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The Princess and the Pea
|"The Princess and the Pea"|
Illustration by Bertall
|Author||Hans Christian Andersen|
|Genre(s)||Literary fairy tale|
|Published in||Fairy Tales Told for Children (first booklet)|
|Publication type||Fairy tale collection|
|Publisher||C. A. Reitzel|
|Published in English||1846, in A Danish Story-Book|
|Notable adaptations||Once Upon a Mattress (musical play)|
|Preceded by||Big Claus and Little Claus|
|Followed by||Little Ida's Flowers|
"The Princess and the Pea" is a literary fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. It was first published in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1835. It appeared as the third tale in the first book of Andersen's Fairy Tales Told for Children. The other tales in the little book were "The Tinderbox", "Big Claus and Little Claus", and "Little Ida's Flowers".
The story tells of a maiden whose royalty is established by her sensitivity to a pea placed under her matresses. Stories of super-sensitivity are rare. They are not unknown however in world literature and lore. Andersen heard the tale of the pea as a child, but it is unknown in Danish folk tradition. He probably heard a Swedish version of the tale.
The critics did not like these four stories. They did not like their informal, chatty style. They thought the stories immoral. The stories did not promote good behaviour and the mores of the times. "Little Claus and Big Claus", for instance, featured unpunished lying, hoodwinking, theft, and adulterous conduct.
The story has been adapted to various media including a television program on Shelley Duval's Fairy Tale Theatre. A popular musical play of the 1960s was based on the story called Once Upon a Mattress. It starred comedienne Carol Burnett.
A prince decides to marry. He wants a real princess as his bride. He searches the world, but does not find one. He returns home disappointed.
One stormy night, a rain-soaked maiden comes to the castle door. She is seeking shelter. She says she is a real princess.
The Queen uses a test to determine if the maiden is really a princess. She puts a pea upon a bed. She then puts 20 mattresses and 20 feather beds upon the bed. Here the princess must pass the night.
In the morning, the maiden says that she could not sleep. She says there was something hard in the bed that kept her tossing and turning all night. Everyone now realizes she is a real princess! Only a real princess is so sensitive that she can feel a pea beneath a huge pile of bedding!
- Opie, Iona and Peter. 1974. The Classic Fairy Tales. Oxford University Press. pp. 216-218
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