Author Spotlight: Hans Christian Andersen
Other than the Brothers Grimm, another name that pops up when fairytales are mentioned is Hans Christian Andersen. Although Andersen was also a playwright, novelist, and poet, he is best known for his fairy tales such as “The Little Mermaid,” “Thumbelina,” and “The Ugly Duckling.”
Born in Odense, Denmark, Andersen was first introduced to literature via The Arabian Nights. After his father’s death in 1816, her mother remarried two years later, and Andersen was sent to a local school for poor children. He received a basic education through which he supported himself by being an apprentice for a weaver and a tailor. At age 14, he moved to the capital city of Copenhagen, seeking to become an actor. He was accepted into the Royal Danish Theatre for his exceptional soprano voice, but as his voice started to change, he started shifting his focus to writing.
Andersen was later sent to grammar school by Jonas Collin, then the director of the Royal Danish Theatre. Collin even persuaded King Frederick VI to pay part of his education.
In 1822, Andersen published his first story, “The Ghost at Palnatoke’s Grave.” He then pursued poetry and short stories but eventually attempted to rewrite the stories he was told when he was a child. In 1835, he published the first two installments of Fairy Tales, written in Danish. The collection contained nine stories including “The Tinderbox,” “The Princess and the Pea,” “Thumbelina,” “The Little Mermaid,” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” However, these did not achieve as much success as his novels, O.T. and Only a Fiddler.
He returned to fairy tales in 1838, publishing Fairy Tales Told for Children: New Collection, First Booklet. This collection contained “The Daisy,” “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” and “The Wild Swans,” to name a few. In 1845, four of his fairy tales were translated, and “The Little Mermaid” appeared in a periodical called Bentley’s Miscellany. In 1846, his stories received rave reviews from the London journal The Athenaeum.
Andersen was very much revered internationally that he was paid an annual stipend by the Danish government for being a National Treasure. In 1872, Andersen fell out of bed and sustained injuries from which he never recovered. He died three years later near Copenhagen.
Many other authors of children’s books cited Andersen’s fairy tales as the foundation of their work. These include Kenneth Grahame, who wrote The Wind in The Willows; A. A. Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh; Lewis Carroll, who wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; and Beatrix Potter, who penned the Peter Rabbit series.
Andersen was lauded for his bold and unique stories, a rarity in a genre targeted toward children. The success of his stories is still obvious to this day. Disney Studios created animated versions of many of his tales including The Little Mermaid (1989) and The Ice Queen (as Frozen, 2013).
The Hans Christian Andersen Museum currently stands in Solvang, California. The institution aims to preserve and exhibit Andersen’s life and work. Some items on exhibit include models of Andersen’s childhood home, original volumes of his work, illustrated first editions, and letters to various people.
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