A Tale Teller For Our Times

Poet Ruth Padel investigates why Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales still speak to us now and what they tell us about the man who wrote them.

Episodes

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01The Little Mermaid2005051620060918

The plaintive story of a mermaid who becomes human but loses her voice and walks in agony.

Is the story an ode to love, a Christian message or a depiction of Andersen himself?

The story of a mermaid who becomes human but loses her voice and walks in agony - is it an ode to love, a Christian message or a depiction of Andersen himself?

02The Emperor's New Clothes2005051720060919

The story of the vain Emperor who is taken in by swindlers pretending to weave him a set of clothes has become a byword for the human condition.

How much does it tell us of Andersen's own class struggle?

03The Ugly Duckling2005051820060920

Always the odd one out and made to suffer for being different until he becomes a swan, the Ugly Duckling is said to mirror Andersen's view of himself.

But is it a transformation that anyone can make, or are there hidden meanings to the story?

04The Red Shoes2005051920060921

The iconic Powell/ Pressburger film brought parts of Andersen's story to a wide cinema audience but the tale itself is much less well known and far more disturbing.

Why did Andersen display such a ruthlessly violent streak and what were his secret fears while writing it?

05The Snow Queen2005052020060922

This tale with its sweeping narrative and cold figure of the Snow Queen is reckoned by many to be Andersen's masterpiece.

What are the qualities which have given it such longevity, and is being frozen always such a bad thing?