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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 As a writer Hans Christian Andersen worked in almost every genre you can think of. He did not only write fairy tales and stories, but also novels, poems, dramas, travelogues and autobiographies. But his world fame rests solely upon his fairy tales and stories. And that is not a coincidence. He wrote good novels and good poems, but his fairy tales and stories are unique. At the same time they appear to contain universal elements, since they are known and read all around the world. In this context we would like to share some reflections with you about what constitutes this apparent universality of his fairy tales and stories - and about what might challenge it.

Skip to 1 minute and 1 second What might challenge this universality is the fact that there are many elements of Andersen’s fairy tales and stories which are culturally specific in a broad sense. For example he uses motifs and refers to ways of thinking and perceiving which are rooted in a Christian culture. But at the same time he addresses ethical questions and conflicts which often, but not always, are of a more universal nature. Andersen’s fairy tales and stories are also historically specific in a certain sense. Andersen lived in a time which was a time of change to the highest possible degree. Traditional ways of life had to make way for new ways of perceiving the world and acting in society.

Skip to 1 minute and 49 seconds The advent of modern science and technology takes place at this moment in history and social mobility becomes a possibility in an unprecedented way. The foundations were laid for the modern lives we live in the modern world we are a part of. Andersen was fascinated by the many new possibilities and technologies in the making. But he was also frightened by the modern world he could sense was looming in the horizon. In other words, he was thoroughly ambivalent about what he perceived was coming. He thus very much reflected on the human condition in this new kind of world and new kind of society in his fairy tales and stories.

Skip to 2 minutes and 32 seconds You might even say that he used the fairy tale as a way of thinking about these matters - in a way which is at the same time highly sophisticated and perhaps also intuitive. The kind of fairy tales he employed in this way of thinking is also culturally specific in a broad sense. It is the kind of fairy tales which, roughly speaking, belongs to a European tradition. This tradition might have some of its roots outside the borders of what we today call Europe, but it is very clear that it is a tradition which differs fundamentally from, for example, Arabian Nights.

Skip to 3 minutes and 11 seconds In this course we have chosen a series, six to be specific, of Andersen’s fairy tales where it is evident that he is employing this fairy tale tradition as a means to thinking and reflecting upon the human condition in the modern world in the making and in general. In each fairy tale we will concentrate on a number of passages in which ethical questions and dilemmas relating to this thinking and reflection manifest themselves. What we want you to do is to take part in understanding and analyzing these ethical questions and dilemmas and in determining their degree of universality. We put some questions in each case which we hope will help you to do this. See you in the course videos.

Hans Christian Andersen's literary works

In this video, Professor Jacob Bøggild from the Hans Christian Andersen Centre gives you an introduction to the author’s literary works.

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This video is from the free online course:

Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales

Hans Christian Andersen Centre