The Stories of Hans Christian Andersen

Diana Crone and Jeffrey Frank, The Stories of Hans Christian Andersen (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003)

This year marks the 200th birthday of Hans Christian Andersen, something that illustrious personality has, of course, not lived to see. However, he lives on in the minds of adults and children everywhere, the seeds of his stories blossoming in countless ways in our contemporary culture. Often, his stories have been subverted and watered down, reduced to shadows of their former glory in the hands of Walt Disney or countless children’s books’ illustrators (though the stories are rendered into shadows, the pictures are often rather pretty). It’s good then that we should be presented with another handsome collection of Andersen’s literary fairy tales: a new translation by Diana Crone and Jeffrey Frank, making claims of a broad representation of his work and restoring the original illustrations by Vilhelm Pedersen and Lorenz Frølich.

This storybook-sized volume opens with an exposé-style introduction entitled “The Real H. C. Andersen.” Therein, Andersen is painted as a bit of a fame-mongering eccentric who always felt alone. The mini-autobiography of thirty-eight pages is, of course, more three-dimensional than that, but I feel it important to note that they paint a bold picture of Andersen’s somewhat negative aspects as well as his glossy charming aspects. He’s a real human character, with all human foibles, and the authors don’t shirk from representing that. The inclusion of this essay serves to set this collection off from other collections of Andersen’s work: this collection seems to be for scholars, for those who want to study the inception and relative nature of Andersen’s stories. This isn’t just another collection for the casual reader of fairy tales.

Neither is this the collection to end all collections, however, featuring only twenty-two stories. About half of these stories should be immediately recognizable to anyone who spent any amount of their childhood reading or watching fairy tale stories, including: “The Snow Queen,” “The Little Mermaid,” and “The Little Match Girl.” However, the other half represents some of Andersen’s less popular tales (“The Sweethearts,” “The Happy Family,” and “Father’s Always Right”), and this is a suitable ratio for a collection trying to break a bit of new ground. Furthermore, each story is annotated: revealing notes giving subtext and placing the story in relation to Andersen’s life are included at the end of each story.

I haven’t learned Danish, so I haven’t read any of Andersen’s stories in the original language. Because of this, I feel rather ill-equipped to evaluate the worth of this new English translation. I will say, however, that this new translation reads very smoothly. The stories come through in a conversational tone, inspiring thoughts of sitting around with a number of beloved children and reading these tales straight from the book.

While this is definitely a worthy addition to any library of fairy tale literature, it shouldn’t be the end of your Hans Christian Andersen selection. There are many other Andersen stories out there to read that aren’t included in this collection, so additional volumes are a must. However, that being said, this is an excellent place to start.

This review was originally published at Green Man Review on August 14th, 2005.