216 years ago (2 April 1805) Hans Christian Andersen was born in Odense, Denmark. Over the last 2 centuries adults and children alike have fallen under the spell of this master storyteller. And here we have a masterful and engaging retelling of this great author’s life by Anna Carew-Miller. This must-have biography is illustrated with stunning art by multi-award-winning Russian artist Kirill Chelushkin, whose celebrity status in the contemporary art world saw his name added to the Top 20 most expensive Russian artists in 2017.
Andersen’s childhood and youth were mostly unhappy. His family was poor and his loving father died when Hans was a young child. Bullied and isolated, he often hid from his peers. Excluded from the joyful pursuits of children his age, Hans found refuge in books and later in theatre, dreaming throughout his childhood of becoming a great actor and performing at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen. Despite his best efforts that dream didn’t come true. It was then that he decided to switch to writing and eventually found his voice as an author.
“Andersen’s friends often saw him bent over a small wooden desk, writing furiously. His face was unshaven, his hair uncombed but it didn’t matter. In those moments, he was king of his castle of words, dictating the twists and turns of a story. The hand holding the pen was full of power, commanding each word to fall into place”.Anna Carew-Miller
Unlike brothers Grimm who travelled around Germany to collect and retell existing folk stories, fables and tales, Andersen’s stories were all routed in his own (often unhappy) experiences. His tales seldom had a “happily ever after” ending. The story of the ugly duckling is an exception where all ended well and fair. The little mermaid, on the other hand, had to give up her beautiful voice to become human. While the poor little match girl had to work hard just to stay alive, only to die on a Christmas Eve night, sighing out her last breath on a cold street just a few steps away from a wealthy house full of festive and well-fed residents and guests.
There is no sugar-coating in these tales and this authenticity had always been instantly felt and loved by children of his time. This is of course no different with children of today.
What’s your favourite Andersen tale?