Fairie Tales & Folklore · Fiction · Youth

Unless You Become Like Children: Andersen’s The Snow Queen

snow queen americanWhen Kay is cursed by a magic mirror, he can no longer perceive goodness in anything – not his best friend Gerda, nor the roses in the garden. One wintery evening, he is kidnapped by the wicked Snow Queen and swept away to live for ever in her kingdom of ice.
Friendless and shoe-less, Gerda must travel through inhospitable lands, with only crows to guide her and bandits for company, in order to find her beloved friend. And when she gets there, how will she melt the ice in his heart? (Publisher’s Synopsis)

Without contention, Hans Christian Andersen is recognized as a crafter of tales that have influenced generations. The Snow Queen (Amazon) is one of my favorites, and you can recognize its thread throughout history from Narnia’s White Witch and traitorous boy, to Alice In Wonderland’s talking flowers, to, for modern audiences, the rescue of an ice cold heart in Disney’s Frozen. This upcoming addition (June, 2016) from Pushkin Children’s Books is paired with striking illustrations by Lucie Arnoux. The high contrast black and white figures, and strong-featured characterizations pair perfectly with the otherworldly, even haunting quality of this tale. Misha Hoekstra translates this from the Danish, and himself lives in Denmark.

Andersen’s tale can be seen as an examination of innocence: what is lost when we dance with evil, and a vision of what each of us needs to regain. He concludes The Snow Queen with a verse from the book of Matthew, “Unless you become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.” Andersen makes it obvious that the childhood we desperately need to recover is not a matter of age but a state of the heart; a heart unadulterated by pride, arrogance, conceit, or greed, a heart free from the glittering (and scrumptious in Kay’s case) possessions of the world. The remedy he offers is gospel truth: the one who has lost his innocence has no power to reverse the effect, he requires the sacrifice and love of one who has never fallen.

I love that Andersen makes innocence so attractive. I also love his depiction of evil, that it is not a matter of having more wickedness or less wickedness—even the smallest mite of evil glass flips good to bad, beautiful to ugly.

“The mirror took anything that was good or lovely and shrank it to almost nothing. But if something was useless or bad, the mirror magnified it and made it look even worse. The most farming landscape looked like boiled spinach in the mirror, while the nicest people turned nasty or stood on their heads with their middles missing, and their faces so twisted that nobody knew who they were.”

Andersen moves me to both revolt against and sympathize with our evil state, poor lost souls that cannot even see good things when they are right in front of us. And yet, this is just one theme that The Snow Queen addresses. Remembering and forgetting, vision, sacrifice, friendship, the nature of beauty, redemption—it is all here for the reaping.

Gerda and the gypsie. Lucie Arnoux’ illustration via willoe.carbonmade.com

3 thoughts on “Unless You Become Like Children: Andersen’s The Snow Queen

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