For years, the sombre fairy tale about a lonely candle that wanted to be lit dwelt in oblivion at the bottom of a box in Denmark's National Archives. Its recent discovery has sent ripples through the literary world because it is believed to be one of the first tales ever written by Hans Christian Andersen.
The famed Dane wrote nearly 160 fairy tales in his life, including classics such as The Ugly Duckling and The Little Mermaid. The tale of the candle may have been written when he was still a teen, experts say.
Retired historian Esben Brage said Thursday that he found the six-page text on Oct. 4 while searching through archive boxes that had belonged to wealthy families from Andersen's hometown of Odense in central Denmark.
The handwritten copy of the tale, titled Tallow Candle, and dedicated to a vicar's widow named Bunkeflod who had lived across from Andersen's home, had been left seemingly untouched at the bottom of one of the boxes.
"I was ecstatic," Brage said. "I had never imagined this."
Believed written by author at 18
The short story tells the tale of how a tallow candle seeks help from a tinder box to be able to ignite itself. A senior curator at the Hans Christian Andersen Museum in Odense said the work is likely one of the author's earliest, written at the age of 18 — seven years before his official debut in 1830.
"I often get calls about stuff thought to have been of Andersen's hand. Most of the time, it is not. This time I was thrilled," Ejnar Stig Askgaard told The Associated Press. "This is a very early attempt at prose by Andersen, who was then 18."
Askgaard said Andersen regularly visited the Bunkeflod widow, reading to her and borrowing books from her, even after he moved to Copenhagen to attend university.
"The text is not at the level of the more mature fairy tales that we know from Andersen's later writing," Askgaard said. But "we see traces of Andersen's history in the text, the language and the themes in the manuscript ... it all fits with him, it all bears his fingerprint."
The Danish-language Doedningen from 1830 had long been considered Andersen's first fairy tale. That story was later re-written and published again in 1835 as The Travelling Companion — a grim tale about death.
Andersen was born in 1805 in Odense, 170 km west of Copenhagen, to a cleaning lady and a shoemaker. While famed for his many fairy tales, he also wrote dozens of novels, poems and travel journals. His works have been widely translated. He died in 1875.