These spellbinding tales have enchanted adults and children for almost 200 years, featuring quirky characters, poignant plots and a range of important morals. See below for some of the best and most popular Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales.
1. The Emperor's New Clothes
This funny fairy tale stars a rather foolish Emperor, who commissions two weavers to craft a fine set of new clothes for him. The weavers claim that their material is so fine, it cannot be seen by fools or by those unfit for their positions - but in fact, the weavers use no material at all! The Emperor's noblemen dare not admit they cannot see the material, and the Emperor too pretends he can see a set of exquisite clothes, and ends up processing through the streets of his town entirely naked. This hilarious tale conveys the important moral not to be too vain and greedy like the arrogant Emperor.
2. The Little Mermaid
In Hans Christian's Andersen's fairy tale, the little mermaid rescues a handsome Prince from a shipwreck during a storm. Captivated by the human world, she journeys to the sea witch and trades her tongue for a pair of human legs. She must make the handsome Prince fall in love with her and marry her in order to obtain an immortal human soul - but the Prince marries a beautiful Princess instead. The mermaid is told she can kill the Prince to get her fish tail back, but she cannot bring herself to do it. Heartbroken, she dives into the sea and disintegrates into foam, but then rises into an ethereal realm, destined for Heaven.
3. Little Ida's Flowers
This sweet, short tale follows Ida, who is sad that her flowers are drooping. A student tells her that the flowers are tired because they have been dancing all night at a ball. Ida will come to see the truth of this that same night, when she wakes up to find flowers dancing in the playroom! In the morning, Ida buries the drooping flowers in the garden, ready for them to flourish once more the following summer.
4. The Ugly Duckling
When a mother duck's eggs hatch, one of the baby birds looks rather different from the rest, and is rejected and bullied by the other animals on the farm. He wanders unhappily for a while from place to place, and gazes wistfully one day at a flock of swans, whom he cannot join because he is too young and cannot fly. After a freezing winter, the flock of swans descends again on the thawing lake as spring arrives. The duckling heads towards them, deciding it is better to be killed by these beautiful birds than live a sad, lonely life. However, he is astonished when they welcome him to their flock. By looking at his reflection, he realises that he has become one of them! He spreads his stunning wings and takes flight with the rest of his new family.
In this magical tale, a peasant's wife plants a barleycorn given to her by a beggar woman, and a tiny girl named Thumbelina emerges from its flower. One fateful night, Thumbelina is asleep in her walnut-shell cradle when she is carried off by a toad, who plans to marry her to her son. Thumbelina escapes, but she is then captured by a beetle, who releases her when his friends reject her company. When winter arrives, Thumbelina is given shelter by a field mouse, who suggests she marry her neighbour, a mole. However, Thumbelina finds such a prospect unacceptable, for such a creature has never seen the sun or sky. She escapes by fleeing to a faraway land on a swallow. She meets a tiny flower-fairy prince in a field of flowers, and they marry - the perfect fairy tale ending.
6. The Princess and the Pea
In this funny and memorable tale, a prince is having terrible difficulty finding a wife. He is highly sceptical about the women he meets who claim to be princesses, for they are often too fat, too skinny or not sufficiently beautiful, or they have bad table manners. One night, a woman drenched through from the rain asks to take shelter in the prince's castle. She claims to be a princess, so the prince's mother decides to test this claim by placing a pea beneath the woman's 20 mattresses and feather-beds. In the morning, the woman complains that she suffered a sleepless night, kept awake by something hard in the bed. The prince and his mother rejoice, for only a princess would be sensitive enough to feel the pea through the vast amount of bedding. The prince and the princess subsequently marry.
7. The Little Match Girl
This highly poignant and thought-provoking story follows a little girl, who is trying to sell matches on the street on a freezing cold New Year's Eve. She begins to light the matches for warmth instead, and sees wonderful visions in the glow of their flames, including a vision of her beloved late grandmother. She then looks up to see a beautiful shooting star. Once she runs out of matches, she passes away from the cold, but she gets to spend a joyful New Year with her grandmother in Heaven.
8. The Nightingale
This touching tale stars the Emperor of China, who discovers that one of the most beautiful things in his empire is the song of the nightingale. A kitchen maid leads the court into a nearby forest, where a nightingale agrees to join them. He remains the king's favourite at court - until the king is brought a glittering mechanical bird, and loses interest in the real nightingale, which returns to the forest. The mechanical bird eventually breaks, and a few years later, the king becomes mortally ill. The real nightingale learns of the Emperor's illness and returns to the palace. Death is so moved by the nightingale's song, he allows the Emperor to live.
9. The Steadfast Tin Soldier
In this rather sad but sweet tale, a boy receives 25 tin soldiers for his birthday, and arranges them on a table. One soldier stands on a single leg, for there was not enough metal left to make him whole. A paper ballerina, who stands nearby, also stands on one leg, and the soldier falls in love with her. However, a jack-in-the-box warns the soldier to stay away from the ballerina. The following day, the soldier falls from a windowsill. He is washed into a canal and swallowed by a fish. But once the fish is caught and cut open, the soldier finds himself back on the table with the ballerina. The boy impulsively throws the tin soldier into the fire, and a sudden wind blows the ballerina into the fire with him - and she is quickly consumed by it. When a maid cleans the fireplace in the morning, she discovers the tin soldier has melted into a heart.
10. The Red Shoes
This nightmarish story follows a little girl named Karen, who is given a pair of gorgeous red shoes by her adoptive mother. She likes them so much, she wears them to church, but is told she must only wear black shoes to church. Next Sunday, however, Karen cannot resist, and puts them on again. At church, a mysterious soldier commands the shoes never to come off when they dance. One day, when her adoptive mother is ill, Karen goes to a ball to dance in the shoes - and they won't come off. They dance day and night, and an angel condemns Karen to dance forever, even after she dies. Karen asks an executioner to cut off her feet, but the shoes continue to dance even then. Karen is given wooden feet and crutches and decides to go back to church, but the red shoes appear and scare her away. Karen prays for help and the angel reappears, providing the mercy Karen asked for. Karen's heart bursts with joy and her soul goes to Heaven, where the red shoes are never mentioned.