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Fra kapitlet "Plenary lectures" (Plenarforelæsninger), A Poet in Time, Odense 1999 (yderligere information nederst).

Our Own Twenty Plus Fifteen Favourite Tales

When finding this lecture at the end of a full week's programme I became slightly confused. For at that time the listener may expect erudite syntheses of the learning displayed in richly variegated lectures and discussions during the week, intended to fill the last possible gap in the relevant part of their brains. I was, however, relieved when noticing that such syntheses are not programmed until after my contribution, and so I find it acceptable and maybe even relaxing to offer nothing but an informal chat about "our own twenty favourite tales", expanded to thirtyfive - and very scholarly quantified in tables, it is true, but nevertheless completely nonambitious.

May I begin with a word of thanks to the members who have noticed the invitation to send me a list of their favourite tales, intended to be completely personal without any concession to genre, age, fame etc. of the texts. Two or three of the lists included very few items and had to be disregarded. Other colleagues found it correct to say that their selection was stamped by many years of Danish teaching abroad, while some have closed their eyes for some evergreens in order to give highly personal selections. I ended up with twentysix lists by foreigners or by Danes working in or outside our own country.

The numbered list of names is top secret, but answers no. 1 and 2 are the choices of my wife and myself, also top secret till we had finished reading aloud the five volumes, excluding only "The Ice Maiden", for which life is too short at our age. It was appointed by four members. We had twelve identical and eight different votes, very different indeed due to the simple fact that like most couples even nowadays we represent two sexes, as visible from two titles which got their only vote from us: "Deilig", "Beautiful", about the stupid and beautiful Kala and her stupid and not even beautiful mother, the latter sketched with impressions from real life - versus "Hurtigløberne", "The Racers", about the way in which contests and prizes are handled, of course only among animals, and so irrelevant even in an Olympic year. It is harsher than its older parallel, "Springfyrene", "The Jumpers", of which our doyen Elias Bredsdorff told us yesterday.

The repetition was a good idea. After all, thirty and more years have passed since we established the critical apparatus and the proofs of my variorum edition, later completed by the outstanding commentary by Flemming Hovmann with contributions by Erling Nielsen. And twenty years since my wife prepared the text of the so called Mindeudgave from Lademann, nowadays used by several publishers; it introduces the centuryold regulation of the verbal inflexion and the damaging orthographic changes of 1948 plus a minor number of other changes mostly taken from the variant notes before 1875. It is so long ago that there were tales we had simply forgotten; my own little rediscovery was "Skrubtudsen", "The Toad", which I share with one colleague.

26 lists of 20 tales each gave the distribution of members' votes summarized at the bottom of my first sheet, where you will find 262 or precisely half of the votes spent upon 20 tales only. Over 100 votes include 15 titles more, and from five to one vote is given to 57 tales with 144 + 15 votes in all. Please note that no less than 67 tales have been totally disregarded. The two belated replies were interesting, with uncommon choices. I was especially pleased to see one vote for "The Drop of Water", because a month ago my wife and I had the pleasure to see, carefully preserved at a manor house here in Funen, the now extremely rare antique type of microscope through which the old troll or rather H.C. Andersen had seen, already in 1830, what looked like a capital with fighting citizens - though it was but a drop of water.


Before passing on to my sheets no. II and III I shouldn't fail to explain the word Eventyrkode. From 1967 to 1978 the Royal Library published Bidrag til H. C. Andersens Bibliografi - eleven volumes covering almost twenty languages, but unluckily stopped because the German and English volumes drowned in their own immense material. Many foreign libraries gave indispensible assistance far beyond the holdings of the Royal Library. Mr. Sven Juel Møller, a gymnasium teacher, was the author of most of the volumes; he simply came to the Library and asked for a meaningful piece of work for a pensioner. He numbered all the tales in chronological order, and each single edition in all the bibliographies indicates its contents with the numbers of the code. So I have added this chronological number to the titles of sheet no. II. But the registration of the said bibliographies have enabled the H. C. Andersen Museum to list the frequency of the tales in editions from the mid-19th century up to the early 1990s in France, Germany, Holland and Russia. They give a top35 list for each country. I have added the four priorities on my sheet no. III and quoted the priorities of "The Fir Tree" as an example.


Now, which were our own 20 or 35 favourites? please look at the top of sheet no. III. I think we have all experienced the difficulty of choosing. For instance, when a shepherdess says to a chimneysweep - using Reginald Spink's words as in most of my later quotations: "I've come with you into the wide, wide world; now please take me home again, if you care for me at all!" you are not proud to be one of the twelve readers who have resisted this tale.

The twenty texts form a broad spectrum, though not unexpectedly mostly of evergreens. They represent humour, pathos, wisdom etc. etc., but include only four or five of what could be called Historier; there are about five more in the secondary list from 21 to 35. The twenty favourites might form a good Andersen anthology for anybody. But please look at the texts under the line which have knocked on the door in vain with their nine or eight votes!

Please allow me to explain why my wife and I are disappointed to see "Little Claus and Big Claus" among these less succesful competitors. Some years ago I read this tale aloud to two grandchildren, Kamma, eight or nine years old, and her younger brother Johan. Without having been overfed with Andersen they both knew the story beforehand. However, at the end Kamma asked: "Wasn't he sorrowful then?" (Blev han så ikke bedrøvet?). My brain stood still, but hers worked: Doesn't grandpa know that word? why doesn't he answer? and so she said: "Wasn't he sad then?" (Blev han så ikke ked af det?). I replied: "Why should he be sad? Big Claus lies at the bottom of the river, the money is at home, and now he goes home with the cattle!" But Andersen widens the understanding and imagination not least of small listeners, and Kamma asked: "Wasn't he sad, because there was nobody more to be cheated?"

More serious but not more relevant than this little experience is the fact that I had some unpleasant minutes while counting the votes for "The Nightingale" and "The Shadow". I realize that "The Shadow" is an epochmaking tale written by a genius. I know that Elias Bredsdorff summarized eighteen interpretations of it in a paper already overtaken, and that Klaus P. Mortensen has written a valuable book about the two contrasts, Svanen og Skyggen (1989). But it would have been almost painful, very subjectively of course, to give it preference to "The Nightingale", simply because the final page of the latter, about the nightingale who makes Death long for his own garden, outweighs volumes by Andersen and shelves of other good books. I can understand that the problem of identity may be more insoluble and more unbearable than the matter of life and death; however, if I should appoint an even so overwhelming detail in another tale I could find but one, and the result would be exactly the opposite of the Emperor's. I am thinking of "The Story of a Mother" where some bold penstrokes at the end of the manuscript delete a few lines telling that the mother awakens from her dream and finds her child in sound sleep having passed its crisis. This does not, as Billeskov Jansen has pointed out, eliminate the whole tale's dreamlike character.


The Four Countries' List on sheet no. III or at least its first twenty items will cause few if any surprises. "The Nightingale" is clearly defeated by "The Ugly Duckling" which is no. 1 in France and Holland, no. 2 in Russia and Germany, the latter having "The Nightingale" first. The position of the Duckling is what could be expected. The poor creature has become a symbol of its author's social and literary fate, unshaken by the topic of the book I mentioned, Svanen og Skyggen. And of course, the list includes no qualifying distinction between good, bad and absurd translations. Now, talking so much about tales and stories in prose I should not fail to quote two small verses which show what might happen already in Andersen's own century; they stick to my weakening memory over the forty years since I wrote my first Andersen papers for the jubilee in 1955. In 1887, Marion M. Wingrave's versified London edition of the Duckling with the title "Quacks" opens with this dedication:

To every loving little duck
   This book I dedicate;
And may we all have such good luck,
   And such a happy fate. -
To fair white swans we all may turn
   If we are good and true,
And life's long lesson meekly learn
   And loving actions do!

Now, returning to serious statistical scholarship, it is worth noticing that no less than 27 of the 35 Four Countries' list are simply the first in the code, that is: the 27 oldest tales, even including "The Rose Elf" as no. 1 or 2 from the bottom; I think it belongs to the handful of tales which, in Bredsdorff's words, we might wish that Andersen had never written. It is trite to say that the oldest texts have had a longer time for being translated and appreciated; but obviously there is more than that in these preferences, for as you can see from the list, code numbers after 27 are making still heavier jumps up to 47, "The Story of a Mother", from 1847 in English, not until the following year in Danish - to 71, "Clumsy Hans", from 1855 - and down to 102, "Father Always Does What Is Right", from 1861, which it would have been sad to do without, but which is the only common item of the two lists later than vol. II of the variorum edition.

The first table on my first sheet shows the distribution of the two lists over the five volumes of that same edition which follows the sequence of booklets and collected editions of the 156 texts. We may disregard that it is slightly less chronological than the code, because about 60 tales were published separately.

Here it is conspicuous that the weighty vol. II with one third of all texts, the magnificent five instalments of Nye Eventyr, attracts half of the members' votes for 12 + 7 out of the 20 + 15 titles. The four foreign lists limit themselves to 7 + 7 titles as against 13 + 6 titles from the six tiny parts of Eventyr, fortalte for Børn. This clearly expressed supremacy of the second and first stages of our author's total output of tales and stories, both when counted over one and a half centuries in four foreign countries, and in today's evaluation by 26 specialists, must certainly be meaningful. And please note the diminutive number of tales from vols. IIIIVV! All sources of error considered or neglected, this cannot but confirm that the first part, roughly first half, of Andersen's tales and stories remain the most impressive, the most fællesmenneskelige, indeed the richest flowering of his inspiration.

This is far from indicating a general agreement between our two lists. For as shown by the small marks to the left, 13 of the 35 titles differ. Among the first 20 items in the foreign list, only three very different tales are not to be found in our own complete Members' List. Conspicuous is "Thumbelina". It is insipid in my unimportant opinion, but I confess that the tale has developed in recent years. A colleague in the Royal Library showed me an edition where the persons were, shall we say in order to avoid politically incorrect words, not quite as Nordic as they used to be. I was not scandalized at all, for the illustrations were not bad; but my colleague told me about another "Thumbelina" who never gets the prince because she is lesbian. And so, with a Danish saying, one can hear much before losing one's ears.

After "Thumbelina", "Ole Lukøie" (whatever you call him) and "The Darning Needle" the agreement comprises but a few indispensable titles like "The Story of a Mother" and, as I see with relief, "The Old House" and "The Sweethearts" (often called "The Top and the Ball", also by the author). The rest is a heterogenous selection from any viewpoint, even including "The Rose Elf" and "The Wicked Prince". The latter is unique by having been printed in a periodical as early as 1840, but forgotten or neglected with purpose in the collected editions until 1868. It was rediscovered during the Nazi occupation, first for some small private prints, later by the censorship who prohibited it (see Elias Bredsdorff's paper, pp. 17-20).


Sheet no. II shows 13 asterisks indicating texts not included in the foreign list at all. Of course I don't intend to comment upon them all, and our guests from other countries should not think that I am boasting of the characteristics of these tales; but they seem worth considering.

Fifty or more years ago, you would always find "The Bell", "Klokken", today with ten of our voices out of 26, underlined and commented upon, not least concerning the identity of the rich and the poor boy: Science and Poetry, or H. C. Ørsted and H. C. Andersen, and so on and so forth ? It begins with minor satire which includes the mysterious bell without a hanger and tarred against the rain. I never understood it until I saw the draft where Andersen has cancelled the words: bell of canvas. It is far from me to belittle this tale, but nowadays, as already mentioned, another tale is casting its Shadow over the author and the general climate of interpretation. None of the two rather contrasting tales, however, have gained ground in the Four Countries' List.

With 15 members' votes, like Andersen's very first tale, "The Tinder Box", "Fyrtøiet", and the top scorer of the foreign lists, one will find "Auntie Toothache", "Tante Tandpine". I don't want to recall the discussions I must have had with myself whether this tale or "The Flea and the Professor", "Loppen og Professoren", should be the final item in my edition apart from the Addendum. But now vol. V ends with the words, used about the young, toothache harassed student's literary product: "Alt gaar i Bøtten" - "All ends in the basket" - "Tout passe à la poubelle", in Régis Boyer's magnificent complete edition - "Alles ist einmal im Eimer", in Gisela Perlet's two very new and very good volumes. Niels Kofoed had a very good point: precisely this was what happened to most copies of Andersen's very first book, rightly called UngdomsForsøg, Youthful Attempts, 1823! But the words are not to be found in Danish editions after the original one! The student's real aunt with her fanatic praise of his ambitious efforts and the dreamaunt personifying the toothache melt together, and, with a very specific metaphor improvised in a notebook many years before the tale: "The patent of immortality is inscribed upon the wing of the mayfly."

In "The Flea and the Professor" the sneering negation of a life's work turns into a grotesque. May I remind you that this was the latest first print of any "tale or history", later than the last two instalments of Nye Eventyr og Historier. What did people think of this final novelty?

With "The Goblin at the Grocer's", "Nissen hos Spekhøkeren", twenty years earlier we are back into the time where things still had their meaning and importance. The goblin who secured the best treasure from the fire, but who still went to the grocer's - for the porridge - represents a vital reality and becomes a story rather than a tale. On the other hand, "The Wind Tells about Valdemar Daae and His Daughters" gets a more than storylike refrain above the semihistorical reality. I remember it as my favourite among the stories I had read when a schoolboy, not least because of the wind - and would not have believed that any music could hold a place together with this text, until I had heard the record with Karsten Vogel's composition and Frits Helmuth's recitation.

Without commenting upon each of the following marks in the list I cannot but point out two further items. I can understand that "A Good Humour", "Et godt Humeur", about the young man who enjoys walking on the churchyard with its memories of past persons, is too specific and incoherent; he had inherited his good humour from his father who was content to be ahead of everything - he was a hearsedriver! but please don't tell me that it is absurd, for the old lady who arose during the night and barked in order to make neighbours believe that she had a dog refers to a real anecdote about an Odense citizen; it was more thoroughly reported to none less than N. F. S. Grundtvig by his son Svend, the greatest of my predecessors among folk ballad editors.

The two final instalments of Nye Eventyr og Historier came in 1872, and the former was admittedly rather unimportant until the final leaves with "The Gardener and the Noble Family", "Gartneren og Herskabet". The report of the always successful gardener and the noble family that remains condescending even when the praising of the gardener comes from the royal family is told with a poker face without wrinkles, ending with the words that this is the story, and now you may think it over. The whole story sends a shiver down the spine, and even if many of Andersen's relations to the nobility especially at the manor houses here in Funen were genuine friendships with sincere mutual recognition you cannot but feel that certain persons must have felt this absolutely nonfairytalelike story as a revenge. We read it as a final expression of the author's lifelong ambivalence. What an exit - with "Auntie Toothache" and "The Flea" waiting in the wings! You may object that "Auntie Toothache" is accompanied by a fine and positive story about "Krøblingen", "The Cripple", who overcomes his paralysis in one jump when his dear bird is endangered by the cat. But one should remember that the first title of this story, "Eventyrbogen", "The FairyTale Book", had to be given up because the cherished book had no effect when thrown after the cat, though, admittedly, from a more general angle.

If I may end with still another personal remark I would venture to say that the simple mechanical list of members' choices not supported by the Four Countries' List casts light upon the state of affairs in general, even if some of our members are nonDanish friends. The thirteen titles received six of my wife's twenty votes and eight of mine, mostly with a minimum of consideration. I clearly felt that I learned something about myself. This does not allow for a generalisation to something "typically Danish"; but an idea of something "typically Andersen", or at least "a typical Andersen aspect", of something not easy to grasp for a wider public and for that reason, of course, often disregarded in translated selections, seems acceptable.

However, another general aspect may be suggested. For as we all know, scholars, nonprofessional readers, children and grandchildren, will not always be able or prepared to realize that everything ends in the basket. But they will always be eager to hear what was really going to take place when "a soldier was marching along the high road: Left, right! Left, right! He had been to the wars and now was going home."

So are we, but not until we have listened to the erudite syntheses!

Sheet I: Distribution of votes
according to the volumes of the DSL edition


Volume I II III IV V
Period 1835-42 1845-55 1858-60 1862-66 1868-74
Number of tales (= 156+2) 19 50 20 33 34+2
Members' votes (= 520) 125 255 40 50 48+2
Number of tales elected by memebers
no. 1-20 5 12 1 1 1
no. 21-35 5 7 0 1 2
and by Four countries
no. 1-20 13 7 0 0 0
no. 21-35 6 7 0 1 1
Members' list 120 from vols. IIIV: "Vinden fortæller om Valdemar Daae", "Hvad Fatter gjør", "Tante Tandpine".
Members' list 2135 from vols. IVV: "Sneemanden", "Gartneren og Herskabet", "Loppen og Professoren".
Four countries' list 2135 from vols. IVV: "Hvad Fatter gjør", "Den onde Fyrste".
The indication +2 refers to votes for "Herrebladene" + "Skriveren" which are included in vol. V, but not counted among the 156 "standard" titles.


Members' votes summarized:
Votes Tales Votes
24-10 20 262>
9-6 15 114
5 5 25
4 7 28
3 11 33
2 9 18
1 23+2 25
5-1 55+2 129
0 67 0
5-0 not specified (too late received) 15
Total 156+2 520


Sheet II: The 20+15 Favourite Tales of 26 Conference Members


Number of Votes - Title Number in the chronological "Eventyrkode"
* indicates titles not included in the Four Countries' List no. 135

24 "Nattergalen" - 23
* 22 "Skyggen" - 43
17 "Den lille Havfrue" - 8
16 "Sneedronningen"- 26
15 "Den grimme Ælling" - 25
* 15 "Tante Tandpine" - 155
15 "Fyrtøiet" - 1
14 "Grantræet" - 26
14 "Hyrdinden og Skorsteensfeieren" - 32
13 "Historien om en Moder" - 47
13 "Kjærestefolkene" - 24
12 "Keiserens nye Klæder" - 9
11 "De vilde Svaner" - 13
* 11 "Nissen hos Spekhøkeren" - 62
10 "KlodsHans" - 71
10 "Den standhaftige Tinsoldat" - 12
* 10 "Klokken" - 34
10 "Reisekammeraten" - 7
10 "Hvad Fatter gjør, det er altid det Rigtige" - 102
* 10 "Vinden fortæller om Valdemar Daae og hans Døttre" - 86
20 titles, 262 votes

* 09 "Hjertesorg" - 60
09 "Svinedrengen" - 20
09 "Lille Claus og store Claus" - 2
* 09 "Gartneren og Herskabet" - 151
* 08 "Loppen og Professoren" - 156
* 08 "Det gamle Huus" - 44
08 "Den lille Pige med Svovlstikkerne" - 37
* 07 "Sneemanden" - 103
* 07 "Elverhøi" - 29
07 "Den lille Idas Blomster" - 4
07 "Prindsessen paa Ærten" - 3
* 07 "Den lykkelige Familie" - 46
* 07 "Et godt Humeur " - 5
06 "Det er ganske vist!" - 58
06 "Den flyvende Koffert" - 16
Further 15 titles, 114 votes

Sheet III: Four Countries' List: Most frequent translations in France - Holland - Germany - Russia.


E.g. "The Fir Tree" is no. 16 in France, no. 8 in Germany, no. 12 in England, no. 16 in Russia; i.e. priority with 52 points.

Number of Votes - Title - Number in the chronological "Eventyrkode"
* indicates titles not included in the Members' List no. 1-3
006 "Den grimme Ælling" - 25
018 "Nattergalen" - 23
021 "Prindsessen paa Ærten" - 3
021 "Keiserens nye Klæder" - 9
022 "Den standhaftige Tinsoldat" - 12
* 022 "Tommelise" - 5
027 "Fyrtøiet" - 1
036 "Den lille Pige med Svovlstikkerne" - 37
038 "De vilde Svaner" - 13
045 "Svinedrengen" - 20
051 "Sneedronningen" - 27
(All EKnumbers up to 27 are included in the list)
051 "Den lille Havfrue" - 8
052 "Grantræet" - 26
057 "Den flyvende Koffert" - 16
063 "Hyrdinden og Skorsteensfeieren" - 32
* 066 "Ole Lukøie" - 19
074 "Den lille Idas Blomster" - 4
082 "Lille Claus og Store Claus " - 2
* 090 "Stoppenaalen" - 36
090 "Reisekammeraten" - 7
20 titles
095 "Hvad Fatter gjør" - 102 (1861 in vol. IV, one of two titles later than vol. II)
* 107 "Storkene" - 17
112 "KlodsHans" - 71 (1855, in vol. II, one of three titles later than 1848)
112 "Det gamle Huus" - 44
114 "Historien om en Moder" - 47
* 115 "Gaaseurten" - 11
* 144 "Engelen" - 22
144 "Kjærestefolkene" - 24
* 149 "Lykkens Galosker" - 10
* 156 "Paradisets Have" - 15
* 157 "Den gamle Gadeløgte" - 40
* 194 "Boghveden" - 21
* 233 "Den onde Fyrste" - 18 (1868, in vol. V, but first printed 1840)
* 234 "Den uartige Dreng" - 6
* 258 "Rosenalfen" - 14
Further 15 titles

The list was kindly provided by the H. C. Andersen Museum.


Sirkka Heiskanen-Mäkelä's contribution to Andersen og Verden ends on p. 366 with a corresponding Finnish "Canon" which I apologize for having overlooked till the last moment. Here, 11 tales beginning with the "Duckling" count 20-10 translations and 19 tales count 9-5, the only surprise being "Sølvskillingen" at the bottom of the list.


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Bibliografisk information om teksten:

Dal, Erik: "Our Own Twenty Plus Fifteen Favourite Tales", In: Johan de Mylius, Aage Jørgensen and Viggo Hjørnager Pedersen (ed.): Hans Christian Andersen. A Poet in Time. Papers from the Second International Hans Christian Andersen Conference 29 July to 2 August 1996. The Hans Christian Andersen Center, Odense University, Odense University Press. 576 pages, Odense, Denmark 1999.

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