Wild animal welfare in Hans Christian Andersen

Continuing the theme of wild animal suffering in children’s lit

Hans Christian Andersen’s stories involve a lot of suffering of both human and animal varieties. “The Ugly Duckling” takes a brief detour from describing the duckling’s repeated social humiliations to describe being a waterfowl in winter:

The winter grew cold – so bitterly cold that the duckling had to swim to and fro in the water to keep it from freezing over. But every night the hole in which he swam kept getting smaller and smaller. Then it froze so hard that the duckling had to paddle continuously to keep the crackling ice from closing in upon him. At last, too tired to move, he was frozen fast in the ice.

Thumbelina” likewise details bird hardship in the Danish winter:

In the middle of the floor lay a dead swallow, with his lovely wings folded at his sides and his head tucked under his feathers. The poor bird must certainly have died of the cold. Thumbelina felt so sorry for him. She loved all the little birds who had sung and sweetly twittered to her all through the summer. But the mole gave the body a kick with his short stumps, and said, “Now he won’t be chirping any more. What a wretched thing it is to be born a little bird. Thank goodness none of my children can be a bird, who has nothing but his ‘chirp, chirp’, and must starve to death when winter comes along.”

“Yes, you are so right, you sensible man,” the field mouse agreed. “What good is all his chirp-chirping to a bird in the winter time, when he starves and freezes?

Not that different from “The Little Match Girl“, in which a child freezes to death on the streets of Copenhagen:

She was getting colder and colder, but did not dare to go home, for she had sold no matches, nor earned a single cent, and her father would surely beat her. Besides, it was cold at home, for they had nothing over them but a roof through which the wind whistled even though the biggest cracks had been stuffed with straw and rags.

Her hands were almost dead with cold. Oh, how much one little match might warm her!

I don’t really know where I’m going with this. Interesting that an author who didn’t shy away from human suffering in his fairy tales also didn’t shy away from animal suffering.

4 thoughts on “Wild animal welfare in Hans Christian Andersen

  1. crea8ive53

    This inspired me to google Hans Christian Andersen and Darwin, thinking there might be some connection. HCA however published most of his fairy tales well before 1859 when Darwin’s Origin of Species appeared. From geoffthompsonsblog.blogspot.com: “Andersen regarded Darwin as an absurd and insignificant crank… ‘Oh it is very sad,’ Andersen said, ‘that men cannot be satisfied with what God has taught them, but must question His word as if they knew better than He.'” Andersen seems to accept and even promote the idea that sometimes, in spite of your best efforts, things will turn out badly for you, and God save our wretched souls.

    Reply
    1. Julia Post author

      I think Darwin was also pretty clear that things were bad for animals. He wrote in his autobiography: “That there is much suffering in the world no one disputes. Some have attempted to explain this in reference to man by imagining that it serves for his moral
      improvement. But the number of men in the world is as nothing compared with that of all other sentient beings, and these often suffer greatly without any moral improvement.”

      https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/24d1/0349004c5d5213a63de56e9e1de04d1cb7e8.pdf

      Reply
  2. Dominic

    Thanks for this! This is a very helpful and interesting perspective.

    In the past 4 years I’ve been a lot around my two small children. And a strange thing I noticed is how they made me more sensitive to animal suffering. In fact, the helplessness and vulnerability and immaturity of babies and toddlers feels so parallel to how it feels to interact with our cat or with random other animals on the streets.

    I don’t know where I’m going with that either. I just found it fascinating that caring for small humans inadvertendly made me more attentive to the animal world, in particular the vulnerability of these creatures.

    Reply

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