[(essay date 2006) In the following essay, Briggs studies Andersen's reception in England and his impact on English authors and literature.]
"The Flying Trunk" is a story about the effects of storytelling, and in this respect it resembles many others that appear among Hans Christian Andersen's 156 or more fairy tales. Like other such tales, it juxtaposes the near and the far, the familiar and the exotic, the domestic and the fantastic. It warns its readers against the dangers of having money, and the very different danger of having dreams. It tells of inheritance, travel, exile, and the sustaining power of the imagination. These were to be vital themes for Andersen throughout his life, reflecting the transition from his romantic roots to a homeless, restless, protomodernist search for the world beyond the self.
"The Flying Trunk" ("Den flyvende Kuffert" ) begins when a successful merchant dies and leaves a fortune to his son. The unnamed son squanders his fortune, and when there is no more left, he receives a trunk with the instruction to "Pack up." Since he now has nothing left to pack, he climbs inside it and is carried off to the land of the Turks, where the King's daughter falls in love with him. He wins her with a story, and promises to win over her parents, too, but this time he must tell a story that is both instructive and amusing in order to satisfy both her mother and her father. The story he relates is one of Andersen's best kitchen dramas, in which all the domestic utensils compete with one other and with the matches, insisting upon their superior pedigrees and status. The market basket, it is said, is "an out-and-out radical," and is urging the rest of the household to put things straight when the kitchen maid comes in, and everyone freezes: "They all stood still; no one uttered a syllable" (H. Andersen, Fairy Tales 1: 198, 201). The maid lights the matches, and they enjoy their brief moment of glory before being burned out. Naturally this story wins the princess for the merchant's son, and their betrothal is celebrated with fireworks, but a spark from one of them sets light to his magic trunk. Without it, he cannot fly back to the palace, where the princess is left grieving for his departure. The merchant's son must now make his living "trudging round the world, telling stories. But they're not so jolly as the one he told about the matches" (204).
"The Flying Trunk" records something of where Andersen had come from and something of where he was going, as well as demonstrating the range of voices, devices, and forms of narrative he could command. Jens Andersen has pointed out that the inset story "portrays the Danish critics of the day as fiery little matches that impetuously flare up but go out almost as soon as they're lit." He adds that it was written for actress Fru Heiberg and her family circle, and the...