The Princess and the Pea

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"The Princess and the Pea"
Illustration by Bertall
AuthorHans Christian Andersen
TranslatorCharles Boner
CharactersThe Princess
The Prince
The Queen
The King
Genre(s)Literary fairy tale
Published inFairy Tales Told for Children (first booklet)
Publication typeFairy tale collection
PublisherC. A. Reitzel
Media typePrint
Publication date1835
Published in English1846, in A Danish Story-Book
Notable adaptationsOnce Upon a Mattress (musical play)
Preceded byBig Claus and Little Claus
Followed byLittle 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.

Story[change | change source]

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.

Hans Christian Andersen by Constatin Hansen, 1836

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!

References[change | change source]

  • Opie, Iona and Peter. 1974. The Classic Fairy Tales. Oxford University Press. pp. 216-218

Other websites[change | change source]