|By Susan Emerson Nutter
FUNEN, Denmark — Research is anything but boring, especially when one unearths a treasure.
While delving through archives of boxed documents, retired historian Esben Brage discovered a six-page text thought be the earliest known attempt at the crafting of fairy tales by famous children’s author Hans Christian Andersen.
Yes, that Andersen. Think Thumbelina or The Little Mermaid. The boxes of more than 4,000 documents Brage was sifting through in October 2012 were housed in the historical archive on the island of Funen; Andersen’s birthplace.
These documents had belonged to families from Andersen’s hometown of Odense in central Denmark. Brage’s research had nothing to do with looking for Hans Christian Andersen items, so imagine his surprise when he realized the hand-written pages found at the bottom of one box was the work of this beloved children’s author.
The six-page text entitled Tallow Candle is special enough, but it interesting to note the tale was dedicated to the minister’s widow of Odense whose last name was Bunkeflod. It seems she had lived across from the Andersen’s household, and Andersen was actually a great friend of the widow as both shared a love of books and reading.
According to Christian Wenande of The Copenhagen Post, “The work, written for a Madame Bunkeflod by a ’devoted H.C. Andersen,’ is the first significant Andersen text found since the 1920s, when the author’s memoirs were found in the Royal Library.”
Even more exciting is the fact that Tallow Candle appears to be the work of a young Andersen, maybe around the age of 18, seven years before his work became known in 1829.
In the spirit of other Andersen’s tales known as anthropomorphic stories where the author gives voice to animals or inanimate objects, Tallow Candle tells the story of a prized tallow candle that has become grimy and neglected. The candle seeks out the help of a tinder box in order to be rediscovered and lit once again.
Born to a washerwoman and a shoemaker in 1805, Andersen wrote nearly 160 fairy tales in his lifetime as well as dozens of novels, poems and travel journals.
Andersen made his literary debut in 1829 at the age of 24 and became known as one of the most important authors in Europe in the 1800s.
He first started publishing his fairy tales in the 1830s. Andersen’s works have been translated into about 125 different languages, a feat bested only by the Bible.
Andersen died in 1875 at the age of 70 near Copenhagen.