Most of us are well aware of Hans Christian Andersen. Although this Danish author actually wrote many plays, novels and poems, it is his dark and scary fairytales he was most popular for. Born in 1805, his fairytales were supposedly written for children but contain themes far beyond the scope of normal kids’ books. Of course, this is what made them so fascinating to many children who loved the more grown up tales he told.
While we all know famous titles like ‘The Little Mermaid’ and ‘The Ugly Duckling’, Anderson wrote a lot more less well-known fairytales that were much scarier and more macabre. If you feel brave enough then let us take you on a journey to discover the ten oddest and creepiest tales this master author ever wrote.
10 – The Swineherd
First up, we have the rather sorry tale of The Swineherd. If you like Hollywood style happy endings, then this is not the fairytale for you! It tells the story of a regal Prince who is in love with the Emperor’s daughter. To show her how much she means to him, he sends her a beautiful rose that blooms once every 5 years and a little bird that sings sweet melodies to amuse her. She throws them away in disgust though as they do not please her!
To get closer, the Prince disguises himself as a dirty swineherd and gains employment at the Emperor’s palace. Cooking up magical toys in his tiny hut, he sells them to the Princess for an increasing number of kisses. When the Emperor finds out, he banishes them both from his kingdom. This prompts the swineherd to reveal himself as the regal Prince to the Princess. This does not end well though – he has grown to despise the way she would sell her affections to anyone for material goods and leaves without her.
09 – Stone of the Wise Men
This bizarre tale is set in India and concerns a wealthy family who live in a crystal castle on top of a tall tree. The father of the family has a magical book that contains all the knowledge in the world. The page about what happens after death can only be read by a magic stone though which he does not have. To gain this stone and the knowledge, he sends out his five children to attain it. The twist is that each one has a hyper developed sense that they use to help them.
So far, so good right?! Unfortunately, there is an Evil One in the tale that wants to stop this happening. He manages to put 4 of the children to a gruesome end before they can uncover where the stone is. This leaves just the fifth child who is a blind girl to seek it out. Although the Evil One makes a doppelganger of her from a human corpse, she manages to find it. This makes the missing knowledge appear in her father’s book which tells him the secret to the afterlife is faith.
08 – On The Last Day
When it comes to odd and creepy tales, this is up there with the best! It basically tells the story of a man who dies and is journeying though the afterlife with Death to get to Heaven. Along the way, he sees some pretty messed up things. First there is a procession of human-like figures covered up in dark black robes to walk past. As he goes, they tug at each other’s robes to reveal various animals hidden underneath. Death explains this is showing him the masquerade that life is and how all humans have animal instincts that power their actions.
Following that, flocks of large black birds begin to circle him and ask him if he remembers them. When the man asks Death about it, he is told that the birds are all the evil thoughts and desires he had when alive. The noise becomes so great from the birds that the man runs off over jagged rocks which cut his feet. This is explained as all the hurtful words and actions he carried out in his lifetime coming back to hurt him. With the man eventually learning the lesson he is being shown about life, he is finally allowed into Heaven.
07 – The Garden of Paradise
Anyone who thought that Hans Christian Anderson fairytales were only for kids should read this beauty. It concerns a Prince who takes refuge from a wild storm one night in a gloomy cavern. Once inside, he comes across a strong old woman who is waiting for her sons to come back. One by one they do and the Prince realizes they are the separate winds of Heaven. None are particularly sympathetic characters -the South wind for example has just been out watching a bunch of travelers die in a desert storm. Whilst there, the East wind mentions he is about to visit the Garden of Eden for his annual 100 year trip.
The Prince seems interested which prompts the East wind into inviting him along. When they get there, the Prince meets the Queen of the Fairies who is insanely beautiful. She tells him that he can stay and live with her in paradise for the next 100 years under one condition – that he resists kissing her every night he is there. Unfortunately, this soon goes wrong as the fairy Queen undresses and lies down in front of the Prince on the first night. Unable to resist, he kisses her which plunges Eden into the Earth’s core and condemns him to a life of wandering Earth to atone for his sins.
06 – Story of a Mother
Some of this great authors tales are creepy, some are scary and some are just downright depressing. This story falls into the latter category and is not one to read as a parent. It basically revolves around a loving mother whose baby is taken away by Death one night. Running out into the night, she comes across an old woman who makes her sing lullabies before she tells her which way Death went. This takes her into a scary wood where she must hold thorn bushes against her bosom to be allowed past. The thorns pierce her flesh and her blood makes flowers bloom on them.
This then takes her to a lake where she must literally wee until her eyeballs fall out to be carried across. Desperate to find her child she does this and ends up in a greenhouse where Death keeps all the lives he has taken in plant form. Although the mother finds her daughter by feeling for her, Death appears to make things difficult. He shows two possible ways that the daughter’s life could go if he gives her back – one miserable and cruel, the other prosperous and happy. Fearing that her daughter will get the cruel one, she lets Death take her away. Like we said, depressing in the extreme!
05 – The Wicked Prince
This aptly named as the main character in it is really, really mean. The Wicked Prince is a power-hungry maniac who wages war on all other kingdoms in the land. His armies butcher everyone in their way and even hunt out women and children to kill. When he has conquered all the kingdoms on Earth, he then decides he will conquer Heaven too. This sees him build a great ship to sail up the heavens with and take over. On the way though, an Angel appears him sends him crashing back down to Earth.
Not deterred, the Prince spends the next few years building up a great fleet of attack ships to conquer Heaven. When ready, he gets soldiers from all countries across the world to man them. Before they can set off though, a single swarm of gnats comes down from Heaven to attack them. One flies into the Prince’s eardrum and stings him there. The poison makes him go mad and he strips naked before dancing in front of his troops. In the end, the single gnat manages to beat the Wicked Prince. As with all Hans Christian Anderson stories, you do have to wonder what he was on when he wrote them.
04 – The Tinderbox
Get ready to jet off for planet weird with this one! It begins with a soldier who is coming back from war stumbling across an ugly old witch. She offers him untold riches if he will climb into a nearby tree to collect her magical tinderbox. The soldier does this but then decides he wants to keep it for himself. The witch is naturally not up for that, so he cuts her head off and sets off again on his way. There were also great riches in the tree, so the soldier spends the next few years living the life of luxury off them. When they run out, he strikes the tinderbox in desperation to see what it can do. To his delight, a huge dog appears who will grant him any wish he desires.
He asks for the kingdom’s Princess to be brought to him which duly happens. Falling in love at first sight, he kisses her and asks for her to be brought back the next few nights. The Princesses father soon learns of this and hast he Soldier put into prison before ordering his execution. Standing at the gallows, he is offered one last request which he cleverly sets as a smoke of his pipe so he can use the magical tinderbox once more. Upon striking it, three huge dogs appear who savage everyone who is there apart from the soldier and Princess. They then become the new King and Queen to rule in a life of pure luxury.
03 – Elfin Hill
Scandinavia has always been a great place for dark tales with its rich history of ancient creatures and mythology. Anderson set this fairytale around the region and it sees two Norwegian goblins attending a feast thrown in their honour so they can choose a bride from the Elf kings daughters present. The feast is a gruesome affair with wine made from grave cellars, children’s fingers wrapped in snail skins and hemlock salad! Another weird thing is this story is that the beautiful daughters of the Elf king are totally hollow from the back!
At the feast, the daughters display an increasingly weird and unattractive set of gifts to the Goblins in order to attract them. Unimpressed, they ignore them and head off to chase Will o the Wisps instead. This leaves the way clear for their father to get together with one of them instead who he loves for her storytelling. They soon swap shoes and dance the night away to show their feelings for each other.
02 – The Shadow
This is both a bit confusing and terrifying at the same time. A young man who is walking around one night sees an alluring young maiden on her balcony. Enchanted by her beauty, he jokingly asks his own shadow to find out more about her. Forgetting all about it, he is somewhat disturbed to find out the next day that his shadow has gone. Soon though, a new one grows so his not too bothered. Years go by and the man forgets all about it before one day a stranger turns up.
Claiming to be the man’s old shadow, he explains how he managed to disguise himself as a man in the real world and also peer into people’s windows at nights to see their darkest secrets and conduct. Over time, he has built up great wealth by blackmailing them with what he knows! The man is soon convinced by his previous shadow to follow him when he falls into poverty and gain wealth again from doing the same. The twist is that the real man is actually becoming the shadow’s shadow by following him around! This culminates in the shadow tricking a Princess into falling into love with him and impressing her by saying the real man is actually his own shadow who has a shadow of his own. Although the real man tries to explain and stop them marrying, he is executed by his old shadow in the end.
01 – The Travelling Companion
We end with the weirdest, oddest and scary fairytale that this Danish author ever wrote. It starts with a guy called John walking through a churchyard one night when he comes upon two graverobbers. They say they are desecrating the grave of someone who owed them a lot of money before he died. In order to stop them, John uses all the money he has to pay them off. After this, John bumps into a mysterious new travelling partner the next day who he has many adventures with.
Unfortunately for John, they one day come across a beautiful Princess who he falls in love with. The problem is that she is also a psycho murderer who kills her suitors if they do not tell her what she is thinking for 3 days in a row. Concerned for his friend, the mysterious stranger straps a pair of severed swan wings to his back and follows the Princess as she flies for the next 3 nights to the home of an evil magician.
Along the way, he beats her back as she flies with a birch rod until it bleeds – as you do. This enables the stranger to tell John what the princess has been told to think about by the magician and pass the test. After he has cut the evil magicians head off, the stranger reveals himself as the ghost of the corpse whose grave was been desecrated to begin with. He had been looking after John as a thank you but disappears now he is ready to live happily with the now sane Princess.
Wow, what a bunch of stories they were! It is fair to say old Hand Christian Anderson had quite an imagination when he sat down to write them all. What they also are is interesting and attention grabbing so you will never get bored when reading them. If you fancy something a little different for your bedtime book, they are worth a shot.