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 many 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 vs. Cynicism.
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 Disney film Frozen (2013) was originally meant to be an adaptation of "The Snow Queen", and even had it as its Working Title (and it's still titled that in some countries), but ended up developing into its own original story with very, very loose inspiration from the fairy tale (basically just the ice palace).
The Other Wiki says he was also 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.
Works by Hans Christian Andersen with their own pages include:
- "The Emperor's New Clothes"
- "The Girl Who Trod on the Loaf"
- "The Little Match Girl"
- "The Little Mermaid"
- "The Nightingale"
- "The Princess and the Pea"
- "The Red Shoes"
- "The Shadow"
- "The Snow Queen"
- "The Steadfast Tin Soldier"
- "The Tinder Box"
- "The Ugly Duckling"
Andersen's other works provide examples of:
- Accentuate the Negative:
- An important point in the tale "Something", where a caustic critic is "something" because he does that constantly.
- The Snail in "The Snail and the Rosebush".
- The Devil in "The Philosopher's Stone".
- An Aesop: Often a Space Whale Aesop as in "The Rose Elf" (don't kill your sister's beloved, or the spirits that live inside the blossoms will murder you in your sleep).
- 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.
- Beauty Equals Goodness: More than one of his characters ponder this, with truth as the third platonic entity in the mix. "The Philosopher's Stone" plays it straight.
- When companies adapt his works, most writers attempt to remove the Died Happily Ever After trope with varying results.
- The early English translations did their best to remove anything deemed inappropriate for children, such as Family-Unfriendly Death and violence in general, less than moral behavior by protagonists, adultery, and any appearances by the Devil (who in some cases was replaced by "a most wicked magician"). This, in combination with the generally poor quality of the translations, which were often based on German translations rather than the original Danish text, gave Andersen a reputation as harmless childrens' entertainment and nothing more in the Anglosphere until a long time into the 20th Century.
- Chariot Pulled by Cats: In his fairy tale "Ole-Luk-Oie", Hjalmar dreams that he rides in a boat pulled by swans.
- Cranky Neighbor: A mild variety, mostly on the subject of Denmark and Norway. Mostly in "The Rags", where the two nationalities lash out towards eachother, with an ironic twist. Also in "The Elf Mound", where the Norwegian Troll King is trying to get a bride from the more Danish fairy stock. She finds the Norwegian trolls rude.
- 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.
- Deliverance from Damnation: In "The Girl Who Trod on the Loaf", the eponymous girl Inge is ultimately saved from Hell thanks to the prayers of a virtuous woman (the only one who has pitied Inge since childhood).
- Died Happily Ever After: 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.
- Disobey This Message: The fairy in "The Garden of Paradise" tells the prince that she is bound to beckon to him and to say "Follow me". As she is a Forbidden Fruit, the prince needs to disobey that instruction.
- 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:
- "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.
- Engagement Challenge: The princess in "The Traveling Companion" requires all her suitors to answer three impossible questions (the protagonist gets "What am I thinking about right now?"). The penalty for getting even one question wrong is death.
- Evil vs. Evil: Describes the story and relationship between the titular characters in "Big Claus and Little Claus".
- Forbidden Fruit: The fairy in "The Garden of Paradise". Should she be kissed, the garden will be ruined.
- Gossip Evolution: "It's Perfectly True" shows how the true story evolves into so many different versions with every teller still insisting, it's perfectly true.
- Happiness Realized Too Late: "The Fir Tree" features a young fir tree wishing that it could be as big as the other fir trees of the forest, or at the very least be cut down to make something as valuable as a ship's mast. However, when it finds that other small fir trees are being cut down for Christmas, the little tree thinks being ornamented and treasured throughout the happiest time of the year sounds even better, and rejoices when it becomes a family's Christmas tree... only to end up being discarded in the attic at the end of the festivities, where it remains until spring arrives, whereupon it's unceremoniously dragged outside, sneered at, cut to pieces and burned. In the end, all the tree can do is look back on its earlier days and wish that it had enjoyed them when it had the chance.
- Hope Spot: Many tales come out as this. The small tale has a happy ending, but the big picture is always a different matter.
- An Ice Person: The Snow Queen, for certain, and The Ice Maiden, who is not the Snow Queen, but an entirely different spirit.
- Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Eliza in "The Wild Swans" is so sweet that she can turn cursed toads into beautiful red poppies.
- Kick the Dog: Inge, "The Girl Who Trod on the Loaf", is first introduced as a child tormenting insects.
- Lunarians: In "The Galoshes of Fortune", the titular galoshes grant the wishes of whoever is wearing them. A watchman wishes he could visit the Moon, so he does and sees the moon people, who believe that the Earth must be uninhabited, because it has a thick atmosphere.
- Mouse World: "Thumbelina" features one, with the tiny protagonist having adventures among the small creatures of the forest.
- Mutual Envy: In "The Galoshes of Fortune", the titular galoshes cause wishes to come true (although no one who wears them is aware of this property). A watchman puts them on and, looking up into a lieutenant's window, wishes he were the lieutenant. He enters the consciousness of the lieutenant — and the lieutenant, looking down enviously, wishes he were the watchman, which restores the watchman to himself.
- Nameless Narrative: Many of his stories don't name the characters and merely refer to them by their titles, e.g. 'the mermaid' and 'the prince' in "The Little Mermaid."
- Nature Is Not Nice: "A Drop of Water" is about a scientist who looks at a drop of water in a magnifying glass and is horrified to find it full of tiny Eldritch Abomination like creatures tearing each other apart.
- Pride: A common Fatal Flaw. Vain characters, or characters who refuse to humble themselves, often get humbled by circumstance.
- Revenant Zombie: In "The Traveling Companion," the companion himself is the dead man whom the protagonist had helped ensure would rest in peace. Once the debt is repaid, he dies again.
- The Sandman: The fairytale "Ole Lukøje". "Luk-øje"is Danish for "Shut-eye", thus "Ole Lukøje" is the Danish name for Mr. Sandman.
- Satan: Features in "The Philosopher's Stone", among other works. He is prominent when Andersen discusses truth vs untruth. Satan is clearly the "prince of lies", while God is the equivalent of truth.
- Scare 'Em Straight: Present in many of his works. The most egregious example would be "Ole-Luk-Oie". Simplified, writing a "C" (and worse) in school will get you to Hell after death. Yes, a C.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: As the writer of so many beloved fairy tales, his works fall right off the idealistic end of the scale.
- Swan Boats: In the fairy tale "Ole-Luk-Oie", Hjalmar dreams that he rides in a boat pulled by swans.
- What's Up, King Dude?: In "The Princess and the Swineherd", a minor prince with designs on the imperial princess goes up to the emperor and says "Good morning, emperor. Can I have a job?"
Andersen has appeared as a Historical Domain Character in the following works:
- The 1952 film Hans Christian Andersen, starring Danny Kaye, which describes itself as "a fairy tale about the great spinner of fairy tales" (a colorful way of saying it's almost entirely made up).
- Fate/Extra CCC and Fate/Grand Order, where he is a Caster-type Servant. Contrary to fellow famous writer William Shakespeare, his appearance is that of a child but with the baritone voice of a fully-grown man, representing how he has a childish mind capable of writing his fairy tales, but still carrying all his adult life experiences. He also loves tearing down the motivations of those around him but is fully capable of acknowledging their strengths as well.
- Grimms Notes Repage, where he is one of the Story Tellers, and a playable character.
- Swedish playwright Pär Olof Enquist wrote Andersen into his play Life Of The Earthworms. Enquist envisioned a Historical Domain Character setting where Andersen had a closure with the Heiberg couple, actress Johanne Louise and critic Johan Ludvig.
- The Little Mermaid (1992): In the episode "Metal Fish", he, as a young man, explores the ocean in a primitive submarine and is rescued by Ariel and her friends when his submarine crashes and he nearly drowns. His experience inspires him to write The Little Mermaid.