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April in History: Birthday of Hans Christian Andersen

By Edited May 12, 2016 0 0

H.C. Andersen Photo
Credit: http://museum.odense.dk/viden-om/hc-andersen/publikationer/jeg-sad-i-dag-for-photographen

Hans Christian Andersen was one of the greatest authors of children's fairy tales in history; 168 of them to be exact. His stories and fairy tales have delighted young and old since he published his first stories in 1835.

Life & Works

H.C. Andersen, as he is often referred to in Scandinavia, was born on April 2, 1805 in Odense, Denmark. Andersen's father had received only and elementary education and his mother was uneducated; however, his father introduced literature to Andersen by reading him stories from Arabian Nights.

When young, Andersen was sent to a school for poor children where he received a basic education. Being required to support himself, Andersen first took work as a weaver's apprentice and, later, as an apprentice to local tailor. When Andersen turned 14, he moved to  Copenhagen to find a job as an actor. He was found to have a superb soprano voice and was accepted into the Royal Danish Theatre, but his voice soon changed. Andersen then decided to focus his attention on writing, despite suffering from dyslexia. The director of the Royal Danish Theatre, Jonas Collin, was quite fond of the boy, and decided to send Andersen to grammar school in Slagelse. Mr. Collin successfully convinced King Frederick VI to pay for part of Andersen's education. By the year 1822, Andersen had already published his first story, The Ghost at Palnatoke's Grave. Anderson also attended school at Elsinore until 1827.

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Andersen enjoyed considerable success with a short story published in 1829 titled A Journey on Foot from Folmen's Canal to the East Point of Amager. In the story, the main character meets a variety of characters including a talking cat and St. Peter. During the same season, he also published a theatrical piece, titled Love on St. Nicholas Church Tower, and a volume of poetry.

In 1833, Andersen received a travelling grant from King Frederick which allowed him to journey throughout Europe. In October 1834, Andersen's travels brought him to Rome. His travels through Italy are reflected in Andersen's first novel; an autobiography titled The Improvisatore. The novel was published in 1835 and received instant acclaim.

Andersen began writing fairy tales based on stories he had heard as a child. He wrote a vast number of fairy tales that were both original and bold, bringing the genre to new heights. He published the first two installments of his beloved Fairy Tales in 1835. Additional stories were published in 1837, completing the first volume. The collection consisted of nine classic fairy tales, including The Princess and the Pea, The Tinderbox, The Little Mermaid, the Emperor's New Clothes, Thumbelina, and Tom Thumb. At the time, the stories sold poorly, and their quality was not immediately recognized.

The Little Mermaid Statue

Despite the early struggles of his fairy tales, his two novels that were published during the same period were more successful: O.T. and Only a Fiddler. Andersen also wrote the poem  Jeg er en Skandinav ("I am a Scandinavian") in 1837 to describe the beauty of the Nordic spirit and express the unity of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.

Andersen returned to writing fairy tales in 1838 and published another collection of stories, Fairy Tales Told for Children.

It was in 1845 when Andersen's fairy tales experienced a breakthrough: four different translations of his tales were published. The Little Mermaid appeared in Bentley's Miscellany which was followed by a second volume, Wonderful Stories for Children. Also, the books A Danish Story Book and Danish Fairy Tales were enthusiastically received by the public and received positive reviews in the London-based publication The Athenæum.

Andersen traveled extensively, and was also renowned for his vibrantly detailed travelogues.

Andersen died on August 4, 1875 in the home of his close friends near Copenhagen. Shortly before he died, Andersen met with a composer regarding the music for his funeral. Always thinking of children, Andersen told the composer, "Most of the people who will walk after me will be children, so make the beat keep time with little steps."

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Each year, the International Board on Books for Young People gives the "Hans Christian Andersen Award" to an author and an illustrator who have contributed to children's literature.

Andersen's stories inspired classics like Wind in the Willows, and Winnie the Pooh. Even authors like Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland) and Beatrix Potter (Peter Rabbit) were greatly inspired by the works of H.C. Andersen.

The Princess and the Pea

Statues of Andersen can be found in many U.S. parks, including Central Park in New York City and Lincoln Park in Chicago. Even theme parks based on Andersen's stories have been opened in Shanghai, China and Funabashi, Japan. 

Some of our favorite Disney movies are based on even H.C. Andersen stories: The Little Mermaid, part of Fantasia 2000, and Frozen (based on the story, The Snow Queen).

Hans Christian Andersen is one of the greatest children's authors to have lived, and his stories have left a lasting impression on innumerable children. As you think back to the favorite fairy tales of your childhood, take time to honor H.C. Andersen and share your favorite story with a child.



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