Study Guide

The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen in Narrative Theory

The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen

When you think of fairy tales, chances are you have some of Andersen's stories in mind: "The Ugly Duckling," "The Little Mermaid," "The Emperor's New Clothes"—these are instantly recognizable tales. They're full of the sorts of themes and narrative devices that we expect from fairytales, including binary oppositions (like good and evil), instantly recognizable types (like the hero and villain), and magical characters and settings.

Many of the tales focus on the struggles of misfits and outsiders, and this is something with which Andersen was all too familiar—he was bullied as a child and never part of the in-crowd. Not all of Andersen's stories have upbeat endings, either: check out "The Steadfast Toy Soldier" if you want a good cry. It's not just doom and gloom, though: plenty of these tales totally have a "happily ever after" scenario.

Andersen wrote lots of classic stories that we could analyze, but let's take a look at one of one of his longest and best-known tales: "The Snow Queen" (1844). You may know it as kinda sorta the inspiration for Frozen.

Anyway, this story starts off with a classic fairy tale motif, the magic mirror, which in this case distorts things so that they appear the opposite of what they really are. When a hobgoblin carries this mirror up to heaven in an attempt to mess with everyone's heads, the mirror cracks and falls to earth in pieces. The shards then blow around and lodge in people's eyes and hearts, causing people to become uncaring and to only see the bad in others.

We then cut to a large town where we're introduced to a boy and girl, Kay and Gerda. Kay's grandma tells the two kids a story about the Snow Queen (she's in charge of the snowflakes), and, one winter's day, Kay sees the Queen for himself. However, when the Queen beckons him to follow her, Kay draws back in fear.

As we jump ahead to the summer, a crucial plot point occurs: remember the magic mirror? Well, one of its shards gets into Kay's eye, and he starts acting like a major jerk. When winter rolls around again, he takes off with the Snow Queen, and everyone thinks that he's dead.

Everyone but Gerda, that is.

Gerda's not about to give up that easily, and so she embarks on a series of adventures—and challenges—as she pieces together Kay's whereabouts. Things draw to a close with some doves telling Gerda that they saw the Queen heading toward Lapland. Gerda then hops on a reindeer and makes her way to the Queen's palace, where she has to face her fair share of obstacles once again.

But it turns out that inner strength and love are the strongest powers of all: as Gerda's tears fall on Kay, the mirror dissolves and is washed away with Kay's tears (it's tears galore by this point). With everything back to normal the duo head home. And that, at last, brings us to our quote.