Top 10 Interesting Facts about Hans Christian Andersen


Growing up you might have enjoyed fairy tales such as Thumbelina, The Little Mermaid, The Princess and the Pea, The Ugly Duckling and The Snow Queen just to mention but a few. These and about 163 others we authored by Hans Christian Andersen.

The Danish author was born in Denmark to poor parents and his path was plagued with class structure. It’s a good thing then that his literary work was a success from the get-go- Andersen’s first work, self-published was “Fodrejse fra Holmens Kanal til Østpynten af Amager i aarene 1828 og 1829. He also wrote plays and novels. Andersen left behind his diaries and thousands of letters that are still legible.

Andersen has quite a number of works under his belt. In fact, a collection of his stories were published the same year he died. There’s more to uncover hence here are the top 10 interesting facts about Hans Christian Andersen.

1. Some of Andersen’s fairy tales are autobiographical

Hans Christian Andersen- by Thora Hallager- Wikimedia Commons

Andersen let his readers walk a mile in his shoes through some of his works, which captivated many a reader across Europe. Critics of his work and even Andersen himself have admitted to most of his stories being a reflection of his own life.

His childhood was characterized by hardship- he briefly had to work at age 11 to support his mother after the death of his father. He was also teased at school for his appearance and high pitched voice. Such experiences gave birth to fairy tales such as The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid, and The Steadfast Tin Soldier- these stories have recurrent themes of dilemma or trouble but later triumph.

2. Andersen was declared a Danish national treasure

Little Mermaid Statue in Langelinje Pier, Copenhagen- by Eva Rinaldi- Wikimedia Commons

This prestigious honor was bestowed upon Andersen when he was about 69 years old. A street has been named after him- H.C. Andersens Boulevard, on which is a statue of him. There are two museums dedicated to his work in his hometown Odense in Denmark- H.C. Andersen Hus and H.C. Andersens Barndomshjem. Andersen’s childhood home is also open to visitors.

Langelinje Pier in Copenhagen boasts a sculpture of one of Andersen’s subjects- the little mermaid. There is also a statue of Andersen and the Ugly Duckling in New York’s Central Park.

3. Andersen was dyslexic

Andersen’s Childhood home- by Ipigott- Wikimedia Commons

Andersen suffered dyslexia growing up but he learned to read. He, however, struggled with spelling and his handwritten copy was riddled with typos. His publishers thankfully corrected this but did not tamper with his way of writing, which was as close to the spoken language as it gets, giving his work longevity and freshness. Andersen’s work is enjoyed even today.

4. Andersen suffered Taphophobia

The author was no stranger to phobia’s as he had quite a number. Perhaps one of his greatest fears was being accidentally buried alive (Taphophobia)- he countered or tried to counter this by leaving out a note saying “I only appear to be dead.” Other famous people that had a similar fear George Washington and Nikolai Golgol,

Besides this, Andersen feared dogs. He also always carried a long rope during his travels in case he had to escape a fire. How’s that for safety measures!

5. Andersen made for a disconcerting house guest

When Andersen met his literary hero Charles Dickens in 1847, he must have been ecstatic. Even more when he got an invitation to stay with Dickens’ family in Kent England for a maximum of two weeks. To the astonishment and shock of his host family, Andersen extended this visit, not by a couple of days but by a whopping three weeks!

Right from his arrival to the Dickens’ home, Andersen declared it a Danish custom to have his hosts’ firstborn son shave him! He was however sent to the barbers. The Dickens were also treated to a display of tantrums- Andersen once threw himself down on the lawn sobbing when he read a bad review of one of his books.

It would seem that Dickens couldn’t wait to get out of this friendship soon enough as he stopped responding to Andersen’s letters after they had to evict him.

Of the room that Andersen stayed in, Dickens wrote: “Hans Andersen slept in this room for five weeks—which seemed to the family AGES!”

Andersen made quite the house guest!

6. Andersen’s image may have been lost in translation abroad

Andersen’s work has been translated into more than 125 languages, which is no mean feat. However, these translations were not necessarily accurate or retelling of his stories as they are.

This watered-down Andersen’s stature as a writer. According to two reviewers Diana Crone Frank and Jeffrey Frank who have a modern translation of “The Stories of Hans” by Andersen, poor translations rendered Andersen a “quaint 19th-century writer of charming children’s stories,” instead of the literary giant that he was.

Andersen is the 8th most translated author in the world.

7. Andersen loved traveling

Andersen recorded his travels and did publish some of his travelogues, such as In Sweden published in 1851, Shadow Pictures of a Journey to the Harz, Swiss Saxony, A Poet’s Bazaar, In Spain, and A Visit to Portugal in 1866.

8. Andersen’s fairy tales are not only addressed to children

Plate facing page. Fairy tales from Hans Christian Andersen- by Andersen, H. C. Dugald Stewart Walker

While the content in Andersen’s stories is not of adult themes, nor his writing meant for just adults, including the fairy tales, they did distil the satisfactions, tensions, hopes, and fears experienced by Europeans as the Napoleonic war came to an end. This earned Andersen vast readership.

In his critique of Andersen’s work, Paul binding a leading British literary critic, novelist and a renowned expert in Scandinavian literature opined that “Andersen cannot be confined to the category of writings for children. His work stands at the very heart of mainstream European literature”.

9. Andersen may have been celibate in his lifetime

There have been analyses of possible homoerotic themes in Andersen’s body of work- he is said to have directed unrequited affections at both men and women.

Andersen did fall in love severally but he never married. He has been linked to singer Jenny Lind and Danish dancer Harold Scharff. His journals record his refusal to have sexual relations in his early life.

While he struggled with personal relationships, he did live a long and full life.

10. Andersen died of liver cancer

Andersen_Museum- by Christian Bickel- Wikimedia Commons

Andersen died of liver cancer. His final publication was a collection of stories which appeared in 1872. In the same year, he sustained a serious injury from a fall from his bed.

With the cancer diagnosis, the Danish government began commemorating Andersen’s life and work. This is also when work began on his statue. The government also started paying him a stipend. Andersen is fêted in Denmark for the literary giant that he is.

Andersen’s birthday is celebrated by default as it is observed as International Children’s book day. This day observed on April 12th is meant to inspire a love of reading and is call attention to children’s books. Andersen must be smiling about this and ecstatic on every April 12th since he was trolled for writing for children- a niche once considered unimportant and unnecessary.

His life and work is honored and led the way for other children’s classics such as Winnie the Pooh by A.A Milne.

You can enjoy an old movie about Andersen’s life, as well as some of his stories, turned to film.