As I sat in my father’s arms and entered the tales of Hans Christian Andersen, I learned the lessons that would mark my life.

In this essay, prolific author Walter Wangerin, Jr., reveals the debt his imagination and spiritual life owe to the tales of Hans Christian Andersen. This is the third in a series of essays that have been produced for CHRISTIANITY TODAY on how contemporary Christian writers have been influenced by those who have gone before them. These essays will be collected and published next month as Reality and the Vision (Word).

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child. When I became a man I put away childish things, but the man I became was shaped in childhood, and that shape remains forever.

Fairy tales shaped me. I have since “put them away.” That is, the adult is a mostly rational creature, aware that fairy tales are not “real” but are a fantasy, an entertaining escape from the problems of the real world.

But as a child all full of wonder, I approached the fairy tale as something real indeed. Children meet the problems of the world with their imagination, and the fairy tale honors and feeds and abets the imagination. As a child, I never analyzed the tale I read; I felt it; I sank inside of it; I lived its experience through to the happy conclusion.

The tales of Hans Christian Andersen were my world for a while. They named and shaped the universe in which I dwelt, and something of that shape has remained forever: not the fantasy, but the faith that created the fantasy continues even now to explain existence.

When my father bought a thick, pictureless book containing all the tales of Hans Christian Andersen and began to read them to his children, he did me a kindness more profound than mere ...

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