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Literature / The Snow Queen

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"The Snow Queen" (Danish: "Snedronningen") is a 19th century Fairy Tale by author Hans Christian Andersen which was first published in 1845.

An evil troll, actually The Devil himself, creates a magic mirror that magnifies all the bad and ugly aspects of whatever it reflects. He intends to carry the mirror into Heaven and make fools of the angels and God, but it slips from his grasp and falls down to earth, where it shatters into billions of pieces —- some no larger than a grain of sand. These splinters are caught onto the wind and occasionally lodge in the hearts or eyes of passers-by, causing them to see only the ugly in the world around them.

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, the Snow Queen comes by in her silver sled, abducts Kai from the village square, carries him to her castle at the North Pole, and causes him to forget about his home. But once the snow has melted, Gerda sets out to find him, determined not to return without her friend.


Adaptations include:

Works inspired include:

  • Breadcrumbs re-imagines the story into the US in 2012.
  • Dark Parables: The Snow Queen is the antagonist of the third installment of the PC game seriesnote .
  • Demon's Mirror, Harry Bogosian's 2013 webcomic, is a slightly darker interpretation that incorporates more fantasy and sci-fi elements such as witches, demons and robots.
  • Frozen started out as an attempt at an adaptation, but it became its own story and franchise.
  • In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis based the villainous White Witch Jadis largely on the Snow Queen (as well as other antagonists in fantasy literature and even Abrahamic religious tradition).
  • Season 4 of Once Upon a Time features its own version of the Snow Queen in a crossover with Frozen, who in this story arc is Elsa and Anna's long lost aunt and their mother is identified as Gerda.
  • Persona has the Snow Queen as a side quest.
  • The Snow Queen Series by Joan D Vinge loosely adapted the story into a Hugo-winning science-fantasy novel in 1980.
  • The Raven and the Reindeer by Ursula Vernon (under her penname, T. Kingfisher) is a queer retelling of the story, focusing on Gerda's relationship with the Robber Girl.
  • In Grimms Notes, Kai, Gerda, the Snow Queen and the Robber Girl (called Tatiana) are playable characters. The demon who created the mirror, and the Robber Girl's mother (called Alexandra) are event bosses.
  • The Huntsman: Winter's War (2016): Queen Freya, one of the main villainesses of the film, is based on the Snow Queen.

Tropes associated with Andersen's tale:

  • 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.
  • Amazonian Beauty: The Robber Girl is described as being the same height as Gerda, but much stronger than her.
  • Ambiguously Evil: Whether the Snow Queen can be called truly malevolent or not is up in the air, owing to the unclear nature of her relationship with Kai, her reasons for taking him with her and Kai's willingness being mysterious, and the fact that we never get to see her react to Gerda's attempts to get him back.
  • Ambiguously Gay: The Robber Girl, who says she must have Gerda immediately after seeing her, and makes her sleep in her bed. Considering Andersen was bisexual, it's not too hard to imagine he consciously or subconsciously included sapphic subtext.
  • Animate Inanimate Object: The mirror is sentient, and although the devils have to move it around, it manages to laugh so loudly that it animates itself.
  • Antagonist Title: The Snow Queen whom the story is named after may not be evil, but she is still the antagonist.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Gerda rescues Kai. The army of Angels for Gerda only moments before that.
  • Dismantled Macguffin: The Mirror does more damage after being shattered than it would have done otherwise, because the shards are spread all over the world, and every single piece has the same power as the whole mirror.
  • 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, who is taken by the Snow Queen to her castle and essentially imprisoned there. It's up to Gerda, his female friend, to rescue him.
  • 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's search for an intelligent husband.
  • Ethnic Magician: The old women who take Gerda in and advise her on the last stage of her journey, essentially are. One is a Finn (probably some variant of Sami), the other is a Lapp (Sami), living even further north.
  • Evil Laugh:
    • The mirror chuckles every time it senses a decent thought, and laughs louder and louder the closer it gets to Heaven.
    • The reason the mirror breaks is because it roars and shakes of laughter until the lesser devils find it impossible to hold it anymore. They drop it, and it shatters as it hits the ground.
    • And then the troll is laughing his ass off while looking at all the damage the shards do.
  • Eye Scream (downplayed): The story does start with a little boy getting a shard of a cursed mirror in his eye, but doesn't linger on the physical pain, instead emphasizing the magical effects associated with the mirror the shard came from.
  • 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, positing that real life depression and disillusionment come from the Mirror.
  • Girls With Mustaches: The mother of the Robber Girl is an old hag with a very long beard.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: The Queen, being all cold and dangerous, is often not very well liked even if her only real crime in the story is taking in a cursed runaway.
  • Good Princess, Evil Queen: The story is about Gerda's heroic quest to rescue her friend Kai from the titular character and features a good princess as an ally. However, despite the fact that she's disliked within the story, the Snow Queen is a largely neutral entity.
  • Green Thumb: Gerda can talk to plants as easily as animals, although flowers don't have much worthwhile to say.
  • Guardian Angel: A whole army of them comes in as big damn heroes to the rescue of Gerda in the nick of time.
  • Happily Ever After: Gerda and Kai return home with Kai healed and their relationship mended.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: There are quite a few mentions of Gerda's muff... that is, her handwarmer.
  • 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 is implied to be the very embodiment of winter and the queen bee to all snowflakes.
  • Ice Palace: The Snow Queen lives in an enormous palace of over a hundred rooms made of ice and snow.
  • An Ice Person: The Snow Queen, may be winter itself.
  • 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 a while.
  • I Love You Because I Can't Control You: Gerda meets a princess whose choice in husband is a man who is smart and genuinely talks to her instead of groveling just because she is a princess.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The robbers intend to cook and eat Gerda until the Robber Girl convinces her mother to let her keep her.
  • Implied Death Threat: The Robber Girl tells Gerda the other robbers won't hurt her as long as she doesn't get angry with her.
  • 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: The Robber Girl really, really wants to keep all the companions she's captured, out of some weird form of love - but when she finds out none of them want to be captive, she reluctantly lets them all go.
  • I Will Find You: Gerda sets out to find Kai, and oh boy does it take a while.
  • Jade-Colored Glasses: The Mirror is a particularly brutal and unhealthy form of this, portraying everything in the worst light. If one of the shards gets into someone's eye, that someone sees the worst of everything.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: The Robber Girl, who initially treats Gerda like a pet, or something else, but when her animals inform Gerda that they have seen Kai, she decides to help Gerda out and pulls out all stops in doing so.
  • Kiss of Death: The Snow Queen herself can kill with three kisses. The first one numbs you from the cold and the second makes you forget about your loved ones.
  • "Leave Your Quest" Test:
    • Though Kai didn't have a "quest" to begin with, the Snow Queen captures him (when he is already corrupted by the mirror shards in his eye and heart) and convinces him to abandon Gerda and stay in her palace. This actually triggers the whole story of Gerda's journey to rescue him.
    • The old sorceress wants Gerda to remain with her forever in her magical garden of eternal summer, which is why she made her forget Kai. However, once Gerda sees a rose on the sorceress' hat, she is reminded of Kai and escapes the garden. It is already autumn by then, implying that Gerda spent several months or even several years with the sorceress.
    • The robber girl also asks Gerda to stay with her as her friend, but Gerda isn't even tempted because the two girls have drastically different values and tastes.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Kai and Gerda's close relationship is described as being like siblings to each other. Since they're children, there's never any romance shown between them.
  • Magic Mirror: Of the complete jackass variety. The story starts with the creation of a mirror cursed to distort the reflection of everything to make it look horrible.
  • Man Bites Man: The Robber Girl bites her mother on the ear to stop her from killing Gerda.
  • Mistaken Identity:
    • Gerda initially thinks the Prince is Kai.
    • Gerda gets robbed by the robbers because they mistake her for royalty for riding in the Princess's carriage.
  • Mistress and Servant Boy: The Snow Queen and Kai, to some extent. He is a young and naive boy (even after the mirror shards get into his heart and eye), and she is a beautiful, mysterious and aloof woman who likes keeping him around as a foster child of sorts. Some adaptations even add the romantic subtext to their relationship.
  • Muggle in Mage Custody: The Queen captures Kai and takes him to her castle at the North Pole with the intention of keeping him there forever. A slightly less negative example is the old sorceress who wants Gerda to stay with her in her garden of eternal summer and makes her forget Kai. Gerda remains with the sorceress for quite some time (presumably for many years), but eventually she is reminded of Kai and leaves the garden to continue looking for him.
  • No Name Given: Many — the Princess, the Prince, and the Robber Girl are just called that in the text.
  • No-Sell: The Snow Queen is so flawlessly beautiful that even under the influence of the mirror, Kai can see absolutely nothing bad about her, which is part of the reason why he goes with her.
  • Plucky Girl: Gerda is determined to complete her journey.
  • The Power of Friendship: Kai's curses are broken by his friend Gerda's love for him.
  • The Power of Love: Gerda breaks the curses on Kai with the love in her tears.
  • Prayer Is a Last Resort: Gerda overcomes the last defense 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 Lord's 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 wears a coat of white fur, that's implied to be made of snow.
    • Gerda gets a fur-trimmed coat and fur muff on her journey. After she's captured by bandits, a bandit girl lets Gerda go, but keeps the muff for herself.
  • 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. Roses are used throughout the story as symbols for Gerda and Kai's friendship too, as they grew roses together at home. In the end, they once again sit among their roses while Gerda's grandmother reads to them from The Bible.
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: Gerda, the Prince, Princess, Robber Girl, and the Finn and Lapp women speak to birds and reindeer.
  • 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.

Tropes associated with any adaptation that doesn't have its own page

  • Adaptation Relationship Overhaul: In the original story, Gerda and Kai are described as being Like Brother and Sister. In some adaptations where they remain unrelated, the ending implies romance bloomed between them.
  • Adaptational Villainy: In the original fairy tale, the Snow Queen is simply a neutral entity who picks Kai (whose willingness is ambiguous) 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). Though keep in mind, the fact that angels themselves have to save Gerda from her minions towards the end implies the Snow Queen may be some type of witch or demon. 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. Several Adapt Out the devil in the prologue and have the Snow Queen create the evil mirror instead.
  • 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), breaks 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.
  • Animated Adaptation: In addition to other animated adaptations, the Queen Nehellenia arc in the fifth season of Sailor Moon is based on "The Snow Queen". The primary difference is that instead everyone struck in the eye with a mirror shard becomes obsessed with mirrors and grows increasingly apathetic to everything until they lose all motivation to do anything.
  • 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.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Gerda in one cartoon re-telling (Danish, 1982). Her signal color in this adaptation was red (red hair, and always a red skirt or scarf). This was done not to make her a Fiery Redhead, but to give her the colors of the symbolical rose.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: One cinematic adaptation has the demon/troll/whatever that created the mirror doing so in order to show mankind how rotten it is, and heavily regretting having created it when it broke. Also, Faerie Tale Theatre's version implies that the Snow Queen took Kai to give him the opportunity to save him from himself. She also takes care of that troll at the end...
  • Green Thumb: 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.
  • 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 Gerda finally confronts him, he dismisses her and her notions of love as stupid and childish and unable to comprehend what he sees.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: One film adaptation has the mirror's creator make it in order to show people their worst qualities so they can improve. When it breaks, he regrets making it in the first place.
  • Pretty in Mink: Most adaptations will give either Gerda and/or The Snow Queen an outfit with fur.
  • Promoted to Love Interest: While the relationship between Kai and Gerda remains platonic in the original, some adaptations make them a couple, either before or after Kai's disappearance.
  • Related in the Adaptation:
    • The Summer Witch is often made to be the Snow Queen's sister.
    • Some adaptations made Kai and Gerda blood siblings instead of Like Brother and Sister.
  • Replacement Goldfish: In one adaptation called The Fairytaler, the Snow Queen decides to adopt Kai after losing her son.
  • Rescue Romance: Although some adaptations have them start out as dear friends before Kai was taken away. But by the time Gerda rescues him, love does blossom between them.
  • Swiss Army Tears: In the musical, making Kai cry with the memories of their childhood also gets the shards in his eyes out.

Alternative Title(s): Snow Queen