Friday, December 7, 2012

Schneekönigin, Scherenschnitt, Snowqueen


      "The Snow Queen" (Danish: Snedronningen) is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen (1805–1875). The tale was first published in 1845, and centers on the struggle between good and evil as experienced by a little boy and girl, Kai and Gerda.
      The story is one of Andersen's longest and is considered by scholars, critics, and readers alike as one of his best. It is regularly included in selected tales and collections of his work and is frequently reprinted in illustrated storybook editions for children. The tale has been adapted in various media including animated film and television drama.
      An evil "troll" ("actually the devil himself") makes a magic mirror that has the power to distort the appearance of things reflected in it. It fails to reflect all the good and beautiful aspects of people and things while it magnifies all the bad and ugly aspects so that they look even worse than they really are. The devil teaches a "devil school," and the devil and his pupils delight in taking the mirror throughout the world to distort everyone and everything. They enjoy how the mirror makes the loveliest landscapes look like "boiled spinach". They then want to carry the mirror into heaven with the idea of making fools of the angels and God, but the higher they lift it, the more the mirror grins and shakes with delight. It shakes so much that it slips from their grasp and falls back to earth where it shatters into billions of pieces — some no larger than a grain of sand. These splinters are blown around and get into people's hearts and eyes, making their hearts frozen like blocks of ice and their eyes like the troll-mirror itself, only seeing the bad and ugly in people and things.
Years later, a little boy, Kai, and a little girl, Gerda, live next door to each other in the garrets of buildings with adjoining roofs in a large city. One could get from Kai's to Gerda's home just by stepping over the gutters of each building. The two families grow vegetables and roses in window boxes placed on the gutters. Kai and Gerda have a window-box garden to play in, and they become devoted in love to each other as playmates.
      Kai's grandmother tells the children about the Snow Queen, who is ruler over the snowflakes, that look like bees — that is why they are called "snow bees". As bees have a queen, so do the snow bees, and she is seen where the snowflakes cluster the most. Looking out of his frosted window, Kai, one winter, sees the Snow Queen, who beckons him to come with her. Kai draws back in fear from the window.
      By the following spring, Gerda has learned a song that she sings to Kai: Where the roses deck the flowery vale, there, infant Jesus thee we hail! Because roses adorn the window box garden, Gerda is always reminded of her love for Kai by the sight of roses.
      It was on a pleasant summer's day that splinters of the troll-mirror get into Kai's heart and eyes while he and Gerda are looking at a picture book in their window-box garden. Kai's personality changes: he becomes cruel and aggressive. He destroys their window-box garden, he makes fun of his grandmother, and he no longer cares about Gerda, since all of them now appear bad and ugly to him. The only beautiful and perfect things to him now are the tiny snowflakes that he sees through a magnifying glass.
      The following winter he goes out with his sled to the market square and hitches it—as was the custom of those playing in the snowy square—to a curious white sleigh carriage, driven by the Snow Queen, who appears as a woman in a white fur-coat. Outside the city she shows herself to Kai and takes him into her sleigh. She kisses him only twice: once to numb him from the cold, and the second time to cause him to forget about Gerda and his family. She does not kiss him a third time as that would kill him. Kai is then taken to the Snow Queen's palace on Spitsbergen, near the North Pole where he is contented to live due to the splinters of the troll-mirror in his heart and eyes.
      The people of the city, once they realize Kai is nowhere to be seen or found, get the idea that Kai drowned in the river nearby, but Gerda, who is heartbroken at Kai's disappearance, goes out to look for him. She questions everyone and everything about Kai's whereabouts. Gerda offers her new red shoes to the river in exchange for Kai; by not taking the gift at first, the river seems to let her know that Kai did not actually drown after all. Gerda next visits an old sorceress, who wants Gerda to stay with her forever. She causes Gerda to forget all about her friend and, knowing that the sight of roses will remind Gerda of Kai, the sorceress causes all the roses in her garden to sink beneath the earth. At the home of the old sorceress, a rosebush raised from below the ground by Gerda's warm tears tells her that Kai is not among the dead, all of whom it could see while it was under the earth. Gerda flees from the old woman's beautiful garden of eternal summer and meets a crow, who tells her that Kai was in the princess's palace. She subsequently goes to the palace and meets the princess and her prince, who appears very similar to Kai. Gerda tells them her story and they help by providing warm clothes and a beautiful coach. While traveling in the coach Gerda is captured by robbers and brought to their castle, where she is befriended by a little robber girl, whose pet doves tell her that they had seen Kai when he was carried away by the Snow Queen in the direction of Lapland. The captive reindeer Bae tells her that he knows how to get to Lapland since it is his home.
      The robber girl, then, frees Gerda and the reindeer to travel north to the Snow Queen's palace. They make two stops: first at the Lapp woman's home and then at the Finn woman's home. The Finn woman tells the reindeer that the secret of Gerda's unique power to save Kai is in her sweet and innocent child's heart:


"I can give her no greater power than she has already," said the woman; "don't you see how strong that is? How men and animals are obliged to serve her, and how well she has got through the world, barefooted as she is. She cannot receive any power from me greater than she now has, which consists in her own purity and innocence of heart. If she cannot herself obtain access to the Snow Queen, and remove the glass fragments from little Kai, we can do nothing to help her..."


      When Gerda gets to the Snow Queen's palace, she is first halted by the snowflakes which guard it. The only thing that overcomes them is Gerda's praying the Lord's Prayer, which causes her breath to take the shape of angels, who resist the snowflakes and allow Gerda to enter the palace. Gerda finds Kai alone and almost immobile on the frozen lake, which the Snow Queen calls the "Mirror of Reason" on which her throne sits. Gerda finds Kai engaged in the task that the Snow Queen gave him: he must use pieces of ice as components of a Chinese puzzle to form characters and words. If he is able to form the word "eternity" (Danish: Evigheden) the Snow Queen will release him from her power and give him a pair of skates. Gerda finds him, runs up to him, and weeps warm tears on him, which melt his heart, burning away the troll-mirror splinter in it. Kai bursts into tears, dislodging the splinter from his eye. Gerda kisses Kai a few times, and he becomes cheerful and healthy again, with sparkling eyes and rosy cheeks: he is saved by the power of Gerda's love. He and Gerda dance around on the lake of ice so joyously that the splinters of ice Kai has been playing with are caught up into the dance. When the splinters tire of dancing they fall down to spell the very word Kai was trying to spell, "eternity." Even if the Snow Queen were to return, she would be obliged to free Kai. Kai and Gerda then leave the Snow Queen's domain with the help of the reindeer, the Finn woman, and the Lapp woman. They meet the robber girl after they have crossed the line of vegetation, and from there they walk back to their home, "the big city." They find that all is the same at home, but they have changed! They are now grown up, and they are delighted to see that it is summertime. At the end, the grandmother reads a passage from the Bible:
"Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).

Characters in the Fairy Tale:
  • The Snow Queen, queen of the snowflakes or "snow bees", who travels throughout the world with the snow. Her palace and gardens are in the lands of permafrost, specifically Spitsbergen. She is successful in abducting Kai after he has fallen victim to the splinters of the troll-mirror. She promises to free Kai if he can spell "eternity" with the pieces of ice in her palace.
  • The troll or the devil Satan, who makes an evil mirror that distorts reality and later shatters to infect people with its splinters that distort sight and freeze hearts. Some English translations of The Snow Queen denote this character as a hobgoblin.
  • Kai (or Kay), a little boy who lives in a large city, in the garret of a building across the street from the home of Gerda, his playmate, whom he loves dearly. He falls victim to the splinters of the troll-mirror and the blandishments of the Snow Queen.
  • Gerda, the heroine of this tale, who succeeds in finding and saving Kai from the Snow Queen.
  • Grandmother of Kai, who tells him and Gerda the legend of the Snow Queen. Some of Grandmother's actions are essential points of the story.
  • An old sorceress, who maintains a cottage on the river, with a garden that is permanently in summer. She seeks to keep Gerda with her, but Gerda's thought of roses (the flower most favored by herself and Kai) awakens her from the old woman's enchantment.
  • A field crow or raven, who thinks that the new prince of his land is Kai.
  • A tame crow or raven, who is the mate of the field crow/raven and has the run of the princess's palace. She lets Gerda into the royal bedchamber in her search for Kai.
  • A princess, who desires a prince-consort as intelligent as she, and who finds Gerda in her palace. She helps Gerda in her search for Kai by giving her warm, rich clothing, servants, and a golden coach.
  • Her prince, formerly a poor young man, who comes to the palace and passes the test set by the princess to become prince.
  • A robber hag, the only woman among the robbers who capture Gerda as she travels through their region in a golden coach.
  • The robber girl, daughter of the robber hag. She takes Gerda as a playmate, whereupon her captive doves and reindeer Bae tell Gerda that Kai is with the Snow Queen. The robber girl then helps Gerda continue her journey to find Kai.
  • Bae, the reindeer, who carries Gerda to the Snow Queen's palace.
  • A Lapp woman, who provides shelter to Gerda and Bae, and writes a message on a dried cod fish to the Finn woman further on the way to the Snow Queen's gardens.
  • A Finn woman (also known as the "Witch of Finland"), who lives just 2 miles away from the Snow Queen's gardens and palace. She knows the secret of Gerda's power to save Kai.
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