Despite our springlike temperatures here, I began the new reading year with a wintry fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen for Amanda’s Classic Children’s Literature Reading Challenge. The Snow Queen was first published in 1845. That’s barely believable when you look at its language and style. Andersen managed to write a story that sounds as modern and fitting today as a contemporary text. It doesn’t have an akward or antiquated ring to it at all. Ok, I have to admit I couldn’t read the original Danish version of the story but the German and the English translation are just fine!😳
The Snow Queen usually is one of many stories contained in an Anderson collection. His fairy tales are often regarded somewhat gloomier than these of the Brothers Grimm which is sometimes attributed to the author’s home in the Northern region of Europe with its long winters and dark days.
Everyone certainly experienced the unpleasant sensation of getting a foreign substance into ones eye at some time. This is exactly what happens to little Kay when he is playing outside with his close friend, the neighbour’s kid Gerda. The little fragment consists of glass from a mirror made by a bad troll (the Devil). It fell to earth and broke into billions of pieces when it was taken to the sky to make fun of God and the angels. The glass splinter in his eye causes Kay to see only what is ugly and imperfect – in his vicinty but also in other people. A second of these glass elements enters Kay’s heart and is turning it gradually into stone. The following winter, Kay suddenly disappears after playing outside in the snow. Gerda first fears that her friend might have drowned in the river because he was out riding his sleigh. Instead, however, Kay is taken by the Snow Queen who longs for company and wants him to live with her in her snowy palace. Luckily, the bond between Gerda and Kay is so strong that she doesn’t give up her hope that he might still be alive and eventually she sets off to find him. Her journey of rescue is delayed by a lot of unexpected sometimes quite dangerous things until she learns where Kay really is.
Thoughts while and after reading
While I was reading this fairy tale, a funny thing happened to me. After having finished it, I was absolutely convinced that the splinters in Kay’s body consisted of ice instead of glass. I somehow disregarded the entire first chapter (the fairy tale is divided into seven stories or chapters) where minutely it is stated how the glass particles came into existence. Only when I read the story a second time the scales fell from my eyes. Somehow I had connected the concept of a bad Snow Queen with the conviction that because she was so bad she must have been responsible for anything bad.
This experience reminded me of the fact that fairy tales are meant to be read again and again. Only then a complete and detailed memory of a story is created. When my younger sister was still a child, I often read stories to her. Sometimes she would correct me when I was reading something wrong. That was because she had a very detailed knowledge not only of the general contents of a story but of the exact text, too.
The Snow Queen is a story about true friendship and what comes with it. When Kay is not himself anymore and really hard to endure, Gerda nevertheless stands by him and goes to the trouble of helping him get back and get better. She takes risks for her friend and puts herself in potentially dangerous situations to find and rescue him. All difficulties and obstacles are overcome by Gerda’s unwavering loyalty towards her friend. I especially liked her encounter with the cheeky and selfish Rubber’s Daughter who in the end is so impressed by Gerda’s attachment to Kay that she helps her withouth getting anyhing out of it for herself.
The re-reading of The Snow Queen only confirmed my love and regard I had for the story as a child. I loved it back then and I love it today as much!
If you are looking for some more information about The Snow Queen visit the Andersen website.
And now the best thing: There is a wonderful Librivox recording which you can listen to here.
Die Schneekönigin. Ein Märchen in sieben Geschichten von Hans Christian Andersen (Insel, 1999)
Hans Christian Andersen Märchen von Hans Christian Andersen (Beltz & Gelberg, 2004)