Today I would lobby hard that the church remember a premier storyteller who has had arguably as much cultural influence as the parables of Jesus: Hans Christian Anderson, Poet, Teller of Tales, and Social Influencer.
Hans was born in the early 19th Century in Odense, Denmark to an illiterate mother and a father who only had a basic elementary education. It is absolutely improbable that he would end up being a literary force, and yet, here we are.
Hans was originally sent to a school for the poor, and there was taught the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. At home, however, his father fueled his imagination by giving him Arabian Nights. After his father died, he began apprenticing as a weaver and a tailor, and then eventually went to Copenhagen to seek his fortune as an actor, a path most New York waiters and LA baristas can tell you about.
A director at the Royal Danish Theater took notice of young Hans and sent him on to further education on the Royal dime. Note: a teacher invested in him and encouraged him in his craft…we owe teachers so much, especially because they are often the first line of encouragement for young artists.
Let those with ears to hear, hear.
Unfortunately Hans often had a tough time in school, sometimes because people didn’t believe in him, and sometimes because he was just of a more morose nature and was taken advantage of by others. One of his earliest fairy tales, “The Tallow Candle,” spoke of an unappreciated wax taper, perhaps a glimpse into his own being.
Obviously these obstacles did not stop Hans from excelling at his craft, and slowly and surely through poems, travel diaries, novels, and plays, he made a considerable name for himself, particularly because his tales had direct moral overtones, often ones that echoed some of the Biblical stories he grew up with.
Interestingly enough, however, Hans had a difficult time with religion, and he wrestled with the church. One of his most famous encounters was with fellow wrestler Saint Soren Kierkegaard, who described Hans as kind of a brooding fellow. Perhaps some of this brooding came from his other big wrestling match in life, his sexuality. In many of his letters, and even in some of his tales, he speaks of a loneliness and longing for a love that was unattainable and taboo.
Your heart can’t help but break for him in this way.
He still continued to work and write, shaping the world around him through the most amazing thing that humans have produced: stories. In his old age the Danish government had started to pay him a yearly stipend simply because he breathed. He was that treasured as a person. From “The Little Mermaid,” “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” and “The Snowman,” Anderson’s tales continue to tingle the imagination and cause our hearts to stir.
At the age of 67 Hans woke up one morning with a start and fell out of bed, severely injuring himself past the point of recovery. His injury caused him to be thoroughly examined, and in the aftermath they found signs of liver cancer.
He died on this day in 1875.
Hans Christian Anderson is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that stories are truly the things that pluck at the human heart and cause us to move and be moved. Indeed, stories are our best gift to humanity, Beloved.
-historical bits from public sources
-picture painted by Elle, 2005