Defining Princesses: Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Princess and the Pea” and “The Swineherd”

“The Princess and the Pea” is perhaps Andersen’s most famous tale about a princess, or more precisely, explaining what a princess actually is. That is, a princess is someone who will show up soaking wet on your doorstop and demand that a bed be prepared especially for her particular needs, and then will spend the next day complaining about it, but, on the bright side, the entire incident will later give you a small interesting exhibit for your museum.

Maybe not that much of a bright side.

This is Andersen’s cheerful view of princesses. He did have another one, shared in his less famous story, “The Swineherd.”

Several Andersen fairy tale collections tend to group the two tales together—partly because “The Princess and the Pea” is so short, even by fairy tale standards, and partly because the two tales match together quite well thematically. Originally, however, they were not ...