Study Guide

Andersen's Fairy Tales Religion

By Andersen, Hans Christian

Religion

"We can live until we are three hundred years old; but when we die, we become the foam on the ocean. We cannot even bury our loved ones. We do not have immortal souls. When we die, we shall never rise again… But men have souls that live eternally, even after their bodies have become dust." (The Little Mermaid.47)

Sorry to ruin a childhood favorite, but the original "The Little Mermaid" is totally about religion. Mer-people are screwed in that they don't have immortal souls the way humans do, and so part of the little mermaid's reason for wanting the prince to marry her is so that she can gain a soul. To be honest, we're not sure exactly how this math works out: 1 soul + 0 souls = 2 souls?

The queen's pale cheeks took on a pinkish shade, and her eyes became big and clear, as from the pages of the book grew the world's most beautiful rose, the one that grew from Christ's blood on the Cross. "I see it," she said. "And those who have seen that rose, the most beautiful in the world, shall never die." (The World's Most Beautiful Rose.14-15)

So, Christ's blood is a rose, and it'll grant people eternal life. But the rose also heals this queen who's sick, because some wise doctor said that she'd be healed when she saw the world's most beautiful rose. So, is Andersen implying that religion can heal the body as well as the spirit? Maybe so, amigos.

The most sacred of all the days of our life is the day we die. It is holy, it is the great day of change, of transformation. Have you ever seriously thought about the hour that is certain to come and will be your last hour on earth? (On the Last Day.1)

Well that was morbid. This story is like the goth kid of the Andersen story family, all decked out in skulls and chains and dark eye makeup. So, why is the day of your death the most important day in your life? Because religion. What you believe and how you live will influence what happens to you when you die. If you agree with Andersen, that's a darn good reason to believe in God and live a good life.

"If your daughter is to continue in school, then she must become a Christian," he began, and then he tried to explain, "I see in her eyes such longing; it's as if her very soul sought Christ's teaching." (The Servant.5)

Yeah, sometimes people convert to other religions. It happens. But the fact that Andersen wrote a story about a Jewish girl longing to become a Christian reveals which religion he thinks people should convert to, if they're gonna do it at all.

"How absurd it would seem if the bow and the violin should be proud and haughty about their accomplishments. Yet we, human beings, often are; the poets, the artists, the scientists, and even the generals often boast in vain pride. Yet they are all but instruments that God plays upon. To Him alone belongs all honor. We have nothing to pride ourselves upon!" (The Pen and the Inkwell.7)

This poet's musings on the nature of art pretty clearly state that even the best artist is just an instrument of God. Anyone who gets too proud or vain is fooling himself or herself, since God is the real creative genius at work. It's amusing to see this view coming from Andersen, who so clearly sought recognition for his writing. Hypocritical much?

He had plenty of time to contemplate his fate. Why had all this happened to him? This would all be explained in the life after this, which he knew awaited him. This faith in eternal life had grown within him in the poor cottage on the dunes and was now beyond doubt. (A Story from the Dunes.130)

Some of Andersen's characters are absolutely certain that there's a life after this life, and that God exists, and all that Christian stuff. It usually brings them comfort. So it seems like Andersen is saying that religious faith can be a positive force in people's lives.

From prison directly to an almost heavenly freedom, to love and friendship; that also Jurgen was to try. No man would offer another man a glass to drain that contained nothing but bitterness. How should God then be able to do it, He who is all goodness? (A Story from the Dunes.137)

And here's that old religious conundrum: If God is so good, why do bad things happen in the world? It's comforting to know that even a pious, smarty pants like Andersen struggled to answer this question for himself.

"Amber is the most beautiful incense; from it comes the smell of God's great church: Nature." (The Sunshine's Story.18)

Nature = God's great church. It's a cool metaphor, if you think about it. So, like, could hiking be a form of prayer? Is littering an actual sin?

His bookshelf was filled with books, and one of them, which he called the book of books, he read often. It was the Bible, and in that was the whole history of the world and humanity: the creation, the flood, and the King of Kings. "Everything that has happened or will happen is written about in that book," claimed Godfather. "So much in one book, that is worth thinking about!" (What the Whole Family Said.9-10)

The Bible is the number one best seller of all time for a reason. But we here at Shmoop think there are other books out there that are worth reading as well. Like Andersen's, for example.

"Why, children are a blessing sent by God. Every child is one more prayer rising to heaven. For each little new mouth to be fed, one works a little harder, tries a little more. God will not desert one if one does not desert Him." (The Story Old Johanna Told.13)

This is a nice idea. But that last bit, about how God won't desert people who don't desert Him, sounds a little bit like victim blaming. Plenty of people have faith in God but still live and die in poverty. Is it their fault for not believing strongly enough? We're not entirely sure what to do with this line of religious thinking.