When I was a kid, I loved reading all kinds of stories, myths, and fables, but I especially loved the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen. I preferred his stories to the sanitized Disney stories portrayed in the movies, as many kids (and grownups) do.
I’ve been thinking about Hans Christian Andersen lately as I’ve been listening to a story collection by Neil Gaiman, called Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances and they remind me of all the old stories I loved to read as a child.
It turns out today, April 3, is the date Hans Christian Andersen was born, in the year 1805. His career is inspirational. He published a collection of his “children’s stories” every couple of years for decades. His first collection of tales for children included “The Princess and the Pea,” and he also wrote “The Ugly Duckling,” (one of my favorites when I was a child), “The Little Mermaid,” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”
I wonder when I stopped reading myths and fairy tales? I’m sure it was before I started medical school, but residency was the time when I really started to avoid fiction that didn’t have a happy ending. For a while there, I read only genre fiction as I needed to know, in my reading life if not in my real life, that there are happy endings. And fairy tales are great stories, but not everyone in them ends up happily ever after.
But now I’m back to reading anything and everything. I realize any story can be told as a fairy tale or a tragedy and the author’s art is partly in now they choose to tell the story. I recently wrote the story of my own life in my journal—two versions. In one version I was the victim, in the other version I’m the hero.
I’m really enjoying Trigger Warning, with it’s heroes, villains, and victims. Reading this book prompted me to rummage around in the basement and find my collection of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales. I think it’s time to start reading these to my son so he can see the full range of characters available to him—he gets to be the author of his own fairy tales, as we all do.
Happy Birthday, Hans Christian Anderson. Two hundred years after his birth, I’m so grateful he lived and wrote.
What’s your favorite fairy tale?
Diane MacKinnon: is a writer, blogger, mother, life coach, and family physician. I’m celebrating Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday by sharing his stories with my son.