Image of the little mermaid statue in Copenhagen
The little mermaid statue in Copenhagen

Welcome to Week 4

This week, we are going to focus on one single fairy tale: ‘The Little Mermaid’. This fairy tale is important in more than one way. Not only is it one of Hans Christian Andersen’s first self-invented tales, but he also knew, when writing it, that it meant something special to himself. Furthermore, ‘The Little Mermaid’ was his break-through as a writer of fairy tales and made him an international star.

Professor Johannes Nørregaard Frandsen, Director of the Hans Christian Andersen Centre, will introduce you to the fairy tale and tell you about the circumstances of its creation and what inspired the author while writing it. He will guide you through analyses, discussions and propose his own analysis and interpretation.

‘The Little Mermaid’ is a multi-layered tale. In order to interpret it as such it is relevant to consider its symbolic meaning within a Christian frame of reference. For this purpose Johannes will briefly explain Hans Christian Andersen’s attitude towards religion. He will also explain why this quite modern fairy tale has been the subject of innumerable interpretations and new versions.

One of these versions, and of cause the best known, is Walt Disney’s. We are also going to analyse this version and try to discover the reasons why it is in an interesting version that supplements Hans Christian Andersen’s tale.

Finally, this week we would like you to compare the Hans Christian Andersen and the Disney versions focusing in particular on the endings of the two stories. Then we ask you to consider your idea of a satisfactory ending.

As you go through this week, here are some questions to bear in mind:

  • In what way is this self-invented fairy tale different from Hans Christian Andersen’s rewritings of folk tales?
  • Why do you think that this fairy tale in particular made Hans Christian Andersen famous?
  • Why is Disney’s version of the fairy tale so popular in your opinion?
  • What is the difference between a happy ending and a satisfactory ending?

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This article is from the free online course:

Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales

Hans Christian Andersen Centre