Commentary

The Stories of Hans Christian Anderson: An Appreciation

What better invokes the feeling of Winter than ‘Sneedronningen’ or as English speaking readers know it, ‘The Snow Queen’ by Danish storyteller Hans Christian Andersen which was first published nearly one hundred and eighty years ago? What storyteller is to this day more beloved this writer?

Well, his stories at any rate. Our archives have these choice words on his character by Jane Yolen who has been called the American Hans Christian Andersen:

He was a wet, moist blubberer who was vastly unknowing about his gender preferences. A brilliant storyteller, he was also an astonishing egoist, namedropper, and bore.

The Dickens family — on whom he foisted himself for a five week stay (which seemed to them endless) — had nothing good to say about him when he finally left. Yet how lucky for the world that he was who he was, because his stories will live forever.

The story as most of you already know centres on the struggle between good and evil as experienced by a little boy and girl, Kai and Gerda as they encounter The Snow Queen and her reality. The story itself has been used over and over in other tales including C.S.Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, and Bill Willingham’s Fables graphic novel series. It is even used in Joan D. Vinge’s sf novel The Snow Queen, which added interstellar travel, oceanic sentient mammals, and a galaxy-wide conspiracy to the original story. The Michael Whelan cover art for that novel is the illustration for this post.

But there is much more to him that just this well- known tale as Terri Windling over at Endicott Studio in her essay, ‘Hans Christian Andersen — Father of the Modern Fairy Tale’ tells his story far better than I can. She certainly does a better job of looking at this writer than fellow folklorist Jack Zipes does in his study of him.

Endicott Studio also has a look at his ‘Little Mermaid’ story, a poem inspired by the same story, a poem rifting off his ‘Pea Princess’, and the role of Death in his stories.

Now I think the definitive collection of his tales is The Annotated Hans Christian Anderson that folktale specialist Maria Tatar did a few years back — all the stories with many of the original illustrations and enough commentary to give you their proper context.

For another excellent reading experience, I suggest this collection of selected tales as it’s light on commentary but is an excellent introduction to his stories.

Each person I asked picked a different story as their favorite such as Ellen Kushner who says that ‘The Princess and the Swineherd’ is right on up there for her.

And I’ll let Kage Baker have the last word as she has a favorite story by him.

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