From Denmark to the Philippines

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Hans Christian Andersen and Jose Rizal: From Denmark to the Philippines

By Michelle Anne P. Soliman

BORN to a poor family and struggled to find success as an actor, Hans Christian Andersen ventured into writing fairy tales early in the 1800s. As a storyteller, Andersen presented deep ideas and feelings with a style that appealed to a child’s perspective.

In 1886, Jose Rizal completed translating five of Andersen’s fairy tales (from German translation) and sent the copies to the Philippines as a gift to his nephews and nieces so that they would know what the children in Europe read.

Children’s book specialist Katrina Gutierrez recalled in an essay how she came across the book of Rizal’s translations during a visit to the Hans Christian Andersen Museum in Odense, Denmark: “The Museum at the heart of the city boasts the largest collection of Andersen stories in translation… The books are grouped by language, and the labels on the shelves alert museum goers to the start of a collection from another part of the world… One of these languages was Tagalog… I pressed my face closer to the glass, and this time I was truly surprised. On the spine in faded but clear letters was the name: Jose Rizal.”

Today one does not have to go all the way to Denmark to read Rizal’s fairy tales thanks to The Embassy of Denmark and Anvil Publishing which have released Hans Christian Andersen and Jose Rizal: From Denmark to the Philippines, a compilation of Andersen’s fairy tales translated by Rizal into Tagalog.

The book contains Rizal’s Tagalog translations of five Andersen fairy tales: “The Fir Tree” (“Ang Punong Pino”), “Thumbelina” (“Si Gahinlalaki”), “The Ugly Duckling” (“Ang Pangit na Sisiw na Pato”), “The Angel” (“Ang Sugo”), and “The Little Matchgirl” (“Ang Batang Babaeng May Dalang Sakafuego”).

Ambassador of Denmark to the Philippines Jan Top Christensen said that the fairy tales remain relevant today as they depict the human condition. “Hans Christian Andersen has become world famous mainly because of his fairy tales. They appeal to a very large public not only children because of the direct narrative, but also because of the many layers in the stories that in many ways talk about the human condition,” Mr. Christensen told BusinessWorld shortly after the launch.

Historian and professor Ambeth R. Ocampo said that children’s stories affect readers differently when read as adults. “These are simple Andersen [fairy]tales. It does not just have one meaning but I guess it lives on in people as they grow older. The book is not just about translating the text but transmitting a part of not just Andersen but also Rizal,” he said during the launch.

The book also contains essays by Ms. Gutierrez, Mr. Ocampo, and Danish scholars Ejnar Stig Askgaard and Johs. Norregaard Frandsen, and an introduction about the historical links between Denmark and the Philippines by Mr. Christensen.

Hans Christian Andersen and Jose Rizal: From Denmark to the Philippines is available online at, and at National Bookstore and Powerbooks branches beginning Oct. 5 for P695 (soft cover) and P1,500 (hard cover).