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Literature: The Snow Queen

Not to be confused with the award-winning The Snow Queen Series by Joan D Vinge.

"The Snow Queen" (Danish: "Snedronningen") is a Fairy Tale by author Hans Christian Andersen (18051875) first published in 1845.

The story begins with a tale of an evil troll, actually The Devil himself, making 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. While attempting to carry the mirror into heaven with the idea of making fools of the angels and God, it slips from the troll's 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 them only see 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 a large city. Their grandmother tells them of the legendary Snow Queen, ruler of bee-like creatures made of snow. Shortly thereafter, Kai is struck by a shard of the mirror in the eye and heart. The next winter, while playing in the village square, he is picked up by the Snow Queen in her silver sled, who takes him back to her castle at the North Pole and causes him to forget about his home. Once the snow has melted, Gerda sets out to find her friend - not an easy task.

Many movie adaptations and pop culture references have been made in honor of this work, one of them a Soviet Russian animated movie, which made Hayao Miyazaki believe that working in animation was worth it after all. The Disney Animated Canon film Frozen is inspired (albeit quite loosely) by this story. The Snow Queen is also the antagonist of the third installment of the Dark Parables PC game series. And Joan D. Vinge loosely adapted it into a Hugo-winning science-fantasy novel in 1980. It was retold as a children's novel, Breadcrumbs, in 2012. A musical debuted in America two days before Frozen, by coincidence.

Tropes associated with this work:

  • Accentuate the Negative: People who get a shard of the magic mirror in their eye or heart can see only the negative side of things.
  • Adaptational Villainy / Adaptational Heroism: The Snow Queen gets both in varying adaptations. In the original fairy tale, she is simply a neutral entity who picks Kai (who willingly stays with her) up when he gets stuck to her sled and while she likes having him around as a foster child of sorts, she gives him a way to free himself from her icy kingdom if he ever so wishes (although he has to accomplish an almost impossible task to do it). A lot of adaptations change her into a proper villain that kidnaps Kai and holds him hostage against his will in her castle where Gerda has to fight her somehow. On the flip side, a handful of adaptations like to humanise her. The Hallmark adaptation actually does both where she is the villain of the story but gets redeemed at the end.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The most blatant Christian references are often left outside adaptations for various reasons. Thus, the devil becomes a troll, and the symbol of the Rose, often left in, is not explained in the same way. In one particular case, the devil (here a kind of wizard), broke the mirror himself, leaving the entire Heaven reference out.
  • Adaptation Expansion:
    • Some adaptations take the concept of the Snow Queen and make it so that she is literally the Queen of winter, along the way turning the rest of the women Gerda meets into seasonal figures such as the Spring Witch, the Summer Princess and the Autumn Robber.
    • The Hallmark adaptation adds in a backstory with Gerda's family, her mother having frozen to death years ago and her father's attempt to get over it as well as developing Kai and Gerda's relationship from the start.
  • Age Lift: The Hallmark film has Kai and Gerda start off as teenagers/young adults rather than grow from children to adults as the story progresses. It is possible that this was done to avoid squicking the audience because of the unfortunate implications of the Snow Queen kissing and abducting a little boy. It is Hallmark after all.
  • An Ice Person: The Snow Queen, obviously.
  • Animated Adaptation: A Russian version made in 1957, for one, which actually received 2 different English dubs. A second Russian adaptation using CGI was produced in 2012. There is also an anime adaptation. Also the Queen Nehellenia arc in Sailor Moon is based on "The Snow Queen". And in late 2013, there was Disney's Frozen, though little of the original story remains.
  • Animate Inanimate Object: The mirror. It is sentient, and although the devils have to move it around, it manages to laugh so loudly that it animates itself.
  • Antagonist Title: She may not be evil, but she is still the antagonist.
  • Automaton Horse: Sadly averted with Gerda's poor reindeer. In the musical, she gets off because the snow gets too heavy for even the reindeer.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Gerda rescues Kai. The army of Angels for Gerda only moments before that.
  • Big Bad: The Mirror.
  • Bigger Bad: The Devil, of course.
  • Break the Haughty: Happens to the Robber Girl in the Russian animated adaptation. She acts mean and threatening at first, but as soon as Gerda leaves, she goes into a nervous breakdown and frees all her captive animals.
  • Coming of Age Story: When Gerda and Kai return home, they realize that they have grown up.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: One cinematic adaptation had the demon/troll/whatever that created the mirror doing so in order to show mankind how rotten it is, and heavily regreted having created it when it broke. Also, Faerie Tale Theatre's version implied that the Snow Queen took Kay to give him the opportunity to save him from himself. She also takes care of that troll at the end...
  • Deadpan Snarker: The talking polar bear in the Bridget Fonda version has his moments of this.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Pun intended of course. Kai becomes one thanks to the Magic Mirror but Gerda helps him magically defrost thanks to The Power of Love. The Snow Queen herself defrosts in the Hallmark film.
  • Determinator: Gerda.
  • Dismantled Macguffin: The Mirror. It makes more damage dismantled than otherwise, however, because it is spread all over the world, and every single piece has the same power as the whole mirror put together.
  • Distant Prologue: The origin of the Mirror and the shattering of it takes place a good long time before the main tale. Meaning, of course, that the Mirror Shards have been around for a greater lot of human history.
  • Distressed Dude: Kai.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: The ending is a happy one, but look at how much traveling and false turns Gerda had to deal with to get there.
  • Engagement Challenge: The princess' search for an intelligent husband.
  • Evil Is Deathly Cold
  • Evil Laugh: The mirror chuckles every time it senses a decent thought, and laughs louder and louder the closer it gets to Heaven. The tale states that the real reason the mirror broke, is because of this. It roared and shook of laughter, until the lesser devils found it impossible to hold it anymore - they had to drop it, and it shattered as it hit the ground.
  • Eye Scream: It's not played for squick, but the story does start with a little boy getting a shard of mirror in his eye.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: Implied. Although a single shard of the Mirror is removed from the eye and heart of Kai, none of the other pieces are accounted for. Nightmare fuel ensues.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Gerda.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!
  • Green Thumb: Gerda can talk to plants as easily as animals, although flowers don't have much worthwhile to say. In the musical, a rose that'd been revived from death by the Summer Witch says she knows where Kai is, helping Gerta leave the clutches of her.
  • Grim Up North.
  • Guardian Angel: A whole army of them, coming in as big damn heroes to the rescue of Gerda in the nick of time.
  • Happily Ever After
  • Heart Trauma: One of the mirror shards pierces Kai's heart and starts freezing it into ice.
  • Hell Invades Heaven: The devil and his students are actually attempting this with the magic mirror, before it breaks.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Queen.
  • The Hero's Journey
  • Ice Palace: The Snow Queen lives in one.
  • Identity Amnesia: The Snow Queen makes Kai forget his home and family; Gerda runs into a sorceress on her quest who does the same to her for awhile.
  • I Just Want to Have Friends: The Robber Girl in the Hallmark adaptation.
  • I Love You Because I Can't Control You: Gerda meets a princess whose choice in husband resembles this trope.
  • Impossible Task: Kai is asked to puzzle together a jigsaw while in the Queen`s castle. He ponders it for years, getting nowhere, until Gerda arrives. Then the parts assemble themselves into a single word: "Eternity".
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Possibly the Robber Girl
  • I Will Find You
  • Irony: The Snow Queen's happy ending in the Hallmark adaptation. The literal personification of Winter is able to be defrosted by The Power of Love as well.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: The Robber Girl, who initially treats Gerda like a pet but when her animals inform Gerda that they have seen Kai the Robber Girl decides to help her out and pulls out all stops in doing so.
  • Kiss of Death: The Snow Queen herself can kill with three kisses; the first two just mess with your head.
  • Magic Mirror
  • Measuring the Marigolds: In the musical, "cold" is not only associated with cynicism, but with mathematical numbers. Kai is only able to find beauty in numbers after the shards get stuck in him, and the Snow Queen takes him to solve the largest mathematical problem of all: what is the answer to eternity? When Gerta finally confronts him, he dismisses her and her notions of love as stupid and childish and unable to comprehend what he sees.
  • The Messiah: Gerda
  • Mind Rape/Mind Screw: This is what the Mirror does to people. They are not able to see straight anymore, and every opinion gets twisted into cynical ugliness.
  • Missing Mom: Part of Gerda's backstory in the Hallmark film. Her mother froze to death in the snow around Christmas.
  • Mistaken Identity: Gerda initially thinks the Prince is Kai.
  • No Name Given: Many — the Princess, the Prince, the Robber Girl...
  • Plucky Girl
  • The Power of Love / The Power of Friendship: This is what saves Kai in the end.
  • Prayer Is a Last Resort: Gerda overcomes the last defence of the Snow Queen`s palace because of this. She has forgotten her warm gloves and her boots, she is literally down on her knees, and starts praying The Lords Prayer. Her breath takes on the form of an angelic army, which defeats the winter monsters and breaches the way to Kai.
  • Pretty in Mink: The Snow Queen is often depicted wearing white fur, and Gerda gets a fur-trimmed coat on her journey.
  • Ravens and Crows
  • Rescue Romance
  • Rule of Symbolism: The mirror was the work of the devil.
  • Something about a Rose: On the borderline of Christian mysticism. The tale makes a continuity shout out to a certain Danish Christmas Carol (the most graceful rose is found) written by psalmist Hans Adolph Brorson, a determined advocate for pietism. The rose is then a symbolic representation of Christ, making it rather meaningful that the first thing Kai destroys after getting a piece of the mirror in him, is a rose.
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: Gerda
  • Spell My Name with an S: Several English translations as well as some Danish editions spell Kai as "Kay".
  • Swiss Army Tears: Gerda breaks the spell on Kai when her tears melt his frozen heart. In the musical, making Kai cry with the memories of their childhood also gets the shards in his eyes out.
  • The Vamp: The Snow Queen; which makes her one of the few (presumably) non-sexual vamps.
  • Walking the Earth: Walk from your hometown to the cold, cold north.
  • Winter Royal Lady
  • Year Outside, Hour Inside: In the old woman's garden.

Hanna-BarberaThe Golden Age of AnimationThe King and the Mockingbird
The Sleepover ClubChildren's LiteratureSon of the Mob
The Shamer ChroniclesNon-English LiteratureThe Steadfast Tin Soldier
The ShadowFairy TaleThe Steadfast Tin Soldier
The Shadow 19 th Century LiteratureThe Steadfast Tin Soldier

alternative title(s): Snow Queen
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