Count Lucanor by Don Juan Manuel as Inspiration for Hans Christian Andersen and Other European Writers
The "infante" don Juan Manuel lived in Spain from 1282 to 1348. He was highborn as the son of don Fernando who was the brother of Alfonso X the Wise, king of the Kingdom of Castille, who in his lifetime gathered books and knowledge from the Arab world and had it translated into Castillian.
El Conde Lucanor comprises 51 stories collected or written by don Juan Manuel. It was a masterpiece that influenced many European writers in the following centuries. His motive was to give knowledge to the laymen, and to teach young noblemen how to defend their high rank in the society into which they were born.
A great deal of his stories derived from stories from the Arab countries or from countries even further away like India. Important sources were "A Thousand and One Nights", "Barlaam and Josefat", "Disciplina Clericalis", "Calila and Dimna", "Panchatantra", and "Sinbad".
Don Juan Manuel wrote in the Romance or Castillian language, not in Latin as most writers before him. His uncle, King Alfonso X the Wise had dedicated his life, before and during his reign, to culture and had had almost everything written in the Arab countries translated into Romance, a language developed and established by the king himself. The subjects were law, history, science, literature, astrology, medicine, and games like chess and dice. All knowledge was important.
In the Middle Ages there was a rich literary circulation from the Orient towards Europe, through Spain, which was occupied by the Arabs from 711 to 1492. There was fighting, but there was also cohabitation between the Spaniards and the Moors who at that time had a high culture.
Don Juan Manuel filled his high rank, fought, intrigued, accumulated riches, but he also was an author of many books. He was one of the first to write books in Romance. The fifty-one stories of Count Lucanor are all written as "framed stories" - a story within a story. In each story Count Lucanor asks his servant and advisor Patronio a question, and gives him a problem to solve. Patronio on his part tells a story with a similar problem and from its conclusion a solution is extracted. Count Lucanor likes the solution and he puts this moral in a verse in his book. These verses contain wisdom of everyday life. The book also contains two hundred proverbs that are still known and common today.
Don Juan's book deals with nobility, ordinary people, clerics, rogues, historical people, philosophers, moors, the entire social stratification of his time.
His book is of great novelistic value. It was among the first in the Romance language, it was written in a clear and concise style with the fewest words possible. Don Juan Manuel was very conscious of his language. His book may also be credited for being the first book written as stories to entertain.
The book was published in 1337 and again in 1575 by Argote de Molina, the great historian of Seville. It was propagated in the courts of Spain and all of Europe and read "with great benefit" by many writers who were influenced by it. One of the most important - and for this study the most important of these - was Hans Christian Andersen. In 1837 he wrote the wellknown story, "The Emperor's New Clothes". This enchanting and delightful story has been derived from don Juan Manuel's story from 1337, "What Happened To A King With The Rogues Who Wove The Cloth", and Andersen acknowledges it as his source in his diary and in the comments that he has left of all his fairy tales. Andersen knew the Spanish story from E. von Bülow's German anthology. He liked the amusing idea and rewrote it with a slightly different ending.
Comparison between the two stories shows that Andersen closely followed the original text. In the Spanish version the principal character is a king, and in Andersen's version he is an emperor. In the Spanish version three imposters are acting whereas there are only two in that of Andersen. The change is evident in two essential points. In the Spanish story set in an Arab court the crux of the matter is a much more dangerous and audacious personality, the legitimate son. According to the story the legitimate son is the only person capable of seeing the cloth. Given the fact that in the Arab world only the legitimate sons were heirs to the throne, it can endanger the very position of the king, if he cannot see the cloth. Andersen makes the story emphasize the capability and stupidity. Furthermore, he discards don Juan Manuel's ending in which a stable boy of low rank, who has nothing to lose, reveals the fraud of the weavers to the disgust of the king, who must admit that he has been ridiculed in front of the people. Whereas, in the original ending in Andersen's version the whole world wants to be deceived and deceives itself, he changed the ending in the last moment of his corrections, making the truth conquer thanks to the voice of a child.
"The Emperor's New Clothes" was printed for the first time on 7 April, 1837, in a booklet subtitled "Stories For Children". Andersen had informed Henriette Hanck that the story would be published together with "The Little Mermaid" in March of 1837. However, publication was delayed for unknown reasons, which gave Andersen the opportunity to change the ending to the one that is known today. This we know from a letter of 25 March to Edvard Collin, who often helped Andersen to have his manuscripts printed. Andersen acknowledges that this story belongs to the stories that he has rewritten, apart from the ending, which is entirely his own.
Apart from "The Emperor's New Clothes" Andersen has also written "The Woman With The Eggs", probably also derived from one of the stories by don Juan Manuel, "What Happened To A Woman Called Doña Truhana".
Another writer inspired by don Juan Manuel is Miguel de Cervantes in his interlude "The Alterpiece Of Wonders", incidentally by the same story that inspired Andersen.
William Shakespeare's "The Taming Of The Shrew" testifies to influence from our Spanish writer's story, "What Happened To The Lad Who Married A Girl With A Very Bad Character".
Jean de la Fontaine let himself be inspired to his fable, "The Raven And The Fox" by the story, "What Happened To A Fox With A Raven Which Had A Piece Of Cheese In His Beak". Gotthold Ephraim Lessing was inspired by the same story.
The purpose of this paper is to call attention to the importance which don Juan Manuel had for later European literature, and even to the importance of Spain for the spreading of literature and science of the Arab world to European culture of our times. It should be noticed that the original stories destined for society in general in the Middle Ages have been transformed into stories for children in Hans Christian Andersen's beloved rewriting.
The above paper summarizes a thesis presented in Spanish to the Faculty of Arts and Letters at the University of the Philippines, Quezon City in May 1995, "El Conde Lucanor de don Juan Manuel: Inspiración de Hans Christian Andersen y otros escritores europeos".