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Biblical themes in Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales

The following short texts are intended as background material for a reading and understanding of some of the elements that underlay Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales.

Hans Christian Andersen found inspiration for his literary work in many places not least in several of the stories, ballads and fairy tales that he got acquainted with as a child. One of his great sources of inspiration was the legends, narratives and messages of love in the Bible. Hans Christian Andersen was only a small boy when he read aloud from the Bible to an elderly lady in his neighbourhood. Therefore, some of the biblical texts can serve as helpful tools to discover deeper layers of meaning in the author’s fairy tales.

Hans Christian Andersen lived in a period of time in which Christianity meant a lot in Danish culture. However, the author had a laid back attitude to the dogmatic side of the religion. Throughout his life he was enquiring and experimental with regards to religious belief. He was very preoccupied with the Christian message of love and with the message that you can obtain salvation by becoming a child again. This characterizes several of his stories.

Hans Christian Andersen attached more importance to religious expectations and feelings than to Christianity as a systematic religion. In his art and fairy tales, the author in particular worked with many angles, many values and many approaches to understanding, for example, the nature of love. And one of these approaches was inspired by the Bible and religious belief.

Tales such as ‘The Snow Queen’ and ‘The Little Mermaid’ are examples of stories that are inspired by motifs from biblical narratives. We will explore ‘The Snow Queen’ next week and this week we will take a closer look at ‘The Little Mermaid’. Bear in mind, though, that not all of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales carry biblical themes.

Please study the two resources that we have linked to below to get ready for the analysis and interpretation of ‘The Little Mermaid’.

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This article is from the free online course:

Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales

Hans Christian Andersen Centre