Hans Christian Andersen (1805 – 1875) was a Danish author. Although a prolific writer of plays, novels, and poems, Andersen is famous for his fairy tales which include The Little Mermaid, The Princess and the Pea, The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Snow Queen. Robert Bly, the author of Iron John thought that Andersen’s images were not to be trusted as much as the fairy tales that have come to us through the ages. But when I read Anderson’s The Snow Queen, I thought Anderson possessed an incredible comprehension of the alienation of modern man. I wondered if Anderson was influenced be the insights of Friedrich Schiller but I have found no evidence of this so far.
There was once a dreadfully wicked hobgoblin. One day he was in high spirits because he had made a mirror which reflected everything that was good and beautiful in such a way that it dwindled almost to nothing, but anything that was bad and ugly stood out very clearly and appeared much worse. The most beautiful landscapes looked like boiled spinach. The nicest people looked repulsive or seemed to stand on their heads or had no middles, and their faces were so distorted that they could not be recognized. And if anyone had a single freckle you might be sure it would look as if it had spread over his whole nose and mouth. That’s the funniest thing about it, thought the hobgoblin.
One day the hobgoblin was flying high among the clouds, maliciously flashing his mirror on all the countries below. Suddenly it slipped from his hands and crashed to the earth, shattered into millions and billions of pieces. And now Came the greatest mischief of all, for most of the pieces were hardly as large as a grain of sand, and they flew about all over the world. If anyone got a speck of the mirror in his eye there it stayed. From then on he would see everything crooked, or else could see only the ugly side of things. For every tiny splinter of the glass possessed the same power as the whole mirror. Some people got a splinter in their hearts, and that was dreadful, for then the heart would turn into a lump of ice. A few of the fragments were large enough to be used as window panes, but how terrible it would be to look at one’s friends and neighbors through such a window! The hobgoblin was so pleased he laughed till his sides ached, as the tiny bits of glass continued to whirl about in the air.
In a large town, where there were so many people and houses that there was not enough room for everybody to have a garden, lived two poor children. They were not brother and sister, but they loved each other just as much as if they were. Their parents lived opposite one another in two attics, and each family had planted a rose tree and sweet peas in a window box. In summer the two children were allowed to sit out underneath the rose trees and play lovely games together all afternoon.
In the winter they could not do this, so they heated pennies on the stove and put them against the frozen window panes. These made perfect peepholes through which they could gaze at each other across the frozen gutters.
His name was Kay, and hers was Gerda. One day it was snowing very hard.
“Those are the white bees swarming,” said the old grandmother.
“Have they got a queen bee too?” asked the little boy, for he knew that the real bees have one.
“To be sure,” said the grandmother. “She flies wherever they swarm the thickest. She is the Snow Queen and is the biggest of them all, She never remains still upon the earth, but always returns to the black clouds.”
The next day the weather cleared. Not long after, a thaw set in and spring appeared. With the warm spring sunshine, the countryside turned a soft green, the swallows worked busily on their nests and Kay and Gerda played together once more in their little garden high on the rooftop. They knew that summer had come at last when their little rose trees burst into glorious bloom.
One day the children were looking at a picture book. The clock in the great church tower had just struck five, when Kay suddenly exclaimed, “Oh! Something has stung my heart, and now I’ve got something in my eye!” Gerda threw her arms around his neck. He blinked his eyes again and again; but no, she could see nothing in them.
“I think it is gone now,” said he. But it had not gone. It was one of the tiny splinters from the magic mirror we have heard about, the mirror that turned whatever was fine and good reflected in it into something small and ugly. And a splinter had found its way to poor Kay’s heart, which began to change into a lump of ice. His heart did not hurt him at all, but the splinter was still there.
“Why are you crying?” he asked Gerda. “It makes you look so ugly! There’s nothing the matter with me. Just look! That rose is all worm-eaten, and this one is stunted! What ugly roses they are!”
And he began to pull them to pieces.”Kay, what are you doing?” cried the little girl, and she threw up her hands.
When he saw how frightened she was he pulled off another rose and ran inside to his window, away from dear little Gerda. When she came later on with a picture book, he said that it was only fit for babies, and when his grandmother told them stories, he always interrupted with, “But”, and then he would get behind her and put on her spectacles and mimic everything she did. Very soon he could imitate whatever was odd or ugly about the people who lived on their street.
When winter came, he began to love the cold. Each day he would take a magnifying glass and hold it over his blue coat while the snowflakes fell on it. “Look in the glass, Gerda! They are much more perfect than real flowers. If only they did not melt!”
One morning Kay went out with his warm gloves on and his little sled hung over his shoulder. He shouted to Gerda, “I don’t want to play with you, I am going to the marketplace to be with the other boys,” and away he went.
In the marketplace the boldest boys often used to fasten their sleds to the rears of the carts of the farmers, and then they got a good ride. That day, when Kay and the other boys were in the middle of their games, there drove into the square a large white sleigh, and in it sat a figure dressed in a white fur cloak and a white fur cap. The sleigh drove around the square twice. Suddenly it came to a short stop, and Kay fastened his little sled behind it and was pulled away. The sleigh began to go more and more quickly. The driver turned around from time to time and nodded to Kay in a friendly way, as if they had known each other before. Every time Kay tried to unfasten his sled the driver nodded again, and Kay sat still, and so they drove swiftly out of the town.
The snow began to fall so thickly that the little boy could not see his hand before him as they sped along. He tried to unfasten the cord to get free of the big sleigh, but it was no use; his little sled could not be loosened and on they went like the wind. He cried out, but nobody heard him. He was dreadfully frightened.
The snowflakes grew larger and larger till they looked like great white birds. All at once the large sleigh stopped, and the figure who was driving stood up. It was a lady, tall and slim and glittering. Her fur cloak and cap were made entirely of snow. It was the Snow Queen.
“We have made good time,” she said. “But you are almost frozen. Creep in under my cloak.” And she held him close to her in the sleigh and drew the cloak over him, He felt as though he were sinking into a snowdrift.
“Are you still cold?” she asked, and kissed him on the forehead. The kiss was as cold as ice and reached down to his heart, which was already frozen into half a lump of ice.
“My sled! Don’t forget my sled!” He thought of that first, and they fastened it to one of the white birds, who flew behind with the sled on its back. The Snow Queen kissed Kay again, and he forgot all about little Gerda, his grandmother and everybody else at home.
“Now I must not kiss you anymore,” she said, “or I will kiss you to death.”
Then away they flew over forests and lakes, over sea and land. Around them whistled the cold Wind, the wolves howled and the snow hissed; over them flew the black shrieking crows. But high up the moon shone large and bright, and thus Kay passed the long, long winter night. During the day he slept at the Snow Queen’s feet.
Little Gerda did not know what happened when he did not come back. What had become of him? Nobody knew. The other boys told how they had seen him fasten his sled to a large one which had driven out of the town gate. Gerda cried a great deal. The winter was long and dark to her.
Then the spring came and with it the warm sunshine. “I will go and look for Kay,” said Gerda. She traveled a great distance into strange lands. Far in the north she was captured by a band of robbers. But the daughter of the robbers liked her and took her as a friend. While Gerda was in the camp she learned that Kay was taken by the Snow Queen to her palace.
One night when her mother had fallen asleep, the robber girl went to the Reindeer and said, “I am going to set you free so that you can run to Finland. But you must go quickly and carry this little girl to the Snow Queen’s palace, where her playmate is, You must have heard all that she told me, for she spoke loud enough!”
The Reindeer leaped high for joy. The robber girl lifted up little Gerda and tied her firmly onto the Reindeer. She even gave her a little pillow for a saddle.
“You must wear your fur boots,” she said, “for it will be cold; but I shall keep your muff, it’s such a pretty one! And I’m going to give you my mother’s big fur gloves so that you won’t freeze. They will come right up to your elbows.”
The robber girl opened the door, called in all the big dogs, cut through the Reindeer’s halter with her sharp knife and said to him, “Off with you now! But take good care of the little girl.”
And Gerda stretched out her hands with the large fur gloves toward the little robber girl and said, “Goodbye! ”
Then the Reindeer flew over the ground, through the great forest, as fast as he could. The wolves howled, the ravens screamed, the sky seemed on fire. “Those are my dear old Northern Lights,” said the Reindeer. “Look how they glow.”
And he ran faster and faster still, day and night. They stopped at a wretched little house. The roof almost touched the ground, and the door was so low that you had to creep in and out. There was no one in the house except an Finn woman. The Reindeer told Gerda’s whole history, but first he told his own, for that seemed to him much more important, and Gerda was so cold that she could not speak.
“Ah, you poor creatures!” said the Finn woman.
Inside it was so hot that the Finn woman wore al most nothing. She drew off Gerda’s fur gloves and boots and loosened her clothes. When Gerda was warmed up and had something to eat and drink, the Finn woman gave directions to the Snow Queen’s palace.
“Won’t you give the little girl a drink so that she may have the strength of twelve men and overpower the Snow Queen? asked the Reindeer
“The strength of twelve men!” said the Firm woman. “That would not help much. It’s true that little Kay is with the Snow Queen, and he likes every thing there very much and thinks it the best place in all the world. That is because he has a splinter of glass in his heart and a tiny chip of it in his eye. If these do not come out, he will never be free, and the Snow Queen will keep him in her power.”
“But can’t you give little Gerda something so that she can have power over the Snow Queen?”
“I can give her no greater power than she already has. Don’t you see how great it is? Don’t you see how men and beasts help her when she wanders into the wide world with her bare feet? She is powerful ale ready, because she is a dear little innocent child. If she herself cannot conquer the Snow Queen and remove the glass splinters that are in little Kay, we cannot help her! The Snow Queen’s garden begins two miles from here. You can carry the girl so far; put her down by the large bush with red berries that stands in the snow. And you must come back here as fast as you can.”
Then the Finn woman lifted Gerda onto the Reindeer, and away he sped. “Oh, I have left my gloves and boots behind! “cried Gerda. She missed them in the piercing Cold, but the Reindeer did not dare to stop. On he ran till he came to the bush with red berries. There he sat Gerda down and kissed her, and big tears ran down his cheeks. Then he ran back, leaving the poor girl without shoes or gloves in the middle of the bitter cold of Finland.
She went on as fast as she could. A regiment of gigantic snowflakes came against her, but they melted even before they touched her, and she continued with fresh courage.
Inside the Snow Queen’s palace Kay was not thinking of Gerda and never dreamed that she was standing right outside. The walls of the palace were built of driven snow, and the doors and windows of piercing winds. There were more than a hundred halls in it, the largest several miles long; all made of frozen snow. The bright Northern Lights lit them up, and very large and empty and cold and glittering they were! In the middle of the great hall was a frozen lake which had cracked in a thousand pieces. Here the Snow Queen used to sit when she was at home.
Little Kay was almost black and blue with cold, but he never felt it, for the Snow Queen had kissed away his feelings and his heart was a lump of ice, He was sitting in the hall, pulling about some sharp, flat pieces of ice and trying to put them together into a pattern He thought they were beautiful, but that was because of the splinter of glass in his eye. He was able to fit them into a great many shapes, but he really wanted to make them spell the word “Love.” The Snow Queen had said, “If you can spell out that word you will be your own master. I shall give you the whole world and a new sled.” But Kay could not do it.
“Today I must fly to warmer countries,” said the Snow Queen. “I must go and stir up my black kettles!” (This was what she called Mount Etna and Mount Vesuvius.) And off she flew, leaving Kay alone in the great hall trying to do his puzzle, He sat so still that you would have thought he was frozen. Then little Gerda stepped into the palace hall. The raging winds quieted down as if they had fallen asleep when she appeared. She caught sight of Kay and ran to put her arms around his neck, crying, “Kay! Dear little Kay! I have found you at last!”
But Kay sat quite still and cold. Gerda wept hot tears, which fell on his breast and thawed his heart so that the glass splinter was dissolved. He looked at her and burst into tears. He cried so much that the splinter swam out of his eye. Then he recognized her and cried out, “Gerda! Dear little Gerda! Where have you been so long? And where have I been?”
And he looked around him. “How cold it is here! How huge and empty! ” He threw his arms around Gerda, and she laughed and wept for joy. It was such a happy time that the pieces of ice even danced around them for joy. When they grew tired, Kay and Gerda lay down, and as they slept they melted the ice, form ing the word that the Snow Queen had said Kay must spell in order to become his own master.
Gerda kissed his cheeks and they grew rosy. She kissed his eyes and they sparkled like hers. She kissed his hands and feet and he became warm and glowing. The Snow Queen might come home now, but they had his release the word “Love” stood written in the sparkling ice.
They took each other’s hands and wandered out of the great palace. They talked about the grandmother and the roses in the Window boxes, and wherever they went the winds calmed down and the sun came out.
Gerda and Kay went home hand in hand. There they found the grandmother and everything just as it had been, but when they went through the doorway they found they were grown up. There were the roses in the window boxes. It was summer: warm, glorious summer.
Hans Christian Andersen, abridged by Susan Jungen