Sep 14, 2010

Hans Christian Andersen: Fairy Tales and Stories

So I FINALLY finished Hans.

1,165 pages, a huge collection of short stories. In my own defense it WAS all I read during the time I was reading, it just took me a while. I wanted to do it right, not auto-read and forget everything I'd been reading. But to be honest, I coulda skipped half the book and still really enjoyed the most important pieces of his writing. So for your convenience, if you want to tackle Hans, I'm going to give you a list of the recommended stories. I've pared it down to a dozen:

The Traveling Companion
The Little Mermaid
The Emperor's New Clothes
The Magic Galoshes
The Steadfast Tin Soldier
The Flying Trunk
The Ugly Duckling
Mother Elderberry
The Little Match Girl
The Dung Beetle
The Ice Maiden

Read those and you've got the best, IMO. And you should read them.

What I loved about Hans: His stories are so clever. There is so much sly insight into human nature. You can tell that Hans Christian Andersen loved people, children especially. But people in general--he saw the bright and wonderful parts of human nature as well as those parts that make his stories skeptical and curt in places. His storytelling is superb--pithy, masterful, incisive. ANd yet somehow entertaining, and usually not preachy. He laughed a lot when he wrote them; you could tell by how he wrote them. And of course, so many of these have become classics, because of their layered, deeper meanings and the way they srike at the heart of so many of the frailties but also beauties of human nature.

I love the description of Denmark. This man was in love with his country and wrote about in almost all of his stories. His descriptions included how people lived, the clothes they wore, the way they got around, culture and society, and the legends of the past. I really got a vivid look at Denmark through these stories. Since many of my ancestors come from Denmark, it was very special to me to be able to feel and understand and see all that he showed through the stories.

I did some research on Hans' life. When he was a child, he was favored by his father, who believed he was connected to Danish nobility. Hans was an odd-looking child, with close-set eyes and a long nose and a big head. He talked and acted very feminine... a lot of people mistook him for a girl when he was young.

Han's father wasn't the only person who saw something in him. Hans was given a grant by a nobleman to go to school to become a writer.

His first writing exploits weren't all that successful. It was his fairy tales that began to make him famous around the world--but not in his own country. It wasn't until he was acclaimed by the world at large as a "treasure" that those in Denmark followed suit, proclaiming him a "national treasure." Kind of funny--prophet in his own country thing, I think.

There was one interesting encounter he had with Charles Dickens, who was his contemporary. Andersen idolized Dickens, and they met at an event and exchanged letters. Andersen was invited to stay with the Dickens family. He stayed 5 weeks, completely overstaying his welcome. His daughter proclaimed him to be a "fawning, obsequious" person who was a bore to be around.

Well, this made me sad. I read his writing and think... how could that be? It's all about casting off the status quo, about how birth and rank can mean nothing in the face of character and talent. He wrote so perceptively about human nature, so often poking fun at those who were full of self-importance. He's no brown-noser!!

I read a little further and discovered that, despite the fact that Andersen was well educated and so could speak English in a very cultured, noble way, he understood the language poorly in some instances. Also, the Dickens family was having real struggles during the time Andersen was staying with them... houseguests weren't the most welcome intrusion because of the high level of tension amongst the Dickenses. In fact, someone has written a play about it, which I'd be very interested in seeing, if it were somehow possible.

But I don't live in England, so I fear it's not possible.

Anyway, I loved the character that showed through the writing. Hans and I agree about a lot of social issues. And the book was a wonderful read, even though it was long. The stories I listed: four and a half out of four stars. The book as a whole: I'd have to give it 3 out of four stars.

For your entertainment: Hans Christian Andersen telling aloud his story, "The Emperor's New Clothes".


Donnell Allan said...

I love fairy tales, too! I have a collection of Grimms' but I have yet to work my way through it. I feel like you do: I want to give it its due.

I took a fairy tale class in college and wrote a compare and contrast essay on "Hans in Luck." That was the most enjoyable paper I have ever written for the best class I ever took.

Thanks for sharing what you learned about Mr Andersen. I have loved him since seeing the old movie with Danny Kaye when I was a child.

Texasblu said...

I ♥ Anderson! I hadn't heard that about Dickens though. Thanks for the heads up. My absolute FAVE is the Little Match Girl. So beautiful.... and yet heart wrenching at the same time.