"The Snow Queen" (Danish: "Sneedronningen") is a children's fantasy story by Hans Christian Andersen. It first appeared n print on December 21, 1844 as part of the anthology New Fairy Tales First Volume Second Collection 1845. It is one of Andersen's longest works. It is divided into seven sections, which may be called "chapters", "parts" or "stories" depending on the translation. "The Snow Queen" is also one of Andersen's best known and most popular tales, often appearing in anthologies of children's stories.
The main characters in the story are two friends, a boy named Kay and a girl named Gerda. After tiny fragments of a magic mirror become lodged in one of Kay's eyes and his heart, his personality begins to change and he starts to turn cold. It then becomes easy for the Snow Queen, who rules over snowflakes as a queen bee rules over bees, to abduct the boy. Kay is carried off to the Snow Queen's faraway palace. Gerda goes off on a long quest in search of her friend and has many adventures along the way.
There have been numerous adaptations of the story to other media, including live-action and animated films and television programs, stage plays, musicals, operas and ballets. "The Snow Queen" is also likely to have influenced C.S. Lewis in the writing of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the creation of the character of the White Witch.
A wicked troll (possibly the Devil himself) creates a magic mirror. The mirror's distorted reflections make everything which is good or beautiful appear small and insignificant. Everything which is evil or ugly appears greatly magnified in the mirror. A group of trolls take the mirror around the world. After all the people on Earth have been made to look at their hideously distorted reflections, the trolls decide to take the mirror up to Heaven and make the angels gaze into it also. However, as the trolls get closer to Heaven and God, the mirror begins to shake violently before breaking into millions of pieces. Each of the pieces retains the same power which the complete mirror once had. Some of the pieces are as small as a grain of sand and are carried by winds around the world. If people get one of those tiny pieces of magic mirror stuck in one of their eyes, they see the world as a horribly ugly place. If a piece of the magic mirror gets stuck in someone's heart, it makes that person become hard-hearted and cold.
The boy Kay and the girl Gerda love each other as if they were brother and sister. They are neighbors who live in two adjoining attic rooms. In the summer, they are able to visit each other's homes by going through the open windows. Neither Kay's nor Gerda's families have gardens but they both have beautiful roses growing in boxes. In the winter, Gerda's grandmother tells them stories. She tells them that snowflakes are white bees. Kay asks if, like other bees, they have a queen. Gerda's grandmother answers that they do. She says that the Snow Queen is the one who makes strange icy patterns appear on windows by blowing on them with her frosty breath. Kay boasts that he would melt the Snow Queen on the hot stove if she came inside. However, later that evening, Kay is frightened when he sees the Snow Queen at the window. Although he finds her beautiful, Kay also finds the Snow Queen terrifying due to her icy appearance.
The following spring, while Kay and Gerda are playing together at Gerda's house, two tiny pieces of the troll's magic mirror are blown into one of Kay's eyes and his heart. At first, Kay complains about the pain but he soon tells Gerda to stop fussing over him. He then declares that there is a bug in one of Gerda's roses and that all of the roses and the box which contains them are ugly. He destroys the roses and their box before going home. After that day, Kay's personality begins to change. He is no longer interested in Gerda's grandmother's stories and begins to mock the old woman. He also becomes less interested in playing with Gerda and more interested in playing with other boys.
One winter's day, Kay announces that he is going to go sledding in the town square with other boys. Some of the boys tie their sleds to the back of large sleighs and are carried along by them for a while. Kay does likewise. He ties his sled to the back of a large white sleigh. The sleigh then starts to move very quickly, carrying Kay far outside of the town. Kay tries to untie his sled from the back of the sleigh but cannot do so. He then sees that the driver of the sleigh is the Snow Queen herself. The Snow Queen tells Kay to join her in the sleigh and warm himself under her bearskin. She kisses Kay and he no longer feels the cold. When the Snow Queen kisses Kay a second time, he forgets all about Gerda and her grandmother and his former life. The sleigh ride continues and Kay is taken far away from his home.
Rumors begin to circulate that Kay has drowned in the river outside of town. In the spring, Gerda decides to look for him. She puts on her new red shoes and goes to the riverbank. She says that she will offer her shoes to the river if it will give back Kay. She throws her shoes into the water but they float back to her. Gerda reasons that she did not throw her shoes into deep enough water. She gets into a boat to go further out onto the river. The boat gets carried off by the river, taking Gerda far away from her home. After several hours, the boat stops at a house with a large garden.
The house and garden belong to an old woman who walks with a crutch and whose hat has pictures of flowers painted on it. The old woman helps Gerda out of the boat and takes her inside. Gerda tells the old woman all about herself and about Kay. Gerda is told by the old woman that Kay will probably pass by her house soon and that she can stay there until he does. The old woman is a witch but not a wicked one. She wants Gerda to stay with her simply because she likes her company. Under the witch's influence, Gerda also begins to forget about her grandmother, Kay and her former life. To prevent Gerda from being reminded of Kay, the witch makes all the roses in her garden disappear underground. However, she forgets to remove the painted rose on her hat. In the witch's garden, plants from all over the world which usually flower at different times of the year are all in full bloom at the same time. Gerda soon becomes familiar with all the flowers in the garden but cannot help thinking that there is one missing. One day, she notices the painted rose on the witch's hat. She immediately remembers Kay and goes out into the garden to cry. Her tears fall where a rosebush had been. The rosebush magically comes out of the ground again. Gerda asks the magical roses if they have seen Kay. They answer that they have not but he must still be alive. The roses say that they did not see Kay when they were underground among the dead. Gerda leaves the witch's house to continue searching for Kay. She realizes that she has been with the witch for a long time because it is already autumn.
A raven greets Gerda. She asks the bird if he has seen Kay. The raven answers that he might have. The princess has recently married a handsome and clever young man. She was determined only to marry someone who could answer every question sensibly. find Gerda is certain that the new prince is Kay because Kay is a very clever boy. The raven's sweetheart is a tame raven who lives at the palace. With the two birds' help, that evening, Gerda is able to sneak into the palace and into the bedroom of the prince and princess. When Gerda wakes up the prince, she sees that he is not Kay. The prince and princess take pity on Gerda. She is told that she can stay with them at the palace but she prefers to continue looking for Kay. She is given new clothes and a golden carriage with a coachman, a footman and other attendants.
Unfortunately, when the golden carriage enters a forest, it is attacked by robbers. The coachman, footman and other attendants are all killed. Gerda only escapes being killed because a robber girl decides that she wants her to be her friend. The robber girl asks Gerda if she is a princess. She answers that she is not and tells the robber girl all about herself and about Kay. Gerda and the robber girl go off in the golden carriage to a ruined castle where the robbers live. The robber girl shows Gerda some wood pigeons and a reindeer which she says are her pets. She makes Gerda repeat everything which she said before about herself and about Kay. When the robber girl is asleep, the wood pigeons tell Gerda that they saw Kay being carried off by the Snow Queen. They say that he must have been taken to Lapland, where snow and ice stay on the ground all year and where the Snow Queen has her summer home. The reindeer, who was born in Lapland, confirms this.
In the morning, Gerda repeats everything which the wood pigeons and the reindeer told her about Kay and the Snow Queen. The robber girl allows Gerda to escape by riding on the back of the reindeer. She is able to do this because the male robbers are all away and the robber girl's mother has fallen into a drunken stupor.
When Gerda and the reindeer arrive in Lapland, they are told that the Snow Queen has gone to Finland. They are told to seek help from the wise woman who lives in Finland. The wise woman knows that Kay is in the Snow Queen's palace, which is only two miles away. The Snow Queen is able to keep him there because of the pieces of the magic mirror in his eye and his heart. The reindeer asks the wise woman to give Gerda a potion that would give her the strength of twelve men. The wise woman refuses. She says that Gerda already has a great power which comes from her love and innocence. It is thanks to that power that many people and animals have helped Gerda. The same power will also allow Gerda to enter the Snow Queen's palace. The wise woman tells the reindeer to carry Gerda to the Snow Queen's garden and leave her there.
When Gerda approaches the Snow Queen's palace, gigantic snowflakes appear. The snowflakes, which are the Snow Queen's guards, take on the form of bears, snakes and other monstrous creatures. Gerda starts to pray. As she prays, her breath becomes vapor and the vapor becomes angels. The angels attack and destroy the Snow Queen's guards. Gerda is able to enter the Snow Queen's palace.
The Snow Queen has gone to Italy, leaving Kay in the palace alone. As usual, Kay is amusing himself by forming words out of pieces of ice. Kay has never been able to form the word "eternity". The Snow Queen has told him that she would give him his freedom if he could make that word. Gerda is overjoyed to see Kay again but he ignores her and carries on trying to make words out of pieces of ice. Gerda cries. Her tears fall onto Kay's chest, thawing the piece of magic mirror in his heart. Kay then recognizes Gerda. He cries too and the piece of magic mirror falls out of his eye with his tears. The pieces of ice magically form the word "eternity" by themselves. Kay knows that he is free to leave and that the Snow Queen would not be able to stop him.
By the summer, Kay and Gerda have returned home. They find that Gerda's grandmother is still there and that their old homes are unchanged. Kay and Gerda themselves, however, are no longer children but are full grown adults.
- ↑ Similarly, in Hans Christian Andersen's 1855 short story "Clumsy Hans", a princess declares that she will only marry the man who can speak best for himself. In both "The Snow Queen" and "Clumsy Hans", most of the princess' suitors find themselves incapable of speech when she calls upon them.
- Text of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen" in Danish and English on Wikisource.
- The Snow Queen and Other Stories, free public domain audiobook from LibriVox.
- "The Snow Queen" on Sur la Lune Fairy Tales.com.