Study Guide

Andersen's Fairy Tales Writing Style

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Writing Style

Dramatic, Descriptive, Sparse, Poetic

So, clearly our dude Andersen's got tonal range. But we also see a bunch of different styles in his tales, simply because there are so darn many of 'em, covering so many different topics: love, religion, household objects being full of themselves, blah, blah, blah. So we're going to review a few elements of Andersen's style that run throughout many of his tales.

First, Andersen's clearly got a flair for the dramatic. Take the end of "The Wild Swans," for example. Elisa's about to be burned as a witch, but she finishes the shirts for her brothers at the last minute and is thus allowed to speak again:

"Now I dare speak!" she cried. "I am innocent!" The people knowing that a miracle had taken place, kneeled down before her as they would have for a saint. But Elisa, worn out by fear, worry, and pain, fainted lifelessly into the arms of one of her brothers. (13.89-90)

Wow. All this crying out, kneeling, and fainting is wearing us out. Andersen's characters seem to live emotionally heightened lives, which get expressed in his dramatic writing style.

There's also a ton of narrative description in many of his tales. When the little mermaid swims down to make a bargain with the sea witch, we get this whole chunk o' descriptive text:

The sea witch's house was in the midst of the strangest forest. The bushes and trees were gigantic polyps that were half plant and half animal. They looked like snakes with hundreds of heads, but they grew out of the ground. Their branches were long slimy arms, and they had fingers as supple as worms; every limb was in constant motion from the root to the utmost point. Everything they could reach they grasped, and never let go of it again. (8.58)

We can't deny that this freaky deaky passage is pretty darn descriptive. In fact, it's so detailed, might haunt our nightmares.

By contrast, some of Andersen's tales keep it short and sweet. These lil storylettes cut right to the chase. "The Princess and the Pea" is told in eight short paragraphs, which begin: "Once upon a time there was a prince who wanted to marry a princess, but she would have to be a real one" (3.1). It couldn't be any simpler than that, and the sparse language of this tale makes the whole thing kinda blow by you.

Lastly, we think that Andersen's style is often downright poetic. He's got some beautiful and evocative phrases that really pop off the page. Like, when the prince in "The Garden of Eden" decides to kiss a sleeping fairy, he whispers to himself:

Now I understand the happiness of paradise. It flows with my blood through my veins into my brain, my thoughts. I feel the strength of the angels' eternal life within my mortal body. Let everlasting night come, the riches of one moment like this are enough for me. (14.91)

This passage also brings us full-circle to Andersen's love of drama, since comparing a kiss to the strength of angels is a wee bit over the top, dontchya think?

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