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Hans Christian Andersen was a gifted ugly duckling

Posted in Historical articles, History, Literature, Royalty on Thursday, 30 May 2013

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This edited article about Hans Christian Andersen originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 273 published on 8 April 1967.

Hans Christian Andersen, picture, image, illustration

Hans Christian Andersen,met King Frederick Vi who took a personal interest in the boy

“Once upon a time . . .” said the old lady to the little boy seated beside her in front of the cottage fire. As she began the folk tale which she had heard when she was a girl, the boy closed his eyes in delight.

In his mind he could see the giants and the fairies and the Beautiful Princess of the story as though they were real people. The half-made puppet on his knee was forgotten as he travelled farther and farther into the world of imagination; for to Hans Christian Andersen this was the highlight of the day.

While he listened to his grandmother’s tales, Hans forgot that he was lonely at school, that his cobbler father was so poor that his mother had to work as a washerwoman to earn enough money to buy their food; and – worst of all – that the other boys laughed at him because he was ugly and gawky.

Hans Andersen was born on 2nd April, 1805, in the town of Odense, in Denmark. He was a shy boy, more at home with his beloved puppet theatre than in the company of his school fellows.

Tragedy came when he was 11 years old. His father died and his relatives decided he must follow a trade.

“Be a cobbler, like your father,” he was told. “It is honest work.”

“But I want to be an actor on the stage,” replied Hans.

Looking at the awkward, gangling lad, the well-meaning relatives could hardly stifle their laughter.

Hans was determined. He managed to get an interview at a theatre, but when the time came for his audition, he was so shy that he could not force any words past his lips.

Still believing that his future lay before the footlights, he went to Copenhagen and enrolled as a student in the dancing class of the Theatre Royal: it was the nearest he could get to his stage ambition.

One day, King Frederick VI watched the class and asked about Hans, for he looked so out of place. On hearing of the boy’s poverty, he arranged for Hans to complete his education at a grammar school. The headmaster of the school had very strange ideas on education, and once Hans and his fellow students were forced to watch a public execution ‘to improve their minds’. Later the grim figure of the executioner was to figure in one of Hans’s stories.

Leaving school thankfully, Hans decided he wanted to write instead of act. In 1829 he published his first novel, The Walking Trip. He began travelling and writing books about his experiences, but it was not until 1835 that he wrote his first tale for children. It was called The Tinder Box and told of a soldier who has his every wish granted by the magical box he takes from a witch.

Hans continued to write fables for children. He drew his inspiration from many different sources. When gas lamps replaced the old oil lights in the streets of Copenhagen, he wrote The Old Street Lamp.

His dedication to his craft enabled Andersen to produce such wonderful stories as The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Snow Queen, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, and The Ugly Duckling, which was based on his own ‘ugly duckling’ youth, when it was despaired that he would ever grow up to be a ‘beautiful white swan’.

Hans Andersen’s stories were translated into different languages all over the world. Yet Hans was most proud of his travel books. Of his fairy stories he once said to a friend: “They tap at my forehead and cry, ‘Here we are!’ ”

Hans Andersen died on 4th August, 1875.

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