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The Princess and the Pea

Hans Christian Andersen wrote literary fairy tales in his home country of Denmark during the early 19th century.

What is the difference between a literary fairy tale and a folktale? A folktale comes from the oral tradition, a story told from generation to generation. A literary fairy tale is the creation of its writer. Literary critics didn’t like Andersen’s tales, however, because he wrote in a folksy style. He believed the voice of the storyteller should come through the story, but the critics wanted a more formal style of writing.

The Princess and the Pea is one of the shortest yet best known of Andersen’s tales. It is pure satire, of course, even to the pea being placed in a museum. You can talk about satire with your children -a simple explanation is that satire is making fun of something that needs to change but in a funny way rather than in a mean way. In The Princess and the Pea, it quickly becomes apparent that the prince is too picky in his choice of a wife. One question to keep in mind when reading or writing satire is, “Who needs to change?” In this story, it is the prince and the satire is increased by the fact that only a real princess would feel a tiny pea underneath so many mattresses and featherbeds! So a key part of satire is silliness. It’s almost like a tall tale, in which things get more and more ridiculous.

After the story, why not try writing your own satire as a family? Perhaps the family dog refuses to pick up its toys until there are so many toys that the parents can’t find their children. What would that story be like? And who needs to change in that story?

Children younger than 8 years old may not understand the satire, but they will enjoy the story all the same. Here, in his own words, is Hans Christian Andersen’s The Princess and the Pea.

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