Happy Birthday, Hans!

April 2, 2020 would have been the 215th birthday of Hans Christian Andersen. Born in 1805 in Odense, Funen, Denmark, Andersen was a playwright, composed travelogues, novels and poems. Of course he is best remembered for his fairy tales, my personal favorite being The Princess and the Pea.

There are many interesting facts about Andersen:

  • he wrote around 30 stories
  • his work has been translated into many languages
  • he thought he was related to nobility (but researchers say there isn’t any truth to this)
  • he was an only child
  • he was sent to a school for poor children
  • he didn’t like school
  • he became a weaver’s apprentice and then a tailor to support himself

When Andersen was 14 years old, he moved to Copenhagen and became an actor. As fate would have it, his voice changed and on the advice of a friend he decided to focus on writing instead.

Andersen was 30 years old when he wrote his fairy tales but wouldn’t see success until he was in his 40s. In 1847 Andersen met Charles Dickens at a party. Ten years later he visited Dickens at his family home in England. Sadly, Andersen over stayed his welcome and was asked to leave. This ended the friendship.

It is said that one of his greatest sources of inspiration were the legends, narratives and messages of love in the Bible. His personal life also played a part. Not considered handsome in his social circles, some suggest that the story of The Ugly Duckling was based on his own childhood experiences.

Over the years, Andersen’s work has been adapted into other formats such as musical scores and films. I’m sure we have all listened to or watched one of these versions. The Snow Queen, for example, was adapted by Disney and renamed Frozen. Although some of the content is different, it is filled with songs, jokes and the theme of love. Then there’s The Little Mermaid and Thumbelina that have been also adapted for the big screen. Oh, and let us not forget The Little Match Girl, which pulls at one’s heart strings for sure.

What’s also interesting is the fact that International Children’s Book Day is held each year on April 2nd in honour of Andersen’s birth. Many monuments and sculptures have been erected around the world to honour Andersen and his work. These include the Ugly Duckling in New York’s Central Park as well as statues of Andersen himself in the Rosenborg Castle Gardens, Copenhagen, a sculpture half submerged in water in Odense, Denmark, one in Solvang, California built by Danish immigrants, and Bratislava, Slovakia and Sydney, Australia.

What I found intriguing in my research is that Andersen is said to have influenced other beloved children’s authors such as Kenneth Grahame, A.A. Milne, Lewis Carroll and Beatrix Potter, particularly in their use of anthropomorphism (making animals speak or inanimate objects come to life).

What’s also thought-provoking is, if you take a closer look at Andersen’s stories, it appears that he continues to return to themes that explore personal truth and integrity to, or overcoming social norms and mores. Maybe this has helped them stand the test of time and attract generations of readers.

Personally, Hans Christian Andersen’s work brings back special childhood memories for me, eagerly waiting for the next story to be read to me at bedtime by my grandmother. I could go on forever about this but I’m sure you can look back and come up with your own memory and list of favourite bedtime stories.

— Teresa N-P