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Hans Christian Andersen

Many of Hans Christian Andersen's have become so seamlessly integrated into cultural consciousness of the West that people are often not aware that he was the one responsible for composing them: they often give the impression of being archaic folk tales. The Emperor's New Clothes is one such example; and The Ugly Duckling is another. Of course, his fairy tale The Little Mermaid became widely known as a result of Disney's film adaptation of the story. 

Introduction & Background Information 

Hans Christian Andersen was a writer hailing from the nation of Denmark. He lived from the years 1805-1875. 

Andersen wrote in many genres, and his works include poems, novels, and plays. Today, though, the enduring fame of Andersen rests primarily on his fairy tales.  

These fairy tales are often considered by critics to be some of the best in the genre. 

This is probably because the tales do what that genre is meant to do: they tend toward capturing essential insights and truths about the human condition in a simple, pithy, and poignant way.  


Most people probably know several of Andersen's works without even realizing that they were written by him, given the extent to which those works have completed permeated the general consciousness of modern people. 

"The Little Mermaid" is probably one of the most popular of these tales. This was, of course, the basis of the classic Disney film of the same name. 

Other widely known works by Andersen include "The Ugly Duckling" and "The Emperor's New Clothes". In the latter, Andersen tells the story of an emperor who is promised new clothes by tailors: they tell him that the clothes are invisible to anyone not wise enough to see them. 

Not wanting to seem unwise, the emperor pretends to see the nonexistent clothes—as does everyone else. It takes a child to point out the truth of the situation. 

Writing Style

Given the very nature of the fairy tale genre, Andersen's writing style tends to be characterized by simplicity and directness. After all, these tales are to be written in such a way that they are to be readily understood even by children. 

This simplicity, however, should not be taken to imply superficiality. Many Andersen's tales really do get at the heart of some essential moral or psychological point; and the simplicity of the style only enhances the dramatic effects of those points by way of contrast. 

In his time, Andersen also gained some acclaim for his travelogues, which tended to combine elements of reportage, reflection, and fiction. 

Additional Information

On the basis of his journal entries, it would perhaps be appropriate to suggest that Andersen was a kind of hopeless romantic. He tended to develop strong feelings for unattainable women, and these women then proceeded to serve as creative inspirations but not as real-life companions. These elements appear in some of his tales, such as "The Nightingale." Some critics have asked questions about the nature of Andersen's sexuality, but most have simply concluded that he was an ambivalent and troubled man in this regard. 

Andersen sometimes met with the English writer Charles Dickens. It would seem that he enjoyed these encounters very much, and that he felt a natural affinity with the author.   

Interestingly, one of the first works published by Søren Kierkegaard—the brilliant Danish existential philosopher—was a critique of Andersen. Kierkegaard's critique essentially amounted to calling Andersen shallow: Kierkegaard suggested that a fiction writer should have a developed "lifeview"; that his works should be almost retroactive reflections of this lifeview; and that Andersen did not seem to have any such lifeview, instead making it up as he goes in a some what ad hoc way. The argument could be made, though, that this whimsicality is part of the charm of Andersen's works in the first place. 

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