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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.

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.

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.
  • 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.

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.
  • 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.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Gerda rescues Kai. The army of Angels for Gerda only moments before that.
  • Big Bad: The Snow Queen.
  • Bigger Bad: The Devil/The mirror.
  • Clever Crows: A raven acts as Gerda's guide and adviser.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: When Gerda and Kai return home, they realize that they have grown up.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: The prologue.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The Snow Queen herself is the antagonistic dark force but at the same time is far and apart one of the least overtly evil ones in fairy tales.
  • 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.
  • 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, 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' 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 lapp (Sami), the other is a Finn (most probably another kind of Sami), living even further North.
  • 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.
    • And then the troll was laughing his ass off while looking at all the damage the shards did.
  • 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 Fair Folk: The Snow Queen.
  • 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.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Gerda.
  • 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.
  • Grim Up North: The Snow Queen's land is like this.
  • 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: Gerda and Kai return home for what we hope is this.
  • 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 can be seen as this, given that it's implied she is the very embodiment of winter.
  • The Hero's Journey: Gerda goes through a variation of one.
  • Ice Palace: The Snow Queen lives in one.
  • 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 awhile.
  • 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: 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.
  • 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 two just mess with your head.
  • Knife Nut: The Robber Girl can't even sleep without one in her hand. But given who she lives with, who can blame her?.
  • 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.
  • Mistaken Identity: Gerda initially thinks the Prince is Kai.
    • And in turn Gerda gets robbed by the robbers because they mistake her for royalty for riding in the Princess's carriage.
  • No Name Given: Many — the Princess, the Prince, and the Robber Girl are just called that in the text.
  • Plucky Girl: Gerda is determined to complete her journey.
  • The Power of Love / The Power of Friendship: These are what save Kai in the end.
  • 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 Lords Prayer. Her breath takes on the form of an angelic army, which defeats the winter monsters and breaches the way to Kai.
    • At least one anime retelling has the Snow Queen destroyed after Kai and Gerda pray for help.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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: The Snow Queen is likely the embodiment of winter in this story.
  • Year Outside, Hour Inside: In the old woman's garden.

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 / 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). Though keep in mind, the fact that angels themselves have to save Gerda from her minions towards the end implies the Snow Queen is some type of witch or demon.
      • In one animated adaption called The Fairytaler the Queen adopts him after losing her own son.
    • 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.
    • 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, and Frozen was originally going to have this scenario by having Elsa be a villain who got redeemed, but eventually rewrote her as more of a Not Evil, Just Misunderstood antagonist once "Let It Go" was recorded.
  • 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, most likely to avoid a grown woman kissing a little boy.
  • 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 the fifth season of Sailor Moon is based on "The Snow Queen".
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Colorcoded 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 had the demon/troll/whatever that created the mirror doing so in order to show mankind how rotten it is, and heavily regretted having created it when it broke. Also, Faerie Tale Theatre's version implied 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...
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: The Snow Queen herself defrosts in the Hallmark film.
  • 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.
  • I Just Want to Have Friends: The Robber Girl in the Hallmark adaptation.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Missing Mom: Part of Gerda's backstory in the Hallmark film. Her mother froze to death in the snow around Christmas.
  • Pretty in Mink: Most adaptations will give either Gerda and/or The Snow Queen an outfit with fur.
  • Related in the Adaptation:
    • The Summer Witch is often made to be the Snow Queen's sister. In the Hallmark adaptation, the Princess and the Robber Queen are also made her sisters as well, having the four represent the four seasons.
    • Some adaptations made Kai and Gerda blood siblings instead of Like Brother and Sister.
  • Rescue Romance: Although some adaptations have them start out as dear friends before Kai was taken away. But by the time they reunite, 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


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