Remember that bedtime story about the ugly duckling who became a swan? The image of a princess sleeping on a ton of mattresses... and a pea? The Fairy Tale
about a mermaid who sold her voice to a sorceress to try to win the love of a human prince? Meet the Danish author of all the saddest and sweetest of the fairy tales we all grew up with, tales seen referenced in pop culture so frequently that most people have no idea they were written by the same author.
Born on April 2, 1805 (which is now "National Children's Book Day"), Hans Christian Andersen
(abbreviated H. C. Andersen in Denmark) grew up to become to fairy tales what Shakespeare
became to drama. His works range from the simple to the epic, are full of complex but meaningful symbolism, and span the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism
. Among his most well known fairy tales today are:
The most familiar version of "The Little Mermaid" in the western world is probably Disney's, which deviates strongly from the original: Hans Christian's protagonist has No Name Given
, no bikini top made from seashells, and no Non Human Sidekicks
, but does have a grandmother, and wants to marry the prince for "an immortal soul" (yes, in the Christian sense) as much as for romantic love. Not to mention the minor fact that said prince marries another girl, meaning she'll die unless she stabs him, which she doesn't. And then there's a bit of disconnected Deus ex Machina Aesoptinum Mood Whiplash
, but we don't talk about that
Interestingly, Oscar Wilde
still thought the story too upbeat and penned an even darker version, "The Fisherman and His Soul" as a reaction. In this charming tale a human must sell his immortal soul
in order to marry a mermaid.
Other works have come through the adaptation process about as reasonably intact as can be expected. "The Snow Queen", basically an epic Gender Flipped Rescue Romance
heavy on the symbolism, has been turned into a science-fiction novel, an animated movie, and an anime by NHK, Cardcaptor Sakura's
network.The Other Wiki
says he was also quite possibly bisexual, so that's fun too. It's also noted that Andersen himself, his eccentric behavior and arrogance usually led to him getting kicked out by the various nobles who housed him.
Andersen's works provide examples of:
- An Aesop
- And I Must Scream: "The Girl Who Trod on the Loaf", in which the cruel, vain protagonist becomes a statue in Hell, able to hear everything said about her on Earth, almost all of which is nasty until an angel begins to cry for her and sets her soul free.
- Animate Inanimate Object: The shoes in "The Red Shoes".
- Be Careful What You Wish For: In his story, "The Galoshes of Fortune", the eponymous shoes grant the wishes of whoever is wearing them. This usually ends badly, as the characters are unaware of their power.
- Break the Haughty: "The Wicked Prince", so very much. Also "The Girl Who Trod on the Loaf".
- Come Back My Pet: In "The Nightingale", the Emperor of China tames a nightingale, but neglects it in favor of a clockwork bird. When Death comes for the Emperor, it is the live Nightingale who charms the Grim Reaper with his sweet song.
- Creator Breakdown: Rumors abound that several of Andersen's works are a result of dealing with his own romantic and sexual issues. The Nightingale was allegedly a tribute to a singer known as "The Swedish Nightingale", Jenny Lind, who did not reciprocate Andersen's romantic feelings. "The Little Mermaid" was a similar case, of Andersen dealing with 'losing' a close friend (one he had feelings for) to marriage.
- Deal with the Devil: "The Little Mermaid": For an ordeal seeking the mere chance at gaining a soul, she gives up her centuries-long lifespan and her voice, while gaining human legs with extraordinary grace, but feel like she's walking on knives. If she marries the prince, she'll gain a soul, but if he marries someone else, she'll die permanently.
- For extra fun, her feet also visibly bleed when she dances. Every time she dances.
- And she dances so beautifully that everybody asks her to, all the time, including at the engagement party.
- Died Happily Ever After:
- One of the endings to "The Little Mermaid" is like this. When she refuses to kill the prince to regain her life as a mermaid, she instead becomes a spirit of the air, watching over children and waiting to gain a soul and go to heaven. Well, at least it's better than the "she becomes sea-foam, eternally kissing the hull of the prince's ship" ending. (Though she technically isn't dead when that happens; if she was, she would cease to exist, as the whole point of the story is her chance at getting an immortal soul.)
- Dying horribly (which appears to be intended as happily) and going to Heaven seems to be Andersen's idea of the ultimate Happy Ending.
- Averted, however in "The Nightingale", which has a regular Happy Ending: the protagonist, thought to be already dead by everyone, survives after all.
- Disneyfication: A lot of his works has been adapted into animated features for kids, most of them naturally being done by Disney. "Thumbelina" also fell into this, despite being done by Don Bluth.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Frequently.
- "The Girl Who Trod on the Loaf". Not wanting to visit your family because you're ashamed of how poor they are, and using the loaf you're supposed to give them as a stepping-stone to stop your shoes getting muddy? Kind of a Jerk Ass move. Worth going to hell for?
- She did also have a habit of torturing animals for fun.
- "The Storks". A young boy leads several other boys into singing a song that taunts a family of storks. As revenge, the storks refuse to bring any of the boys baby brothers or sisters... except for the boy who led the song. The storks bring him a dead baby brother.
- "In the Duck Yard". An injured songbird is resting in a duck yard, where a proud and haughty Portuguese duck resides. The songbird makes the mistake of comparing the Portuguese to a cat, so the duck decapitates the songbird.
- Endless Winter: The fairytale The Snow Queen's titular character is the "queen of snowflakes." She curses the protaganist's hometown to an endless winter.
- The Fair Folk: The Snow Queen and the Ice Maiden, among many others.
- Fairy Tale
- Fashion Hurts: The Little Mermaid wears uncomfortable oysters on her tail.
- Foot Focus: A lot of the heroines suffer from pain or desires that happen to be foot related.
- Forbidden Fruit: The fairy in "The Garden of Paradise".
- Gayngst: Andersen wrote "The Little Mermaid" after a male friend with whom he was in love got married.
- Gossip Evolution: "It's Perfectly True".
- Grim Reaper: Appears in "The Nightingale".
- Happily Ever After
- An Ice Person: The Snow Queen, The Ice Maiden.
- Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Eliza in "The Wild Swans" turned cursed toads into red poppies.
- Irony: In "Red Shoes", all the protagonist wanted to do was dance. This was literally all she could do.
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Aphtanides in "The Shepherd's Story of the Bond of Friendship".
- Kick the Dog: Inge, "The Girl Who Trod on the Loaf", is first introduced as a child tormenting insects.
- The Messiah: The daughter in "The Philosopher's Stone"; Gerda in "The Snow Queen".
- Nameless Narrative: Used in several of his stories.
- Living Shadow: "The Shadow", appropriately enough. It had a Downer Ending, too.
- Mouse World: "Thumbelina".
- Multiple Demographic Appeal: Had Andersen been a TV writer, he would most likely not have gotten along well with Media Watchdogs. As Wikipedia puts it, "The overall character of Andersen's stories is dark, sometimes even cruel, and redemption often comes at a high price. It is therefore a mistake — as it is with most literature for children — to think of his work as innocent."
- Na´ve Everygirl: "The Little Match Girl".
- The Power of Love
- Pragmatic Adaptation
- Rage Against the Heavens: "The Wicked Prince".
- Rip Van Winkle (without the snapback): The end of "The Marsh King's Daughter".
- Secret Test of Character: It's implied that the only reason that the little mermaid does not dissolve into sea-foam at the end is that she refused to kill the prince. Killing him would have lost her her chance at an immortal soul forever.
- Scare 'Em Straight: Present in many of his works.
- Schr÷dinger's Cat: The eponymous protagonist in Disney's version of "The Little Mermaid".
- The Thing That Would Not Leave: Andersen himself, mooching off Charles Dickens for over a month. Reportedly, Andersen was a pain in the ass guest and always complained the tea was too cold. 'Tis said Dickens created Uriah Heep from his experience with Andersen.
- Too Good for This Sinful Earth: "The Little Match Girl", "The Little Mermaid".
- Wolverine Publicity: Andersen is probably the most well-known author of fairy tales, but only a few of his stories are actually well-known themselves.