Short Story Review: The Wild Swans by Hans Christian Andersen


A widowed king remarries, but his new queen turns out to be a witch who doesn’t like her twelve step-children. So she schemes to get rid of them by casting a spell to turn them into swans. And she succeeds in the case of the eleven princes, but her efforts are hampered when it comes to the princess Elisa.

However, Elisa doesn’t forget her brothers.  In fact, she takes it upon herself to save them, no matter the personal cost to herself, which turns out to be quite high…

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You have the powers to set your brothers free, but have you the courage and determination?


I came across this Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale while researching some of the less well-known fairy tales that he had written.  Everyone’s heard of The Little Mermaid and The Snow Queen, but I was looking for something a little different. The purpose: to write a short fairy tale re-telling about an evil queen / step-mother character from a fairy tale for a call for submissions I had seen.  To boost my chances of acceptance, I thought it best to try and find one of the less popular stories. (On a side note, the story was accepted and will be released as part of an anthology later this year – yay!)

One thing that really struck me as I read The Wild Swans was the strong religious aspect to it.  Modern retellings tend to ignore religion / religious themes in these stories as they aren’t necessarily what a modern audience wants to read.  This most of all, I found hardest to read as in places it was laid on fairly thick.  There was a lot of praying, piety and self-sacrifice going on – heavy stuff for a children’s story.  And, I think reading the original made me aware of how old the story is (it was first published in 1838), and how it’s a product of its time.

Apart from that, the story-telling and imagination of the author really shone through, allowing me to enjoy the rest of the fairy tale.  Elisa is a strong character, a young woman with a determined attitude, who puts the well-being of her brothers above her own.  And of course, all the usual fairy tale elements are present too – a prince, the fairy godmother and the triumph over evil.

I’m pleased I found this, pleased that I read, but reminded of the fact there is a reason why many fairy tales are being retold for a modern audience.


I downloaded a copy of Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales Volume 2, containing The Wild Swans, for free from Project Gutenberg


5 thoughts on “Short Story Review: The Wild Swans by Hans Christian Andersen

  1. Pingback: Bookish Reflections – April 2017 | Sammi Loves Books

  2. I had a similar reaction upon reading a huge collection of Hans Christian Andersen stories I received as a gift a couple years ago. There are many stories with a heavy-handed message that good=devout Christian, and bad=anyone else, e.g., the Jew is saved by reading the Bible and converting. I don’t remember that element in this particular story, but then, after hundreds of pages, they did start to run together a bit.

    I also agree that there’s a reason so many of these tales are rewritten for modern audiences, and not just because of religion, but also because style and expectations have changed so much His longer short stories tend to meander, and there’s a lot of description and “telling” and relatively little “showing” or character development. Plus some of them are just plain too dark and heavy. Like the tales collected by the Grimm Brothers, it’s hard to imagine these were read to children.

    Liked by 1 person

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