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Skip to 0 minutes and 13 seconds Hans Christian Andersen’s The Travelling Companion from 1835 was published in his very first small books of tales from the same year. It is one of the seven fairytales that is based directly on one of the folktales he had heard as a child in Odense. Also in connection with the writing of completely new fairy tales - so-called Kunstmaerchen - the folktale will, however, nearly always be present as an underlying basic form or structure. This I call the fictive template. Via the mere choice of genre, the writer will thus always be relating to a particular stock of meanings, and the reader will similarly meet the text on the basis of this particular horizon of expectation.

Skip to 1 minute and 11 seconds The writer of fairy tales can now to a greater or lesser extent opt either to conform or to break with this. It is primarily a question here of the narrative structure, which we have presented in the introduction video. We are dealing with the home-away-home pattern and the narrative course of events that can be presented with the aid of the actantial model. In addition, one can point to a whole series of characteristics that are typical of the genres, such as the use of king, princess, witch and troll figures. One can also point to the qualifying test, the black and white or highly contrastive form of presentation and the formula-like use of numbers (3, 7, 9, 12) to name but a few.

Skip to 2 minutes and 15 seconds Since the 19th century, more than 5000 of these anonymous and orally handed-down folktales have been collected and registered in Denmark. Similarly, fairy tales have been told and subsequently collected in countries around the world, by the Brothers Grimm in Germany for example, so we are dealing here with stories that are internationally itinerant. Researchers have shown that thousands of preserved folktales are variants of a number of what are often referred to as archetypes. A tale that definitely resembles the story that Andersen had heard in Odense is The Riddle. This folktale was registered in Denmark in the 19th century and it is one of the many variants that can be categorised under the type The deceased helper.

Skip to 3 minutes and 21 seconds What typical characteristics are there in the folktale The Riddle? When you have located them, examine what happens to the story in Hans Christian Andersen’s adaptation. The Riddle There was once a man who had two sons. When they grew up and came of age, the elder was to have the farm, and the younger a share of the inheritance. But he does not want to remain at home any longer and therefore requests to be allowed to go out into the world and try his fortune. He is granted permission to do so, and his father gives him ten florins for the journey and one of the best horses at the farm, with riding gear and all other accessories.

Skip to 4 minutes and 11 seconds When he now bids farewell to his parents, they tell him: neither to enter any inn nor pass by any church and that if he saw anyone in need and could help that person, he must not fail to do so, even though it cost him his last penny. He promised this and then set off into the world.

Skip to 4 minutes and 36 seconds As he was passing a church one Sunday, there was a large crowd of people in the graveyard, and they were not getting on well with each other, each was abusing and scolding worse than the next. So he tethered his horse and went in.

Skip to 4 minutes and 54 seconds After having stood watching them for a while, he asked them why they were making such a row. They were standing by an open grave, and there was a dead man lying in the grave. Oh, they cried out all at once, there the scoundrel lies, he owes me such a lot of money, one of them said. And he owes me a great deal, said another. And the end of the matter was that no one was prepared to cast earth on him, because he had not paid them his debts. It’s quite terrible, the youth says, that he cannot be buried because of that. Does he owe people so much that it cannot be paid?

Skip to 5 minutes and 37 seconds Then they all started to confer with each other, and finally worked out that the total sum was ten florins.

Skip to 5 minutes and 46 seconds So he answers and says: In that case there’s nothing to worry about, I will pay his debts, and are you then willing to do him the honour of having earth cast on him? Upon which he takes out his purse and gives them the ten florins.

Skip to 6 minutes and 4 seconds They are a bit taken aback by this, but their greed was great, so they accept the money and cast earth on the dead man.

Skip to 6 minutes and 16 seconds The Travelling Companion Poor Johannes was so wretched, for his father was very ill and did not have long to live. There was no one but the two of them in the room; the lamp on the table had burnt low, and it was quite late in the evening. You have been a good son, Johannes! his ailing father said, The Good Lord will help you on your path through the world! and he gazed with serious mild eyes on him, took a very deep breath and died; it was as if he was asleep. But Johannes wept, now he had no one in the whole world, neither father nor mother, sister nor brother.

Skip to 7 minutes and 7 seconds Poor Johannes! He knelt down by the bed and kissed his dead father’s hand, cried so very bitterly, but finally his eyes closed and he fell asleep with his head against the hard bedpost.

Skip to 7 minutes and 24 seconds Then he dreamt a strange dream: he saw how the sun and moon bowed down before him, and he saw his father hale and hearty once more and heard him laugh as he always did when he was really delighted. A beautiful girl, with a golden crown on her long, lovely hair, held out her hand to Johannes, and his father said, do you see what a bride you have got? She is the most beautiful in all the world. Then he woke up, and all that was lovely had vanished, his father lay dead and cold in his bed, there was no one else there at all, poor Johannes!

Skip to 8 minutes and 13 seconds The following week the dead man was buried; Johannes walked close behind the coffin, was no longer able to see the good father who had been so fond of him; he heard how earth was scattered onto the coffin below, now glimpsed the last corner of it, but with the next scoop of earth that too was gone; then it felt as if his heart would break, so wretched did he feel. Around him a hymn was being sung, it sounded so beautiful and tears came to Johannes’ eyes, he wept and that consoled him in his grief.

Skip to 8 minutes and 56 seconds The sun shone delightfully down on the green trees,

Skip to 9 minutes and 0 seconds as if it wanted to say: Do not be so sad, Johannes! see how lovely the blue sky is; your father is now up there in heaven, praying to the Good Lord that all may go well for you!

The folk tale as a fictive template

In the video above, professor Ivy York Möller-Christensen will tell you more about the anonymous and orally handed-down folk tale.

The folk tale will always be an underlying form or structure which we have to consider when analysing the so-called ‘kunstmärchen’ or ’literary fairy tale’ written by a specific, named author – like the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen.

By choosing to write precisely a fairy tale, the author will instinctively relate to the way in which the folk tale interprets the world. He can, for example, either conform to or break with the underlying structure and significance of the genre. Contrary to the folk tale, he can choose, for instance, to let the fairy tale have an unhappy ending, or he can choose to ignore some of the typical characteristics of the folk tale.

Ivy will point to the characteristics that are typical of the folk tale. You will also hear storyteller Kari Brinch read extracts from the folk tale ‘The Riddle’ and’ The Travelling Companion’. This will give you the possibility to think about the way Hans Christian Andersen intervenes with the folktale.

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

  • Why is the folk tale structure always and per definition a relevant reference when we read fairy tales – even if the fairy tales are literary fairy tales signed by a specific author such as Hans Christian Andersen?
  • Why, then, is it interesting to study cases such as ‘The Travelling Companion’ where the fairy tale author is openly rewriting a folk tale?

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This video is from the free online course:

Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales

Hans Christian Andersen Centre