From The Harvard Gazette:
The fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen have enchanted children the world over for more than two centuries with their verbal sorcery and expressive intensity. Now their iconic power has drawn the attention of a Harvard professor, who hopes to broaden our understanding of how those eye-widening fairy tales expand the imaginations of children.
The stories deserve serious intellectual investigation, says Maria Tatar, John L. Loeb Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Tatar is taking a critical look at Andersen to show how these stories have become part of our folklore, playing a formative role in the shaping of childhood identities.
“We need to engage our critical faculties in order to understand what makes these stories so emotionally addictive. Why have these Danish cultural stories taken hold in the United States to become instruments for navigating childhood?” Tatar asks. “How do the stories enable the reader to get lost in the book, to drink the heady elixir of fantasy? And how do they arouse the intellectual curiosity of children?” According to Tatar, a strong moral message is not the key to Andersen’s appeal. Rather, she says, Andersen’s descriptive techniques create moments with “ignition power” that kindle the imagination.