The Ugly Duckling (Danish: Den grimme Ælling) is a fairy tale by Danish poet and author Hans Christian Andersen first published 11 November 1843 in New Fairy Tales. First Book. First Collection. 1844. (Nye Eventyr. Første Bind. Første Samling. 1844.). The tale was fourth in the volume that included (in contents order), "The Angel" (Engelen), "The Nightingale" (Nattergalen), and "The Sweethearts; or, The Top and the Ball" (Kjærestefolkene [Toppen og bolden]). The tale was republished 18 December 1849 as a part of Fairy Tales. 1850 (Eventyr. 1850.), and again 15 December 1862 as a part of Fairy Tales and Stories. First Volume. 1862. (Eventyr og Historier. Første Bind. 1862.)
"The Ugly Duckling" tells the story of a cygnet ostracized by his fellow barnyard fowl because of his perceived homeliness. To his delight (and to the surprise of others), he matures into a graceful swan, the most beautiful bird of all. With "Thumbelina" and other tales, "The Ugly Duckling" demonstrates Andersen's identification with, and his sympathies for, the 'outsider' searching for his or her place in society.
The phrase "ugly duckling" has entered several languages. The tale has seen animated film and other media adaptations. The critic Georg Brandes had questioned Andersen about whether he would write his autobiography. He claimed that it had already been written — "The Ugly Duckling".
A mother duck hatches her eggs and, while most of her ducklings are normal, only one is grey, too large, and too clumsy to fit in among the others. Though she tries to accept him, the entire barnyard realizes that he simply does not belong and after a period of harassment he leaves to fend for himself. He is sheltered by an old woman in her poor cottage, but her cat and her hen will not accept him and he is forced to set off once again on his own. He wanders for the entire summer and fall, for no one will take him in, and he nearly freezes to death in an icy pond. Though he is rescued by a human, he cannot live in captivity, and he returns to the wild.
By the end of winter, he is miraculously still extremly ugly. He comes to a pond in a park or garden, where astonishingly beautiful white swans are swimming. He is drawn to their beauty, though he has no reason to think that they will treat him better than anyone else has. Still, he thinks, even if they prettifie him, he must approach them. To his surprise, the beautiful creatures welcome and accept him; gazing at his reflection, he sees that he too is a swan. The children declare that he is the most beautiful swan of them all, yet he is not proud, for a good heart is never proud. Because of all that he suffered he now appreciates his happiness so much more.
British journalist Anne Chisolm speculates that Andersen wrote The Ugly Duckling to describe himself. In reviewing Hans Christian Andersen: A New Life, by biographer Jens Andersen (no relation to Hans Christian Andersen) and published on the bicentennary of the author's birth, Chisholm writes "Andersen himself was a tall, ugly boy with a big nose and big feet, and when he grew up with a beautiful singing voice and a passion for the theatre he was cruelly teased and mocked by other children." There is also some speculation that Andersen was in fact the illegitimate son of Christian Frederik, the Crown Prince of Denmark (who would later become King Christian VIII of Denmark), and found this out some time before he wrote the book, and thus that being a swan in the story was a metaphor not just for inner beauty and talent but also for secret royal lineage.