Even though Hans Christian Andersen's works contain texts of a high quality within many different genres, posterity has not found it to be a coincidence that the fairytales made him world-famous. They are treated in many of the scholarly and educational analyses presented in Andersen CROSSWISE. In 2003 his fairytales and stories were reissued in three annotated and illustrated volumes - the first in ANDERSEN, the new collected edition of the whole body of works. Main Editor, Professor Klaus P. Mortensen's introduction in danish is recommended for further reading. It is full of perspectives and easily accessible for students at upper secondary level. The suggested approaches of Fairytales CROSSWISE might inspire them to read these childhood treasures with fresh eyes.

Once upon a Time ...

Any child knows that between "once upon a time ..." and "... they lived happily ever after", there is a fairytale. But Hans Christian Andersen rarely reused the characteristic prelude of the folktale. When he did, as in "The Steadfast Tin Soldier", he didn't follow it up with a happy ending but with a, for him, typical and painful splitting of souls burning and bodies destroyed by flames. The body of the tin soldier melts into a blob but the blob is shaped like a heart. Andersen was contrary. He brought the folk tales which he himself had heard as a child in the Funen hop garden into his fairytales but he quickly went beyond the orally communicated prose of feudal society. Instead his project became fairytales and stories whose problems, psychology and narrative style belonged to the early stages of middle-class society. Since his breakthrough as an author of fairytales and stories in 1835, he has been able to surprise his audience by working crosswise instead of living up to their expectations.

And the audience became huge. Some of Andersen's almost 160 fairytales have not only become world literature, they are translated more often and are more well-known than any other texts in the world. If they were not addressed to children, this would never have happened even though some of the best of them are primarily or exclusively for adults. If they were only for children, they would presumably have been reduced to a chapter in the history of children's literature. But things went differently, probably because two generations can listen to each their story simultaneously - but also because the texts are concerned with existential conditions that concern any member of a family and are therefore close to both the child and the adult.

The Formulas
"The Fir Tree" varies the opening formula by using the dimension of space instead of time: "Deep in the forest there was such a pretty fir tree..." Thus we as audience are placed in the city which the fir tree longs for. The tree's ambition becomes its death. It leaves a sign in this world - a star pointing from the universe of the fairytale towards eternity. But for the tree itself, "it is over". And the author tears his audience out of their fascination by adding, "And the story too; over, over, and all stories end up being over!" And when Andersen does not emphasise the story as a story, he often includes the audience for instance by addressing the listening child directly.

In "The Little Mermaid" which begins "Far out in the sea", the end is played out in the living-room among the children who have listened to the fairytale. Here they are told that they can help ease the little mermaid's admission to eternal life if they make their parents happy by being nice. So the end of the fairytale depends on their behaviour. Andersen worked with interactivity early on.

The Fantastic
The ability to experience real life as fantastic is a mental one. We all put signs, interpretations and perhaps magic into what we see and hear. As a literary genre, the fairytale is one of many kinds of stories that make use of lies and 'damned fiction'. Stories like that address and actually tell about real life, but only indirectly through accounts of the invented, the imagined, perhaps even the incredible.

The Danish word for 'fairytale' is eventyr, meaning 'adventure'. It comes from Latin and reappears in the main European languages (e.g. German: 'Abenteuer' and French: "aventure"). It was originally used about something that comes along or happens. But in a fairytale nothing happens by itself. The struggle against destiny often uses something that goes against the facts. Not by being less probable or untrue but by being wonderful in the proper sense of the word, that is beyond the reach of ordinary understanding. But the fairytale is not alone in this.

Myths are expressions of the religious conceptions of a society or culture. Cosmological creation accounts about how 'the whole world' came to be also belong in this sphere. Like the myths, they claim to be true and one can choose to believe them or not. The fairytales, on the other hand, acknowledge their lack of trustworthiness but they insist on being entertaining which would hardly be possible if they did not have one or two points up their sleeve. The genre is probably as old as man's ability to brag and tempt others to listen to what is dangerous, daring or incomprehensible. Fairytales have been told on many occasions, some at the inn, some in the nursery. They were often juicy and not suitable for squeamish souls even though small children often prefer the most violent ones.

The supernatural
The supernatural or 'wonderful' - to use Andersen's phrase - can easily be cast aside if you measure everything by your everyday experiences but you can also choose to go beyond these experiences and be seduced into accepting the premises. You may experience fairytales as double fiction. First we accept the fiction by entering an artistically created space in order to see what happens there. Then we meet another fiction: Enchanted characters and things turn up and they contradict what is possible in our everyday life and the fictional universes reflecting that life. When we are stuck in a tight spot, the fairytale is saved by a spirit, a magic formula or a dog that throws the opponents up in the air so that they fall down and go to pieces which is what happens at the end of "The Tinder Box". In the fairytale we not only meet people acting like people do in and outside texts. We also meet animals, plants and things acting like people - but in a way that remains true to our human notions about their patterns of reaction. The fir tree longs so much that it forgets its life here and now but it is reduced to doing so in a 'fir tree-like' way. Likewise, the respective materials that the shepherdess and the chimney-sweep are made of influence their journey into the world and into death.

In Hans Christian Andersen's texts, the use of the folk tale, of magic potions and formulas is usually replaced by an insistence on the everyday, materially rooted characteristics of what is traditionally 'wonderful' in the fictional space. In the same way that we put signs into the reality that we experience on a Sunday walk, Andersen adds an anchoring in reality to the depiction of his fairytale figures. They can be seen, heard and smelled - and they have to follow the rules of the universe they have been taken from in order to be able to communicate the wonderful or the fantastic. That rule also applies to flowers and toys in "Little Ida's Flowers". Even in this case where the child is so sensible, it is evident that the contemporary bourgeois fathers and mothers were afraid that their offspring were to become superstitious by listening to the servants' fairytales which might very well be at odds with Christian faith and morals.

Andersen and faith
Hans Christian Andersen was not a church Christian. His way of thinking about faith and destiny was too peculiar and at times his doubt was too big. Some of the late and little known fairytales are, however, obviously Christian. In the most popular ones imagination and the partial consciousness rule. But they do not rule unsupervised because during most of his long life as a writer, Hans Christian Andersen thought out his fairytales and stories on the basic precondition that he wanted them to be not only original but also serious.

Imagination paved the way from the infinitely small to the infinitely great, from the micro universes of things to the greatest recognition, the union of truth, goodness and beauty, faith, morals and aesthetics. The folk tales, which were rooted in the medieval culture of tradition, had to give way to the inspiration from contemporary artistic fairytales and other writing. Hans Christian Andersen put serious, existential themes in the early bourgeois family on the agenda instead. And with his identification with what was 'childish', he was able to put the sensitivity of childhood into language. He was mightily criticized for it. But he added a psychology to the fairytale that is still modern and that can still challenge our perception of others, children as well as adults.

Child Culture
The writer was far ahead of the depth psychology of the 20th century but he was not alone in taking children and family seriously. In Andersen's lifetime an original Danish culture for children was being gradually created as a replacement for the edification of clergymen and schoolteachers and as an alternative to translated literature for children. Writers concerned with home and school wrote poems that are still being sung, e.g. "I østen stiger solen op" ("The sun rises in the East"), "Nu titte til Hinanden, de favre Blomster smaa" ("The fair little flowers now peep at each other") and "Nu vaagne alle Guds Fugle smaa" ("Now all God's little birds awake"). These popular hymns are from B.S. Ingemann's Morgensange for Børn (Morning Songs for Children), which were published in 1837 for the benefit of the poor children of the Copenhagen orphanages and set to music by C.E.F. Weyse. The first in a long line of painters that illustrated Hans Christian Andersen's fairytales was Vilhelm Pedersen, a young Danish naval officer and student of Wilhelm Marstrand. In 1849-50 his simple drawings were transformed into woodcuts in a German and a Danish collection. In that way the fairytales became familiar to many artists and many media and they have inspired artists all over the world ever since.

Inherent Possibility
When working with Hans Christian Andersen's fairytales you must eventually touch upon the relationship between speech and writing. In his poor youth he got through by entertaining. Even as an adult and a recognized author - which he actually did become - he had to be entertaining to be tolerated in his constant moving from one fashionable home and dinner-table to another. In "Little Ida's Flowers" we meet him as a young student who can tell stories and cut out pictures. The text is written about and for the children of one of the families he often visited, and it contains lines said by children during the reading of the still unfinished fairytale.

The oral character of fairytales
Most of the fairytales are meant to be read aloud. When the contemporary critics complained about the author's excessive use of exclamation marks, they touched upon the modernization of prose that sought to control the oral character of a written text meant to be read aloud in the family circle. The cultured middle-class living-room is the place from which the fairytales themselves expect that their fictitious world will be looked at. We hear the voice of the father across the round table, the paraffin lamp in the middle lights up the pages of the fairytale booklet while he reads and thus he upholds the role of master of the house that, in Lutheran society, is rooted in and legitimized by the reading of the Bible.

The oral character of the reading aloud of a fairytale is different from the narratives that came out of the servants' quarters. While the stories improvise and make topical fairytales, myths and legends with no written source, the artistic fairytale that has been written down has an inherent oral quality that rises above dialect, vulgarity and superstition. The language is not noble. It is a cultured and varied version of the spoken language of the middle-class: suitable for being planted in the mouth of the readers and the ears of the listeners. The performance of the reader was supported and shaped by the text. The reader could practice and try to individualize the lines but his role was laid out by the writer - from laughs and thrills to the certain success of the "Billygoat-Leg-Field-Marshal-Brigadier-General-Commander-Sergeant" which Hans Christian Andersen invented for "The Shepherdess and the Chimney-Sweep".