The Fairy Tale King

Wednesday, 13 June 1849 - Copenhagen, Denmark

Today I visited the home of one of the most beloved story tellers of all time--Hans Christian Andersen. Since 1845, he has been living at 67 Nyhavn in Copenhagen. It is a quaint neighborhood, despite the fact that these are the city docks, where ships unload.

Andersen is a shy but charming fellow. He appears to live by himself. He graciously took the time to grant me a short interview.

Andersen was born in Odense, Denmark, 2nd of April, 1805. He was apprenticed to a tailor, but decided that wasn’t for him. So he left when he was 14 and came to Copenhagen to become an actor.

However his real talent has always been writing. He published his first story when only 17. It was a ghost story. He wrote more short stories as well novels, poems, plays and travelogues. Then in 1835 he wrote a book of Fairy Tales. It bombed. So he wrote more short stories, novels, poems, plays and travelogues.

He never gave up on Fairy Tales, though. Since 1838 he has published four more volumes. He is currently working on another collection to be printed in five booklets this year, starting in August, and published together in one volume next year.

Andersen told me he had visited England two years ago. He got to meet his childhood hero, Charles Dickens at a party. Dickens made quite an impression on Andersen, but then Andersen made an impression on Dickens. It’s believed Dickens modeled his character, Uriah Heap, on the Dane--well, the physical description, anyway. Andersen didn’t strike me as a back-stabbing yes-man.

I also noticed a photo on a table of a young lady and asked if she was a relative. Andersen picked it up and said it was his friend, Jenny Lind, the Swedish opera singer. The way he looked at the photo, I think he wished they were more than friends.

Then I remembered, Andersen never married. It’s hard to believe a successful writer couldn’t snag a wife. But Andersen is shy and has a habit of falling in love with the unobtainable. It’s believed many of his fairy tales reflect his unrequited love “affairs.” I couldn’t help but feel for the poor chap.

On the brighter side, Andersen’s rising star as a writer will only shine brighter. He will become internationally famous and receive a stipend from the king of Denmark in his old age. Even before he dies in 1875, the city will be already be designing and planning a statue for him at the Town Hall Square.

Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales will never go out of print and he will be loved by generation of children. There will one day even a statue of him in New York City’s Central Park. It will have to be replaced over the centuries because children have worn it down, hugging it and crawling on its lap. I think Andersen would have liked that.

Danny Kaye as Hans Christian Andersen tells the story of
The Ugly Duckling

Hans Christian Andersen the artist? He used to make paper cutouts to entertain children. You can find his collection at The Hans Christian Andersen Museum at his birthplace in Odense.

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