Saturday was a beautiful day in the city, was it not? Snowman-makers and selfie-takers took the pond by storm in Central Park: families set up impromptu photo shoots with wiggly, giggly babies; teenagers face-planted in the snow trying to snowboard on skateboards; a young girl dusted flyaway snow from a portrait of Elsa emblazoned on her jacket.
Did you know Disney’s Frozen was loosely based on the Danish fairy tale The Snow Queen? Written by Hans Christian Andersen in the early 1840s, the novella was inspired by the Norwegian fairy tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon which, like Beauty and the Beast, was a reimagination of the Roman love story Cupid and Psyche. Andersen’s fairy tale, however, “rivaled some of the early French salon fairy tales for its intricacy…Andersen took [East of the Sun, West of the Moon], with its themes of transformation, sacrifice, long journeys and unfairness, and chose to twist several elements of it, adding themes of temptation and philosophy and intellect and Christian love and charity.”
The Snow Queen is divided into seven sections. In book one, readers are introduced to a magic mirror that disfigures beauty. When it suddenly shatters, shards of glass spread throughout the world, distorting people’s ability to see good. In book two, the story shifts from the mirror’s creation to Kay and Gerda, two children living in an attic who warm copper pennies on stoves to melt the ice around their windows.
When Kay looks out the window one day, he locks eyes with the Snow Queen and fragments of the mirror enter his heart and eye, transforming him from a sweet, unassuming boy into something cruel and heartless. He leaves Gerda and – after receiving a quick kiss on the forehead from the Queen – fastens his sled to her sleigh and blindly follows her to the great white north.
“She is flying there where the swarm is thickest. She is the largest of them all and never remains on the earth, but flies up to the dark clouds. Often at midnight she flies through the streets of the town and breathes with her frosty breath upon the windows; then the ice freezes on the panes into wonderful forms that look like flowers and castles.” — Hans Christian Andersen, The Snow Queen
The following five books follow Gerda in her quest to save Kay from the Snow Queen until finally, in book seven, she saves him with the power of her love. Tor summarizes the moment nicely: Gerda’s “tears and prayers finally [break] through the cold rationality that imprisons him, showing him the way to eternity at last.”
Hans Christian Andersen wrote 168 stories in his life, including beloved childhood favorites like The Ugly Duckling, Thumbelina, The Little Mermaid, and The Princess and the Pea. The Snow Queen was published in 1844, when Andersen was 39 years old. While Andersen is most famous for his stories for children, he also wrote a number of plays, novels, poems, travel books, and autobiographies. A number of his works for adults are virtually unknown outside of Denmark, but his fairy tales are “among the most frequently translated works in all of literary history.”
Fun fact: You can purchase The Snow Queen with it’s original illustrations at Barnes & Noble.