Category Biopic

Who is Hans Christian?

From “The Little Mermaid” and The Ugly Duckling” to “The Emperor and his New Clothes and “The Steadfast Tin Soldier, fairytales written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen have been our childhood companions. But did you know that Andersen’s life too was no less than a fairy tale? Read on to know more…

Early life

Born in 1805 in Odense, Denmark, Andersen came from an extremely poor family. His father worked as a shoemaker and mother was a washerwoman. Thanks to his father, Andersen had a rich imagination and a love for storytelling. Tragedy struck when Andersen lost his father at the age of 11.

After his father’s death, Andersen moved to Copenhagen, hoping to become an actor. He was gifted with an exceptional voice. However, his voice soon lost its special quality and a disappointed Andersen was about to return home empty-handed when he met Jonas Collin, director of the Royal Danish Theatre. Collin funded Andersen’s education after seeing his talent for spinning stories and realising he needed to go to school.

However, school tuned out to be a bitter experience for Andersen. He was much older than the other students, and the schoolmaster found endless ways to make fun of him. Finally, Andersen completed his schooling with the help of a private tutor. He later attended and graduated from Copenhagen University. Andersen spent many years travelling and writing poems, books, and plays, which met with some success. In 1835, he published his first novel, “The Improvisatore”, and the same year, he published his first collection of fairy tales, known as “Fairy Tales Told for Children”, but was later renamed “New Fairy Tales and Stories”.

Fairy tale ending

Andersen put many pieces of his own life into his fairy tales. For instance, “The Little Mermaid” features the mermaid moving from one world to another something Andersen experienced when he rose from poverty. Similarly, he drew upon his mother’s past to write “The Little Match Girl”, a story full of compassion for the underprivileged. His personal experiences are also reflected in “The Ugly Duckling”, which points out that sometimes the qualities that make you feel lonely, different and out of place are the very qualities that, when properly used, can make you shine.

In 1867, he returned to Odense, and the last of his fairy tales was published in 1872. After a long illness, he died in Copenhagen on August 4, 1875. In honour of his legacy, a Hans Christian Andersen statue along with the Little Mermaid was erected in 1913. Another statue of the author is in New York City’s Central Park.

Oh really?

  • The Little Mermaid” and “The Snow Queen” stories are actually tragedies, they had unhappy endings. But the tone of the stories was made lighter when they were adapted into films by Disney.
  • Two museums, H.C. Andersen Hus and H.C. Andersens Barndomshjem, are dedicated to the author in his hometown of Odense. In addition, there’s a statue in Central Park, New York, commemorating Andersen and his story, “The Ugly Duckling”
  • Andersen’s fairy tales have been translated into more than 125 languages.

Legacy continues

The Hans Christian Andersen Awards are bestowed upon a children’s writer and an illustrator for their “lasting contribution to children’s literature”. The writing award was inaugurated in 1956, the illustration award in 1966. The writing award is also called the “Nobel Prize for children’s literature”.

 

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Who is creator of comic strip “Peanuts”?

Who was Charles M. Schulz?

Charles Schulz was a cartoonist from the U.S., who created the “Peanuts” comic strip that ran from October 2, 1950, to February 13, 2000. Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on November 26, 1922, Schulz grew up reading the comics section of the newspaper.

Inspired by these black and white figures, Schulz started drawing pictures of his favorite cartoon characters from a young age. One of his drawings, Spike, the family dog even got published in a national newspaper. Schulz was so proud of this moment that he made up his mind to become a cartoonist when he grew up.

Getting published

Schulz’s first group of regular cartoons, a weekly series of one-panel jokes called “Lil’ Folks”, was published from June 1947 to January 1950 in the “St Paul Pioneer Press”. It drew the attention of the United Feature Syndicate of New York which decided to publish Schulz’s new comic strip. However, the syndicate wanted to change the name of the strip because the name “Li’l Folks” resembled two other comics of the time. So, to avoid confusion, the syndicate settled on the name “Peanuts”. But Schulz always disliked the title. Even though he didn’t like the name, Schulz couldn’t deny the fact that the strip was successful. The cartoon began appearing in seven newspapers with the characters Charlie Brown, Shermy, Patty and Snoopy. Within a year, the strip appeared in 35 papers, and by 1956, it was in over a hundred. At one time, it was read by 355 million people all over the world.

What made it special?

The cartoon was centred on the simple and touching figures of a boy and his dog. Snoopy. Adults were never seen in the panels, and the action involved ordinary, everyday happenings. The comical defects of humanity were reflected through Schulz’s gentle humour, which made the cartoon strip appealing Schulz always insisted that only he would draw the characters and not allow others to do the draftsmanship. As the strip became more popular, new characters were added. Schulz received the Reuben Award twice from the National Cartoonists Society in 1955 and 1964.

OH REALLY?

  • “Peanuts” appeared in 2,300 newspapers in over 19 languages. Reruns and specials continue even today
  • Schulz is credited with coining the phrase “Good Grief
  • He wrote a book, Why, Charlie Brown. Why? to help children understand the subject of cancer.
  • Schulz was a huge supporter of the space programme. The 1969 Apollo 10 command module was named Charlie Brown and a lunar module was named Snoopy.

 

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What is the life story of Sir Winston Churchill?

Painting as a pastime

Popularly known as ‘The Man Who Saved Europe’ for his role in the victory of the Allied Forces in WWII, Churchill is considered to be Britain’s greatest warhero and one of the best-known statesmen of the 20th Century.

While he devoted his life to public service, he picked up the brush at the age of 40 and became one of the world’s best-known amateur painters. He was so enthusiastic about painting that he even wrote a book about it at the age of 74.

Churchill describes the joy of painting in his book “Painting as a Pastime”, published in 1948. “Happy are the painters – for they shall not be lonely. Light and colour, peace and hope, will keep company to the end, or almost to the end, of the day.”

Churchill wielded the brush for the first time when he was at a low point in his career. He had just resigned from the government because he was demoted from his position as the First Lord of the Admiralty for attacking Gallipoli, Turkey, during WWI.

Consumed with anxiety, he took up an unexpected hobby painting. Painting helped him clear his head and relieve the stress of an highly challenging career.

He eventually created over 550 paintings, crediting the practice with helping him “to hone his observation and memory skills. The pastime continued to flourish, as he progressed in his career as a world-renowned writer, orator, and political leader.

As a writer

After he left the Army, Churchill worked as a war correspondent for several years. He covered important historic events such as the Cuban War of Independence, the Siege of Malakand in British India, the Mahdist War in Sudan and the Second Boer War in southern Africa. He wrote his reports under the pen name Winston S. Churchill.

He penned down the experiences in India’s Northwest Frontier Provinces in his first book, “The Story of the Malakand Field Force.”

After he was elected a Member of Parliament in the U.K., over 130 of his speeches or parliamentary answers were published as pamphlets or booklets; many were subsequently published as anthologies.

In 1953, Churchill received the Nobel Prize in Literature “for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values”.

The rare painting

On November 17, 2020, a rare painting by Churchill was auctioned for a whopping £9,83.000. The wartime leader created the still life work, titled “Jug with Bottles”, in the 1930s at his country house Chartwell, in Kent, southeast England.

Whenever time permitted, he would escape to Chartwell, set up his easel outdoors and start capturing the beautiful countryside. Chartwell has now been turned into a museum which houses Churchill’s painting studio.

Promoting science

Churchill was the first British prime minister to appoint a scientific advisor. He had regular meetings with scientists such as Bernard Lovell, the father of radio astronomy. He promoted scientific research, and used public funds towards laboratories where some of the most significant developments of the postwar period first came to light, from molecular genetics to crystallography using X-rays. During the war itself, the decisive British support for research, encouraged by him, led to the development of radar and cryptography, and played a crucial role in the success of military operations.

Did you know?

Queen Elizabeth made Churchill a knight of the Order of the Garter, the highest honour in Britain, two years before his retirement
Churchill became the Prime Minister of the U.K. twice. First time from 1940 to 1945, when he led the country to victory in the Second World War, and again from 1951 to 1955.

 

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What is the life story of Stephen Hawking?

The genius in the wheelchair

When Stephen Hawking was 21, he was given only a few years to live after being diagnosed with a rare form of motor neurone disease. Undaunted, Hawking made breakthroughs in quantum physics and cosmology with his “The Theory of Everything” and his work on black holes. Although a number of biographies have been written about the genius, a new memoir gives an affectionate account of Hawking and his indomitable spirit.

Written by Leonard Mlodinow, who worked closely with Hawking for nearly 11 years and co-authored two bestselling books with him (“A Briefer History of Time” and “The Grand Design”), “Stephen Hawking – A Memoir of Physics and Friendship gives fresh insights into Hawking’s character and his famous sense of adventure and fun.

A daredevil

Hawking was born on January 8, 1942 in Oxford. At 17, he won a scholarship to study at University College, Oxford. Despite his brilliance in academics, Hawking hated studying. According to his own estimates, he studied for only 1,000 hours during his three undergraduate years at Oxford. Once he even joined the college boat dub. But earned himself a daredevil reputation as he steered his crew on risky courses that often damaged boats.

Living with a rare disease

After being diagnosed with a rare form of motor neurone disease known as ALS, Hawking sunk into depression. Though the disease progressed slowly, it began to interfere with his daily activities, and his condition worsened in 1985 during a trip to Cern. Hawking underwent a tracheotomy, which saved his life but destroyed his voice. He started using a voice synthesiser.

The early diagnosis of the terminal disease ignited a sense of purpose in Hawking and he embarked on his career in earnest. He pursued his work with black holes and relativity with new zest. In 1988, Hawking published “A Brief History of Time, which turned him into an instant icon.

Writing for children

Hawking and his daughter Lucy came up with a series of illustrated books to explain the “secret keys to the universe” to young readers. The books deal with complex topics, including the Big Bang, black holes, atoms. planets and their moons, in the form of space adventures embarked on by junior astronaut George and his best friend Annie. The series helped simplify cosmology for children.

Love for adventures

Hawking enjoyed his fame, taking many opportunities to travel and to have unusual experiences such as going down a mine shaft visiting the south pole and undergoing the zero-gravity of free fall, and to meet other distinguished people.

Legacy

Hawking died at his home in Cambridge on March 14, 2018, at the age of 76. In the same year in June, Hawking’s words, set to music by Greek composer Vangelis, were beamed into space from a European Space Agency satellite dish in Spain with the aim of reaching the nearest black hole 1A 0620-00.

 

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What is the backstory of Robert Louis?

Whether it is the wicked Captain Hook or the swashbuckling Jack Sparrow, pirates and their seafaring adventures make for gripping stories and action-packed films. But how well do you know the man who popularised pirates and their colourful attire in fiction?

Meet Robert Louis Stevenson, a prolific Scottish writer and poet who shaped our perception of pirates with his acclaimed book Treasure Island. Remember Long John Silver, one of its main characters, with a wooden leg. Eye-patch and a shrewd parrot sitting on his shoulder, who became the face of the quintessential seafaring bandit

Early life

Stevenson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on November 13, 1850. His family was in the business of lighthouse engineering and so his vacations were often spent on sea voyages to inspect lighthouses on exotic islands around Europe. This kindled in him a desire for travelling and adventures, which stayed with him for the rest of his life.

On a treasure hunt

Stevenson was confined to bed frequently due to his poor health – he suffered from chronic bronchitis (possibly tuberculosis). While he could no longer embark on expeditions himself, it did not stop him from dreaming about adventures. Using his imagination, he came up with some of his best stories during this period most notably “Treasure Island”, “Kidnapped.” The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” and “The Black Arrow

He hit upon the idea for “Treasure Island” while drawing a map for his 12-year-old stepson. He conjured up a pirate adventure story to accompany the drawing. The story got published in a boys magazine and was an instant hit. By the end of the 1880s, it was one of the period’s most popular and widely read books. It gave Stevenson his first real taste of success. The character of Long John Silver was inspired by a real person – Stevenson’s friend, William Henley, who was an energetic and talkative man with a wooden leg.

Exploring the human mind the inspiration for another one of his great works, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, the spine-chilling tale of a person with a split personality, came to him in a feverish dream. When he woke up, he could still remember the first few scenes, including the first transformation scene. Building on these sketches, he penned the masterpiece. The novel became so popular that today, the phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” has entered the dictionary to refer to people with an unpredictably dual nature.

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Following the Stevenson trail: Stevenson went on a 12-day solo trek through the sparse and impoverished areas of the Cevennes mountains in south-central France. He hiked for nearly 200 km through barren rocky hillsides with a donkey – he named Modestine – as his only companion. He recounted his journey in “Travels With a Donkey in the Cevennes” It is one of the earliest accounts that presents hiking and camping outdoors as a recreational activity. Even today, hikers -sometimes with donkeys – retrace his route, which is now an official French footpath, the GR70 also known as the Stevenson Trail.
  • His legacy lives on: In June 1888, Stevenson chartered the yacht Casco and set sail with his family from San Francisco. He wandered around the Pacific before settling down in the Samoan Islands. The locals fondly called him Tusitala (“Teller of Tales) and consulted him on all important matters. On December 3, 1894, Stevenson died of a cerebral haemorrhage at the age of 44. The Samoans carried their Tusitala on their shoulders and buried him near Mount Vaea, on a spot overlooking the sea, with a requiem, Here he lies where he longed to be: Home is the sailor, home from sea inscribed on his grave. The Samoans loved him so much that this requiem has been translated into a song of grief, which continues to be sung in Samoa.

 

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What is the life story of Alfred Nobel?

Alfred Nobel was born in Sweden on October 21, 1833. He was interested in literature, but his family steered him towards chemical engineering, to follow his father’s example. Nobel’s father Immanuel was an engineer who experimented with different explosives.

An explosive discovery

Once while mixing different additives to nitroglycerine, Nobel discovered that adding fine sand – silica – turns the liquid into paste, which made it safer and easier to handle. He moulded the paste into rods, which could be inserted into holes for controlled explosions. Nobel patented his discovery as dynamite. Always eager to experiment and innovate, he acquired as many as 355 patents during his lifetime; most of them dealt with manufacturing arms and helped him earn a fortune.

A change of heart

An unusual incident that took place in 1888 forced Nobel to re-evaluate his life. A French newspaper mistakenly published an obituary on him (instead of his brother Ludvig who had died due to a heart attack.) Titled “The Merchant of Death,” it criticised Nobel for the sale of arms. The error was later corrected, but it continued to prick his conscience. On November 27, 1895, Nobel signed his last will and testament, stipulating that 94% of his assets should be used to establish a series of five awards to felicitate excellence in the fields of Physics, Chemistry, Medicine and Physiology, Literature and Peace. Nobel died in 1896 and the Nobel Prizes were handed out for the very first time in 1901.

ON THE 2020 HONOUR ROLL

  • Chemistry: Jointly awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna “for the development of a method for genome editing.”
  • Physics: One half to Roger Penrose for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity” and the other half jointly to Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez “for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy.”
  • Physiology and Medicine: Shared between Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles M. Rice “for the discovery of Hepatitis C virus.”
  • Literature: U.S. poet Louise Glück for “her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal.”
  • Peace: The UN World Food Programme (WFP).

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Have you ever wondered why the Nobel Prize winners are called laureates? The word Laureate’ refers to the laurel wreath’ which is a symbol of victory and honour in Greek mythology.
  • Marie Curie is the only person who was awarded the Nobel in two different scientific categories – Physics and Chemistry.
  • Malala Yousafzai is the youngest to win the Nobel. She was only 17 when she won the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • John B. Goodenough is the oldest person to win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. He won in 2019 at the age of 97.
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