There’s a pretty fantastic tale behind the founding of the Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award. After reading one of Paulo Coelho’s novels (one assumes The Alchemist), Benny Nybo, a photographer in Odense, Denmark (HC Andersen’s hometown), invited Coelho for a visit. Mr. Coelho came and was greeted by the entire town at city hall. The mayor presented him with a bronze sculpture called “The Swan” and a song composed especially for him was performed by local opera singers. Coelho went on to tour the Hans Christian Andersen Museum where a cupboard was opened to reveal a Brazilian translation of Andersen’s fairy tales – the very same edition Coelho’s mother had read to him during his childhood. The author was charmed. Indeed, Coelho’s 2007 visit was such a success that the town organizers decided to honor other Andersen-like authors–and the award grew like a fairy tale giant.
It became official in 2010, when the first Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award was given to Harry Potter author JK Rowling. The second went to Chilean Isabel Allende (The House of the Spirits). And the third will be presented in 2014 to Salman Rushdie. Literary critics like Harold Bloom warn that the commercially successful writing of Rowling (her prose is “heavy in cliché”) must not be mistaken for literary quality. The Danes could give a damn what Bloom thinks. Rowling is just as popular as Andersen. Proof? Both have their own theme parks (Rowling’s in Orlando, Andersen’s in Shanghai). And with the approval of Odense’s mayor and a big investment from one of China’s richest men (Huang Nubo), a second Andersen theme park will be built near Andersen’s house,which already receives 80,000 visitors a year. Rushdie is hoping that one ride will be named Midnight’s Children.