Andersen Publishes His First Fairy Tales

When Hans Christian Andersen introduced tales designed to entertain children, he revolutionized children’s literature, which had previously consisted primarily of didactic stories meant to teach children moral values and proper behavior.

Summary of Event

On May 8, 1835, Hans Christian Andersen published his first volume of fairy tales, Eventyr, fortalte for børn (1835; tales, told for children). This small collection arguably represented the first time in a modern Western nation that stories had been composed, printed, and published especially for children. Children’s literature had been rare during the Enlightenment period, and what stories existed were meant to educate children on proper morality. Informed by a staunch religious belief that children could save their “damned” souls only through piety, such stories had been based on the holy lives and heroic deaths of historic figures. Children had also been able to listen to some tales told to adults, but as a general rule the language and intent of such tales was not geared to children. Fairy tales;Hans Christian Andersen[Andersen]
Andersen, Hans Christian
[kw]Andersen Publishes His First Fairy Tales (May 8, 1835)
[kw]Publishes His First Fairy Tales, Andersen (May 8, 1835)
[kw]First Fairy Tales, Andersen Publishes His (May 8, 1835)
[kw]Fairy Tales, Andersen Publishes His First (May 8, 1835)
[kw]Tales, Andersen Publishes His First Fairy (May 8, 1835)
Fairy tales;Hans Christian Andersen[Andersen]
Andersen, Hans Christian
[g]Denmark;May 8, 1835: Andersen Publishes His First Fairy Tales[1920]
[g]Scandinavia;May 8, 1835: Andersen Publishes His First Fairy Tales[1920]
[c]Literature;May 8, 1835: Andersen Publishes His First Fairy Tales[1920]
Grimm, Jacob
Grimm, Wilhelm
Tieck, Ludwig
Hoffmann, E. T. A.

As the Romantic period of literature began in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, children were coming to be viewed in a more kindly light, and literature began to play a more imaginative role in their lives. Jacob Grimm Grimm, Jacob
Grimm, Wilhelm and Wilhelm Grimm, contemporaries of Andersen, spent years selecting and recording the wealth of oral folktales in the German states. The first two volumes of their fairy tales, Kinder-und Hausmärchen (1812, 1815, revised 1819-1822; German Popular Stories, 1823-1826; better known as Grimm’s Fairy Tales), were published between 1812 and 1815. Grimm’s Fairy Tales became available to both children and adults and brought a new world of fantasy full of giants, kings, and fairies to stimulate children’s imaginations.

Hans Christian Andersen was fascinated by Danish folktales that he heard as a child. He also studied Grimm’s Fairy Tales, as well as Ludwig Tieck’s Tieck, Ludwig collection of German fairy tales. Andersen read and was influenced by the eerie supernatural stories of E. T. A. Hoffmann, Hoffmann, E. T. A. who employed macabre images and sinister elements in his literature.

Andersen published Eventyr, fortalte for børn in May of 1835 and a second volume in December of 1835. Although three of the four tales in the initial volume were based on existing folktales, Andersen developed these initially oral tales into writerly narratives, inventing a new literary form in the process. It was this ability to create writerly tales some modified from the Danish oral tradition, some his own invention that made Andersen stand apart and allowed him to gain international recognition. He was praised for capturing the vividness and liveliness of oral storytelling in written texts. It was Andersen who simplified language in his tales, choosing not to use the abstract words and expression found in the adult literature of the Enlightenment. Instead, Andersen used words and images that could easily be understood by children.

Three of the fairy tales included in Eventyr, fortalte for børn, “Fyrtøiet” (“The Tinder Box”), “Lille Claus og store Claus” (“Little Claus and Big Claus”), and “Prindsessen paa Ærten” (“The Princess and the Pea” “Princess and the Pea, The” (Andersen)[Princess and the Pea (Andersen)] ), were adapted from folktales Andersen had heard as a child. “The Tinder Box ”Tinder Box, The” (Andersen)[Tinder Box (Andersen)] ” was based on the Danish folktale called“The Spirit of the Candle.” In Andersen’s tale, a soldier is able to outsmart a witch as she sends him on a mission to reclaim a magical tinderbox for her. He overcomes all obstacles ferocious dogs, the witch, poverty, being unable to see the princess, and so on to gain both wealth and the love of a princess.

The events in the tale are typical of most folktales, in which the protagonist overcomes obstacles and gains a reward. However, traditional folk or fairy tales do not provide much detail in describing the setting and characters. Andersen, by contrast, filled “The Tinderbox” with details: The soldier smokes a pipe, the witch’s grandmother is known to forget things, and the soldier has many friends when he is rich, but the stairs to the soldier’s room become an obstacle to his having friends when he becomes poor. Andersen also paid careful attention in his tales to his use of language, making them understandable to his target audience. For example, rather than provide a numerical value to describe a large amount of money, he chose to describe wealth in terms that children could imagine and relate to, referring to enough gold to “buy all the tin soldiers and rocking horses in the world.”

In “Little Claus and Big Claus,” based on the Danish folktale “Big Brother and Little Brother,” Andersen developed the theme of the underdog cleverly triumphing over a wealthier and more powerful person. Little Claus uses his ingenuity to outsmart Big Claus. The theme of the common person triumphing over more powerful persons was a theme new to early nineteenth century literature. In the Enlightenment, only the aristocracy and the wealthy had been the heroes of literature. Now, Andersen in Denmark, Charles Dickens and Sir Walter Scott in England, and James Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving in the United States were depicting the common man as clever and heroic. Success in literature was no longer dependent upon one’s hereditary lineage but instead on one’s abilities.

“The Princess and the Pea,” thought to be related to Tieck’s Tieck, Ludwig verse play Der gestiefelte Kater (pb. 1797, pr. 1844; Puss-in-Boots, Puss-in-Boots (Tieck)[Puss in Boots (Tieck)] 1913-1914), has remained a favorite among Andersen’s tales because of its conversational tone and its many touches of humor. In the tale, a prince is so intent on finding a genuine princess that he insists that candidates sleep on twenty mattresses, each covered in a soft featherbed. Unbeknown to the title character, a pea is hidden below the twenty mattresses. When the princess cannot sleep soundly due to the discomfort caused to her by the hidden pea, the prince finally knows that he has found a real princess. The tale allows the reader to marvel at the pampered nature of aristocracy and the social chasm between princes and commoners, who have more admirable values.

The fourth tale collected in Eventyr, fortalte for børn, “Den lille Idas Blomster” (“Little Ida’s Flowers”), was an original story that Andersen created for Ida Thiele, the daughter of his benefactor Just Mathias Thiele, an avid folktale collector. “Little Ida’s Flowers” is notable for the two states of consciousness that Andersen introduced into his tale. A reader is allowed to experience both Ida’s everyday perceptions of the world and her dreamlike, imaginary state, in which toys and flowers come alive. “Little Ida’s Flowers” prompted Andersen to create other tales in which toys and other inanimate objects either came to life or were the protagonists of the narrative. His later works “Den standhaftige Tinsoldat” (1838; “The Steadfast Tin Soldier”), “Kjærestefolkene: Eller, Toppen og bolden” (1843; “Sweethearts: Or, The Top and the Ball”), “Grantræet” (1844; “The Fir Tree”), and “Hyrdinden og Skorsteensfeieren” (1845; “The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep”) all employ this element.

Three of Andersen’s first four tales “Little Claus and Big Claus,” “The Tinder Box,” “Tinder Box, The” (Andersen)[Tinder Box (Andersen)] and “Little Ida’s Flowers” deal with death in some form, and it is a common theme in the majority of Andersen’s fairy tales. Andersen in his fairy tales evinced a duality in desiring to entertain his readers while also desiring to explore the complexities of life and the human soul. In his works, Andersen depicted cruelty in the world, social injustice, the battle between good and evil, and the difference between stupidity and bravery. His keen grasp of the human condition and his ability skillfully to manipulate the written word into a delightful tale have made Andersen’s work a standard for entertainment and gentle lessons.


Hans Christian Andersen was able to develop the fairy tale into a literary genre with colorful language that captivated his audience, allowing subsequent authors to use and develop interesting and lively patterns of language in their own work. He developed heroes who were regular people rather than aristocrats, demonstrating that the lives of normal persons could be interesting topics in stories. He was also one of the first authors to write about children and to allow children to have thoughts and voices in his stories.

Andersen opened the door to using animals as the subjects of stories without the animals being allegorical as in Aesop’s Aesop
Aesopea (fourth century b.c.e.; Aesop’s Fables, 1484; expanded translation as The Complete Fables, 1998) but rather having human characteristics and thoughts. He brought life to inanimate objects and different levels of consciousness to characters. His understanding of human emotions allowed him to write tales such as “Den grimme Ælling” (1843; “The Ugly Duckling”) that help not only to entertain but also to teach children about the ups and downs of life in an interesting way. He was also a pioneer in writing tales that were understood by children and still interesting to adults. Almost two centuries after the publication of his first volume of fairy tales, persons all over the world are still reading his tales. Many of the tales have been turned into motion pictures, plays, and even musicals.

Further Reading

  • Bloom, Harold, ed. Hans Christian Andersen. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2005. A collection of individual critiques on Andersen’s life and works.
  • Bredsdorff, Ellias. Hans Christian Andersen. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1975. Very detailed and interesting look at the writers who influenced Andersen.
  • Gronbech, Bo. Hans Christian Andersen. Boston: Twayne, 1980. Detailed look at Andersen’s literary techniques.

  • The Hans Christian Andersen Center. Odense, Denmark: University of Southern Denmark. http://www Extremely thorough Web site includes searchable database of tales and translations.
  • Wullschlager, Jackie. Hans Christian Andersen. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001. Penetrating study of the life, literary period, and works of Andersen.

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Andersen, Hans Christian