Hans Christian Andersen


Karin Fernald’s illustrated talk on Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) at the September meeting told us far more about the celebrated Danish writer of fairy tales than I learned from watching the Danny Kaye film about him. He produced one hundred and fifty six tales.


The film opens with the age old line ‘once upon a time…’ but it is not the real story of the writers’ life. Karin spoke of his dislike of school – something he regretted in later life.


His father died when he was eleven and later he ran away to Copenhagen to seek his fortune. He wanted to be an actor, his love of theatre inspired by the toy theatre his father made. He found it hard to deal with the real world and escaped into the magic of theatre.


He became a teacher but enjoyed reading poems and stories to friends at parties.


He travelled to Rome and walked in the Harz mountains with a friend. He loved the railways and was excited when they came to Denmark.


I loved his stories as a child and took them at face value – as children’s fairy stories. But as Karin told us more about his life and writing , she showed that many of the stories were metaphors for his own life and the world around him. e.g. The Ugly Duckling can be traced to his sensitivity about his appearance, in particular his large nose and The Steadfast Tin Soldier to his father being a soldier. The Nightingale story was  written in honour of the Swedish singer Jenny Lind, whose performances he attended.


He was very popular and it is said that soldiers going into battle carried copies of his stories in their pockets.


The slides illustrating Andersen and his stories added extra interest to the talk. Childhood memories were awakened by Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac’s beautiful illustrations of his most famous stories, including The Little mermaid and The Snow Queen. A feature of his stories were the wonderful elaborate paper cuts he used to illustrate the tales. Karin closed her talk with a reading of one of his lesser known and charming tales –  The Teapot.


Many thanks to Karin for her beautifully illustrated talk. We hope to welcome her to CLS again.



 Karin Fernald