H. C. Andersen Fairy Tales: His Life and Classic Tales

H. C. Andersen Fairy Tales: His Life and Classic Tales

Andersen reading to children
painting by Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann, 1862 Andersen reading to his children

You may have heard of Hans Christian Andersen and even own copies of some of his stories, but what is so significant about the H. C. Andersen fairy tales?  How did they come to be?  Let me share with you a bit about the life and legend who wrote so many classic tales.

His Early Years: Hardships of a Young Boy

Hans Christian Andersen was born in Denmark 2 April 1805.[1] He later became an acclaimed author of fairy tales as well as poetry, novels, and travel tales, but he is best known for his fairy tales, which have been translated into over 125 languages.[2] His fairy tales include “The Emperors New Clothes”, “The Ugly Duckling”,”The Little Mermaid”, “Thumbelina”, and more. [3]  But let us back up a bit.

After Andersen’s father died, he was sent to a local school for poor young children, and his mother, poor and uneducated, had to work as a washerwoman. [4] Young Hans was sent to a local school for poor children, and had to find work as an apprenticed weaver and later as a tailor in order to support himself. He was abused by the schoolmaster while a pupil there. Oh, what hardships children of his day endured (Reminds me of Dickens, who was a contemporary of Andersen; he wrote many works including Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Nicholas Nickleby and others as an outcry against the ill treatment of boys and all children.) When he was 14, Andersen sought employment as an actor, and, possessing a beautiful soprano voice, he was accepted into the the Royal Danish Theatre to sing on stage. While a performer there, an associate of his told Andersen that he thought him a promising poet. It was then that Andersen began focusing on writing. [5] How true it is in our lives that others do influence us and cause us to look at ourselves in ways we might not have otherwise!

On to Writing

The publication of “A Journey on Foot from Holmen’s Canal to the East Point of Amager” is what first gave Andersen literary recognition. Then he traveled and wrote travelogues. [10] Traveling, I believe, gave him inspiration for writing. [mine] He acquired a money grant from the king, enabling him to travel across Europe and write. He wrote a novel during this time entitled The Improvisatore, which is based on his travels in Italy. It was after this that Andersen began focusing on writing stories, particularly fairy tales. [10]

The Ugly Duckling
The Ugly Duckling by Theo Van Hoytema (1863-1917)

His Early Collection–Some of Our Favorites!

In 1837, Andersen published his first collection of stories, though he had done some writing in 1835. This first collection included “The Tinderbox”, “The Princess and the Pea”, “Thumbelina”, “The Little Mermaid”, and “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” They did not sell well. [6] Interestingly, today they are among some of the most popular of his tales. He continued writing fairy tales for over 30 years and completed over 100 of them!

Princess and the Pea
The Princess and the Pea by Alfred Walter Bayes, 1895


The Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid, illustration by Ivan Bilibin 1876-1942


Andersen Meets Dickens

Andersen traveled to England in 1847. There the Countess of Blessington invited him to her parties. At one of these parties, he met  Charles Dickens.  Andersen wrote in his diary: “. . . I was so happy to see and speak with England’s now living writer, whom I love the most.” Both Dickens and Andersen had great respect for the works the other was creating. Both authors wrote about similar themes of the outcast poor of the underclass who endured the hardness of life during the Industrial Revolution.[7]

Where Is Love?

Andersen reflected much upon God and cried out to God most earnestly, most likely because of the lack of love he experienced in his life. He said, “Almighty God, thee only have I; thou steerest my fate, I must give myself up to thee! Give me a livelihood! Give me a bride! My blood wants love as my heart does!” [8] One can see the struggle of his unrequited love by reading some of his fairy tales that possess such a theme. Over and over again there is a boy or girl coming of age who experiences great emotional pain from the lack of requited love. Some of these tales have very sad endings. They are tales of life. Though fairy tales, they possess a reality—the reality that life is hard, that people experience great suffering and tribulation, that things don’t always end up “happily ever after.” Some of his tales are quite happy though and also teach practical lessons of life.  It was in the spring of 1872 that Andersen fell out of his bed, and, soon afterwards, showed signs of liver cancer. [9] He died 4 August 1875 in Copenhagen. Today he is considered Denmark’s “national treasure” for his contribution to literature. [10]

His Legacy

Hans Christian Andersen left such a legacy for the world. He left much for boys, girls, and adults alike. There is such a charm about his writing too; but unlike the Grimm Brothers, he wrote all of these tales himself. There are roughly 100 different tales he wrote, and he was an amazing storyteller.  Imagine being a boy or girl during his lifetime and meeting him on the road.  Perhaps there are other boys or girls with you, and he asks you to have a seat at the banks of a nearby pond. You take your seat and he begins to tell you one of his tales. You are completely captivated, and you immediately like him. As he tells his tale, he pulls out some paper and a pair of scissors and begins clipping away. By the end of the story, he has created an illustration to go along with the story. They are called paper dolls. Perhaps it was the story of the Ugly Duckling he told you, and at the end of the story, you behold a beautiful cutout of a swan he created as he told you the fairy tale.  Nice touch, wouldn’t you say?


swan paper cutpout




paper cutout










Yes, Hans Christian Andersen gave the world beautiful classic fairy tales,
but he also gave us his story—a story of travels, a story of
unrequited love, a story of perseverance, and a story of love for
children and all people. What an example and inspiration for us

H. C. Andersen statue
H. C. Andersen in Central Park reading “The Ugly Duckling”




1.Rossel, Steven Hakon (1996). Hans Christian Andersen : Danish Writer and Citizen of the World. Rodopi. ISBN 90-5183-955-8.

2.Wenande, Christian (13 December 2012). “Unknown Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tale Discovered”. The Copenhagen Post.

3.Bredsdorff, Elias (1975). Hans Christian Andersen: the Story of His Life and Work 1805-18975. Phaidon. ISBN 0-7148-1636-1.

4.Rossel 1996, p. 7

5.Hans-Christian-Andersen–Childhood-and-Education http://www.danishnet.com/culture/hans-christian-andersen/

6.Only a Fiddler. from archive.org

7.“H. C. Andersen and Charles Dickens 1875” Hcandersen-homepage.dk.

8.“The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen”. Scandinavian.wisc.edu.

9.Bryan, Mark Private Lives, 2001, p.12

10. biography.com/people/hans-christian-andersen






16 thoughts on “H. C. Andersen Fairy Tales: His Life and Classic Tales

  1. Great post on Andersen. I guess I had never noticed that he wrote both the Little Mermaid and the Ugly Duckling. It sure was interesting to read about this great story teller.

    1. So glad you enjoyed this post. Yes, many people associate Andersen with “The Ugly Duckling” but few realise he wrote “The Little Mermaid”; and the story itself is vastly different from the Disney version. I am so glad to share this with you. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Hi Robert,

    What a lovely article on a timeless genius like H.C. Andersen’s fairy tales. I remember his books from when I was a child so its nice to reconnect to the author for.

    Have you read Ulysses? I only know one lady here in Ireland that read that book. She said that most people only get as far as chapter 3 and give up? Too hard to digest, apparently.

    Anyways, I would love to read it soon my self.

    Oh, that was clever and yes a very nice touch indeed with the paper and the scissors – so nice. We were lucky to be blessed with such books growing up from great authors. Nowadays, the poor kids have to digest Peppa Pig – LOL! Just not the same at all.

    I really enjoyed your article Robert and I hope to hear back from you soon.

    All the best for now – Philip.

    1. Thank you Philip for your kind comment. Very thoughtful. I am so glad you enjoyed it. There is so much to learn. It is rewarding to know someone appreciated an article and was able to glean something from it. No, I have not read Ulysses, but perhaps I will tackle it. I have read a lot of classics including Ivanhoe, the Illiad, The Aeneid, etc. Our world needs more writers for children like That of the old tales that H. C. Andersen and others wrote. Thanks again for your kind words. I am glad you enjoyed the article.

  3. I did not realize that some of those fairy tales have been around so long. Obviously they have had to have been given the time period of HC Anderson. At first, I thought, I had not heard of the fairy tales he wrote. The more I read, I recognized some pretty prominent ones. He was indeed a very talented author. Thanks for the interesting post! Definitely learned something 🙂

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I am thrilled to know you enjoyed it and that you learned something. He does have some popular fairy tales, doesn’t he? Hans Christian Andersen is one of the best fairy tale writers!

  4. Wow, I actually had never heard of H.C Anderson until reading this article. His influence obviously has touched children for decades, including myself and siblings. Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. Thanks for commenting. Many people are not familiar with his name–Hans Christian Andersen–but if you mention the names of the tales, most people recognise them right off. Yes, he has influenced many (children and adults) for years and years. Appreciate your thoughts!

  5. Hey Robert,

    What a wonderful piece on this great Danish author.

    Right now I am reading a book on Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales!

    I know he is known for some unhappy tales like the Red Shoes, Little Mermaid etc; but I love his funny ones to!

    The Emperor’ s New Clothes come to mind! such funny tale~

    I had no idea that he was so travelled and even met Dickens!

    Great history and easy to understand write up on this great author!

    1. How uncanny that you happen to be reading about Hans Christian Andersen and then see my post about him! You are so correct. He has the sad tales but also has happy hilarious ones too. Glad you enjoyed the brief history about this influential man of many stories. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    1. Glad this article peaked your interest. Yes, many don’t think of Hans Christian Andersen and Dickens within the same scope of reference, but they did know each other. Thanks for commenting.

  6. Hello Robert,
    Great article…it brought back fond memories for me. I read these stories of Hans – we are best buddies – while my daughter was little and now that she is all ‘grown up’, she enjoys reading them on her own. Great summation and keep up the great job.

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