“The Snow Queen” is one of my favorite fairy tales. It’s one of the stories I used as inspiration for my thesis in college (a story which has now turned into a novella I’m still tinkering with). It’s not as well-known as some other fairy tales, which is a shame, because it’s a beautiful story.
The story of “The Snow Queen,” told simply, is the story of a girl named Gerda who goes on a journey to find and save her best friend, Kai (or Kay, depending on whih translation you look at), who has been put under a spell by shards of a magic mirror and kidnapped by the Snow Queen. Along the way she encounters: an old lady who wants to keep Gerda for her own (and succeeds for a time); some talking crows; a kind princess and prince; a group of traveling thieves, including a little girl who takes a strange interest in Gerda; a reindeer; and two women who give Gerda shelter. With the help of those she meets along the way, some luck, and her own persistence, Gerda is able to find Kai, break the spell on him, and take him home.
(Anyone interested in reading the full text can do so online here.)
The most well-known retelling of “The Snow Queen” is Disney’s Frozen. The plot and cast of characters from Frozen deviate widely from “The Snow Queen;” a lovable reindeer and platonic love saving the day are the two biggest similarities. And while Disney is allowed to retell fairy tales how they’d like, I did have some frustrated when I went into Frozen expecting a story I love and hold dear, and was presented with something completely different instead.
There are many things I like about “The Snow Queen.”
There is no romance. Gerda and Kai’s relationship is completely platonic, they love each other like siblings. While romance is not at the center of every fairy tale, it was certainly a big player in the fairy tales I grew up on, so reading “The Snow Queen” for the first time was like a breath of fresh air.
It’s a story about a girl saving a boy. And yes, there are other stories, other fairy tales, that involve a girl saving a boy. But as with the romance, I grew up exposed to more stories about males saving females than the other way around.
I think perhaps my favorite part of “The Snow Queen” is that it’s a story about a girl who doesn’t know how strong she is. Gerda doesn’t know she’s going to be able to find and save Kai, but she sets out anyway. Gerda is weak in some moments; when Kai teases her she cries. But she is strong too. When Kai is kidnapped and no one knows, and instead assumes that he has drowned in the river outside of town, Gerda confronts the river and demands her best friend back. It’s small moments like this, Gerda pleading with a body of water, that stick out to me.
While “The Snow Queen” is not perfect, I enjoy it very much, and I want other people to enjoy it too.