Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) | Study Guide

Hans Christian Andersen

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Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) | The Snow Queen | Summary

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Summary

First Story: Which Has to Do with a Mirror and Its Fragments

A particularly horrible hobgoblin creates a large mirror that reflects everything that is good and beautiful as distorted and corrupted. Intent upon mischief, the mirror is carried all over the world and finally the hobgoblin's minions attempt to carry it up to heaven itself. But the higher they fly, the heavier the mirror becomes until it slips from their claws and crashes into millions of tiny pieces on Earth. There the mirror does even more damage, as the fragments fly into people's eyes so all they see is wrong. Even worse, some fragments lodge in their hearts, turning them as cold as ice.

Second Story: A Little Boy and a Little Girl

Two children, Kay and Gerda, are neighbors and best friends in the city. When winter comes, the grandmother tells them stories of the Snow Queen, who roams the earth turning everything into a fantasy of ice crystals. One night Kay sees a giant snowflake turn into a beautiful woman who beckons to him. When summer comes again, he and Gerda are in a rose garden when Kay feels one shard of the hobgoblin's mirror pierce his eye and another, his heart.

Almost at once, Kay turns cruel and careless, crushing some of the roses, which makes Gerda cry out. Pretty soon he's busy mocking everyone, interrupting grandmother's tales, and tormenting Gerda. At school, however, he is very clever at his studies. Winter comes again, and shunning his little playmate as childish, he runs off sledding with the other boys. He hitches his sled behind a magnificent white sled driven by a beautiful woman who is none other than the Snow Queen herself. Under her enchantment, Kay is forced to travel with her to her ice palace, where he remains her captive.

Third Story: The Flower Garden of the Woman Skilled in Magic

Heartbroken that her beloved playmate has disappeared, little Gerda determines to set out to find him and bring him home again. In an effort to discover his whereabouts, Gerda steps into a little boat and drifts down the river. She is taken out of the boat by an old woman who means to keep her as her own child, and there she stays content until she notices the garden of the old woman has no roses in it. Her tears bring forth a rosebush, which tells her little Kay is not dead. All the flowers in the garden tell her their stories, but outside the enchanted flower garden fall approaches, with winter not far behind. Gerda wastes no time in leaving to continue her search.

Fourth Story: The Prince and the Princess

Exhausted, hungry, and very cold, Gerda is guided by the forest crow to a nearby palace. The crow thinks perhaps Kay has gone there to marry a very clever princess. He has this information on the authority of his fiancé, the palace crow, and he takes Gerda there to see for herself. The prince and princess take pity on her, giving her food, warm clothes, and a carriage to drive in her search for Kay.

Fifth Story: The Little Robber Girl

It doesn't take long for Gerda's gilded carriage to attract the attention of robbers. The robbers kill everyone except Gerda and take all her new possessions for themselves. Gerda is spared because the robber girl takes a liking to her. She must stay as the robber girl's captive. Another captive of the robber girl is Bae, the reindeer. After Gerda tells her story, the wood pigeons tell her they saw Kay being carried off to the North by the Snow Queen. The robber girl takes pity on Gerda, dresses her warmly, and gives Bae to her as a guide into the frozen wastes of the North in search of Kay.

Sixth Story: The Lapp Woman and the Finn Woman

After a long journey, Bae and Gerda reach the home of the Lapp woman. She first listens to their story and then sends them on with a message to the Finn woman. To this woman they again tell the story of their travels to find Kay. Although the Finn woman knows the location of the Snow Queen's palace, she tells Bae the last part of the journey is one Gerda must make alone. Sadly, Bae takes her as far as he is able to go, but Gerda has forgotten to take her boots and must now make her way through snow and ice barefoot. With prayer and the comfort of angels, Gerda finally arrives at the Snow Queen's palace.

Seventh Story: What Happened in the Snow Queen's Palace and What Came of It

Meanwhile, Kay has been staying with the Snow Queen. He is blue with cold, but unaware of any discomfort. The Snow Queen leaves to visit some southern volcanoes, and Kay continues working a puzzle made of flat pieces of ice. Unimpeded, Gerda walks in and instantly recognizes Kay, even though he is unable to recognize her. She weeps over him, and her warm tears melt away the mirror shard in his heart. This causes Kay to weep also, which washes out the shard in his eye. Together they journey back toward home, finding many changes along the way. Bae has found himself a mate; the robber girl has set off on a journey; the prince and princess are off visiting new lands; and the forest crow has died, leaving his ladylove, the palace crow, a widow. Home again at last, Kay and Gerda greet the new roses of summer with joy in their hearts.

Analysis

Certainly the contrasts of ice and fire and the dramatic changes of season in Denmark were part of Andersen's childhood, and it was his father who, although too ill to work, showed Andersen how to warm pennies on the stove and press them against the frosted windowpanes. Andersen recounts that his father told him if he saw the Snow Queen, it meant she was coming to take his father away.

The story, however, can be read on levels beneath the literal one. In the tale Kay and Gerda make the journey from childhood to adulthood. While they remain joyful at the story's end, they have learned about the evils that lurk in the adult world. In Kay's case, he learns his own capacity for evil—one from which he is rescued by the love of a heroic woman.

As in other stories of Andersen's, purity is a virtue that can overcome evil. Furthermore, the brave, loving Gerda is such a powerful character various animals, people, and even the wicked little robber girl are compelled to help her. In contrast to Gerda, the Snow Queen's character has no resolution in the story. She is simply the embodiment of evil, who seemingly will continue to exist in the world after Gerda breaks her spell over Kay.

It has been suggested the character of the Snow Queen was based in part on the Swedish singer Jenny Lind (1820–87), whose "cold heart" never melted in response to Andersen's obsessive attentions.

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