Hans Christian Andersen – the ugly duckling

On my current trip through Denmark I visited Odense – Denmark`s third largest city and also the birth town of Hans Christian Andersen. Or H.C. Andersen, as he is known as in Denmark.

Hans Christian Andersen

Hans Christian Andersen

You may not immediately know who Hans Christian Andersen is, but I`m sure it`ll ring a few bells if I mention The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling, The Little Match Girl, The Princess on the Pea and The Emperor`s New Clothes. These are just a few of the huge amount of fairy tales Hans Christian Andersen wrote.

Here is a full list of all of Hans Christian Andersen`s fairly tales. 

Poor background

The city of Odense has made a museum for Hans Christian Andersen, using his childhood home as part of that museum. If you ever go to Odense, I can really recommend that you visit this museum. It tells the amazing tale of Hans Christian Andersen`s life and that life will take your breath away. The beginning of his life is sad like The Ugly Duckling but the in the end he was acknowledged like the swan who grew up in the duck`s nest.

Hans Christian Andersen`s childhood home in Odense, Denmark

Hans Christian Andersen`s childhood home in Odense, Denmark

 

Today Hans Christian Andersen`s childhood home looks cozy and charming but when he grew up there, his family was only one of five families residing in this house situated in the poor part of town – a part of town where 30 percent of all the children were born out of wedlock; a huge sin back then. The house had dirt floors and Hans Christian Andersen`s family had just one room in the house.

Hans Christian Andersen`s parents were married but his mother was an illegitimate child and she had a daughter out of wedlock when she married Hans Andersen, Hans Christian Andersen`s father. Hans Andersen was a poor shoemaker who gave up his trade to become a soldier. Unfortunately soldiering ruined his health and he died fairly young. Hans Christian Andersen`s mother was a washer woman, taking clothes from the rich people of Odense down to the stream to wash them. At some point her life became to harsh for her and she turned to alcohol.

Widow next door

Hans Christian Andersen`s life could have turned as ugly as the life of most of the children he grew up with if it hadn`t been for his neighbor, the widow Mrs. Bunkeflod. She was not a rich woman but she was learned and had been married to a priest and poet. Therefor she had a small library in her house and she invited the young Hans Christian into her home to read. He soon spent most of his days in her library, reading everything he could, and he was also invited into intellectual discussions with the widow and her sister-in-law.

Rich citizens of Odense saw Hans Christian`s talent and paid for his education which took him away from his childhood city, but he never forgot Mrs. Bunkeflod. His very first fairy tale was dedicated to this widow who was so valuable to his finding his way to becoming a famous fairy tale author.

Hans Christian Andersen`s house seen from the other direction

Ugly duckling

Hans Christian Andersen wasn`t just born into a duck`s nest, he was also physically an ugly duckling. Letters written by people who`d met him usually mentioned his physical appearance and it was only people who really knew him, who talked about his appearance in nice terms. Most people mentioned how extraordinarily tall he was – he was 185 centimeters tall, which was around 20 centimeters taller than his contemporary men (and about average of Danish men of today) – how thin he was, his huge nose and his strange facial features.

Apparently he was very vain and when he started earning money from his fairy tales, he spent quite a bit on clothes and hats. He was sometimes referred to as a dandy.

Hans Christian Andersen, the dandy

Hans Christian Andersen, the dandy

 

His fairy tales

Hans Christian Andersen wrote a ton of fairy tales and so many of them have received international fame. His fairy tales are extraordinary because they can be read by a child (or to a child) and the child will immediately fall in love with the tale because of the drama or the characters. But when you read his fairy tales as an adult – and I would recommend that you do just that if you haven`t already – his fairy tales offer a rather complicated moral which shows how Hans Christian Andersen looked at the world and the people he met.

It`s been discussed if Hans Christian Andersen`s father was really the king of Denmark because of the fairy tale The Ugly Duckling. Was Hans Christian Andersen truly a swan (a prince of sorts) that grew up in the duck`s nest? It`s a huge discussion but I must admit that I don`t like it much. It`s as if some people can`t fathom that the son of a poor shoemaker and an alcoholic washer woman can have talent – he must be the son of the king. I say that talent can grow anywhere, especially if you have a neighbor like Mrs. Bunkeflod.

Hans Christian Andersen`s fairy tales. How many do you recognize?

Hans Christian Andersen`s fairy tales. How many do you recognize?

 

Disney ruined The Little Mermaid

One of the things I`m truly angry about is how Disney ruined The Little Mermaid. Hans Christian Andersen was very careful about the moral in his stories and in this story the moral (in my very simplified interpretation – there is much more depth to the tale than this) is how you should never change to be attractive to another person. That doesn`t fit with the story of The Little Mermaid, you say? No, it doesn`t fit with Disney`s version of The Little Mermaid because in that version The Little Mermaid gets her prince after having suffered and gone through a lot.

This was most certainly not the way the original story ended. In Hans Christian Andersen`s The Little Mermaid, the mermaid never managed to attract the prince. She was mute since the Sea Witch`s price for giving the mermaid legs was her voice. And without her voice she could never talk to the prince. He acknowledged how beautiful and devoted she was but since he never got to know her as a person, he never fell in love with her. Unfortunately for the mermaid, the prince ended up marrying someone else and the little mermaid died. Or “became foam on the water” as Hans Christian Andersen calls it.

Here you can read the original non-Disney version. Read it to your kids!

The Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen

Wikipedia about Hans Christian Andersen

Which Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale is your favorite?

 

 

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7 responses to “Hans Christian Andersen – the ugly duckling

  • fffbone

    LOL Nick Cage kinda looks like him http://cdn.evilbeetgossip.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/nicolas_cage.jpg
    I know Danny Kaye has played him in movies. Anyway, I thought in the Little Mermaid she kills herself at the end.

  • thyra10

    LOL. Maybe Nick Cage will run around and sing “I`m Hans Christian Andersen” in the next movie 🙂

    She could have lived if she`d killed the prince but she chose not to and thus killed herself/died/was killed because she didn`t meet her part of the deal. I do like the whole “foam on the water” bit. It`s very fairytalish because it means she`s dead and yet not really – she does caress the prince as foam on the water.

  • fffbone

    I admit I haven’t read the whole real story. Funny it was on tv recently. In the movie it was a play. Anyway I like the sea foam ending.

    • thyra10

      I do too. And I like the fact that the mermaid`s chances of having her prince was just as big if she`d stayed a mermaid. At least, the prince remembered her for having saved his life.
      There are alternative interpretations, though. Some would say the story is about not wanting someone you can`t have. Some would say it`s about being happy where you are. And some would say that it`s about women being silly when in love 😉
      But I like my interpretation: don`t change who you are because you think you will have a bigger chance at getting the one you love. You will have to sacrifice something and that something my just be the thing that he might love about you.

  • kainzow06

    A very interesting article.
    I knew briefly what his life was about but ignored his mother’s illegitimacy and alcoholism. I also like your opinion about Disney’s rendition of ‘The Little Mermaid’,which was as bad as that of ‘Peter Pan’.In its attempt to alter fairy tales for the sake of better endings,Disney inextricably leaves out the morals and the pathos evoked by the authors.Consequently,the movies are not half as beautiful as the books.

    As I said above,it is a really good article,and I read it with great pleasure. I love Christian Andersen,and I’m happy to see that he holds the interests of others as well.

    • thyra10

      Thank you!

      It certainly was quite the sad childhood for Hans Christian Andersen. Amazing how he still managed to rise to fame and fortune. On Friday I followed a guided tour through Copenhagen to see where another famous Danish author, Søren Kierkegaard, lived. His life was almost the opposite: Born to wealth and could spend ages just reading and writing. The interesting thing is that neither of these two authors ever married or had children. Apparently their art consumed them completely.

      If you ever go to Denmark, then please visit the Hans Christian Andersen house. They`ve done a great job at showing us his life and his art.

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