Never-before-seen Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale surfaces

The story, 'The Tallow Candle,' was discovered by a historian in the private archives of a Danish family.

Bubandt Martin/Polfoto/AP
Pictured is the text of 'The Tallow Candle' by Hans Christian Andersen, which was written years before his official literary debut.

It was a chance discovery seemingly out of a fairy tale.

Experts in Denmark unearthed “The Tallow Candle,” what they believe is the first fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen, found at the bottom of a box near the Danish writer’s home city of Odense. 

Local historian Esben Brage was searching the private archives of a Danish family in the National Archive for Funen in Odense when he came across a small, yellowing piece of paper at the bottom of a box.  Experts scrutinized the six-page, 700-word handwritten copy of the fairy tale and determined it was written by Andersen, reports the Associated Press.

“This is a sensational discovery,’ Ejnar Stig Askgaard of the Odense City Museum told the Danish paper Politiken. “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.” He added, “And I am in no doubt that it was written by Andersen.”

The tale tells the story of a grimy little candle, soiled by life and neglected until a tinder box sees its inner beauty and lights it. “The Tallow Candle had found its right place in life – and shown that it was a real candle, and went on to shine for many a year, pleasing itself and the other creatures around it,” Andersen wrote in the story.

Perhaps most incredibly, Andersen wrote the story when he was a schoolboy in the mid-1820s, some three to seven years before his literary debut in 1829. As such, “The Tallow Candle” is not “at the level of the more mature and polished fairy tales that we know from Andersen’s later authorship,” experts have said, according to the UK’s Guardian.

Nonetheless, the tale is “very, very Andersen,” author and fairy tale expert Sara Maitland told the Guardian. “It’s highly moralistic, rather sentimental, and it’s animating an inanimate object. That’s very Andersen.”

The manuscript is dedicated “To Mme Bunkeflod, from her devoted HC Andersen.” Bunkeflod is thought to be a widow and neighbor whom Andersen regularly visited as a child.

Danish paper Politiken translated and published a version of the story in English, which is available for reading here.

Andersen, who was born in Odense in 1805 the son of a shoemaker and washerwoman, went on to write nearly 160 popular fairy tales, including “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “The Little Mermaid,” and “The Ugly Duckling,” along with dozens of novels, poems, and travel journals. He died in 1875, but his fairy tales are among the most popular children’s tales the world over, having been translated into more than 100 languages and read around the world.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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