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Young World

Wonder and mystery

The stories of Hans Christian Andersen linger in the mind long after they have been read. The magic lies in the combination of realism and imagination.

Fairy tales are not necessarily about fairies. The Grimm brothers made a collection of popular stories that we now know as the Grimms' fairy tales. Many of Oscar Wilde's stories (such as the story of the selfish giant) are called fairy tales too. Another really popular writer of fairy tales is the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen.

Though his stories are based on folk legends, they are written in his inimitable style and have an autobiographical element. Unlike other fairy tales they have a thread of contemporary social satire running through them. He also wrote plays, novels, poems and travel books. But he is remembered as the writer of fairy tales. Andersen's fairy tales are among the most translated stories in literary history.

Andersen was born on April 2, 1805, at Odense, near Copenhagen. His first book, A Walk from Holmens Canal to the East Point of the Island of Amager in the Years 1828 and 1829, was an instant success. He next wrote a play, The Mulatto about the evils of slavery, but it was not considered good enough for the stage. He then turned to writing novels. The best known were The Improviser and Only a Fiddler. Andersen's first book of fairy tales was called Tales Told for Children. It was published in 1835. It included some of his best-loved stories such as The Tinderbox, Little Claus and Big Claus, The Princess and the Pea, and Little Ida's Flowers. His readers both young and old liked the book so much that he followed it up with A Picture-book Without Pictures and New Fairy Tales and Stories.

People loved his stories because they were different, both in style and theme. He broke away from the traditional style of telling stories and also used idioms and common expressions. While a few of his stories like The Snow Queen depict the triumph of good over evil, many are tragic.

Once again he broke away from the tradition that all fairy tales should end happily. His stories depict life — and are happy and sad. He felt that children should be told about every aspect of life. But he always told the stories from a child's perspective so that they might understand what he was trying to say, even in stories like The Little Mermaid. It is this touch of realism that made him so popular.

His stories are a wonderful combination of imagination woven into universal themes, transcending barriers of class, country and culture. At the same time they retain the distinctive appeal of folk tales. One of the reasons for the underlying current of sadness in his stories is the fact that Andersen always identified himself with the unfortunate. Many of the stories bring out the sad, unhappy experiences of his life. Although he was educated and a successful writer he always saw himself as an outsider in the society he lived in, never completely accepted like the others. This also affected some of his closest relationships. His characters gave voice to his own suffering deep down in his heart. That is what makes his stories so compelling. They continue to linger in our thoughts long after they have been read.

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