Hans Christian Andersen: Be Pretty or Else!

Once again, fairy tales. This time brought to you by none other than Mr. Hans Christian Andersen, who was gaga for fishladies way before Mr. Disney.

My first introduction to Hans was with the version of his stories as published by Grosset and Dunlap in 1945, relying on earlier translations by Mrs. H. B. Paull and Mrs. E. V. Lucas. There were some of his well-known tales, like The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, and The Ugly Duckling. There were also some stories less well known, including The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf, The Little Match Seller, and The Marsh King’s Daughter. The book was illustrated beautifully, if sometimes disturbingly, by Arthur Szyk.

Illustration for inside cover by Arthur Szyk

The version I’ve reviewed here is Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen, published in 1872, and translated by the same Mrs. H.B. Paull as the version I knew as a child. It’s available for FREE from Feedbooks, and contains 1020 pages consisting of 129 chapters (many with sub-chapters) of a whopping big bunch of Mr. Andersen’s tales.

Andersen didn’t have an easy childhood, nor a particularly happy early life. But those who recognized his talents for writing gave him what help they could – and he found his voice in fairy tales. Certainly the only other names in his league for volume and familiarity would be Grimm, or Mother Goose. Except Grimm and Goose are collected stories – ones which had been told for generations already. Andersen created new stories, many still well known and loved today because of their timeless quality.

I’ve gone back and read some favorites, and discovered other tales I’d never met. But the more I read, the more the moral seemed, “Be Beautiful On The Outside (and the inside will just kind of happen, I suppose).”

In The Ugly Duckling, for example, everyone, even his own mother, shuns him because he’s not beautiful. He gets nipped, kicked, starved, shunned, and nearly killed. Until he’s pretty – then everyone loves him.

In The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf, we meet Inge, who is the kind of little psychopath that pulls wings off of flies and throws down a loaf of bread into a mud puddle so she won’t get her shoes dirty. And we’re told:

“She grew worse instead of better with years, and, unfortunately, she was pretty, which caused her to be excused, when she should have been sharply reproved.”

Which is why, when she pulls the loaf stunt, she sinks to the underworld where she gets to be dirty and frozen and covered in crawling wingless flies. Act wicked? Well, then, it’s a beating with the ugly stick for you!


Edmund Dulac’s depiction of the Princess

Then there are the stories that don’t seem to translate well. Perhaps there are cultural references I’m missing. In The Goblin and the Huckster, we follow the exploits of a goblin, a student, and the namesake huckster (merchant) and his wife. Along with a cast of animated inanimate objects which would make great fodder for Henson Studios. Basically, the goblin can’t decide if he wants to move in with the student – who seems to have a magical book – or stay with the huckster, who has really good jam. The story ends thusly:And of course, in The Princess and the Pea, the genuine Princess is discovered when even through 20 mattresses and 20 eider-down beds she gets her beautiful, tender skin all bruised by a mean, nasty, dried up legume.

“…and the goblin again began to reflect, he hesitated, and said at last, ‘I must divide myself between the two; I cannot quite give up the huckster, because of the jam.’

“And this is a representation of human nature. We are like the goblin; we all go to visit the huckster ‘because of the jam.'”

Now if any of you can explain that one to me, I’m all ears.

Luckily, plenty of his tales are more relatable; even in their original, old-school, harsh realities of the world versions. The synonymous Little Mermaid even has a statue dedicated to her in the harbor at Copenhagen, her legs not quite formed from her tail, her gaze somewhere between land and sea.

If you would like to peruse the same gigantic collection of Andersen that I did, you can find it for FREE over on Feedbooks.

If you would prefer a smaller, more illustrated version, there are several lovely FREE editions available on The Internet Archive:

This version from 1899 was translated by Mrs. E. Lucas, the other half of the team that translated my childhood version. It’s illustrated in early Art Nouveau style by brothers Charles, William Heath, and Thomas Robinson.

This version, published by Doubleday in 1914, features the most well-known tales illustrated by Dugald Stewart Walker. There are several color plates, as well as extremely detailed, if sometimes abstract, black and white renderings. The style is a mix of Deco and Nouveau, and is quite striking.

This version, published around 1908, features illustrations on nearly every other page. The artist, Helen Stratton, used a mix of styles, suiting the pictures to each story.

If you care more about the sound of the words, Librivox has you covered. And covered again. And again. And some more. In particular, I recommend The Brave Tin Soldier as read by Peter Yearsley, The Tinderbox read by “doonaboon“, and The Little Match-Seller as read by Kristin Gjerløw.

If you find yourself in Odense, Denmark, you can visit Andersen’s namesake museum. They have made a wealth of their collection available online, for FREE, for anyone who cares to look. I looked a lot. You should too, it’s fascinating, especially the collection of books in various languages.

If Denmark is just too far away from you, and you are ever near Solvang, California, you can visit the Hans Christian Andersen Museum there.

While we haven’t really covered Andersen on the blog before, we’ve certainly covered fairy tales.
Gen has covered the beautifully illustrated Fairy Books of Andrew Lang.
Blythe gave us a bit of insight into the Traditional Irish Fairy Tales by James Stephens.
And I covered Ozaki’s Japanese Fairy Tales earlier this Spring.

So, find a new favorite, or visit an old friend. Just remember to behave (and be pretty).

By SyllieBee

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