Sunday, April 2, 2017

Born Today April 2: Hans Christian Andersen


Danish author Hans Christian Andersen was born on this day in Odense, Denmark.  There have been persistent stories about his family coming from royalty and, even more far-fetched, that he was the illegitimate son of the then current king of Denmark.  All have proven unfounded; most of the stories have their origin with Andersen's actual father, who apparently just couldn't except his own humble background.  Ironically it was also his father, a self-taught shoemaker, who introduced young Hans to literature. Though his father only had an elementary education, he would read to his son--with Arabian Nights being a favorite.  His father, though would die when Hans was quite young; his uneducated mother, who worked as a washerwoman, remarried and Hans was sent to a basic school for poor children.  He was later forced to support himself, becoming an apprentice to a weaver.  He later went to work for a tailor.  At just 14, he left his home town and set out for Copenhagen to become an actor.  For his age, he amazingly still possessed an fine soprano voice, however, that would not last long, but for a time he was hired as a choir boy at the Royal Danish Theater.  After his change of voice, this opportunity was gone, but he was told by a theater employee that he had potential as a poet and he soon turned to writing.  Additionally the director of theater sent Andersen off a proper grammar school in Slagelse, persuading the Crown to pay for part of the cost (this may the source of the rumor that he was an illegitimate member of the royal family).  He later attended school at Elsinore, leaving in the year 1827.  By half way through his formal schooling, he had already published his first short story.  His school years though were not helpful in advancing his writing career.  He said of them later in life that they were the darkest of his life, with teachers discouraging his writing and a school master abusing him.  This caused depressive episodes.  Once he left school, his writing picked up considerably.  Though Andersen is primarily known for his fairy tales; he was a writer with remarkable range.  In addition to his fanciful stories, he wrote everything from poetry to novels and plays, even travelogues.  After gaining fame as a writer of fairy tales, he traveled extensively, which further gave rise for new story ideas from exotic lands.  Given the popularity of his work in the 20th century, it no surprise that many, many children's and fantasy films have used his work for source material--with well over a dozen coming in the silent era.  The first of these dates from 1902; The Little Match Seller, a 3 minute short directed by early Scottish self made filmmaker James Williamson under the auspices of his own Williamson Kinematograph Compnay.  The first U.S. production using his writing was made in 1908 with Poor Little Match Girl, essentially a remake of the UK film from 1902.  The first film made from his work in his native Denmark was Lykkens galoscher (1921), a Nordisk film.   The first full mono sound film made using his work came from Disney in a animated short in 1931, with their earliest version of The Ugly Duckling.  In fact, the vast majority of mono sound films made from his tales in the early 1930's were animated shorts.  An interesting curiosity is that one of his tales was used in an extremely early television series for children in 1937.  "For The Children" included a reading of some of his stories broadcast in March of that year.  It appears that the first full length sound film made from his work was a German production in 1941 with Die schwedische Nachtigall, and was one of the few films made based on one of his plays.  Over the decades since: many, many films and television episodes  have been filmed based on his work.  The mega Disney blockbuster from 2013 Frozen was based on his The Snow Queen.   The most recent release of a film utilizing his work is the French production L'histoire d'une mére.  There are currently 5 films in various stages of completion that are based on his tales, with the most recently listed being the short The Match Girl's Confession, based on the same tale as the very first film of his work was.  Later in life, Andersen had become so famous the world over, that he was paid an annual stipend by the Danish government.  In 1872, he had a nasty fall from his bed and was badly injured; he never really had a chance to recover from the incident. He was soon thereafter diagnosed with liver cancer.  He died from the disease in Copenhagen on the 4th of August in 1875 at the age of 70.  He was interred in  Assistens Cemetery there.

For More:

A Detailed List of Tales can be found Here.

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