Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) | Study Guide

Hans Christian Andersen

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Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) | Plot Summary



The Tinder Box (1835)

The first of Hans Christian Andersen's stories to be published, the tale concerns a penniless soldier who retrieves an old tinder box (a box containing materials for kindling a fire) that grants his every wish. After he possesses three chests of copper, silver, and gold, the soldier sets himself up in high style in town. But it takes the three dogs guarding each of the chests to overcome the royal objections to his marrying the beautiful princess.

Little Claus and Big Claus (1835)

This story is a variant of an old Norse folktale in which the impoverished but clever Little Claus manages to outwit his wealthy and very foolish neighbor, Big Claus. No matter how hard Big Claus tries to duplicate the uncanny successes of Little Claus, he fails comically. While Little Clause ends up with several wheelbarrows full of money and a herd of cattle, Big Claus ends up being dumped into a river.

The Princess and the Pea (1835)

A prince is steadfastly determined to marry a princess, and only a genuine princess will do. His clever mother, the queen, knows only a true princess would be sensitive enough to feel the contours of a pea under many mattresses and comforters. When a princess comes into the palace drenched from a storm, the queen has the girl sleep on a stack of mattresses, under which a pea has been placed. In the morning the princess reports she couldn't sleep because of the lump in her bed. Satisfied, the prince marries her.

Little Ida's Flowers (1835)

A little girl asks the student visiting her home why her flowers are so wilted in such a short time. His answer is more fanciful than scientific. But one night, Little Ida takes his advice and watches to see if her flowers dance. They do, and her toys come to life. In the morning her flowers are dead, and she holds a funeral for them.

Thumbelina (1835)

In this folktale-based story, tiny, brave Thumbelina is stolen from her mother and embarks on a series of perilous journeys. She evades being married off to a toad and a mole. With the help of a swallow she has kept from freezing to death, Thumbelina is finally taken to a land of spirit-flowers. There she is rewarded with a suitable husband.

The Traveling Companion (1835)

Poor John prevents two wicked men from depriving a corpse of its proper burial, and is joined in his travels by a mysterious stranger. With the stranger's help, John is able to overcome an evil spell and marry a princess. The stranger reveals to John he is the dead man John had saved from desecration in the church.

The Little Mermaid (1837)

Probably the best known of all Andersen's stories, "The Little Mermaid" is an eloquent expression of longing and the fidelity of love. The youngest daughter of the sea king falls in love with a human prince and pays the price of her voice in order to live near him on land. Although she fails to win the prince's love in marriage, the little mermaid gains an immortal soul.

The Emperor's New Clothes (1837)

A clever pair of swindlers impersonating weavers manage to persuade the emperor that the finest clothes possible are invisible to anyone who is stupid or unworthy of his post. Everyone in the kingdom, including the emperor, is too afraid to admit he or she can't see the emperor's new clothes. It takes the declaration of the truth blurted out by a child for the emperor to come to his senses and realize he really is parading around in public without his clothes.

The Galoshes of Fortune (1838)

This story told in six parts follows the change of ownership of magic galoshes able to transport the wearer to any time or place he or she wishes to visit. However, the galoshes ultimately cause each wearer unhappiness and makes him wish to be home again.

The Steadfast Tin Soldier (1838)

Not a single word is spoken between the one-legged tin soldier and the paper doll dancer who also stands perfectly balanced on one foot. Yet they are in love, or so the tin soldier believes. He maintains his devotion to her despite being swallowed by a fish and ending up melted in the shape of a tin heart.

The Wild Swans (1838)

Elisa's 11 royal brothers have been transformed into swans as a result of an evil spell. However, at night they reassume their human form. Elisa must release them from the enchantment or be burned at the stake as a witch. The emotional and physical journey she endures tests all her resolve.

Ole Lukoie (1842)

Based upon the mythic figure of the Sandman, the magical Ole Lukoie puts children to sleep so he can tell them stories in their dreams. He tells one for each day of the week to little Hjalmar. But on some nights, Ole Lukoie has Hjalmar set out on his own adventures in the dreams the magician brings.

The Swineherd (1842)

In a retelling of a Norse folktale, a poor prince woos a royal bride. The prince is a clever young man who cannot catch the princess's interest. So he disguises himself as a swineherd and gets the greedy princess to kiss him in return for the trinkets he makes for her. When the king finds out what's been going on, he throws her out of the kingdom. The prince then find himself too disgusted with the princess's childishness and vanity to marry her.

The Nightingale (1844)

The poor palace kitchen girl knows where the plain-looking nightingale sings in the woods. Its voice brings tears to the emperor's eyes, but would he rather have a bejeweled, mechanical version of the bird? It takes the approach of Death to teach the emperor a lesson in humility and the difference between art and artifice.

The Ugly Duckling (1844)

This simple tale, one of Andersen's best known, charts the duckling's growth to maturity as he passes through painfully awkward stages. The ridicule of the barnyard animals causes him deep feelings of worthlessness, until at last he discovers he has grown into a beautiful swan.

The Sweethearts (1844)

Although the ball is quite proud of her exotic red Moroccan leather cover and cork filling, her sweetheart, the top, is made of humble wood. After having to spend several years in the gutter, the ball finds herself not nearly as presentable as she was in her youth. When the top finds her, he barely recognizes her before he is taken up and given a new coat of paint.

The Fir Tree (1845)

No longer content to remain in the woods, the fir tree longs to be taken into the town, where he imagines life is bright and exciting. Once there, he experiences brief fame when he is decorated as a glamorous Christmas tree. His moment of glory is short-lived, however, as he is first stored in the attic and then ends up in a fire pile the following spring.

The Snow Queen (1845)

Told in seven parts, this tale is about the long and dangerous journey little Gerda undertakes to rescue her best friend, Kay, from enchantment by the heartless Snow Queen. Due to shards of a demonic mirror that lodge in his eye and heart, Kay no longer cares for Gerda. But she is steadfast in her determination to find him and armed with her purity and love. Kay must endure perils including capture by robbers to reach the Snow Queen's palace and free Kay from the spell he is under.

The Red Shoes (1845)

Karen is very proud of her beauty and tricks her strict, blind guardian into buying her a pair of red shoes rather than plain black ones. The shoes keep her feet dancing perpetually in punishment for her vanity. Exhausted and terrified, Karen begs the executioner to cut off her feet. She begs forgiveness for her vanity and at last an angel allows her to enter a church, where her soul is freed at last.

The Shepherdess and the Chimney-Sweep (1845)

A pair of porcelain figurines from a parlor shelf come to life, but their love for one another is opposed by the old Chinaman. Together, they attempt to elope, but the world outside the parlor is much too dangerous for the shepherdess. The adventure ends well, despite the fact the old Chinaman has broken his back.

The Little Match Girl (1846)

A poor match girl dreams of holiday cheer and a warm place to live on a cold New Year's Eve in the city. Left alone, she strikes match after match to give herself the dreams of all she lacks. Finally the spirit of her loving grandmother comes to take her in her arms—and to her death.

The Shadow (1847)

A poor scholar inadvertently trades places with his own shadow. Empowered by being allowed to go exploring on his own, the shadow develops the appearance of a real man. The shadow eventually takes over the scholar's identity, marries a princess, and develops a shadow of his own.

The Old House (1848)

A boy makes friends with a lonely old man living in a house everyone else thinks should be torn down to make way for a more modern building. They share memorable moments and a toy tin soldier. When the old man dies and the house is torn down, the boy builds a new house on the same lot when he grows up.

The Child in the Grave (1859)

Death appears to the inconsolable mother of a dead child. Moved by her grief, Death grants her a brief visit with her deceased child in the other world. When they meet, however, the child tells her he is prevented from feeling joy in heaven because his mother is still mourning him.

The Snow Man (1861)

Through a series of conversations with the Watchdog, the Snow Man learns about life. But he must learn for himself about the transience of youth, beauty, and the seasons, because he has foolishly conceived a passion for a hearth stove.

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