Hello my Fairy Tale Friday Followers!
It’s been a while since I’ve done a Fairy Tale Friday on account of my temporary hiatus. Now in my last FTF post (this one) I mentioned that the next fairy tale was going to be Sweetheart Roland.
And it would have been if I hadn’t decided to hiatus my blog posts.
I could stick with what was planned but I’ve chosen to deviate to the more seasonally appropriate…
(Artist: Trefle Rouge)
I wanted to go ‘winter’ and the options that I ‘ummed’ and ‘ahhed’ over were this one or The Little Match Girl (both by Hans Christian Anderson).
This tale is one of Hans Christian Anderson’s most prolific stories and a certain adaptation of it has meant that the story of a snow and ice queen has made it into popular culture in recent years.
However that particular adaptation (Frozen guys, it’s Frozen) strays quite far from the original source material.
Before I delve into The Snow Queen I’ll just mention that it was originally published on the 21st December 1844 so it truly is a winter/ Christmas tale.
As well as being one of Hans Christian Andersen’s most prolific stories it’s also one of his longest and is comprised of seven parts.
I’ll try and be as succinct as possible! Ha!
The devil created a mirror which perverted everything reflected in it so if something was beautiful then the mirror showed it as ugly. The devil was so proud of his creation that he decided to fly to heaven and make fun of God. However, as he flew higher, the mirror crashed to the ground and shattered into millions of pieces that flew all around the world.
We then meet two children – best friends Kai (boy) and Gerda (girl). They spend their time sitting under the garden roses listening to Kai’s grandmother tell stories of a queen who controlled the snow.
As you’d have it, one snowy evening, Kai saw a snowflake turn into a beautiful ice woman. This goes unmentioned.
On a separate day when Gerda and Kai are under the roses, a shard of the devil’s mirror flew into Kai’s eye and turned everything ugly. A second shard flew into his heart turning it into a lump of ice.
These shards changed Kai. He destroyed the roses, mocked his grandmother and bullied Gerda and started to do things without her. One of these things was when he tied his sledge to a sleigh which pulled him along until it left Kai’s village.
The sleigh’s occupant was the Snow Queen who invited Kai to sit with her, warmed him up and kissed him twice. The first kiss enchanted him to see her as the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen and the second meant he forgot about his life.
The villagers believed that Kai drowned in the river but when spring came, Gerda asked the river for the truth. She climbed into a boat to throw her shoes in as a gift but the boat drifted down the river until it reached a house with a beautiful garden.
In the house lived an old woman (actually a sorceress) who had always wanted a little girl so she made Gerda forget about her search for Kai. Gerda spent time in the garden but the sorceress made it so that the roses disappeared otherwise Gerda would remember everything.
Gerda eventually sees a rose on the old woman’s bonnet and her memories flood back. The roses tell Gerda that Kai isn’t dead and Gerda leaves the garden discovering that she’d been there a while and the seasons passed into autumn.
A crow tells Gerda that he has seen Kai and that he’s now a prince after marrying a princess. This princess was described as clever and independent and wanted to marry someone who could match her wits and so when a commoner turned up who could do just that – she married him.
Gerda broke into the prince and princesses’ bedchamber while they slept and discovered that the sleeping prince wasn’t Kai.
The prince and princess woke up and Gerda told them the story of her search and as they felt sorry for her they dressed her in finery and sent her on her journey in a golden carriage.
Unfortunately the golden carriage was set upon by a band of robbers. The servants were all murdered and Gerda was dragged out by an old robber woman who threatened to eat her.
Luckily the old robber woman’s spoiled daughter wanted Gerda as a playmate and she told Gerda that no one would harm her aside from the robber girl herself if she ever got bored.
At the robber’s castle the robber girl’s pigeons told her that they had seen Kai with the Snow Queen and in the morning, after Gerda told the robber girl everything, Gerda was allowed to leave and travel on the robber girl’s reindeer.
They stopped at the home of the Lapp woman who couldn’t help but wrote them a note on some dried fish for the Finn woman who may be able to help.
The Finn woman told Gerda that she also couldn’t do anything to help because Gerda was already as resourceful, brave and kind as she needed to be.
Gerda left the Finn woman’s home and finally reached the palace of the Snow Queen where she encountered snowflakes that turned into guards. When Gerda recited the Lord’s Prayer her breath turned into angels that defeated them.
The Snow Queen was absent from the palace but Gerda saw Kai sat on the middle of a frozen floor trying to solve the puzzle that would set him free.
Kai didn’t recognise Gerda but when she wrapped her arms around his neck and cried, her tears thawed out the ice around his heart and dislodged the shard. When Kai began crying, his tears washed the shard from his eye and he finally recognised Gerda.
They solved the puzzle and left the ice palace. They met the robber girl again who commented to Kai that he better have been worth the effort. When they returned home the roses were in full bloom but they realised that they were no longer children but adults fully grown.
Phew. That’s a lengthy ol’ summary.
What’s the moral? Well Hans Christian Anderson never really stated one but due to the overall themes it’s most likely that a good and kind heart will overcome evil. There’s also some scope to believe that it’s intended to be a good, kind and spiritual/ religious heart will overcome evil but I’ll explain more why in ‘My Thoughts’ below.
Let me start off by saying this one thing – in this story Gerda cries all the time. All. The. Time.
Now I’ve got that out of the way I feel like I can move on because ultimately, despite being called ‘The Snow Queen,’ this is Gerda’s story and is her heroine journey from her home village to the world beyond and the emotional and physical growth she undertakes along the way.
In any other world she would be the ‘farm boy’ who goes off to save the world. Except she’s a village girl who saves her friend who is her world. It’s just as awesome.
The symbolism of mirrors and of opposites appear in this tale. Yes, the most obvious is the mirror that the devil creates but there are contrasts with everything.
Kai becomes cold and emotionless in comparison to Gerda’s warmth and compassion and starts to prize intellect and science whereas Gerda relies on instinct and strongly associates with nature.
Although both cause memory lose; the Snow Queen wants to keep Kai trapped inside her snow palace (for reasons unknown) whereas the old woman wants to keep Gerda playing in her garden in permanent spring because she had always wanted a daughter.
Seriously though, what’s with all the child snatching?!
Hans Christian Anderson is known for having religious themes in some of his work and The Snow Queen is no exception. I don’t know much about the writer himself so I don’t know how religious he was but the religious items he incorporates are:-
- Seven parts to the story – reflecting seven as a holy Christian number (the days taken to create the world)
- Roses – linked with the Virgin Mary and often the crucifixion (red roses) and resurrection (white roses). Kai destroy’s Gerda’s roses in story two and then becomes obsessed with snowflakes and fractals possibly indicating that he’s turning from religion to science/ math’s and that this is considered a bad thing.
- Bible verses are included at the end of the story which is all about the innocence and purity of children and that it is the innocence and purity of being like a child that will get you into heaven.
- The devil at the beginning who created the mirror plus Gerda’s reciting of the Lord’s Prayer which causes angels to destroy the snowflake guards.
This is a very female-centric tale which features a whole host of multiple female personalities. We have Gerda, Kai’s grandmother, the old woman sorceress, the Lapp woman, the Finn woman, the princess, the robber girl and her mother and of course – the Snow Queen herself.
In contrast we have few males or male counterparts.
Oddly my favourite is the belligerent robber girl who is pretty much out for her own interests but who becomes fond of Gerda quite quickly and shows surprising levels of empathy at Gerda’s situation. When she meets Kai at the end she tells him that she hopes he’s worth the bother and honestly…. such a mood.
Is Kai painful metaphor for depression?! Kai views everything as ugly and loses all sense of being able to feel. When we see him at the end he is isolated in an ice palace where he has to work out how to solve a puzzle to break free but is unable.
It’s only when Gerda arrives and he becomes Kai again that they are both able to complete the puzzle.
There is no romance between Gerda and Kai in the original but some adaptations incorporate an element of childhood romance and ‘one true love’ shipping.
This is possibly made more complicated by the introduction of the Snow Queen and if we keep with the theme of sexual or romantic love then she could be seen as the more worldly and experienced option in comparison to Gerda.
If we continue with that theme we could possibly see this story as one friend sexually maturing faster than the other (Kai) but showing that sexual maturity doesn’t mean emotional maturity as evidenced by Kai’s hostile and aggressive nature.
It is only after Gerda has experienced the world and has grown and that Kai has been trapped in a situation he wasn’t ready for that they are both aligned again.
There are plenty of similarities to another story. C.S Lewis… looking at you here….
Despite being the titular character this is what we know about the Snow Queen….
Who is she? The antagonist of this story at the start is the devil but once he’s broken the mirror it becomes the Snow Queen’s tale. Is she linked to the devil in some way? Is she a personification of winter itself? Is she a witch or sorceress? Is she related to the old woman sorceress?
What is her motivation for taking Kai and is he the only person she has taken? This is where I think it gets really confusing.
Kai was already being altered by the shards in his eye and heart and when the Snow Queen kisses him she freezes him and therefore halts any further corruption. Happy side effect or intended consequence?
There could potentially be an element of sexualisation to the Snow Queen and as I mentioned in one of my thoughts above, she could be seen as a mature, more sexually experienced woman.
Her actions towards Kai are ambiguous and there are elements that could be construed as predatory. When Kai first sees her from his bedroom he is described as ‘half undressed’ and when they meet again she kisses him twice (although in the original this is on the forehead). He seems to have a ‘moment of death‘ with her under the blanket when she entices him to warm up.
I think there are potential connotations but as the ages of Gerda and Kai are unclear it could get uncomfortable quite quickly.
Although they are described as ‘children’ I actually think they are probably 16 or 17 and after time has passed I think they return to their home aged 18 or 19.
Hans Christian Anderson used two people he knew as inspiration for characters in this story.
The first is sad – Gerda was named for a friend’s daughter who died aged 4.
The second is more petty – apparently HCA was in love with an opera singer called Jenny Lind but she rejected his advances. Despite this, they became friends. Personally I don’t know if I could be friends with someone who supposedly based a child snatching character called ‘the Snow Queen’ after me but to each their own I guess.
I’m not including many here because while there are some retelling’s and adaptations out there a lot of what I am finding isn’t very popular or prolific (barring one uber exception at the end)!
- The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman (book)
- The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (book)
- Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu (book)
- The Snow Queen by Mercedes Lackey (book)
- The Huntsman: Winter’s War (film)
- Frozen (film)
If I were to do a version of The Snow Queen I would age up Kai and Gerda into early twenties and turn this into a story about two best friends that live in a small village but who are beginning to drift apart.
Kai wants to explore the world while Gerda is content in her hometown. Gerda is happy looking after her grandmother and believes that her and Kai will marry and have children, something she wants but Kai clearly doesn’t. A massive case of wanderlust and general life dissatisfaction turns Kai into a unkind person but then he gets the opportunity he’s been looking for when a beautiful and mysterious woman arrives in the village.
I would have the Snow Queen be someone opposite to Gerda, possibly playing with the themes of experience and sexual maturity (I told you I’m aging them up!) and there would be an element of magic about her. This element is something that only Gerda can see and is wary of.
The Snow Queen would be someone looking for a companion and as Kai can survive her kisses she decides that he will be hers.
The story would follow with Gerda trying to seek out Kai and her having her own adventures along the way. I would genuinely want her to end up with the robber girl though as Kai was never corrupted by a mirror, he was just a dick.
So this was my long overdue Fairy Tale Friday!
My aim for January is to do Sweetheart Roland which should have been done aaaaages ago.
See you then!