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History of Princess and the Pea

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Hans Christian Andersen
Father of the Modern Fairy Tale 
by Terri Windling


Although similar tales existed before he included "The Princess on the Pea" in his Tales Told For Children (1835), Hans Christian Andersen is considered to be the populizer of the tale. He also included traits which had not existed previously, primarily the actual sensitivity of the princess to the pea under the bedding. Previous versions of the tale had the princess learning about the test from a sympathetic helper. She then passes the test with her cunning and foreknowledge. Andersen, on the other hand, liked the idea of a princess' true sensitivity and thus makes the princess an innocent victim of a bad night's sleep.

The tale has been interpreted in many books, illustrations and even for Broadway in the musical, Once Upon a Mattress, written by Mary Rodgers and Marshall Barer. The musical, now popular in high school revivals, was an original hit in 1959 starring Carol Burnett. It was revived for Broadway in 1997 starring Sarah Jessica Parker.


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Violet Eyes by Debbie Viguie

Once Upon a Mattress (2005)

Princess and the Pea illustrated by Dorothy Duntzee

Once Upon a Princess and a Pea by Ann Campbell

©Heidi Anne Heiner, SurLaLune Fairy Tales
Page created 11/2002; Last updated 3/1/2010