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What the Whole Family Said
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What the Whole Family Said - Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Andersen

Reading time for children: 7 min

What did the whole family say? Well listen first to what little Marie said. It was little Marie’s birthday, the most wonderful of all days, she imagined. All her little boy friends and girl friends came to play with her, and she wore her prettiest dress, the one Grandmother, who was now with God, had sewn for her before she went up into the bright, beautiful heaven.

The table in little Marie’s room was loaded with presents. There was the prettiest little kitchen, with everything that belongs to a kitchen, and a doll that could close its eyes and say „Ouch!“ when you pinched its stomach. Yes, and there was also a picture book, with the most wonderful stories, to be read when one could read! But to have many birthdays was more wonderful than all the stories in the book.

„Yes, it’s wonderful to be alive,“ said little Marie. And her godfather added that it was the most beautiful of all fairy tales. In the next room were both her brothers. They were big boys, one of them nine years old, the other eleven. They thought it was wonderful to be alive, too. That is, to live in their own way, not to be a baby like Marie, but to be real smart schoolboys, to get A’s on their report cards, to have friendly fights with their comrades, to go skating in the winter and bicycling in the summer, to read about the days of knighthood, with its castles, its drawbridges, and its dungeons, and to hear about new discoveries in Central Africa.

On the latter subject, however, one of the boys felt very sad in that he feared everything might be discovered before he grew up, and then there would be no adventure left for him. But Godfather said, „Life itself is the most wonderful adventure, and you have a part in it yourself.“ These children lived on the first floor of the house. In the flat above them lived another branch of the family, also with children, but these all had long since been shaken from their mother’s apron strings, so big were they. One son was seventeen, and another twenty, but the third one was very old, said little Marie. He was twenty-five, and engaged to be married.

They were all very well off, had nice parents, good clothes, and were well educated, and they knew what they wanted. „Look forward,“ they said. „Away with all the old fences! Let’s have an open view into the wide world! That’s the greatest thing we know of! Godfather is right – life is the most wonderful fairy tale!“ Father and Mother, both older people – naturally, they would have to be older than the children – said, with smiling lips and smiling eyes and hearts, „How young these young people are! Things usually don’t happen in this world just as they expect them to, yet life goes on. Life is a strange and wonderful adventure.“

On the next floor – a little closer to heaven, as we say when people live in an attic – lived Godfather. He was old, and yet so young in mind, always in a good humor, and he certainly could tell stories, many and long ones. He had traveled the world over, and his room was filled with pretty tokens from every country. Pictures were hung from ceiling to floor, and some of the windowpanes were of red or yellow glass. If one looked through them, the whole world lay in sunshine, however gray the weather might be outside. Green plants grew in a large glass case, and in an enclosure therein swam goldfish. They looked at one as if they knew many things they didn’t care to talk about.

There was always a sweet fragrance of flowers, even in the wintertime. And then a great fire blazed in the fireplace. It was such a pleasure to sit and look into it and hear how it crackled and spat. „It refreshes old memories to me, “ said Godfather. And to little Marie there seemed to appear many pictures in the fire. But in the big bookcase close by stood real books. One of these Godfather often read, and this he called the Book of Books. It was the Bible. In it was pictured the history of the world and the history of all mankind, of the creation, the flood, the kings, and the King of Kings.

„All that has happened and all that will happen is written in this book,“ said Godfather; „so infinitely much in one single book! Just think of it! Yes, everything that a human being has to pray for is entered there, and said in a few words in the prayer ‚Our Father‘! It is the drop of mercy! It is the pearl of comfort from God. It is laid as a gift on the baby’s cradle, laid on the child’s heart. Little child, keep it safely; don’t ever lose it, however big you may grow, and you will never be left alone on life’s changeful way. It will shine within you and you will never be lost!“

Godfather’s eyes radiated joy. Once, in his youth, they had wept, „and this was also good,“ he said. „That was a time of trial, when everything looked dark and gray. Now I have sunshine within me and around me. The older one grows, the clearer one sees, in both prosperity and misfortune, that our Lord always is with us and that life is the most beautiful of all fairy tales, and this He alone can give us – and so it will be into eternity.“ – „Yes, it is wonderful to be alive!“ said little Marie.

So said also the small and the big boys, as well as Father and Mother and the whole family – but first of all, Godfather, who had had so much experience and was the oldest of them all. He knew all stories, all the fairy tales. And it was right from the bottom of his heart that he said, „Life is the most wonderful fairy tale of all!“

Backgrounds to fairy tale „What the Whole Family Said“

„What the whole family said“ is a fairy tale by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. He was a prolific writer and poet who lived from 1805 to 1875. Andersen is best known for his fairy tales, which have become an integral part of the world’s literary and cultural heritage. Some of his most famous stories include „The Little Mermaid,“ „The Ugly Duckling,“ „The Emperor’s New Clothes,“ and „The Snow Queen.“ Born in Odense, Denmark, Andersen grew up in a humble family and struggled through poverty during his early years. Despite facing many challenges, he was determined to succeed as a writer. He eventually moved to Copenhagen to pursue his literary career and began writing plays, novels, poems, and travelogues, in addition to his famous fairy tales.

Andersen’s stories often reflect themes of personal growth, transformation, and the triumph of goodness and love over adversity. His works are known for their deep emotional resonance, imaginative plots, and memorable characters. Many of his stories have been adapted into various forms of media, including stage plays, films, and animated movies. „What the whole family said“ showcases Andersen’s signature style and his ability to explore complex themes through the lens of simple, yet profound, stories. The tale carries a message of hope, joy, and the appreciation of life at every stage, emphasizing the importance of family, community, and the power of storytelling.

„What the Whole Family Said“ is a lesser-known fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. The story was first published in 1861 as a part of a collection of Andersen’s fairy tales. As with many of his other works, Andersen drew from his own experiences and imagination to create this story. The backgrounds of this fairy tale can be found in Andersen’s own life, where he often felt like an outsider and struggled to find his place in society. The story reflects Andersen’s empathetic nature and his understanding of human emotions and desires. Additionally, the story demonstrates the importance of respecting individuality and the uniqueness of each person’s dreams and aspirations.

Interpretations to fairy tale „What the Whole Family Said“

There are several interpretations that can be drawn from „What the whole family said“ by Hans Christian Andersen:

The beauty of life at different stages: The story presents characters of various ages, each finding joy and wonder in their own stage of life. This highlights the idea that life can be beautiful and meaningful at any age, as long as one is willing to embrace its possibilities.

The importance of faith and hope: Godfather’s character emphasizes the value of faith and hope in navigating life’s challenges. Through his own experiences, he has learned that having faith in God and holding onto hope can bring light and happiness even in the darkest times.

The power of storytelling: The story showcases the importance of storytelling in connecting generations and passing down wisdom. Godfather’s tales and experiences serve as a reminder that stories can offer valuable life lessons and help shape one’s perspective on the world.

The significance of family and community: The tale highlights the role of family and community in supporting and nurturing one’s growth and development. Each member of the family in the story contributes to the overall sentiment that life is a beautiful fairy tale, showing that shared beliefs and values can strengthen relationships and create a sense of belonging.

The idea of life as a fairy tale: The central theme of the story is that life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale of all. This interpretation encourages readers to approach life with a sense of wonder, curiosity, and adventure, and to appreciate the beauty and magic in everyday experiences.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „What the Whole Family Said“

There are no widely known adaptations of „What the Whole Family Said“ from Hans Christian Andersen. However, this fairy tale could inspire various forms of adaptations, such as:

Illustrated children’s book: The Whole Family Said by N.M. Bodecker: This children’s book is a retelling of Andersen’s story, featuring whimsical illustrations by the author. It follows the same basic plot as the original, but with some updates to the language and style. The tale was adapted into a beautifully illustrated children books, which can help emphasize the theme of individuality and diversity by visually representing the different wishes of each family member.

Films and TV: „The Inheritance“ episode of the TV series Faerie Tale Theater: This episode of the 1980s TV series Faerie Tale Theater is based on Andersen’s story, with Anjelica Huston playing the role of the deceased man’s widow. It adds some additional subplots and characters to the story, but stays true to the satirical tone of the original.

Audio storytelling: „The Whole Family Said“ episode of the podcast Myths and Legends: This podcast episode retells Andersen’s story in a humorous and irreverent style, adding some modern twists to the plot. It includes commentary on the way social media and online personas can contribute to insincerity and hypocrisy, adding a new layer to the original’s critique of the upper class.

While there are no specific examples of popular adaptations of this fairy tale, the story’s themes of individuality, communication, and understanding provide ample opportunities for creative exploration across various media formats.

Summary of the plot

„What the whole family said“ is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen that revolves around the theme of celebrating life and acknowledging its beauty. The story begins with little Marie’s birthday, where she is surrounded by her friends and family, and she expresses her joy in being alive. Her godfather agrees, stating that life is the most beautiful of all fairy tales.

In the adjacent room are Marie’s brothers, who are older and find joy in their school, sports, and reading about adventures. They, too, believe life is wonderful. Above them live their cousins, who are even older and engaged in pursuits like education and looking forward to their future. They also echo the sentiment that life is a remarkable adventure.

The parents of the children, who have experienced more of life, acknowledge the youthful enthusiasm of their children while also understanding that life can be unpredictable. They too agree that life is a fascinating journey. Godfather, an elderly man with a young spirit, lives on the top floor. His room is filled with memorabilia from his travels, and he delights in telling stories. He finds comfort in the Bible, which he calls the „Book of Books,“ and emphasizes the importance of faith in navigating life’s challenges.

He has experienced sorrow in his youth but now sees the world through the lens of hope and love. The story concludes with the whole family, including Godfather, agreeing that life is indeed the most wonderful fairy tale of all. Through the characters‘ diverse perspectives, the tale encourages readers to cherish life and find beauty in its various stages.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
Translations DE, EN, DA, ES,
Readability Index by Björnsson28.5
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index78.9
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level6.2
Gunning Fog Index8.7
Coleman–Liau Index8.6
SMOG Index9.2
Automated Readability Index6
Character Count5.475
Letter Count4.212
Sentence Count64
Word Count1.015
Average Words per Sentence15,86
Words with more than 6 letters128
Percentage of long words12.6%
Number of Syllables1.342
Average Syllables per Word1,32
Words with three Syllables68
Percentage Words with three Syllables6.7%

Image sources: © Andrea Danti / Shutterstock

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