Small is beautiful – mod et antropologisk kanonbegrep


  • Robert Zola-Christensen
  • Anders Mortensen


Kanon, material culture, H. C. Andersen, Den lille havfrue, Den grimme ælling, Det dansk selvbillede.


When we talk about the Danish Literary Canon we tend to focus on literature that has certain aesthetic qualities and a clear impact on the history of our homeland's literature. Scholars discuss and even quarrel about which authors and texts actually meet these criteria. However, there is more to the issue than the impact on literature itself. The acclaimed and cherished canon also leaves its imprint on real life outside academia and takes part in everyday life. This occurs, for example, when images related to the works appear on stamps, or when authors or characters are commemorated in statues or in names given to streets. Here, we are dealing with material culture. This contribution examines H. C. Andersen's two fairy tales, The Little Mermaid and The Ugly Duckling, from an anthropological perspective, as iconic, national symbols, which contributed to and confirmed the self-image of Denmark as a postcard-idyllic country, captured in the motto 'Small is beautiful'. We also attempt to demonstrate how this image, which interacts with other cultural codes might be challenged by counter-stories, that might at the same time nevertheless involuntarily confirm their status as national symbols.