Fairy tale writer graces coins, dinnerware

Monday, April 4, 2005

COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- In the past months, Danes have lived in a true Hans Christian Andersen frenzy which some say has been no fairy tale.

As his countrymen celebrate his bicentennial, the image of Andersen, who wrote such classics as "The Emperor's New Clothes" and "The Little Mermaid," can be seen everywhere -- on coins, in post offices, on beer labels, on posters announcing shows celebrating the Dane, on dinnerware and on baby clothes and accessories especially designed for the jubilee.

Besides almost weekly reports about celebrations on Saturday, his 200th birthday, some dailies, such as the newspaper Politiken, have run excerpts from Andersen's dairies every day since the beginning of the year.

A huge televised show was broadcast Saturday worldwide from Denmark's national soccer stadium, which holds 38,000 people. The profits from the show will go to a Hans Christian Andersen foundation that works to eliminate illiteracy among children.

The audience included Denmark's popular royal family, government members and a string of local and international Andersen ambassadors, especially tapped to promote Andersen's work worldwide.

The corps of goodwill representatives included actor Roger Moore, Houston Rockets center Yao Ming, novelist Isabel Allende and entertainer Harry Belafonte. Other ambassadors included European royals and the first ladies of Mexico, Chile and Egypt.

Worldwide appeal

The concert kicked off more than 3,000 events worldwide that will last throughout the year -- from the unveiling of Andersen statues in Vietnam to fairy tale writing competitions in New York schools to puppet theater performances in Australia and new translations of his writing in Spanish, German, Russian, Japanese and Arabic.

Andersen was born in 1805 in Odense, 105 miles west of Copenhagen, the son of a poor charwoman and a shoemaker. Like his own fairy tale, "The Ugly Duckling," he rose from poverty to fame. He died in 1875 in Copenhagen.

Andersen wrote 212 widely translated fairy tales but also 62 novels, dramas and other prose, 23 travelogs, four autobiographies, six biographies, 1,023 poems and dozens of articles and letters.

His stories appealed to adults as much as they appealed to children, and many of his fairy tales are rather gruesome.

In "The Little Mermaid," one of his best known stories, the mermaid becomes mute because a witch cuts off her tongue in exchange for legs to replace her fish tail. In another tale, "The Two Baronesses," Andersen writes about marital infidelity and life in a brothel of which he had personal experience when he lived in Copenhagen. "The Traveling Companion," published in 1835 as part of a fairy tale collection for children, is about death.

John de Mylius, an associate professor with the Hans Christian Andersen Center at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, regretted the "commercialization" of the writer, which he said "takes away the focus from Andersen, the poet."

"He has been smothered into a marketing campaign for Denmark," de Mylius said. "The bottom line is how many tourists will come to Denmark afterward."

The Danish government stands behind the celebrations, calling it "a unique opportunity to strengthen Danish cultural tourism," economics and trade minister, Bendt Bendtsen said in the official jubilee program that also promotes Danish tourism and industry.

To finance the bicentennial, the Danish state and local sponsors have raised a combined budget of $41 million. At the same time, Danish officials -- from members of the royal family to government members -- have tapped the nearly 100 goodwill ambassadors from more than 40 countries during ceremonies at home and abroad.

Besides the concert and the goodwill ambassadors, a TV series about the writer as a young man was aired on public television in March. Last year, an edition of Andersen's complete works -- an 18-volume collection of all of his fairy tales, novels, poetry and other musings -- was published.

"The Little Mermaid," a hit animated movie from Disney, will be performed on a floating barge in Copenhagen in August. Another musical, written in English by American composer Stephen Schwartz, tells the story of Andersen waking up inside the fairy tale world he created.

Queen Margrethe designed the costumes and scenery for a play based on the fairy tale "Thumbelina," to be performed in Copenhagen's famed Tivoli gardens in July. As a graphic artist, Denmark's popular figurehead monarch designed the outfits and scenery for a 2001 play inspired by three of Andersen's fairy tales.

And, of course, there's a string of trinkets and other merchandise.

A series of commemorative $1.75 coins with one side featuring an adult swan studying its reflection in the lake -- a nod to Andersen's "The Ugly Duckling" -- hit the streets in March. The royal mail also has issued commemorative stamps for the occasion.

In Odense, Andersen's birth town, the local brewery has made a special beer -- H. C. Andersen 1805 -- while a Copenhagen department store is selling an Andersen table cloth with matching napkins.

One of Denmark's oldest wine importers is selling bottles of Italian grapes with the label "H.C. Andersen Wine." It features the official jubilee logo: a folded red heart looking like a flying butterfly.


On the Net:

Jubilee: http://www.hca2005.com

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