"The Ugly Duckling" (Danish: Den grimme ælling) is a literary fairy tale by Danish poet and author Hans Christian Andersen (1805 – 1875). The story tells of a homely little bird born in a barnyard who suffers abuse from his neighbors until, much to his delight (and to the surprise of others), he matures into a graceful swan, the most beautiful bird of all. The story is beloved around the world as a tale about personal transformation for the better.[1] “The Ugly Duckling” was first published 11 November 1843 with three other tales by Andersen in Copenhagen, Denmark to great critical acclaim. The tale has been adapted to various media including opera, musical, and animated film. The tale is completely Andersen's invention and owes no debt to fairy or folk lore.

Plot summary

When the tale begins, a mother duck's eggs hatch. One of the little birds is perceived by the duck’s neighbors as a homely little creature and suffers much verbal and physical abuse. He wanders sadly from the barnyard and lives with wild ducks and geese until hunters slaughter the flocks. He then finds a home with an old woman but her cat and hen tease him mercilessly and again he sets off on his own. He sees a flock of migrating wild swans; he is delighted and excited but he cannot join them. Winter arrives. A farmer finds and carries the freezing little bird home, but the foundling is frightened by the farmer’s noisy children and flees the house. He spends a miserable winter alone in the outdoors but, when spring arrives, he is welcomed into a flock of beautiful swans for he has matured into one of them.'

Composition and publication history

File:Duckling 03.jpg

Andersen first conceived the story in 1842 while enjoying the beauty of nature during his stay at the country estate of Bregentved, and lavished a year's worth of attention upon it. He initially considered "The Young Swans" as the tale's title but, not wanting to spoil the element of surprise in the protagonist’s transformation, discarded it for "The Ugly Duckling". He later confessed that the story was "a reflection of my own life", and, when the critic Georg Brandes questioned Andersen about whether he would write his autobiography, the poet claimed that it had already been written — "The Ugly Duckling".[2]

“The Ugly Duckling” was first published in Copenhagen, Denmark 11 November 1843 in New Fairy Tales. First Book. First Collection. 1844. (Nye Eventyr. Første Bind. Første Samling. 1844.). For the first time the phrase "told for children" was not part of the title—an omission Andersen scholar Jackie Wullschlager believes exhibited a new confidence on Andersen's part: "These [tales] were the most mature and perfectly constructed tales he had written, and though some of them at once became, and have remained favorites of children, Andersen here melds together the childlike and the profound with exceptional artistry." The first edition of 850 was sold out by December 18, and Reitzel planned another 850.[3]

The tale was fourth and last in the volume that included (in contents order), "The Angel" ("Engelen"), "The Nightingale" ("Nattergalen"), and "The Sweethearts; or, The Top and the Ball" ("Kjærestefolkene [Toppen og bolden]").[4] The volume sold out almost immediately and Andersen wrote on December 18, 1843: “The book is selling like hot cakes. All the papers are praising it, everyone is reading it! No books of mine are appreciated in the way these fairy tales are!”[1] Andersen promoted the tale by reading it aloud at social gatherings. The tale was republished 18 December 1849 in Fairy Tales. 1850. (Eventyr. 1850.) and again 15 December 1862 in Fairy Tales and Stories. First Volume. 1862. (Eventyr og Historier. Første Bind. 1862.)[5] The tale has since been translated into various languages and published around the world which made it the most famous story from hans.


File:Mute Swan Cygnets detail.jpg

In reviewing Hans Christian Andersen: A New Life by biographer Jens Andersen, British journalist Anne Chisholm writes “Andersen himself was a tall, ugly boy with a big nose and big feet, and when he grew up with a beautiful singing voice and a passion for the theatre he was cruelly teased and mocked by other children". The ugly duckling is the child of a swan whose egg accidentally rolled into a duck's nest. [6]

Speculation suggests that Andersen was the illegitimate son of Christian Frederik, the Crown Prince of Denmark (later King Christian VIII of Denmark), and found this out some time before he wrote the book, and then that being a swan in the story was a metaphor not just for inner beauty and talent but also for secret royal lineage.[7]

Bruno Bettelheim observes in ‘’The Uses of Enchantment’’ that the Ugly Duckling is not confronted with the tasks, tests, or trials of the typical fairy tale hero. “No need to accomplish anything is expressed in “The Ugly Duckling”. Things are simply fated and unfold accordingly, whether or not the hero takes some action.” In conjunction with Bettelheim’s assessment, Maria Tatar notes in ’’The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen’’ that Andersen suggests the Ugly Duckling‘s superiority resides in the fact that he is of a breed different from the barnyard rabble, and that dignity and worth, moral and aesthetic superiority are determined by nature rather than accomplishment.[1]



"The Ugly Duckling" became one of Andersen's best loved tales and was reprinted around the world. The tale was adapted to a variety of media. Films based on the tale include two Silly Symphonies animated shorts produced by Walt Disney called The Ugly Duckling. The first was produced in 1931 in black and white, and a remake in 1939 in Technicolor. The latter film won the 1939 Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons),[8] and was the last Silly Symphony to be made. In 2006, the Danish animation studio A. Film produced a spin-off CG feature called The Ugly Duckling and Me!, and later produced a children's CG television series Ugly Duckling Junior which featured the same characters as the movie.

The tale has seen various musical adaptations. In 1914, the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev composed a work for voice and piano based on Nina Mershchersky's adaptation of the tale and, in 1932, arranged the work for voice and orchestra. This was transcribed by Lev Konov in 1996, and his opera was a great succes in Russia. Other musical versions include the song “The Ugly Duckling” composed by Frank Loesser and sung by Danny Kaye for the 1952 Charles Vidor musical film Hans Christian Andersen, and Honk!, a musical based on the tale which was produced in Britain and won an Olivier Award. The tale was adapted to a musical by Gail Deschamps and Paul Hamilton with a planned United States tour 2002-2003. In 1998, the musical played the Piccolo Spoleto for seventeen days.[9] In Final Fantasy Fables Choboco Tales, there is a storybook called the Ugly Choboco, based on the Ugly Duckling.

In Yoshi episode "Fairy Tales", this segment version was animated by Gene Deitch.

In 2009, the Dance Theatre of Bradenton, Florida, presented the ballet version of the popular tale (Allison Norton: The Ugly Duckling).

In other languages

  • Arabic - البطة القبيحة - Al-Bţh Al-Qbyhh
  • Bangla - কুচ্ছিত হাঁসের ছানা
  • Bulgarian - Грозното патенце - Groznoto Patentse
  • Catalan - L'Aneguet Lleig
  • Chinese - 丑小鸭 - Chǒu Xiǎo Yā
  • Croatian - Ružno Pače
  • Czech - Ošklivé Káčátko
  • Danish - Den Grimme Ælling
  • Dutch - Het Lelijke Jonge Eendje
  • English - The Ugly Duckling
  • Estonian - Inetu Pardipoeg
  • European Portuguese - O Patinho Feio
  • Finnish - Ruma ankanpoikanen
  • French - Le Vilain Petit Canard
  • German - Das Hässliche Entlein
  • Greek - Το Ασχημόπαπο - To Aschimópapo
  • Hebrew - הברווזון המכוער
  • Hindi - बदसूरत बत्तख़ का बच्चा - Badasūrata Battakha kā Baccā
  • Hungarian - A Rút Kiskacsa
  • Icelandic - Litli Ljóti Andarunginn
  • Indonesian - Itik Buruk Rupa
  • Italian - Il Brutto Anatroccolo
  • Japanese - みにくいアヒルの子 - Minikui Ahiru no Ko
  • Korean - 미운 오리 새끼 - Miun Oli Saekki
  • Norwegian - Den Stygge Andungen
  • Polish - Brzydkie Kaczątko
  • Portuguese - O Patinho Feio
  • Romanian - Răţuşca cea Urâtă
  • Russian - Гадкий утенок - Gadkiĭ Utenok
  • Serbian - Ружно паче - Ružno Pače
  • Slovak - Škaredé Káčatko
  • Slovenian - Grdi Raček
  • Swedish - Den Fula Ankungen
  • Spanish - El Patito Feo
  • Thai - ลูกเป็ดขี้เหร่ - Lūk Ped Khiher
  • Turkish - Çirkin Ördek Yavrusu
  • Ukrainian - Гидке каченя - Hydke kachenia

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Tatar, Maria (2008). The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen. W.W. Norton & Company. pp. 99–118. 
  2. Bredsdorff, Elias (1975). Hans Christian Andersen: The Story of his Life and Work 1805-75. Phaidon. ISBN 0-7148-1636-1. 
  3. Wullschlager, Jackie (2002, 2005). Hans Christian Andersen: The Life of a Storyteller. University of Chicago Press.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  4. "Hans Christian Andersen - FAQ: Books by Hans Christian Andersen". Hans Christian Andersen Center. 
  5. "Hans Christian Andersen: The Ugly Duckling". Hans Christian Andersen Center. 
  6. Chisholm, Anne (2006-06-05). "The tale of an ugly duckling". The Daily Telegraph. 
  7. Philip, Neil (2005-01-08). "The Little Prince". The Times. 
  8. "The 1939 Silly Symphony". The Encyclopedia of Disney Animated Shorts. 
  9. "GMT: The Ugly Duckling". 

External links

ca:L'aneguet lleig da:Den grimme ællingfa:جوجه اردک زشتis:Litli ljóti andarunginn it:Il brutto anatroccolo he:הברווזון המכוער ka:მახინჯი იხვის ჭუკი nl:Het lelijke eendje (sprookje)no:Den stygge andungen pl:Brzydkie kaczątkoro:Rățușca cea urâtă ru:Гадкий утёнок simple:The Ugly Duckling sl:Grdi raček sv:Den fula ankungen th:ลูกเป็ดขี้เหร่ zh:丑小鸭

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