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Blog 02.29.2020

Children’s Classics: Fables By Hans Christian Andersen

(The Princess and the Pea illustration by Edmund Dulac)

(The Snow Queen illustration by Edmund Dulac)

Children’s Classic Fables by Hans Christian Andersen: More Relevant than Ever!

Hans Christian Andersen was a 19th-century Danish writer most well-known for his fairy tales. He is the author of beloved classics such as:

  • The Ugly Duckling (1843)
  • The Little Match Girl (1845)
  • The Emperor’s New Clothes (1837)
  • Thumbelina (1835)
  • The Little Mermaid (1837)
  • The Princess and the Pea (1835)
  • The Nightingale (1843)
  • The Snow Queen (1844)

(The Little Mermaid illustration by Edmund Dulac)

Symbolism and Deeper Meaning:

All fairy tales and fables have whimsical storylines that are both delightful and entertaining for children, but they have deeper meanings as well. They teach us important lessons about life and human nature.

  • For example, The Ugly Duckling deals with the matter of appearance and that age-old adage of not judging a book by its cover. The story of an odd-looking little duckling that is made fun of and made to feel like an outsider actually turns out to be a swan and not a duckling at all. What made the little duckling feel ugly and different was what also made him unique and beautiful.
  • The Little Match Girl is a story of a poor, young girl who must sell match sticks to support her family. She is very ill and, one winter night, dies and is carried off to Heaven by the spirit of her beloved grandmother. The little girl in the story sees beauty in the flames given off by the matches and, even though she is ill and down-trodden, is still able to recognize beauty and whimsy in the world. In the end, her soul is rewarded.
  • The Little Mermaid tells the tale of a mermaid who longs to live on land. She falls in love with a prince and, in the end, is able to live like a normal girl with two legs instead of a fin.
  • Thumbelina is about a girl the size of a thumb (most probably inspired by Tom Thumb—part of 17th century English folklore) who befriends small animals such as toads and mice and, one day, falls in love with a prince who is also very tiny in stature.
  • The Emperor’s New Clothes tells the story of a greedy and foolish emperor who believes two weavers when they tell him they’ll make him a new outfit but that it can only be seen by few people. In reality, the tailors don’t make any new clothes at all, and the emperor ends up walking around naked!
  • The Snow Queen is one of Andersen’s most popular as well as complex tales. It tells the story of a girl, Gerda, and her friend, Kai. The narrative deals very much with the nature of good and evil as well as the ability to see beauty in the world: an evil troll turns everything ugly with a magic mirror and, because of this, the only thing that Kai can see that is pleasant to look at are snowflakes. The Snow Queen kidnaps Kai, but he is soon reunited with Gerda and, because of her pure heart and a little help from a sorceress that lives in a garden of eternal summer, the children live happily ever after.
  • The Princess and the Pea tells the story of a prince looking for a princess to marry. He has trouble finding the most delicate, proper, enchanting woman in which to make his bride until, after a long search, he discovers a princess who is so gentle to the touch that she cannot sleep on a bed covered with mattresses because of a small pea at the bottom. He discovers that this princess is so dainty that a pea hurts her, and, because of this, she is the proper princess to marry.

(Thumbelina illustration by Eleanor Vere Boyle)

Why do these tales remain so beloved after all this time? They Grapple with Important Issues and Life Lessons.

  • Hans Christian Andersen’s writings deal a lot with outsiders and people who are different and unique. In his stories, this is seen as a positive trait and helps his characters to be rewarded in the end.
  • The stories also grapple with childlike innocence, beauty, and the ability to notice it everywhere.
  • Andersen’s characters always seem to go against the grain and defy the status quo.
  • These tales have been translated into hundreds of languages throughout the years, and have also been re-written many times and even adapted into films and videogames.


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