At a whopping sixteen pages long (the length of the longest story she had read for an eight-year-old!), the ad usum Snow Queen in this compilation was, together with Norse myths starring Loki, shonen anime like One Piece, Genesis's Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot, and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here, one of the works that shaped my tweenage years.
This article is my English translation from Warne's Swedish of the Snow Queen in that collection. Together with the Lev Atamanov film, which I saw for the first time at Club Super 3 around the same year, it was my childhood introduction to this tale.
This is my contribution for the International Day of Children's Literature 2018.
And thus, without further ado, I am proud to introduce:
THE SNOW QUEEN
Translated from the Swedish child-friendly adaptation by Ingrid Warne
into English by Sandra Dermark
(With vintage illustrations by Elizabeth Ellender)
Maybe the secret of Andersen stories is that they he writes as if he were speaking out loud. Through this orality, we can hear his voice between the lines, how he tells his tales to friends, to little children.
In their original form, Andersen's tales are often very long and a little complicated when it comes to language; they can be incredibly sorrowful and sometimes even gory. Here, they have been retold and adapted with a careful hand. The gore and the tragedy have been toned down, and thus, these stories can also be told to, and read by, the youngest audiences.
All right, let us begin! First, you ought to know a little about this wicked sorcerer and his mirror. In that mirror, everything turned hideous and frightening, and, if someone smiled at their own reflection, the only thing that could be seen was a sinister Cheshire-Cat grin. When people looked into the sorcerer's mirror, they said: "Ewww, how ugly and how wretched everything is! It does not pay at all to be kind..."
One day, the mirror shattered. The shards flew over the whole wide world and lodged in human eyes, where they warped the sight of their victims. But no one could even feel that they had got such a shard in one eye, since the shards were so tiny. All they could notice was that the world around them had turned so hideous and filthy... Several shards lodged within people's hearts, that instantly froze to ice. Nevermore could anyone feel any hope or joy.
In those days, there lived two children, each one in a garret, their windows opposite one another, high above their bustling street. They had the custom of waving at each other across the street. Outside the windows, upon the sills, there were two large planter boxes, where, for three quarters of the year, roses bloomed and sweetpeas entwined, and, since their respective homes were so close to one another, the children frequently climbed over and across these boxes, like a suspended bridge, whenever the girl visited the boy's place or vice versa. Her name was Gerda, and his name was Kai.
In winter, their parents took the planter boxes indoors, and thus, Gerda and Kai had to run down all the stairs, and then up all the stairs across the street, if one of them wanted to visit the other. Sometimes, the snow whirled around the corners, and sometimes, little white snowflakes danced around.
"You do know that there is a snow queen?" asked Gerda's old grandmamma. "Try to find the biggest snowflake of them all, for that flake is the Snow Queen."
Later the same evening, when Kai was going to bed, he walked to the window and peered out. Right then, he saw a large snowflake that alighted upright upon the windowsill. As Kai stood there watching, the flake began to grow into a most beautiful lady in white. Her icy blue eyes glittered like stars, and her whole self shone with a strange, cold light.
Kai immediately understood that it was the Snow Queen. She was the loveliest sight he had ever seen, but, when she waved at him, he was frightened by the piercing cold look in her eyes. He turned his back to the windows and curled up in his warm bed. Right as he pulled the cover over his head, a dark shadow flew by outside the window.
The next day, when Kai was playing with Gerda as usual, he let out a scream of pain. "My heart is hurting so much..." he groaned, wincing "And my left eye as well."
Little to nothing could Kai know about the fact that a mirror shard had just lodged in his heart, and another, a splinter, in one of his eyes.
"Does it hurt much?" asked little Gerda in a friendly tone.
"Don't stand there gawking and looking at me like that!" Kai sneered. "Besides, I don't want to play with you anymore. You are stupid."
"But we were about to look at my new storybook," said an astonished Gerda.
"Storybooks are only for babies," Kai sneered, letting some snow fall on his coattails and letting Gerda see it through his magnifying glass. "Ice crystals, on the other hand, are completely perfect. Now I'm off to the Market Square to sled."
The local bad boys found a frequent thrill in lassoing some horse-drawn carriage as they sat upon their sleds. Thus, they would set off and be pulled along through the streets at breakneck speed! As Kai was now looking around for the perfect carriage to hitch a ride on, he saw a two-horse open sleigh, pulled by two beautiful horses, in the middle of the Market Square. "That's the sleigh that shall pull me," Kai thought. And thus, he lassoed that carriage, and the sleigh set forth with such tremendous power that Kai was pulled off his sled, and had to cling to the back of the seat, behind the driver.
Out of town the carriage drove, and the snow whirled around Kai. He began to feel really frightened, but he did not even dare to let go. In the end, the sleigh stopped in the open countryside and the driver who held the reins turned around. Then, Kai saw that it was the Snow Queen.
"Are you cold?" she asked him, stealing from him a kiss that erased all his remembrance of the past. "Come and sit here by my side and wrap my fur coat around you..." The Snow Queen was lovelier than ever before. Kai felt no longer afraid when the sleigh picked up speed once more and literally flew forth over the sparkling snow. High up in the sky twinkled the stars.
But at home, little Gerda went about and mourned her playmate. Where could Kai have gone? People said that he was most likely dead, but Gerda refused to believe something that dreadful. As soon as springtime came, she donned her brand new red shoes and went forth to look for her missing friend.
Soon, she came to a wonderful orchard, where cherry trees stood in full bloom among the quaint little cottages. One of the doors opened, and there stood an old lady in a flowered straw hat. Her smile was so friendly that Gerda could not resist telling her about Kai, and how he had vanished without a trace.
"I have not seen him," the old lady said, "but most surely he will drop by around here, sooner or later. Why not stay here and wait for him?"
The old lady had, for a long long time, wished for a sweet little girl to call her own. Now, she let Gerda play in the beautiful orchard all springtime and summer long, but she took the care to wish all the roses away; otherwise, the girl would sadly be seized with homesickness, the old lady thought.
But she had forgotten the roses that decorated her hat! One lovely day, Gerda took a look at it. "Oh, no!" she gasped. "It will soon be autumn, and I have wasted all the springtime and summer away. I forgot why I once ventured out into the wide world... It was to look for Kai!"
And, without even donning her red shoes, she hastened away from the beautiful orchard. On she walked and walked.
Soon, her feet were sore, and she sat down for a rest. Then, a crow swooped down in front of her and began to peck the seeds on the ground.
Gerda asked the crow if he had seen Kai.
"Maybe I could," the crow began. "But he has forgotten you. All he can think of now is the princess."
And thus, he began to explain. The princess of the kingdom where Gerda and the crow were at the moment was very clever and learned. When she had read all the books in the castle library, she decided to look for someone she could marry. But it had not to be a twit at all!
The princess had an announcement printed in the press, and soon the castle courtyard was full of suitors, each one brighter than the other. But when they at last stood before the princess, they were so impressed both by her and by the golden throne she sat upon that they could not even breathe a word.
But one day, there came a boy who was neither afraid of the princess nor of her great fortune. He began a lively conversation with her about everything that she was interested in.
"Of course it was Kai!" Gerda gasped. "Now I must get to the castle and try to reach him there. But how could we do it?"
"I shall see what I can do," the crow promised before he flew away. In the evening, he returned: "My fiancée, the princess's pet who lives at the castle, will let us in through the back door."
Gerda hastened to the royal castle, where the fiancée crow really stood there waiting by the back door, that stood ajar. Right when Gerda was about to sneak up the spiral staircase, some soldiers passed by on horseback. But both men and horses were merely like twilight shadows. "These are dreams," the crows explained. "Things that the sleepers within the castle are dreaming of."
In the end, Gerda found the royal bedchamber. There stood two beds; in one of them lay the princess, and in the other, a head of messy hair popped up from the covers. Gerda pulled the covers off the sleeping lad. Then, she saw that it was not Kai at all, but a young prince.
Gerda began to cry with such heart-rending sobs that she woke up both the prince and the princess. They felt sorry for the little maiden and decided to help her. They promised her new shoes and a carriage of gold. Two footmen were to drive Gerda further on through her quest.
But, as they were driving through the dark woods, some bandits attacked them and took the golden carriage.
Maybe they should have killed Gerda, if a young girl who was part of the robber band had not pleaded and nagged for her sake. Now, she was escorted instead to their den, a crumbling old ruin.
The robber maiden had a pet reindeer, that she rode into battle and wanted Gerda to say hello to. She had expected the robber maiden's fiery steed to be a pony or a little mule instead. The reindeer didn't appear to feel at home in the robbers' den, Gerda thought.
That night, she lay and listened to the owls who roosted and hooted high up there in the rafters. And, quite unexpectedly, one of them said:
"I have seen Kai, hoot hoot! It was last winter, and he flew with the Snow Queen in her carriage!"
"They were surely heading towards Lapland," another owl replied, "for there melts neither the snow nor the frost. Never, nevermore."
"That's right," the reindeer joined in. "The Snow Queen has her castle there, and I know for I was born in Lapland."
The robber maiden heard the whole conversation as well, and, at the crack of dawn, she told Gerda:
"I shall set my reindeer free if he promises to carry you on his back all the way up north to Lapland." The reindeer took to high leaps of joy, and Gerda shed tears of elation. On that very same morning, she climbed up on the deer's back, and off they set forth.
By day and by night they travelled, through deep forests and across high mountain ranges. In the end, the reindeer stopped in the middle of the tundra and said:
"All right, this is Lapland. Don't you see my wonderful Northern Lights?"
Shortly afterwards, they found a little deerskin tent where they asked to spend the night. When the Saami woman who lived in that tent heard where they were heading, she replied:
"The Snow Queen's palace? It's a long way to go, for the palace is in the Finmark, near the North Pole. But I know a wise Finmark woman who surely will help you find the way."
The next day, they set off once more. Gerda carried a letter that she was to give the Finmark woman. Inside her tent, it was warm and cozy, in spite of the snowstorm raging outside. After a while, Gerda could take off her cloak, her hat, and her shoes. Then, she gave the message to the wise woman, who read it most carefully.
"If Gerda could only do magic!" the reindeer sighed mournfully. "Then, she could have forced the Snow Queen and get Kai back..."
"Little Gerda has no need for magic," the Finmark woman replied. "She has a kind heart, and that's all she needs. Kai is happy at the Snow Queen's only because his heart is frozen. And, furthermore, there's a shard of the sorcerer's mirror in one of his eyes."
The wise woman then turned to the reindeer and resumed:
"You shall carry Gerda to the Snow Queen's garden, and leave her there, by the holly bush with red berries."
Gerda climbed once more up to the reindeer's back. She forgot her cloak, her hat, and her shoes.
The reindeer did as the wise woman had told, even if he did not like at all the idea of leaving Gerda all alone there, without any warm clothes, in the middle of the snowstorm.
A whole regiment of snowflakes whirled around Gerda. Some of them were icy blue, with monstrous shapes, and seemed to attack her; while others were white and soft, and, as they confronted the monsters, showed her the way to follow.
And so Gerda came to the Snow Queen's palace, whose walls were made of driven snow and whose doors and windowpanes were of ice hardened by the north winds. Only Gerda's warm heart kept her from freezing to death. The Queen herself was nowhere to be seen, having just left her throne room to bring the winter down south again.
In a little oubliette, she finally found Kai. He walked about pushing large blocks of ice as if it were a rather meaningful duty that had been assigned to him.
"Oh, Kai!" Gerda called him.
But Kai merely kept on moving his blocks. He was as pale and frozen as a statue of ice.
Yet Gerda stormed forth towards him and clasped him in her arms. Tears of joy coursed down her cheeks and onto his chest, seeping straight into his heart and thawing the hard layer of ice.
Outside the palace, the reindeer was waiting, and now began the long journey back home. Wherever they went, the snow melted away, and the grass and the flowers began to shoot up. They met the robber maiden on horseback, for she had emancipated herself on a quest through the wide world; she told them that the princess and her prince were travelling through foreign countries on honeymoon.
At last, they saw their hometown before them. Kai and Gerda quickened their pace.
It was as if time had frozen in their absence: everything in town was exactly the same. Old Grandmamma sat, as usual, by the window, sunning herself, and the planter boxes were in full bloom with roses and sweetpeas. Kai and Gerda walked up all the staircases up to their respective garrets. There, they stood, locking eyes and facing one another, high above the bustling street. Had everything that had transpired only been an unquiet dream? Anyway, here they stood now, like ever before, as warmth and sunshine and the scent of flowers pervaded everything around them, from all directions.