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Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales: Real people and places behind the best stories for children

Updated on April 2, 2015

Hans Christian Andersen Stories

Collection of fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen is not only one of favorite books for children. It is one of the most influential books in children literature of all times. It is actually so important all today's top writers for children are still inspired by Andersen's style.

His most popular fairy tales like The Little Mermaid, Emperor's New Clothes, The Ugly Duckling, Steadfast Tin Soldier, Thumbelina, Princess and the Pea, The Little Match Girl, Snow Queen and others are classics almost every child is familiar with.

When I was studying the personal life of Hans Christian Andersen, I found many fascinating facts behind most of his stories.

(Intro image: cover of Andersen's Stories for the Household illustrated by Alfred Walter Bates, published in 1891, all images are public domain, more info at the end of the page)

Andersen's portrait by Thora Hallager, PD licence
Andersen's portrait by Thora Hallager, PD licence

Why I believe Andersen's collection is probably best book for kids ever?

Why I believe Andersen's collection is probably best book for kids ever?

Andersen's fairy tales are huge milestone because of author's approach. He wasn't interested to preserve cultural heritage like Grimms in their collection.

Hans Christian Andersen's writing skills were not sufficient to compete with best fiction writers of his time. He actually struggled with grammar rules through all his life.

But he had extremely vivid imagination and a gift of storytelling which he used to their full potential. This is the reason the collection of Andersen's stories stands out from all others books for children.

This is also the reason Hans Andersen is called the best fairy tale writer of all times.

Andersen initially wanted to become an actor, singer or dancer. When all his attempts failed, he became a playwright. Writing fairy tales for children was more coincidental than intentional. And yet they made him immortal.

Andersen wrote many stories:

Illustration by Alice Havers, PD licence
Illustration by Alice Havers, PD licence

Your favorite Andersen's fairy tale is:

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Complete fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen

The Complete Fairy Tales
The Complete Fairy Tales

Most of fairy tales written by H. C. Andersen became known to wider audience through amateurish translations from German and English language and majority of people outside of Denmark never experienced the richness of his language.

This problem persisted for more than a century and many countries got accurate translations of Andersen's fairy tales only in last decades when translators actually started their work with originals in Danish language.

So when you look for real Little Mermaid or Ugly Duckling, be skeptical, demand quality translation and you will be rewarded!

 

Ugly Duckling

Illustration Alfred Walter Bayes, PD licence
Illustration Alfred Walter Bayes, PD licence

The Ugly Duckling is the most famous Andersen's alter ego of all of his fairy tales. It is easy to recognize the author, who was very tall, ugly, with big feet and huge nose in an ugly duckling who falls into all kinds of troubles, but after series of misfortunes transforms into a beautiful swan.

Andersen's climbing up the social ladder is so similar to the story of Ugly Duckling he once answered the question if he will write an autobiography (before he died he wrote three) he already did with The Ugly Duckling.

Other characters and even places from the story about the unpopular kid who becomes a beautiful swan are based on real people and places too. Mother duck who is willing to wait until last egg is hatched and who never traveled far from her home is his mother Anne Marie.

Wild geese were two of Andersen's friends from the circle of poets (Carl Bagger and Fritz Petit) who accepted him as he was and encouraged him to enjoy life to its full potential. Other animals, especially the cat and the hen represented Andersen's complex relationship with the family Collin.

Researchers believe the turkey is H. C. Andersen's headmaster Simon Meisling who tried for four years to teach him grammar in Slagelse and gave him nightmares for the rest of his life.

The scenery in Ugly Duckling is taken from real places in Denmark. The lawn and the pond are copies of real pond and lawn in Bregentved, city near Copenhagen. Rural opening scene is a projection of life and relations in Odense and the ending resembles his success in Copenhagen.

An anecdote

When Hans Christian Oersted, great chemist and physicist saw his friend and namesake Andersen's fairy tales, he said: »If The Improvisatore made you famous, your fairy tales will make you immortal!«

Andersen answered: »How very typical. I will not enjoy the success in this world!«

Princess and The Pea

The Princess and the Pea was published in first book of Andersen's fairy tales in 1835 (titled: Tales, told for children) as one of only four fairy tales (Tinderbox, Little Claus and Big Claus and Little Ida's Flowers being other three). None of them was his original work, all were based on traditional folktales and all with his strong personal touch.

Tinderbox, for instance, was heavily influenced by Aladdin from Arabian Nights (or 1001 Nights, as the collection in some countries is titled), one of rare books in his poor home.

Princess and the Pea is probably based on Swedish (not Danish!) folktale Princess Who Lay on Seven Peas heard by Andersen in early childhood.

The plot in this tale is simple: prince wants to marry real princess and when he thinks he finally found one, his mother puts her on test. The test is similar in many versions and most of them have a helper (sometimes talking animal - think about Puss in Boots - and sometimes old woman - think about fairies) who tells the princess about the pea and suggests she lies about her sleep.

Andersen decided to write the story without the helper and his princess really feels the pea through all the mattresses. Her sensitivity is actually manifestation of her sensibility, characteristic of ladies and especially ladies of noble origin. We already know Andersen was very fond of aristocrats and he probably believed his sensitive nature classify him among nobility but on the other hand he constantly felt he was on the test.

Born storyteller

He could talk for hours, he performed the dialogues with different voices, he even added sound effects, but he was actually pretty lazy writer.

Thumbelina

The Thumbelina (sometimes translated as Little Tiny) is one more Andersen's fairy tale based on classic fairy tales like Tom Thumb but with a lot of autobiographical features. It is not hard to identify his own personal and professional path in Thumbelina's fantastic voyage with all sorts of helpers and 'helpers'.

I personally find mostly interesting the part of the story where Thumbelina meets the mouse. Yes, she can stay with the mouse, yes, she will survive the cold winter. But she has to pay for that: with storytelling!

The Snow Queen

This fairy tale, made of seven parts, is one of Andersen's longest and best work. It is also one of less autobiographical but we can easily trace at least three real persons who inspired the characters in Snow Queen.

The title character is well known in folklore and similar to Mother Hulda (also known as Mother Holle) from Grimms' Fairy Tales or Father Frost from Russian Fairy Tales, but some people noticed similarities with Jenny Lind, The Swedish Nightingale. Andersen and Lind first met in 1843, about a year before The Snow Queen was published. He loved her and she ignored him.

One part of Snow Queen is also based on Andersen experience from childhood. In a winter when his father was dying, he had a vision of a lady coming to get him from outside and described her to little Hans.

Gerda, the real hero of the story, is another character inspired by real person: Gerda, daughter of Henriette and Edvard Collin (yes, he also attracted H. C. Andersen). The real Gerda died at age of four, just before Andersen wrote a Snow Queen. One of his letters clearly states he was thinking of her when he gave a name to Gerda in Snow Queen.

And there is an old lady, good granny who tells stories to Kai and Gerda, present in several Andersen's stories. She is probably a reminiscence of another important person in Andersen's childhood, his own Anne Catherine Andersen, his own grandmother.

The Little Mermaid

Her amazing voice can be explained as representation of his storytelling talents, her lost of voice his fear of losing it, her ability to dance his dancing aspirations (he auditioned for a place in dancing troupe), her wish to join the prince's world was actually his wish to be accepted by nobility...

As author himself stated The Little Mermaid was the only one of his fairy tales which makes him cry. And it certainly caused a huge response among other artists with numerous adaptations, with Oscar Wilde's Fisherman and His Soul being only one of them. Talking about Oscar Wilde: he also borrowed Andersen's swallow from Thumbelina for his masterpiece The Happy Prince.


Andersen also included in his story the dock next to his home, where he lived while writing this fairy tale.

Andersen lived in Copenhagen while writing Little Mermaid

Does knowing the background of Andersen's fairy tales can enrich your reading experience?

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    • EEWorkouts profile image

      EEWorkouts 4 years ago

      Great lens! I love his stories, makes me want to dig out my old copy, if I could only find it.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @EEWorkouts: His collection is real treasure.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 4 years ago

      Knowing more of his background really does. He had so many great stories.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 4 years ago

      Knowing more of his background really does. He had so many great stories.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @WriterJanis2: He was really special.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @WriterJanis2: More I know about Andersen, more layers of his fairy tales are showing up.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @PaigSr: My pleasure!

    • mamabrat lm profile image

      mamabrat lm 4 years ago

      Very Educational. Loved this Lens

    • profile image

      moonlitta 4 years ago

      An all-times favorite of mine, I never stop enjoying the stories.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      It always helps to learn more about the writer. Very nice lens.

    • junecampbell profile image

      June Campbell 4 years ago from North Vancouver, BC, Canada

      What a beautiful lens this is. YOu have chosen some wonderful images.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @mamabrat lm: Thank you:)

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @moonlitta: Andersen really created so many masterpieces.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anonymous: Thank you very much!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @junecampbell: Glad to hear that:)

    • profile image

      angharad 4 years ago

      Beautiful and fascinating lens!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @angharad: Thank you. Andersen was fascinating person and his works definitely reflects this fact.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I would be one of those who would love sitting for hours to hear Hans Christian Anderson tell his stories with all the color and life he brought to each character and life situation, what a wonderful thing to e made immortal be telling fairy tales to children. I love how you did in as you research and then bring it all to life with your own wonderful gifting!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anonymous: I am blushing...

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I return visit and to recommend.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anonymous: ...?

    • Tennyhawk profile image

      Tennyhawk 4 years ago

      Absolutely. The background information was very interesting to read.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Tennyhawk: Great to hear that.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Without a doubt! You have a great way of presentation and do a wonderful research with your works! Cheers... :)

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anonymous: You are too kind;)

    • Felicitas profile image

      Felicitas 4 years ago

      Yes, it does. You have a way of bringing back the magic that exists in all fairy tales. Thank you.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Felicitas: You are very kind:)

    • kabbalah lm profile image

      kabbalah lm 4 years ago

      It's been years since I've read him but I'm tempted to re-reads his tales. I remember liking the Ugly Duckling the best

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @kabbalah lm: It is not the best Andersen's tale in my opinion, but most popular for sure.

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      cmadden 4 years ago

      Oh, yes, learning how they were often reflections of his life was quite interesting.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @cmadden: This makes stories much more interesting, right?

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      Thanks you!

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 3 years ago

      Back to pin this.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      @WriterJanis2: Thank you very much!

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 3 years ago

      Just a note about how much the story has changed over time.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      @WriterJanis2: Time changes everything:)

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