A to Z: Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales

Throughout April, I’ll be tackling 26 A to Z topics related to children’s literature. Yesterday I wrote about the Brothers Grimm and the treasure trove of their complete works. Today let’s look at another fairy tale writer: Hans Christian Andersen. (Hopefully you’ll forgive me for alphabetizing by his first name for today’s H theme instead of writing about him on April 1 for the A theme.)


One of my favorite songs to sing in the shower is “Part of Your World.”

Of the hundreds of songs Disney has recorded for its animated features, Ariel’s is my favorite. (Although “Be a Man” from “Mulan” takes a close second place.)

Without Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” I wouldn’t have this shower tune to assault my family’s with. But without Hans Christian Andersen, there would be no “Little Mermaid.”

So if my family wants to blame someone for the ear-splitting renditions, they can blame him.

Hans Christian Andersen

Hans Christian Andersen

This month is an especially appropriate time to acknowledge Hans Christian Andersen. April 2 is his birthday, and that date is also designated as World Children’s Book Day.

Yesterday I mentioned the Brothers Grimm collected folk tales and compiled them in volumes. Hans Christian Andersen took fairy tales one step further by writing new, updated versions of them.

One example is Andersen’s story “The Tinderbox.” The story tells of a soldier who encounters a witch on a road and retrieves an object that grants him three wishes. His tales is based on the folk tale “The Blue Light” (which, incidentally, is included in the Grimm collection I bought at Barnes & Noble). Another folk tale, “The Riddle,” inspired Andersen’s story “The Travelling Companion.”

While the original folk tales were relatively bare bones — they tended to be plot-driven, without much description, background, or character development. Andersen fleshed out the tales, adding paragraphs of description, dialogue, extra backstory, and a few plot variations.

But Andersen took a step beyond updating folk tales. He began writing original fairy tales of his own invention, such as “The Little Mermaid,” “The Ugly Duckling,” “Thumbelina,” “The Nightingale,” and “The Snow Queen.”

His original fairy tales were received better than his updated folk tales, and they became favorites among children as well as adults. Andersen succeeded in writing for a dual audience with his children’s literature, appealing to parents who read the stories aloud to their children in addition to the children themselves. (I’ll be writing more about the dual audience in a guest post over at Scifi and Scary‘s Kids’ Corner in May.)

More Than A Writer

Hans Christian Andersen wasn’t just a talented storyteller; he was an artist as well.

The Hans Christian Andersen Museum shares collections of his artwork online. He created paper cuttings, drawings, and collages among others. Below are examples of his paper cuttings.

HCAcut1 HCAcut2 HCAcut3 HCAcut4

FutureLearn, a free online learning community, has an excellent self-guided class about Andersen’s fairy tales for those who are interested in learning more about folk tales and fairy tales as genres, as well as reading and comparing folk tales to Andersen’s updated fairy tales. The course is where the majority of the information shared in this post comes from. To check it out, click here.

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One Response to A to Z: Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales

  1. schmelzb says:

    I am delighted that you mentioned the difference between collected and recorded tales and those written by Grimm Brothers. Bothered by the Disney-ification of so many folk and fairy tales, I started collecting various versions for my school library over my 15 years as a school librarian in Maryland. The author’s note in Rafe Martin’s “The Rough-Faced Girl” reminds us that there are over 1500 versions of “Cinderella” throughout the world! The variations on “Little Red Riding Hood,” “the Three Little Pigs,” and The Three Billy Goats Gruff” among others fascinate adults and children alike. While researching Mermaid stories, I read a bio of Andersen. He was not the man we saw in the Danny Kaye movie. Very strange indeed. Many teacher who instruct students about folk and fairy tales do not distinguish for the readers the difference between the collectors and the original writers of the tales.
    If you are looking for a “P” for your “A to A” consider paper-cutting. Hope you know David Wisniewski’s work. Sorry to say he is no longer with us.
    Thanks again for enlightening readers about Fairy and Folktales!

    Like

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