"Hans Christian Andersen's stories don't really take place in a fairytale world - but right here, in reality"
Once upon a time.. Hans Christian Andersen was 14 years old as he left his home in Odense and journeyed to Copenhagen, where he wanted to become an actor and singer. He made this quite remarkable step at a young age - but the young Hans Christian knew what he wanted, very early in his life.
Arriving in Copenhagen Andersen after a relatively short period of time managed to be admitted to the Danish Royal Theatre. He had a certain talent for singing and a good light tenor voice.
He dreamed of becoming a dancer too, and although his ambitions were high he failed. No wonder.. as an adult Hans Christian Andersen was approximately 185 cm tall - about 6 feet - which was huge in those days and he probably wore a number 47 in shoe size (12-13). Needless to say such physical dimensions were not really compatible with a serious dancing carrier.
However, after a while a friend referred him as a writer and poet which eventually made Andersen focus more on writing. And good so.. because this was the one talent that would make millions of children around the world love his tales, for centuries to come.
Hans Christian Andersen wrote 156 fairy tales and stories, 18 plays and librettos, 14 poems, 14 novels and short stories, 8 travel descriptions and no less than 3 autobiographies, along with various texts for songs. The most known is the beloved "I Danmark er jeg født" - "In Denmark I Am Born".
According to The Hans Christian Andersen Center in Odense Denmark, his works have been translated into more than 150 languages, reaching from Abkhazian to Zulu..
By all means - Andersen was an excellent playwright and the poems and songs are enchanting as well. But of all of Andersen's writings - more than anything it was his tales that were embraced by people everywhere. Not only in Denmark but soon all over the world.
Something universal and utterly human about his stories has captured the hearts of millions over the course of almost two centuries. The reason for this .. I believe, is that he wrote his stories from his heart and he knew his characters as if each one was an aspect of himself. He seemed to know their feelings so well, that he could write details with such subtlety and precision - touching most of us, young or old, even to this day.
Among his most beloved fairy tales are..
• The Ugly Duckling
• The Little Mermaid
• The Emperor's New Clothes
• The Little Match Girl
Hans Christian Andersen in Danish
It‘s a special treat for me to share with you the "H.C. Andersen", as we call him in Denmark. I'd also like to give you the experience of a Hans Christian Andersen story read in his native tongue. Further down on this page you can hear me read an introduction to "The Ugly Duckling".
There have been quite some English translators of his works over the years - and some good ones at that. My personal recommendation are the translations by
But of course however good, they are still just translations. By this I mean that beyond the meaning of the phrases, the very sound of the words chosen make out so much of the atmosphere. I‘ll give you an example in a minute...
Hans Christian Andersen was very conscious about the words he used. He had very specific phrases that were so typical for him where one would know after one sentence... "this is Hans Christian Andersen". A trademark of a master
He was a master of feelings. Frankly when I look at his stories nowadays perhaps a little too often feelings of pain, loneliness and sorrow if you ask me. But also feelings of respect, decency, tenderness and love were so often part of the Hans Christian Andersen world.
To me Hans Christian Andersen more than any writer was able to set a scene in one short paragraph. No screen play can beat that in terms of precise description.
Take for example the beginning of "The Ugly Duckling"..
"It was so beautiful out on the country, it was summer - the wheat fields were golden, the oats were green, and down among the green meadows the hay was stacked. There the stork minced about on his red legs, clacking away in Egyptian, which was the language his mother had taught him. Round about the field and meadow lands rose vast forests, in which deep lakes lay hidden. Yes, it was indeed lovely out there in the country."
Hear me read this introduction in English
Just for the fun of it I‘ll give you the Danish original version that is the one yours truly knew forwards and backwards from age 3 I think. Hang on ..
"Der var saa deiligt ude paa Landet; det var Sommer, Kornet stod guult, Havren grøn, Høet var reist i Stakke nede i de grønne Enge, og der gik Storken paa sine lange, røde Been og snakkede ægyptisk, for det Sprog havde han lært af sin Moder. Rundtom Ager og Eng var der store Skove, og midt i Skovene dybe Søer; jo, der var rigtignok deiligt derude paa Landet!"
When I heard this one as a boy lying in my bed at night .. I remember the feeling of "ahh.. now everything is well with the world". Perhaps you know what I mean... I knew every word by heart to the extent that I would immediately correct my grandfather reading the story to me if he would miss but a singular word or make a mistake in a phrase...
.. yes.. those were the days :)
In the footsteps of Hans Christian Andersen
In 2005 an absolutely wonderful resource was made publically available by a cultural Danish organisation named "Golden Days". They coordinate events organised by more than 60 cultural and touristic institutions. On their website they have created a virtual tour called
"In the footsteps of Hans Christian Andersen".
in celebration of the 200 years for Hans Christian Andersen‘s birth.
Here you are taken "by the hand" and lead through the city of Copenhagen in the 1800s, visiting all the places he lived at some time or other.. which was quite a few. From the red-light district to the Rosenborg Castle Garden and the area around City Hall Square to Nyhavn, "New Harbour" - the place where he lived the longest time out of all places.
You can "join him" at a party in the Students’ Association or follow Andersen to one of his exams and read about the exchange of letters between him and his much-courted Jenny Lind, who eventually rejected him.
"In the footsteps of Hans Christian Andersen" gives you a sense of the city and the people of Copenhagen at the time. A total of 62 places that were significant to him, make out this journey.
The greatest feature in my opinion: You can listen to excerpts from letters to friends and loved ones, written by Andersen over the course of his life - read by the distinguished British actor Sir Derek Jacobi. Just click on "quote". This virtual tour in the footsteps of Hans Christian Andersen is really fun .. complete with old maps, graphics and photos. All in all an absolutely brilliant resource.
Note that when you switch between English and Danish versions it starts again with the overview map. So whether you would like to hear the same quotes read in Danish by actor Lars Mikkelsen or in English by Sir Derek Jacobi, you must navigate back to the same quote once again. Trust me.. it‘s worth it.