Hans Christian Andersen: The Misunderstood Storyteller

Hans Christian Andersen: The Misunderstood Storyteller

Hans Christian Andersen: The Misunderstood Storyteller

Hans Christian Andersen: The Misunderstood Storyteller

Synopsis

The 2005 bicentenary of Hans Christian Andersen's birth is an opportunity to re-evaluate the achievement of one of the great figures of the fairy tale and storytelling tradition, a beloved writer famous for The Snow Queen and The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling and The Red Shoes and many other now classic tales. Jack Zipes broadens our understanding of Andersen by exploring the relation of the Danish writer's work to the development of literature and of the fairy tale in particular. Based on thirty-five years of researching and writing on Andersen, this new book is a welcome reconsideration of Andersen's place and of his reception in English-speaking countries and on film.

Excerpt

No other notable European writer did more to make himself misunderstood by his readers while begging for their recognition than Hans Christian Andersen. Not that any writer can ever be fully understood the way he or she wants to be grasped. Part of all great writing is its elusiveness, and a writer, especially a writer of fairy tales, purposely wants to elude his readers. Andersen knew this, but he wanted to become famous and recognized as a great writer exactly because he was so elusive. He wanted to be admired not as a writer for children, but as a genial artist who commanded all forms of writing — poetry, drama, novels, essays, librettos, travel books, short stories, and fairy tales. He wanted to bask in divine glory, for he believed that God had assigned him a special place on earth. Yet, today he is known primarily as a writer of fairy tales for children, perhaps one of the most original and gifted, and in English-speaking countries, even this recognition is somewhat limited and distorted by images and representations of Andersen and his tales in popular culture.

Certainly we shall never learn who the “true” Hans Christian Andersen was or what the “truths” of his works are. But we may learn more about him and appreciate his accomplishments by discovering who he was not and by critically reappraising all his works. It is only through a sociohistorical critique that we can reflect upon his contemporary significance. Such an approach to Andersen and his writings is not meant to diminish his significance, especially as a writer of fairy tales. Rather, it is more an endeavor to reappraise his stature during the commemoration of his 200th birthday. It seems to me to be more appropriate not to sing his praises and join the fanfare of celebration that might further the misrecognition about which he complained, but to take him seriously and . . .

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