Hans Christian Andersen is a name synonymous with fairy tales and a figure who has inspired much speculation and fascination in his readers. His stories have enchanted for more than a century and a half, from the hilarious (and cuttingly insightful) tale of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” to the beguiling tragedy of “The Little Mermaid.” But who was this eccentric Danish man, and why have his fairy tales become so canonical?
Folklorists Sara Cleto and Brittany Warman explore the strange, sometimes melancholy life of the man whose tales so many would grow to love, though the recognition he craved often eluded him during his own lifetime. They examine the stories themselves, including Andersen’s folkloric influences, motivations, and even the harsh criticism the works first received.
They provide an in-depth discussion of the concept of the literary fairy tale—a subject of significant controversy in folklore studies. They also look at the impact of Andersen’s fairy tales, paying particular attention to culturally important adaptations such as Disney’s The Little Mermaid and the significant—and lasting—changes its creators chose to make to the tale.
Their insights into Andersen’s tales—stories characterized both by extreme beauty and extreme suffering— reveal why his work continues to haunt and dazzle us today.