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Local historian finds Hans Christian Andersen’s first fairy tale

A hitherto unknown fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen has been found in an old box at the National Archives. 'A sensational discovery' and 'His first fairy tale' says an expert who has studied the document for two months.

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By Camilla Stockmann

And thus it happened. A local historian from Funen has found a hitherto unknown fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen called “The Tallow Candle” at the bottom of a 15 kilo archive box.

The discovery took place at the beginning of October at the National Archive for Funen in Odense, and for the past two months, one of Denmark’s leading Hans Christian Andersen experts, Ejnar Stig Askgaard of the Odense City Museum, has been studying the yellowed pages.

»This is a sensational discovery. Partly because it must be seen as Andersen’s first fairy tale, and partly because it shows that he was interested in the fairy tale as a young man, before his authorship began«, Askgaard says.

»And I am in no doubt that it has been written by Andersen«, he adds.

Was written by Andersen
Another two of the country’s leading H.C. Andersen experts – Research Librarian Bruno Svindborg of the Royal Library and Prof. Johan de Mylius Ph. D. of the Andersen Centre and the University of Southern Denmark were presented with the fairy tale yesterday and agree that the text in all probability was written by Andersen.

While occasional poems written by Hans Christian Andersen pop up now and again, the last time that an important Andersen discovery was made in the archives was in the mid-1920s, when Hans Brix found the author’s memoirs at the Royal Library.

In literary terms, de Mylius and Askgaard say that The Tallow Candle is not at the level of the more mature and polished fairy tales that we know from Andersen’s later authorship. The tale is one from his youth, and probably from his time at school, with the tone of the work reminiscent of his time at the Latin School in Slagelse and Elsinore from 1822 to 1826.

Nonetheless, Askgaard says the document is an important one.

»It’s like a high to be able to work with his first attempt at a fairy tale. It was a great experience to read it for the first time«, Askgaard says.

Borrowed books from a woman
In particular the 190 year old pages throw light on the important personal relationship that Andersen as a boy had with the woman he gave the fairy tale to – a vicar’s widow Mme Bunkeflod.

Mme Bunkeflod lived in a home for respectable ladies and widows opposite Andersen’s childhood home. She was a woman Andersen visited, read for and borrowed books from as a child.

‘To Madam Bunkeflod from her devoted H.C. Andersen’, the front page of the document reads.

DOCUMENTATIONRead The Tallow Candle in English

»It’s a wonderful little document as art of the history of Hans Christian Andersen. The fairy tale was a present. A present of thanks to a woman whose home had been very important to him«, Askgaard says.

Hans Christian Andersen’s literary debut came in 1829 and he was generally viewed as an important author by his 19th century contemporaries. He began writing his fairy tales in the mid-1830s, and it is these for which he is generally known, particularly in countries such as China and Japan. Andersen has been translated into some 125 languages, coming second only in the number of translations by the Bible.

The Tallow Candle, which is written neatly by pen, is not Andersen’s original manuscript but a copy. After it had been given to Mme Bunkeflod, a member of her family eventually gave the copy to a member of another priest’s family in Odense by the name of Plum. The transfer can be seen from the fairy tale’s secondary dedication.

Apart from the well-known relationship between Hans Christian Andersen and the Plum and Bunkeflod families, the fairy tale’s authenticity can be clearly seen from the language and thematics, Askgaard says.

Partly because the formal language is typical for the immature author-in-waiting, and partly because The Tallow Candle is an item fairy tale in which inanimate objects become living ones with human features – one of Hans Christian Andersen’s hallmarks. A poor and dirty tallow candle longs to be lit and is lost within itself until it is lit and recognised by a tinderbox.

The little fairy tale has been hidden for ages at the National Archives at the bottom of an archive box marked: “Plum family”, waiting for a local historian from Middelfart in Funen to find it by chance.

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