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Literature / The Ice Palace

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The Ice Palace (Is-slottet) is a Norwegian novel written in 1963, by Tarjei Vesaas. The novel is one of the most known stories written in the "nynorsk" mode of Norwegian, and is considered a modern classic.

The story tells of two girls, Siss and Unn. Unn is new in the local school, a solitary girl with no friends, but she takes a shine to Siss, and invites her home. They spend one evening together, but Unn freaks Siss out, and she leaves in a hurry, deciding to make up for it the next day at school. But Unn never shows. A searching party is launched in the evening when she still doesn`t show, and soon, she is reported missing.


Unn, who lived alone with her aunt, had left for school in the morning, but due to curiosity, she decided to explore the frozen waterfalls all by herself. Frost has made a real Ice Palace of the falls, and Unn gets lost there. Soon, she is so far inside it, she can`t get out again, and freezes to death. She is, of course, never found.

Siss continues to wait for Unn, and keeps a promise she gave herself, not forgetting her, while the world around her moves on. During the winter, she closes herself off from her friends, getting more and more solitary, and the others worry. Late in winter, Siss takes her own exploration in the frozen waterfalls, and sees the image of Unn in the ice. This helps her getting out of the depression, and her friends take responsibility. They talk her back to them, and comfort her. So does Unn`s aunt, who tells her to let go, and to relieve her of her promise: "You are not supposed to promise things to the point where it destroys you". Siss finds consolation, spring comes, and the Ice Palace melts away.Unn is never found.


The novel was adapted for the big screen in 1987. A Snippet can be seen here.

This novel contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Absent Father: And mother. Unn has lost them both.
  • Art Shift: Sometimes, the author goes from prose to poetry and back again during the course of the story.
  • At the Crossroads: Most prominently commented upon in the passage of the bridges, so filled with snow they are becoming unpassable. This passage is written as poetry, not as prose.
  • Birds of a Feather: When the two girls sit together in Unn`s room, they look in a mirror together, and discuss whether or not they are. Through the book, Siss gets more and more like Unn in behaviour.
  • Break the Cutie: Both Unn and Siss. Unn was broken at the start of the book.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Unn wishes to tell Siss something important, but stops short. Later, Siss shuts everyone out on the crucial information she has on Unn.
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  • Coming-of-Age Story: Implied. Both girls are hitting puberty, and the awkwardness of getting naked is commented upon.
  • Cool Old Lady: Unn`s aunt. She turns out to be the only one to call Siss out on her mistaken promise, and helps her move on. Apparently, she has had the same problem herself. Also, when the authorities started to press Siss for questions, she intervened to protect her. She (and the local doctor) made sure Siss was left alone.
  • Cue the Sun: Most prominently invoked when Unn is sitting alone in the centre of the Ice Palace, slowly freezing into the ice. The sun shines through the ice from above, giving light, but no warmth. This "eye" watching her is the last Unn sees.
  • Dawson Casting: The movie adaptation. Line Storesund (Siss) was turning 13, and Hilde Martinsen (Unn) had turned 14 at the time of filming, while the girls in the book were said to be 11 years old. The age lift resulted in some sexual implications not clearly stated in the book.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Siss follows the searching team the evening after Unn dies. When the men pester her with questions, she breaks down and is brought home sick.
  • Don't Go in the Woods: A feeling that something sinister is lurking there, urges Siss to speed up, first on her way to Unn, and even more so on her way home again. Her path goes through a forest, of course.
  • Downer Ending: Played with. For Unn, it clearly is. Siss gets better.
  • Empty Chair Memorial: Unn`s empty place in the classroom. When a new girl enters class, the teacher tells her to sit on Unn`s empty chair, but Siss intervenes, forcing the girl to sit another place. The teacher does not press the matter because of Siss and her issues.
  • Epiphany Therapy: The novel comes down to this. Siss gets an epiphany after seeing the image of dead!Unn in the ice, and from that point on, she begins to rebuild her life. It takes The Power of Friendship to restore her fully.
  • Eyes Never Lie: Siss feels the eyes of Unn fixed upon her from two rows behind. Her other friends tell her that she also looks intently in the direction of Unn. And they call her out on it pretty soon.
  • Feathered Fiend: A great bird is circling over the Ice Palace. Siss is painfully aware of it. It comes dangerously close moments before the sees dead!Unn entrapped in the ice.
  • Friendless Background: Unn. Her aunt is delighted to see that someone visits them at all.
  • Friendship Moment: When Unn takes the mirror down from the wall, and the girls sit tight looking into it, they truly bond.
  • Good Parents: The parents of Siss come out as this. They may not be well informed on the problems Siss is facing, but they are there for her all the way.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: The other girls sense that Siss is more than normally attracted to Unn, and are not happy about it.
  • Guilt Complex: Unn seems to have this. She scares Siss away with a doubt if she will ever get to Heaven. After this, she is afraid to face Siss, and then she ends up in the Ice Palace. The last thought passing through her inside the Palace, is the words "I didn`t do anything". Siss seems to take over this for the rest of the book, feeling responsibility for the loss of Unn.
  • Heel Realization: Siss walks alone to the frozen waterfalls, and comes to see an image of the frozen Unn in the ice. This helps her accept that Unn is gone for good.
  • Heroic BSoD: Played straight and implied for every single member of the search team when they have to admit defeat in front of the inpenetrable Ice Palace.
  • Hope Spot: The only meeting between the girls.
  • Human Popsicle: Not played for laughs. This is what eventually became of Unn, and the image Siss saw in the ice implies the same thing.
  • Ice Palace: Obviously.
  • I Gave My Word: Siss promises to wait for Unn. It nearly breaks her.
  • I'm Cold... So Cold...: Unn sits quietly in the centre of the Ice Palace, waiting for death. And it is deadly cold, of course.
  • Journey to the Center of the Mind: On a symbolical level, Unn`s journey to the center of the Ice Palace.
  • Lovable Alpha Bitch: Siss had shades of this before Unn showed up in class. She was the centre of the gang, and the most popular girl. When she went into stasis, another girl took her place.
  • Malevolent Architecture: The Ice Palace. It consists of a number of rooms, and when inside, it is not possible for Unn to get back outside again. She only goes further in.
  • Mental World: It is not clearly stated whether the Ice Palace also represents the mental state of Unn, and by default, Siss.
  • Missing Mom: Unn`s mother died in the spring prior to the novel. The reason why she moved to the area.
  • Mood Whiplash: Siss freaks out and leaves in a hurry when she senses something odd about Unn.
  • New Transfer Student: Sort of. Unn is the "new girl" in class, and Siss is pretty curious about her.
  • No Name Given: Apart from Siss and Unn, this is played straight.
  • Noodle Incident: A tragic example. It is never stated what really happened to Unn prior to the story, and why she reacts in a way that scares Siss.
  • Poor Communication Kills: And how. Could be the subtitle of the novel.
  • The Power of Friendship: The friends of Siss help her snap out of her depression.
  • Rejection Affection: When Siss tries to make Unn come play, or at least hang with the other girls, she is flatly rejected. And that rejection turns into a "friendship crush" for Siss. Nobody ever let her down before.
  • Releasing from the Promise: Unn`s aunt does this for Siss at the end of the book, because, as she states, Siss shall not promise to the point that it destroys her.
  • Romantic Two-Girl Friendship: The bonding between Siss and Unn seems to be the start of one, but then Siss bolts. They never meet again.
  • Rule of Seven: The Ice Palace consists of seven rooms for Unn to get lost in.
  • Send in the Search Team: When it is apparent that Unn is missing, the whole municipality goes out looking for her, spending much of the first night on the search. They find nothing.
  • Shrinking Violet: Unn at school is perceived that way. It turns out she is a buttload more self confident that she lets on.
  • Snow Means Death: Played straight.
  • Take It to the Bridge: Inverted because the bridges are packed with snow, and therefore impassable.
  • Take My Hand: Played straight with the friends and Siss in a truly heartwarming moment at the end of the book. Siss freaks out, and the other girl grabs her, saying: "Don`t disappear for us again, you hear me?" Siss calms down. This grip is even lampshaded as "the blissful grip". A nameless boy also holds her hand when they all climb down for a last look at the Ice Palace.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Siss seems to have a particularly long one, lasting for a good part of a Norwegian winter.
  • Tragic Mistake: Siss, when she decides to leave Unn in a hurry, thinking it is better to sort things out the day after. Unn, when she finds an excuse for being away from school because she is embarrassed and will not face Siss. She decides she will explore the Ice Palace instead. Tragedy ensues.
  • Unintentional Period Piece: This is the sixties, and the setting is rural Norway. When Unn is missing, her aunt has to walk all the way to the nearest farm, where she knows there is a telephone, and then call the police. The searching band likewise relies on appointed meeting places to make confirmation. No cell phones in this time and place.
  • Wham Line: "I don`t know if i`ll come to Heaven", Unn states. This is enough to freak Siss out good and proper.
  • World of Symbolism: The novel has it in spades: the Mental World of the Ice Palace, the contradiction of winter and spring, and the lost feeling of adolescence.
  • You Are Not Alone: See Take My Hand. Also commented on by Unn`s aunt, who releases Siss from a pointless promise.
    • Siss is an inversion of Unn, who went alone to the Ice Palace and got lost. Siss had her friends with her.

Example of: