The original tale of “The Princess and the Pea” was by Hans Christian Andersen, renowned Danish writer most famous for his story “The Little Mermaid.” Andersen said he had heard this story as a child, but it is unknown in Danish folk tradition and is most likely based in an oral folk story of Swedish origin. The story as it is written in Andersen’s book tells of a prince having trouble finding a suitable wife. When a young girl arrives in the middle of a storm claiming to be a princess, the queen places a pea under several mattresses and feather-beds to test her. When her back is bruised due to the presence of the pea, the girl’s identity is proven and she and the prince are married.
Hallmarks and Tropes
The most important aspects of the this tale are primarily the themes of distinguishing true identity through minor feats, and the idea that a sensitive and well mannered princess would be inclined to notice something as small as a pea in a great bed. The whimsical nature of this tale is in part on purpose, as the way the collection this story appears in was written was to be amusing and light hearted. The message isn’t terribly serious, and so staying true to this tale requires very little effort by way of application of tropes.
This is a rather short and sweet little story, and I was sad to discover that Andersen was criticized for its sweet colloquial tone. Much of his other writings were heavily influenced by the hardships of his life, and to discover that this story was another one of his genuinely surprised me. That being said, The Princess and the Pea is now a standard in fairy tales, and unsurprisingly has been showing up in plenty of popular YA fairy tale retellings series. I’m glad to see another of Andersen’s stories more heavily featured, and especially one that’s quite cute and sweet.