Fairy tales, copyright, and the public domain

Valdimar Hafstein*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


In 1873, an ailing Hans Christian Andersen traveled to Switzerland, where he sought treatment at a spa in Glion, high above Lake Geneva, drinking daily doses of whey - a cure that brought affluent people from all over Europe to Swiss resorts. The whey did nothing for him. Not surprising considering that two years later he died of a cancer from which he was in all likelihood already suffering. A family from Hamburg stayed in the room directly above him, a Mr. Mai, his wife, and their young daughter. Andersen kept company with them, among other guests in the spa, and on Thursday, May 29, he records in his diary: The weather doesn’t look promising today either. I slept with many interruptions, but slept nonetheless. My ringworm itches constantly and I have many small liver spots on my legs, what does that mean? A letter from Mrs. Melchior and from Simon Henriques. A visit from Mr. Mai, who maintained that the story about "What the Old Man Does" was taken from Grimm. I told him it was a Danish folktale and that Grimm had never composed a fairy tale, he was only a collector… I am not in a good mood. "What the Old Man Does Is Always Right" appeared in 1861 in the second series of Andersen’s New Fairy Tales and Stories. By this time, Andersen was easily Scandinavia’s most famous author, internationally acclaimed for his fairy tales that had already been translated many times into a number of languages. In introductory remarks to a complete collection of his tales published in 1874, a year after Mr. Mai’s visit, Andersen notes that "‘What the Old Man Does Is Always Right’ is one of the Danish folktales I heard as a child and I have here retold in my own way."

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Fairy Tales
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages28
ISBN (Electronic)9781139381062
ISBN (Print)9781107031012
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2015.


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