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This content is taken from the Hans Christian Andersen Centre's online course, Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 13 seconds Welcome to an open on-line course that has the author and writer of fairy tales Hans Christian Andersen and his work as its subject. The researchers you will meet here - and who are looking forward to meeting you - represent the centre of Hans Christian Andersen at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense in Denmark. We hope you will enjoy the course. I would like to quote the first lines of one of Andersen’s best-known fairy tales,

Skip to 0 minutes and 44 seconds A soldier came marching along the highway: left, right! left, right! He had his knapsack on his back and a sword at his side, for he had been out fighting a war, and now he was on his way home. That is how The Tinder-Box begins. It dates from 1835, which makes it one of the earliest fairy tales he wrote. As the quotation demonstrates, Andersen, using very simple means, was able to build up a distinctive universe in his writing.

Skip to 1 minute and 18 seconds For this is exactly how a soldier has to move: left, right! left, right! Every child understands this logic, and it is equally clear that we are talking about a soldier when he marches left right, left right! What do soldiers do? Well yes, they go out to fight wars, and then long for home! The mind of a child can grasp this, and in that way the story is now ready to unfold. Something is bound to happen, something remarkable,

Skip to 1 minute and 53 seconds for here comes a soldier, ready for the unexpected: left right, left right! In a similar way, Hans Christian Andersen established a whole universe with the aid of a few lines and simple means in the fairy tale called The Nightingale, In China - as I’m sure you know - the emperor is a Chinaman, and all those he has around him are Chinese. A scene has been set, a universe created and a foundation laid that set the powers of the imagination going and open up the story, also for the mind of a child. It is not only children Hans Christian Andersen tells his stories to, however. His artistic universe is as complex as his tales are multi-faceted.

Skip to 2 minutes and 45 seconds His stories contain sinister events, shadows, death, grief and loss. Hans Christian Andersen’s authorship, especially the fairy tales, contains - as we shall see - profound and complicated philosophical, psychological, existential and social issues. At the same time, nearly all the fairy tales and stories are organised in such a way that they are also told for children, and this is not least because they establish their own universe, one universe where a child feels at home. So Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales and stories are for all - especially for adults with experience of life - but it is the child’s mind, or rather the childlike mind, Hans Christian Andersen also seeks to activate in the adult consciousness.

Skip to 3 minutes and 45 seconds When Hans Christian Andersen called the first of his publications of shorts stories Tales, told for Children in 1835, it was precisely not because they were only for children, but because he was appealing to the childlike imagination in adults as well. Hans Christian Andersen viewed the imagination and poetry as forces that could move people, just as love was a force that could invest human life with higher aims. Fairy tales such as The Little Mermaid, The Snow Queen and The Story of a Mother are tales about sacrificing oneself limitlessly, but also about the limitless force of love. Today, Hans Christian Andersen, who was born in Odense in 1805 and died in Copenhagen in 1875, has been translated into more than 160 languages.

Skip to 4 minutes and 49 seconds Now he is at home throughout the world. There are many readers and many different readings of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories and fairy tales in the world. We look forward to meeting some of them here. In particular, we look forward to exploring Hans Christian Andersen’s artistic universe together with you and your reading of his fairy tales. Welcome!

Hans Christian Andersen – a writer for children or adults?

In the video above, Johannes will tell you more about the reasons why both children and adults love Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales.

While watching the video, you might think about the following questions:

  • How does Hans Christian Andersen captivate his youngest listeners and readers?
  • What does he mean when he gives this description of his work as a double-bottomed construction: “I seize on an idea for grown-ups and then tell the story to the little ones while always remembering that Father and Mother often listen, and you must also give them something for their minds.”?
  • What would be your immediate answer to these questions? Share your answers with other learners by posting them below.

Are fairy tales still useful to children?

If you would like to explore this topic further, you can listen to the scholar on folk and fairy tales, Jack Zipes and hear what he has to say about the genre: Are fairy tales still useful to children? The link will lead you to an audio file. The passage that is relevant in this connection is located 14.30 minutes into the audio file and lasts approximately 10 minutes, ie. until 24.30 minutes.

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This video is from the free online course:

Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales

Hans Christian Andersen Centre