Hans Christian Andersen (April 2, 1805-August 4, 1875) was a poet and author born in Odense, Denmark, most known for his fairy tales. Coming from a modest background, many of his stories address adversity and climbing the social ladder. Works of his that have become most popular in the United States and other parts of the West include "The Snow Queen," "The Ugly Duckling," "The Little Mermaid," and "The Princess and the Pea." After spending his formative years at schools in Copenhagen, Andersen spent much of his life in Germany where his stories had garnered exceptional attention and popularity.



Andersen was born to working-class parents, his father a shoemaker and his mother a launderer. He was an only child, and his parents spoiled him in the ways that they could: they encouraged his imagination through books including Arabian Nights. In his autobiography, Andersen stated that his town of Odense was conducive to creativity because it preserved popular traditions and superstitions that served as his inspiration. He was particularly inspired by, and even borrowed from, the folktales of the elderly female occupants at the Odense Hospital.

Anderson first started writing after an unsuccessful period at the Royal Danish Theater in 1819. Although he didn't succeed at becoming an actor, dancer, or singer, his attempts weren't for naught, because the director of the theater, Jonas Collins, saw something in him and paid for the majority of his education in Copenhagen. Collins convinced King Frederik VI to pay for the remaining balance.

Andersen's time in Copenhagen greatly influenced his work. He was exposed to the world of art and wanted badly to be a part of it, but struggled with his lackluster background. The difficulties of the transition were exemplified in his works, "The Little Mermaid," and "The Mulatto." Andersen regarded his time in school with bitterness. He said that the faculty and his classmates discouraged him from writing and mocked his ambitions, which caused him to enter a state of severe depression.


Illustration from The Little Mermaid


Illustration from Thumbelina 



Andersen spent much of his life outside of Denmark, about nine years in total. He traveled to 29 countries and wrote five travel books. He was particularly inspired by nature and popular culture in Italy. When he went to Sweden, became set on writing a poem that portrayed the oneness of the Scandinavian countries, especially Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.


Andersen's works have become hugely popular in the West. He was one of the first to bring inanimate objects to life in his stories, a technique which has been used consistently since. His birthday is celebrated as International Children's Book Day.


Read Hans Christian Anderson's Fairy Tales and Stories 

Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Wednesday, 02 April 2014
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