Author: Dimitris Vagenas

Translator: Alexandra Petli

“Life is like a beautiful melody, only the lyrics are messed up.”

Hans Christian Andersen

Born in Denmark on the 2nd April, 1805, Hans Christian Andersen wrote some of the most known fairytales of all times, which are being printed again and again and have been translated into most of the languages of the world. In many countries, just like in Greece, his stories are considered to be exclusively for children, so most of the editions of his work are rough, incomplete and often barely faithful to the original text. He, himself though, was claiming that his stories are not addressed only to children and in fact, tragic fairytales like “The Little Match Girl”, “The Steadfast Soldier” and “The Little Mermaid”, affect to the same extent –if not more– adults too.

“The Princess and the Pea”, or else, “The Real Princess”, which was first published in 1835, does not belong to these tragic stories, since it is much more naive and simplistic at first sight. So, once upon a time, there lived a prince who wanted to marry a real princess. He travelled the whole world in order to find her, but his efforts were unsuccessful. A rainy night, a girl knocked the door of his palace and told him that she is a real princess and asked to come in until the thunders ceased. The prince did not believe that this girl was indeed a princess, as she looked pitiful, standing there wet. His mother, determined to learn the truth, put on the bed in the guestroom a pea and on top of it she put twenty mattresses and twenty feather-beds. Later on, she asked the girl to sleep there. The next morning, she asked her how did she sleep and she answered them that she could not sleep at all, all night as under the mattress there was something very hard that bruised her whole body. Hence, everyone understood that she was telling the truth, as only a real princess could feel a pea under twenty mattresses and feather-beds, and the happy prince, took her as his wife.

Seemingly, the findings of the story finish at the pea under the twenty mattresses but actually the aforementioned fairytale has more paradoxes and equally interesting points. First of all, the girl appears to be touchy and spoiled, because just a pea is enough to makes her sleep difficult. But, if that were true, she would have travelled in a luxurious coach, full of servants and she would not have wandered alone in the middle of a rainy night. Adding to that, when she asks to be hosted, she is very dignified and she may seem pitiful but she does not complain at all for her situation. We could, thus, assume that in fact the princess is not sensitive to the physical but to the mental anguish: she is “real”, as she claims from the beginning, but she has authentic emotions which she expresses with honesty, that is also why she admits that her sleep was bad. Due to the pea, the sensitivity and her emotional intelligence come to the surface, and it is as rare to meet someone who finds it difficult to sleep because of a pea, as it is to find such a “real” person. Hadn’t been one, the prince would not have travelled the whole world to find the princess of his dreams. However, he does not eventually find his future wife, but she comes to him. Let’s not forget that this princess is not spoiled –as probably were the rest royal ladies he met– that’s why she does not hesitate to walk alone in the rain and ask to be hosted by strangers.

As we all know, sensitive people often find obstacles that manage to shake them, and this is expressed through the difficult sleep because of the pea in the fairytale. According to the mythical archetypes, though, in order to achieve happiness, you should first be tormented, that’s why the bad sleep follows a good marriage. In fact, maybe things do not come so easy, but always we can remember that if we do not achieve to eradicate a problem, maybe we can leverage it. However, as Andersen, himself said, “Life is like a beautiful melody: only the lyrics are messed up”…


Andersen, H.K. (1993). Stories and Fairytales (Trans. Mpelies E.). Athens: Okeanida.

Zipes, J. (2011). The Enchanted Screen: The Unknown History of Fairy Tales. New York: Routledge