This is one of my favourite literary beginnings. In fact, it shares first place with Dickens's "best of times, worst of times" opening on my list ("It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only"). And that is because of their staying power; these two openings can be used to introduce practically any interesting tale because they can be applied to a practically limitless panoply of diverse settings and characters. There's no two children swimming in the stream, no fiftyish hidalgo living somewhere in La Mancha and eating a little more beef than mutton, no Mrs. Reed who makes the children stay indoors on a rainy, stormy evening, no Monsignor Bienvenu Myriel giving most of his revenues to the poor of the diocese... but these two story openings at the start of this article deal with knowledge, ignorance, optimism, pessimism, -not with any concrete places, characters, or historical periods- and Andersen even breaks the fourth wall by announcing that the story is about to begin.
And thus, this opening line can be applied to the creation of this very project as well. An open love letter to my native land and to Suchwanderung tales, to my favourite musical genres... a postmodern update of the Andersen tales rife with intertextuality... but now let us zoom out, out of it all, and have a peek at the bigger picture. And look at the whole puzzle once it has been finished in the middle of the throne room. Dumas's expanded adaptation had the puzzle represent a sun; the Gakken bunraku version, a rose; various illustrators and filmmakers, a heart; the Fairytaler Egmont 2009 two-part episode version, an ouroboros; my epic Voltaire-style literary tale The Apple, the Pear, and the Plum, a pair of wings (Just like most graphic versions have the mirror shard enter Kai's left eye, some have it plunge into the right, and a rare cluster have the fatal crystal gulped or breathed in down his throat.
It is this diversity that allows each version of the story to be slightly different from the others). No matter what the puzzle represents, it is by finishing it, and then by returning home as young adults, that our two young leads finally recognize that they have come of age.
The original Andersen tale ends like this:
But Gerda and Kai went hand-in-hand towards home; and as they advanced, springtime appeared more lovely with its green verdure and its beautiful flowers. Very soon they recognized the large town where they lived, and the tall steeples of the churches, in which the sweet bells were ringing a merry peal as they entered it, and found their way to their grandmother’s door. They went upstairs into the little room, where all looked just as it used to do. The old clock was going “tick, tock,” and the hands pointed to the time of day, but as they passed through the door into the room they perceived that they were both grown up, and become young adults. The roses out on the roof were in full bloom, and peeped in at the windows; and there stood the little chairs, on which they had sat when children; and Kai and Gerda seated themselves each on their own chair, and held each other by the hand, while the cold empty grandeur of the Snow Queen’s palace vanished from their memories like a painful dream. The grandmother sat in the bright sunshine, and she read aloud from the Bible, “Except ye become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.” And Kai and Gerda looked into each other’s eyes, and all at once understood the words of the old song,
“Roses bloom and cease to be,
but true love is always free.”
but true love is always free.”
And they both sat there, grown up, yet children at heart; and it was summer,—warm, beautiful summer.
"Little Kai recognized the gate through which he had left, the streets through which he had passed, and, in the end, they stood in the threshold of two familiar townhouses.
They climbed up Gerda's staircase and entered her grandmother's room. Everything was still in its place. The clock tick-tocked and told the time; it was only upon coming face and face with the mirror that they realized that Kai had become a dashing young man, and Gerda a beautiful maiden. The roses were still in full bloom in their boxes, and, next to the window, their little childhood chairs could be seen.
Kai and Gerda sat down. They had forgotten the past like one forgets a bad dream, and it seemed to them that they had never left home.
ight then, the grandmother returned from church service, her storybook in hand. She greeted the dashing young man and the fair maiden, and, since she was not able to recognize them, so much had they changed, she asked for their names.
And thus, both of them sang to her the song they once had learned:
'The roses are in blossom in the vale...'
The grandmother burst into a cry of joy: she had recognized the dashing youth and the beautiful maiden as Kai and Gerda.
The next day, the bells whose sound they had recognized long before they had seen the towers were pealing for their marriage.
Ten months later, the same bells pealed once more for the christening of the loveliest little twins: one was called Kai after his father; and the other, Gerda after her mother."
This is actually a far longer expansion that ends with both of them as newlyweds and young parents, right before midlife sets in, like a conventional happy ever after.
My own more faithful rewriting of The Snow Queen, the so-called "Glenrose version," goes even further than Dumas's:
"When you pass through Glenrose, why don't you visit us?" Kai asked the reformed outlaw maiden. And Yrsa promised so, and she also showed them shortcuts through the woodlands and meadows of the kingdom, where a magnificent springtime increased for each and every day in flowers and in warmth, until she took her leave of them, teary-eyed and smiling, on the edge of a valley where a quite familiar spire towered over a cluster of pumpkin-orange eaves. And they heard five bell peals ring to a quite familiar tune: it was Glenrose, their native town, the place where both good friends were born and raised!
Gerda and Kai entered through the North Gate and ambled up the streets through which they had once left. Within an instant, they were finally on their own street, at the door of Gerda's place. The rose arch on the balcony had never been in such full bloom.
Everything was just like it had been before, and there was nothing new under the sun. The old cuckoo clock tick-tocked at the same old steady pace. Only upon peering into the little mirror did they realise that now they were young adults, good-looking and clever-eyed.
The roses were in bloom as usual on the balcony, and, from the window, one could see two child-sized chairs that they had already grown out of.
Kai and Gerda sat down on those chairs. They had forgotten the past as if they had awakened from a long dream, and it seemed that they had never left home at all. Holding one another's hands, he looked into her green eyes, and she looked into her friend's blue eyes, and both of them realised the meaning of the song:
"Roses bloom and cease to be,
but true love is always free."
Then, Granny returned from church, hymn-book in hand, and she did not recognise the good-looking young people until Gerda and Kai sang their song once more:
"Roses bloom and cease to be,
but true love is always free."
The old lady shouted with glee and cried for joy as she embraced them, recognising her own granddaughter and said granddaughter's best friend.
There were both of them, all grown up and yet children at heart, and it was a day in springtime, the warm, lovely fair season.
A fortnight later, the tower bells whose sound they had recognised from afar were pealing for their marriage.
Nine months later, when the Snow Queen returned southward at the head of her army and coursed through the streets of Glenrose, the same bells pealed once more for the christening of the loveliest little twins: one of them named Kai just like his father, and the other named Gerda after her mother.
It would be impossible to tell of all the moments of happiness spent by this hopeful young family: moments of adventure like their assistance at the coronation of Queen Frederica and Prince Consort Frederick, or the twin children's baptismal celebration, or visits from the ever restless and bold traveller Yrsa; and everyday moments full of emotion such as the funeral of the beloved grandmother or the great adventure of being parents of their two own children.
We must say that, every winter, the Snow Queen peered in through the windowpanes on a certain street in a certain town in a certain kingdom, to behold the only one who had warmed her icy heart and made her feel what pain was like. She saw him happily married and father of two, cozily snuggled up with his loved ones by the fireside, and she thought of how irrational and unworthy of her it had been to fall for that young mortal, who was made for the life he currently led.
Gerda and Kai lived for a long time together in that land, without any tension with their children, who played during the warm seasons in the shade of the rose-bushes of yore, or in their relationship. To quote the old Bohemian proverb, they lived until they died with winter at the door, summer in the cupboard, autumn in the cellar, and springtime within their hearts.
Now The Crystal Queen, being an ultra-condensed and realistic postmodern update instead of this Victorian fantasy retelling, just ends with both our heroes holding hands at the frog pond --that pool, that "alberca" or "ranera" at the UJI's Jardín de los Sentidos that inspired me to write the tale-- while realising the meaning of this highly optimistic Shakespeare quote (Shakespeare instead of the Gospel of Matthew and/or Brorson!), whose very last verses are GOOD IN EVERYTHING. And it ends right there, letting the curtain fall while hinting at the disenchantment that comes with midlife. This ending is basically a carpe diem while retaining the exhortation to remain children at heart: enjoy the fish, the frogs, the water, the lilies, the papyri, the breeze, the sun, good literature while you can, while there is still a shred of enchantment left in your heart. While the words GOOD IN EVERYTHING apply to you.
I wrote this tale while, among other things, dealing with a depressive and stressed-out mother. Suddenly, the old Snow Queen story grew new life, took on new meanings. I also recalled the depressives, "people who constantly bewept a sorrow that they could not give a name," ("sådana, som ständigt gräto över en sorg, som de inte kunde ge namn" in original Swedish; "solche, die beständig über einen Kummer weinten, dem sie keinen Namen zu geben wußten" in the German translation) in Selma Lagerlöf's Passion legend "The Shroud of Veronica," who break into a King Lear-like frenzy when they are told that Pilate has just killed the man who would restore their missing soul and reason: "in despair, they began to wound themselves, until blood flowed on the pavement" ("och i sin förtvivlan började de sarga sig själva, så att blodet flöt på stenarna" in original Swedish; "sie begannen in ihrer Verzweiflung sich selbst zu zerfleischen, bis ihr Blut auf den Boden troff" in the German translation). The impact of the fact that depression is incurable for good, and that hearing the death wishes of a person I adore, often in response to slights I have done without that intention, but also often due to collapsing under the pressure that life puts upon her... it makes me feel powerless. You cannot uproot the mirror shard for good in that case --a grieving person stranded in the fourth stage of grief, having to cope with trauma--. So I also noticed that her case, and my grandmother's case of depression, and many other incurable ones, are in midlife... so I determined to make the most out of my youth before this finite resource known as healthspan --both physical and mental/emotional-- dwindles. The peak comes right in the thirties of life, in fact. This story, The Crystal Queen, is an exhortation, in part, to make the most out of the warm seasons of our lives before the cold seasons begin.
It is also a cautionary tale about drugs --the mirror shards are replaced with crystal meth, the witch's cherries with marijuana, the villainess's surname, Schierling, means Hemlock in German--. Chemistry replaces the mind-control magic of yore. All supernatural elements --a talking sun, animals, and plants; a flying carriage; the aforementioned Mirror of Truth-- are replaced with more realistic equivalents (vox pops, a convertible, crystal meth; respectively), this being a fairytale of the new millennium.