Thoughts on The Snow Queen

“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.

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Fairy Tale Recommendations

This is by no means a complete list of my favorite fairy tale books, movies, and websites, but I thought it would be fun to share a few of the things I’ve been enjoying most lately. If people are interested, I can do more of this in the future.

The Hans Christian Andersen Center is a website put together by The University of Southern Denmark that has bibliographical information on Hans Christian Andersen, as well as full texts of all of his fairy tales.

SurLaLune Fairy Tales is a website that hosts 49 annotated fairy tale texts, as well as many other fairy tale resources.

Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s Beauty and the Beast is surprisingly hard to find in at its full and unabridged length. This beautiful edition came out recently.

The Fairy-Tale Princess: Seven Classic Stories from the Enchanted Forest is a gorgeous book with retellings by Wendy Jones and artwork by Su Blackwell. Blackwell does papercut sculptures that are absolutely delightful.

Beauty and the Beast by Megan Kearney is a webcomic that is perhaps my favorite Beauty and the Beast retelling I’ve come across. Start the comic here, or order print copies here.

Unburied Fables is an anthology of fairy tale retellings with LGBTQIA+ protagonists. There isn’t a story is this collection that I dislike, and 50% of the profits are donated to the Trevor Project.

Ever After is a film that is one of my favorite Cinderella retellings.

 

Thoughts on Beauty and the Beast

Ever since the final theatrical trailer for Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast was released, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this fairy tale that I love so much.

In 1740 Madame Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve published a novella length fairy tale, the first recorded story titled “Beauty and the Beast.” It is fair to say that Villeneuve was probably inspired by the Cupid and Psyche story “The Golden Ass,” which was written by Apuleius sometime between 158 and the 180s AD. Villeneuve’s novella is much longer than most traditional fairy tales, and drags on far too much for most people’s liking. In 1756 Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont published a shorter version of the story, which became much more popular than Villeneuve’s novella. Today, most people aren’t aware of Villeneuve’s story.

I wish that more people were aware of Villeneuve’s story; it’s my favorite of all the “Beauty and the Beast” stories I’ve come across. I grew up on Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and it still hold quite a lot of nostalgic value. But now that I’ve spent so much time looking at fairy tales critically, to pull out the bits I like to incorporate into my own fairy tale retellings, it is impossible for me to ignore the aspects of Disney’s retelling (and Beaumont’s, and Villeneuve’s original) that don’t sit right with me.

The biggest reason I prefer Villeneuve’s “Beauty and the Beast” over Disney’s or Beamont’s is the backstory given to show how the Beast was cursed to be a beast.

In Disney’s prologue we are told that Beast is a beast because he refused to give shelter to an enchantress disguised as an old hag. It seems like an okay scene on the surface (in my childhood I never found anything wrong with it), but when looking at it closer I have some questions.

  • Why is the Prince the one to open the door? Surely there is a servant to do that, just in case the person at the door is looking to harm the royal family.
  • And where are the King and Queen? Not around, from what I can tell; it seems logical that they would be making the decision about letting in a visitor, not the Prince.
  • I also wonder about the Enchantress’ motivation. She says she’s looking for shelter, but I don’t buy it. She has magic strong enough to disguise herself and put a curse on the Prince that not only affects him, but everyone else in the castle as well. But she doesn’t have enough power to build herself shelter? That doesn’t make sense; which leads me to believe she gets joy from cursing people who aren’t nice to her, in situations she forces upon them.
  • In the song “Be Our Guest” Lumière sings “Ten years we’ve been rusting,” which means that if the curse ends on Beast’s 21st birthday, it was put on him when he was 10 or 11. The Prince doesn’t look 10/11 in the animation of the prologue, so it’s hard to know exactly how old Disney intended him to be.

Disney tries to paint the Beast as a bad guy deserving of the curse put on him. But if he truly was 10 or 11 when the Enchantress knocked on the door late at night, can we really blame him for turning her away? Especially if his parents and all other guardian figures are gone or unwilling to open the door and take the responsibility away from a child. When looked at this way, the Beast is a victim.

In Villeneuve’s version the Beast being a victim is much more overt. When the Prince was young, his father died. A neighboring kingdom, with which the Prince’s kingdom had fought with for many years, planned to attack and take over the kingdom while it grieved the King’s death. The Queen, guessing that an attack was coming, led her army into battle. She left the Prince in care of a fairy she knew and trusted. This fairy became like a second mother to the Prince while the Queen spent years in battle defending the kingdom. The Prince grew up, and came of age. The fairy realized she has romantic and sexual feelings for the Prince. She made advances at him, but he was not interested in her the way she was interested in him. She was like a second mother to him, after all. The fairy got mad, and cursed the Prince; she turned him into a beast because he didn’t reciprocate her feelings. The Beast is a victim.

Disney’s live-action remake is coming out in March, and I don’t quite know how excited to be. Because, as stated above, I have a lot of nostalgic attachment to the Disney animated film. And, given what I’ve seen in trailers and the few things I’ve read online, it looks like changes have been made for the better. But I’ve been let down by Disney too many times to be flat out excited. I’ll have to wait to watch the movie to see how I feel.

My mind keep returning to the thought that the Beast is a victim. The Beast is a victim, and I think it would be useful for us to stop thinking about “Beauty and the Beast” being the story of love transforming bad people into good ones. Instead (at least to me) it’s the story of companionship and friendliness reminding a victim that people can care about him and not give him outrageous punishments for his “wrongdoings.”

There’s a lot more I could say about Beauty and the Beast, so I’ll have to return to the topic at some point. But this is enough for now.

Welcome!

I’ve contemplated starting a blog for a while now, but I’ve always come up with a list of reasons why I shouldn’t. Most of those reasons come down to feeling like I’m not prepared to make this blog perfect. But I’m never going to be able to make a perfect blog; I’m always going to look back on certain things and think “I could have done that better.” So I’m taking the plunge, and starting this blog. I don’t know how often I’ll post, but at least this blog is here for when I do have something I want to share.