jersey

    what a delightful hub-- I too love Hans Christian Andersen-- in fact I love Danes and Danish culture in general. You really have to love a nation whose national hero is a writer of children's stories and whose capital city's main attraction is an amusement park ( Tivoli Gardens). Danes rock and so does this hub:-)

  • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

    Claudia Mitchell 

    7 years ago

    This is an awesome hub! I have a number of worn old books on my shelves of fairy tales and legends. I wish my daughter enjoyed them more as they are such wonderful stories. Love the image of you father reading to you. I loved it when my father read to me too.

  • Eiddwen profile image


    7 years ago from Wales

    So truly enchanting ;you are a talented writer and I save this as one of my favourites.

    Great work and enjoy your day.


  • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

    Suzette Walker 

    7 years ago from Taos, NM

    carol: Yes, an escape to fantasy land is always good from time to time. I am so glad you enjoyed reading this and thanks for the votes.

  • carol7777 profile image

    carol stanley 

    7 years ago from Arizona

    I loved fairy tales when I was young and read them over and over again. This brought back many wonderful memories. You wrote it well and I will bookmark this for when I want to head to fantasy land. Voted UP.++

  • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

    Suzette Walker 

    7 years ago from Taos, NM

    Bill: Your comment makes me laugh! I'm glad you can relate to this! Thanks for reading this and I hope it brought back good childhood memories. Story - time with my Dad was always a favorite time for my sister and I.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    7 years ago from Olympia, WA

    Now this I can relate to; no more Bronte, and hello Hans Christian! LOL Wonderful profile of one of my favorites. Great job Suzette....and yes, Danny Kaye was in one of those movies...I remember seeing it.

  • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

    Suzette Walker 

    7 years ago from Taos, NM

    OMG, Epi, I am sitting here with a cup of coffee and some baroque music playing here in Ohio. Wow! That is telepathic or something. Good karma anyway. Thanks so much for reading this and I'm glad it reminded you of your childhood. Yes, Danny Kaye may have done one of his movies about a Andersen fairy tale. I do remember him for sure doing a James Thurber short story as a movie - I can't remember the name of it now, the story or the movie. It was funny though. All I can remember now is tapokata, tapokata. I'm having a senior moment! LOL I have digressed here. I'm so glad you enjoyed reading this, Epi and now I must get to some of your poems!

  • epigramman profile image


    7 years ago

    I really loved how you supplied us with a synopsis in describing some of Hans' stories ....and once again you have taken me on a world class journey and in a very personal way too you have taken me back to my childhood - I remember a movie when I was a kid with Danny Kaye - is that right? And I am still remembering it now because your own wonderful zest for life and your artful presence here as a true blue Hub superstar in epi's humble book - sending you warm wishes from a cold lake courtesy of fall like temperatures and the furnace coming on now - with a cup of coffee and some nice Baroque music at 9:51 am lake erie time

  • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

    Suzette Walker 

    7 years ago from Taos, NM

    Alastar: Yes, he was from Odense. I have been to Denmark but not the city of his birthplace. Yes, the Little Mermaid is so sweet, little and precious. And I have been to all those other places you mention. I loved Legoland and believe it or not, I did some PR work involving Legoland and the Ronald Mc Donald House in Cleveland, OH. (That was during another life - LOL) I have been to Denmark several times and I never miss Tivioli Gardens, Danish pastries or the castles! I love Copenhagen and walking quaint streets. I'm so glad you read this and you have brought back such fun memories for us both! Glad you enjoyed this piece.

  • Alastar Packer profile image

    Alastar Packer 

    7 years ago from North Carolina

    Aw suzette it was delightful reading up on Hans fairy tales, thank you. You know I spent some time in Denmark and saw the Little Mermaid too( shes rather small but precious, isn't she.) and watched an archaeological dig in Odense I believe was in the village he was from. Anyway- how about Legoland! Tivioli Gardens! Castles! The people are wonderful and made many new friends on that trip. We'll have to compare notes sometime on our visits!

  • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

    Suzette Walker 

    7 years ago from Taos, NM

    unknown spy: I love them too and still do! I'm never too old for a good fairy tale. LOL Thanks for stopping by to read this.

  • unknown spy profile image

    Life Under Construction 

    7 years ago from Neverland

    Yay! I also love Hans Anderson fairy tales..until now!


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