Hans Christian Andersen, internationally celebrated writer and poet, started off life in the small town of Odense on the island of Fyn in Denmark (Garfield 2). Drawing from the rich oral tradition of his native land, Andersen, a natural storyteller, took his native folk tales and spun them with his own style in order to create the classics that are well known and loved today. His humble beginnings as a shoemaker’s son belied his future of as one of the worlds most well-loved storytellers, yet it was his humble beginnings that inspired not only his genius but many of his tales. “It was in the early period of his life where he created his blooming imagination and fantasy by dreaming of better times and places, that possibly later had great influence in his writing (Moller 1).” Andersen’s early years were full of hardships, including poverty, a lack of an education early on in life and a tall and lanky appearance that brought him many cruel jokes. “He was tall, lanky and awkward, with long, thin limbs attached to huge feet and hands, the quintessential Ugly Duckling (Garfield 4).” Andersen used his experiences as inspiration for his writing. While not one of his most famous works, Andersen’s short story “The Toad” is one that speaks volumes about the man who wrote it. It gives the reader a look into the soul of the storyteller. Using allegory and metaphor, Andersen gives the reader some perspective into the character and nature of the his own life, dreams and aspirations and the result is a story that is both entertaining and enlightening.
In Andersen’s tale of “The Toad” the hero is a small, and very ugly, toad. This small and ugly toad lives at the bottom of a well, isolated from the world above. Other well inhabitants include his mother, cousins, and a handful of frogs. While the others are content and happy with their isolated life in the well, the little toad is not. In real life, Andersen grew up in a small and isolated farm town. In those years, villages were isolated and rarely had contact with the outside world. Andersen’s own town was of small exception since it had its own theater. It was this exposure to theater that gave Andersen the exposure to life outside is provincial town, much like the bucket and the sun taunted the young frog to explore life outside of his own sheltered world. Andersen was reared by his mother and father until his father’s untimely death when he was just 11 years old (Moller 1). Like the mother toad in the story, Andersen’s mother was not one for travel. She was a simple woman and hardworking who made her living as a wash woman. Andersen, however, learned much during boyhood that would prove invaluable to his literary career later on in life. The village of Odense “had preserved popular old customs and superstitions unknown in Copenhagen” and these provided Andersen with a colorful stimulus to his imagination (Mylius 1). They also provided him with the framework for his famous children’s tales that he would be best remembered for.
In the story of “he Toad”, the young toads are told by an elder toad that one amongst them “has a precious stone – a gem – in his head (Andersen).” The young toads ask their mother what it is meant to have a precious stone in one’s head. The mother toad replies that “It is something so valuable, so costly that I cannot even describe it. One has it for one’s own pleasure, and everybody envies one for having it (Andersen).” At first the young toad is sure that he could not be the recipient of such a fine gift as this. Yet, the ugly toads exterior does indeed hide the precious gift. For this mysterious stone, we find, is the creative vision and inner strength that drives the small toad to leave the well and young Andersen to leave the safety of his own small town to seek his fortune in the world. In folklore, the precious stone represented not an actual stone, but an inner light that guides great thinkers. In society, people as well as toads are judged mostly by their outward appearance. Andersen was the human equivalent to the toad, yet his outward appearance hid an inner light that would carry him farther than handsome looks ever could.