This edition of The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen edited by Noel Daniel is a sumptuous collection of the author’s work.
The book opens with a detailed biography which is truly fascinating.
In describes how Hans rose from humble origins to become one of the most famous authors of the time – much celebrated by society – even fêted by royalty of the day.
His father was a shoemaker but had taught himself to read and unusually for the time actually owned a cupboardful of books. He could actually provide his son with “story time” – probably a rare treat for children of the time.
His mother was illiterate, but strongly influenced by the verbal story telling tradition of the region. She was actually deeply superstitious and firmly entrenched in the world of Scandinavian folklore where creatures such as goblins, trolls, witches & spirits roamed.
You can see how the combination of these two important role models would lead Hans on his path to literary fame.
Hans himself became a voracious reader and spent much time alone immersed in books. He also had a puppet theatre – no doubt a magical world where he developed story lines & characters, made costumes, adapted language & voices.
Another important influence was actually his local asylum! His grandmother tended the garden there and Hans often accompanied her. He would sneak off to the spinning room – the social heart of the place, where old women of the town would tell tales to amuse themselves whilst spinning. It was full of gossip & exciting chatter for a small boy – a place where he could get wrapped up in the oral tradition of peasant folktales. In this world even inanimate objects had their own minds & special powers. An ability to anthropomorphize objects became a hallmark of his work.
He was actually very ambitious and craved recognition. We like this quote of his: “Being born in a duck yard does not matter, if only you are hatched from a swan’s egg”. A true statement of intent.
His stories have become classics, much loved by successive generations – The Ugly Duckling, The Princess & The Pea, The Tinderbox, The Snow Queen, The Darning Needle, The Little Match Girl – to name but a few.
Each tale has its own dedicated chapter. The title page has a few introductory words encompassing a short overview, origins, influences and other little snippets related to that particular story. Then follows the tale itself with accompanying illustrations.
This collection of tales is again illustrated by a wonderful array of artists. The artwork is stunning throughout and everyone will have their own favourites. It might even change with each reading!
Josef Palecek (The little mermaid), Einar Nerman ( The Swineherd), Katharine Beverley & Elizabeth Ellender (The Snow Queen) are some that particularly caught our eye.
In fact we loved the Snow Queen so much we’ve included 3 illustrations. They were done in the 1920s. The stark black & white with flashes of red is just stunning.
The book closes with artists’ biographies; again well researched & very interesting.
We reviewed companion publication, The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm last year – it complements this Andersen collection perfectly!
A wonderful book for adults & children alike – you never know where “story time” might lead!!
[Many thanks to TASCHEN for this review copy]