If you are like me, you may have connected Hans Christian Andersen to the Brothers Grimm, right? They both are known for their huge collection of fairy tales, but in truth, there is little else similar between the two, as I was surprised to discover. The Grimm Brothers collected folk and fairy tales mostly from Germany, since they were German. Andersen, however, wrote all of his tales, and as he was Danish, he often included Danish history, famous Danish places, and famous Danes. Not all of his stories, however, take place in Denmark. And not all are fairy tales, and in fact, the fairy tales are of a much different variety than the Brothers Grimm. I think the Grimm tales are perceived as the "they all lived happily ever after" type, where the ugly person is wicked and the beautiful princess is good (but not always, and that sets a bad prejudice for children). There are lots of castles and witches that cast spells and a kiss that often breaks them. In general, when you read the entire collection, as I have, you realize there is a great variety. There are lots that range from silly to just plain stupid, and of course, animals that talk like humans. And, I must admit, there is more depth in these stories than the Grimm Brothers' tales, so that even adults must ponder many of them in order to grasp their meaning. I'm not sure they were all meant for children. Here is the link to the The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm
With Andersen, however, I would sum up his tales thus: As mentioned above, many of his tales are excellent to educate children on Danish history, with a fictional tale wrapped around an actual historical event, place, or person, especially Danish poets, artists and sculptors. Some of them are pretty close to being biographical, with embellishments. Many have Viking characters, and many go way back in history, and Denmark has indeed a very long history!
But, whereas animals could talk in the Grimm tales, with Andersen, everything talks. Spoons and pens, shirt collars and garters (in one of the rather naughty tales!), dolls, flowers, especially roses which play a huge role, the winds, trees, and just about everything else. Not only do they talk, but Andersen made them sentient, in that, we suddenly have to imagine how an inkstand or darning needle might feel in a particular situation. At first I found it irritating, but it later became not only amusing, but inspired my creative thinking. But what was really strange were the marriages, like a ball that's in love with a bird, or a snowman who pines for a stove (bad match, no pun intended), or a click beetle marrying the princess. I had a hard time wrapping my mind around those and cringed at the thought of their offspring!
What I did NOT like, and this became more annoying as I progressed, is that Andersen was obviously a strict Catholic, and the majority of these tales are religiously based. That part is fine, and I can understand how Christians could use them to teach children religious morals. Grimm's witches and goblins and fairy godmothers are often replaced by angels and devils, and help arrives in a being sent by "god." Although there are lots of fairies and other magical beings, too. What is not good, especially in this modern age, (I would hope), is that they stress that death is the goal in life, and get to heaven as soon as you can. So many tales that would have a happily ever after ending written by someone else, instead end with death, lots and lots of death death DEATH! And according to Andersen, that is a happy ending. Well, I'm not Christian, and I DO NOT agree. One thing was rather interesting, however. The Project Gutenberg collection that I used presents the stories alphabetically, although their alphabetizing is rather strange—perhaps it is based on the tales as written in Danish. But I noticed that when I got to the "S"s, the stories seemed to lighten up and become more "traditional" fairy tales! Go figure . . . .
And I don't want to imply that these are all serious stories. Some of them are hysterically funny, and a few even contain some sly adult humor (Andersen, you rascal!). Some are not tales at all, but essays, or perhaps, musings that seem as if they were written when Andersen was in a contemplative mood. As mentioned above, there were lots of roses, and flowers in general that played important roles. Birds were important, too, especially storks, but also swans, swallows, and barnyard poultry. The human characters were often very poor. Little children are paired with very old people. But as I said, there are lots of tales here, so there's a huge variety of themes.
The Project Gutenberg collection I used contains 127 tales, although Wikipedia says there are 156, and I found another source that said 168, although there may be a discrepancy of what is considered a "fairy tale." Project Gutenberg has a great many other works by Andersen to download for free, including other fariy tale collections, many that are illustrated, which, just by glancing through them, adds to the interest of the story, plus other of his works that are not fairy tales. So, I've downloaded quite a bit more.
Here's some biographical info about Andersen from Wikipedia. He was born in 1805, in Odense, Funen, Denmark–Norway, and died in Copenhagen in 1875 at the age of 70.
Here's a travel website where you can enjoy the beauty of Denmark, and also see Andersen's home.
This Humble Home Launched a Thousand Fairy Tales