The Cold Bothers Her
by Teresa Martin @Teresa__Martin
The Snow Queen is the fairy tale on which Frozen is loosely based and will be the focus of the arc for Season Four A of Once Upon A Time. The original story by Hans Christian Andersen is a heavily pious, Christian narrative of the Devil, his servant the Snow Queen, and two children who become the victims and ultimately victors over a spiritual assault. In true Andersen fashion, the narrative focuses on children as the spiritually strong, having within them the ability to see truth and beauty, and hence able to conquer. The fairy tale begins with a troll who is the most traditional villain and sparks the
He was the very worst—the ‘devil’ himself. One day he was in a really good
mood, For he had just finished making a mirror that could shrink the image of
whatever was good and beautiful down to almost nothing, while anything
worthless and ugly was magnified and would look even worse.
The mirror would actually laugh whenever in the face of piety. But as in the myth told in The Bible, all was fun and games with the mirror until the demons got the urge to
…Fly all the way up to heaven to make fun of the angels and of God himself.
The higher they flew with the mirror, the more it chuckled until finally they
could barely hold onto it. They flew higher and higher, closer to God and the
angels, but suddenly the mirror shook so hard with laughter that it flew out of
their hands and crashed down to earth, where it shattered in into a hundred
million billion pieces and even more than that (Andersen, 19).
The particles from the mirror scatter all over the world. There are different effects on people depending on where pieces land. The most apparent effect comes from the mirror as a symbol of truth, and hence, when it shatters, truth is shattered. A piece of it gets in the eye, so that perception of what was true and good is distorted. It “made everything looks bad or else it only let you see what was wrong with things.” The worst though was when it went to a person’s heart for “their hearts became as cold as a chunk of ice” (Andersen, 22). Maria Tatar, a master contemporary critic of fairy tales, sees the Devil in this story as “a kind of artistic Anti-Christ whose art consists in finding truth . . . through criticism and satiric distortion.” As a result, this splintering is “the opposite of love, a power that unites and overcomes oppositions and antagonism.” Tatar further elaborates in her commentary that “for many theologians, the devil is seen as the being that divides and creates enmity . . . The transition from plentitude and wholeness to division and sin reveals the action of evil in the world. God’s creation is shattered and atomizes into isolated fragments and creates Hell on Earth” (Andersen, 22).
Into the story come two children, Gerda and Kai. This little boy and girl become friends, their homes sharing herbs and rosebushes. Herbs stand for natural forces of good and evil because of their ability to heal or kill (Cirlot, 144). The roses especially connect the children in their struggle. Roses are a symbol for great beauty as well as great pain: the thorns. Moreover, and applicable to Andersen’s tale, are that they are used traditionally to symbolize the Passion of Jesus, the journey made by Him that all of His followers are called to follow. Often this is called the Christian’s Way of the Cross, or Via Dolorosa (Latin for “Way of Sorrows” or also translated “Grief” or “Suffering”). Literally, this is the name of the road on which Jesus struggled in Jerusalem. The children, especially Gerda, take this journey in “The Snow Queen” to the bitter yet happy ending.
It is begun when Gerda and Kai stand in front of the roses which were “unusually beautiful.” Here they sing a hymn:
Down in the valley, where wild roses grow wild
There we can speak with our dearest Christ child.
Then, “the children held hands, kissed the roses, and looked up at God’s clear sunshine, speaking to it as if the Christ Child were right there. The summer days were glorious, and it was heavenly to be outdoors near the fragrant rose bushes, which never seemed to stop blooming” (Andersen, 27-28). Tatar describes “God’s great sunshine” as symbols of “warmth, clarity and divine powers” set “in opposition to ice, chill, bewilderment and diabolical forces” (Andersen, 27).
The stage is set. Let the battle begin!
And it does. The Snow Queen had already made a first move the previous winter. Kai had seen the villain the evening after Gerda’s Grandmother told them of her. She had said that The Snow Queen is “Queen Bee” of the snow bees: the cluster of snowflakes that appears as bees, those beautiful creatures that work with nature, but also have a terrible sting. The Queen travels at night through the streets to look into the windows of peoples’ homes. In response to the story, Kai had cried out a challenge to The Snow Queen. As if in response, she visited outside his window and beckoned, disturbing him. Months later, during the following summer, Kai is touched by a shard from the demonic mirror, crying out that he feels he has been stung. The shard strikes his heart, and a piece lodges in his eye. He immediately starts to see everything as ugly, including his friend, but most notably the rosebush which he calls “digusting” and he kicks the boxes in which the roses grow. He then starts insulting the stories Gerda likes calling them “for babies,” and makes fun of the kindly grandmother. Curiously, some praise Kai for his insight by mocking anything “odd or unappealing,” even saying “That boy must have a good head on his shoulders” (Andersen, 29). Others have been afflicted too.
When winter returns again, Kai shows an unusual interest in snowflakes. He uses a magnifying glass to see them better and finds beauty there, for indeed they were “lovely to look at.” Kai then cruelly says to Gerda, “They’re far more interesting to look at than real flowers! They have no flaws at all, and they’re absolutely perfect, as long as they don’t melt.” Tatar comments that ”Mirrors, glass, magnifying glasses, and window-panes form a symbolic nexus of hard, sometimes transparent substances that seem to heighten understanding and consciousness but in fact also impede it.” They are things of “arresting beauty but sinister power” (Andersen, 27).
Beautiful, so long as they do not melt.
And melt snowflakes do in nature. Remarkably fast.
Soon after, Kai is kidnapped by the Snow Queen who is now beautiful to him, and they fly away during a storm. People assume that Kai is dead. However “sunshine” tells Gerda that this is not true. She puts on her best shoes, red-colored, and sets out to save her friend. Before she can leave to begin her journey though, she has to sacrifice these beautiful shoes. Tatar calls this a “sign of both vulnerability and vitality” (Andersen, 27). Gerda is, and has, both. Her first trial is being taken by an Old Woman who wants her for her own and bewitches her to forget Kai, not out of spite, but loneliness. However, the woman becomes concerned when Gerda goes into the garden since roses will help her remember. Knowing she can’t keep Gerda from flowers, she decides to surround her with every bloom except roses. This disconcerts Gerda for she feels their absence, yet she cannot name them. That is, until the Old Woman accidently wears a hat with a rose on it. Gerda then bursts out, “Why are there no roses here?” and she dissolves into tears. These tears “water the earth” at a point where a rosebush had been removed and cause it to bloom again leading Gerda to remember Kai. The roses speak to her then, letting her know that her friend is not dead, and the other flowers help to bring to memory the rest of who she is. She leaves barefoot and so her feet become “tender and sore, and everything around her was so cold and raw” (Andersen, 42).
Her Passion continues.
Next, Gerda comes upon a Prince and Princess who are able to tell her they saw Kai going into the castle of the Snow Queen. Here she sets out again, being given a carriage, a horse and a pair of boots—the items she needs to physically continue her journey. She meets up with others who help her. When she loses her transport, she is given a reindeer to ride who with joy cries out when he sees the Northern Lights, and takes Gerda closer to her goal. They come across “an old Lapp woman” and “the Finn woman” who Tatar points out are symbols of the “wise woman”, and the reindeer begs them to help Gerda. The Finn Woman reveals that Kai has a glass splinter in his heart and eye, allowing Gerda to see that to which is facing. Then the reindeer asks, “Can’t you give Gerda something to drink that will make her more powerful than the Snow Queen?” The Lapp woman replies:
I can’t give her more power than she already has. Don’t you see how much she
possesses? Haven’t you noticed how man and beast alike want to help her? Look
how far she’s come in this wide world on those bare feet! But we mustn’t tell her
about her power. Her strength lies deep in her heart, for she is a sweet
innocent child (Andersen, 57-59).
Finally, Gerda makes it to the Snow Queen’s Castle, but once again she has lost her shoes, her mittens, everything that protects her from the cold. She gets attacked, vulnerable, by a storm of living snowflakes, guards which the Snow Queen has around her fortress. Gerda then begins to say prayers and the breath from her words turn into angels that repel the attack allowing her to continue. The storm winds also die and she enters, only to find that Kai has “grown blue from the cold—in fact he had almost turned black . . . and looked like someone who had frozen to death” (Andersen, 62-63). Gerda embraces her friend, weeping, her tears falling onto him thus melting the ice in his eyes and heart. In that moment she sings the Christ Child hymn to him once more, the one that connected them with the roses. Kai also cries, washing away the last of the shards. They embrace. Gerda kisses his cheek, eyes, hands, feet and he becomes whole. Tatar here notes that kisses mean “compassion, romance, and redemption” (Andersen, 67). The children leave together “hand in hand” and speak of the rosebushes. The reindeer carries them away and they are given supplies by the wise women. They arrive home where the church bells are ringing and the land has turned to Spring. They go to Grandmother’s and upon entering they see that they have been turned into adults. Moreover, they are surrounded by roses.
As grown-ups they sit in their childhood chairs. The Snow Queen and the evil they had faced was “a bad dream” to them now. The story ends with Grandmother “sitting in God’s bright sunshine and reading out loud from the Bible:
‘Unless you become as little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of God.‘ And
Kai and Gerda looked into each other’s eyes, and suddenly they understood the
old hymn ‘Down in the valley, where roses grow wild/There we can speak with
our dearest Christ Child!’ There they sat, and they were grown-ups and children
at the same time, children at heart. And it was summer— warm, wonderful
summer (Andersen, 68).
It is not that the cold did not bother them, but in the end, it didn’t bother them enough, for they were able to defeat what threatened them.
“The Snow Queen”, like other Andersen tales, is frighteningly adult and decidedly different than Frozen in the characters and plot, but not as altered in themes as one might think. Elsa, loosely corresponding to Kai, has been afflicted with something, that much is clear. Her powers didn’t come from the Easter Bunny though, and Anna, corresponding to Gerda, does not share that affliction. It is not genetic. However, given the that Elizabeth Mitchell’s character will likely be The Snow Queen on Once, it will probably be revealed that at one point Elsa’s power to freeze things was imposed on her, perhaps even with an encounter similar to Kai’s. With Kai, however, it was his soul that was damaged. He was not given any powers. He was attacked and abducted by an evil force, a minion of the Devil, who hurts goodness out of mockery and spite. That was the goal until itself. Elsa, in contrast, was given a “frozen” power, but retains her purity of soul. It is how others react to her power that causes her grief and self-inflicted estrangement from her sister Anna. Elsa chooses to leave the kingdom out of fear for what she can do, she is not kidnapped. Anna however, like Gerda, is an innocent soul full of love, so she will not let her sister just leave. She seeks her out because she loves her. She is her sister, as Kai is Gerda’s brother in friendship. Anna’s journey includes assistance from a reindeer, a snowman, as well as a pure soul, Kristoff. The evil character, Hans, is one who, like the snowflakes in the fairy tale, looks pleasing at first, but is cold, out to take away what was good in the royal family—motivated by power and, like the Devil, a usurper.
In her exile, Elsa builds her castle in a moment of liberation where she sings “Let it Go,” but all is not truly let go. Though she slams the door singing, “the cold never bothered me anyway,” the lie in that is illustrated by her great sorrow when Anna finds her. This is the moment in which Elsa is closest to Andersen’ s Snow Queen as she afflicts Anna’s heart, but not out of spite or jealousy. It is by accident. Later, her love and tears, like Gerda’s, free her dearest one from the curse of the ice-cold heart. The triumph of Elsa, the beauty of her ability and the healing within, is shown as the movie ends when she happily creates an ice-rink that all her subjects enjoy.
There has been a lot of speculation about for what Elsa’s plight is a metaphor, but like any classic, and Frozen will be a classic, Elsa’s plight is universal enough that it can stand for the stigmatisms that all experience at least once is their lives. Everyone is Elsa. What the stigmatism is and the degree of the price paid for being who one is varies with the ever shifting, malleable winds of popular opinion which dictate “acceptable” prejudices and the unacceptable. The “devil” indeed laughs his way through the hurt inflicted on the Elsas. No ideology is immune to these traps. Targeting, isolating, shaming and other bully tactics are epidemic and shockingly acceptable in popular culture if the “correct” person is doing it. And it hurts. The cold bothers. Sometimes a shard stings, sometimes just dulls after years, and sometimes it returns again and again and again and again bringing death in its wake.
Yet there is always a light in darkness, and that is the point which Frozen accomplishes. As long as light is there, somewhere sometime, there is always hope that the hatred and death heaped upon the Elsas will turn into the glorious beauty she is surrounded with at the movie’s conclusion.
As it was with Gerda.
The thorns bring the roses.
It has always been thus, and always will be.
So bring on The Snow Queen!
Bring her on to Once Upon A Time, and bring her on indeed!
Sadly for our beloved characters, Season Three B left this villain fertile ground to thrive, especially the finale.
Storybrooke has from the beginning been a town where fairy tales live on Earth, and Andersen’s fairy tale speaks of Hell brought onto earth. Like Andersen, Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis, and writer of the fantasy series, The Narnia Chronicles, brought his faith into his stories and also wrote a great deal of what Hell looks like on Earth. His most potent work on this topic is The Screwtape Letters in which he wrote:
I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of ‘Admin.’ The greatest evil is not now done
in those sordid ‘dens of crime’ that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in
concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is
conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted,
warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails
and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices. Hence, naturally
enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or
the office of a thoroughly nasty business concern.
Lewis’ world was the age of The Holocaust and the terrors of The Soviet Union, Hell on Earth if ever there was one. J.R.R. Tolkien also saw the same great evils of the early Twentieth Century, and, like Andersen and Lewis, held to this blending of Christian-inspired struggle with fantasy writing. These views indisputably hold a strong influence on the development of the fairy tale and fantasy genre, and hence great themes seen in Once. One writes what one knows. So Tolkien naturally wrote in his Catholic masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings: “All that is gold does not glitter.”
Good is harder to see than glitter, and the eyes, if invaded, can deceive. It can glitter, but it is not good.
And Storybrooke, full of the trappings of bureaucracy and business models, has frozen over.
Hell is here!
One character that is surprisingly vulnerable to this invasion is Emma. She has always glittered, but for the first time, the present arc shows she is not always gold. She possesses a shocking flaw in her: a defensiveness and bitterness towards her plight. Emma’s is a self-inflicted curse, her own shard of mirror in the eye that keeps her from seeing what is good around her. The “devil” also makes small flaws in oneself magnified and it is easy to devolve into self-hatred. Emma in many ways has hated herself as much as her situations. Neal’s betrayal in “Tallahassee” merely sealed it. Yet up until the Season Three Finale, the consequences were not dire. But this time they are deadly serious. Emma brought Hell to Storybrooke. She broke the laws of the entire Universe by changing time, and though she acted out of good intentions, that do not make them right. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” is not an expression for nothing. Belle told Rumplestiltskin something similar. Good intentions do not excuse wrong choices. G.K. Chesterton said, “do not tear down a wall until you know why it was built,” and Emma messed with the ultimate wall. Natural Law is Natural Law. And for the love of everything if she wasn’t ready to listen to Aristotle, could she at least have remembered what Harry Potter’s Hermione said about terrible things happening to those who change Time?
Emma would say that she didn’t mean to do it, just as she didn’t mean to dabble in time, destroying Regina, Robin and Roland’s healed lives. She arguably even destroyed Maid Marian’s life by depriving her of her fated death which brought her family pain, but also left them fond memories. Through this hurt, great light came. A Second Chance. A new love for Robin and a new mother for Roland. This was taken from them. Emma also harmed herself, for playing with the past, following her “good intentions,” has now put her into the horrific position of being Maid Marian’s judge, jury, and, tragically, if Time takes revenge, executioner. When this happens, Regina will not be Marian’s killer . . . Emma will be! She has become the Evil Queen. And even though she resolved her estrangement from her parents at the end of the finale, the hurt in Snow and Charming’s eyes every time she said that things were better for her and Henry in New York is difficult to forget, and the emotions from it linger. Even Hook’s pain, from a rather hardened soul, was hard to see. The havoc that began from Emma’s distorted views, and yes, her pride, caused her to not even see what was before her eyes: home.
And it hurt.
But this is not to suggest that Emma is an evil character . . . far from it. No more than Kai was. And as Andersen’s children were victorious, so will Emma be. For she did learn a lot about herself in “There’s No Place Like Home.” She was a child, both with her tantrum, leaving the diner at Granny’s, and with her return to her parents, calling them “Mom and Dad.” She grew up in The Enchanted Forest and like Gerda and Kai, she will likely discover even more how her hardness of heart, well-earned indeed from a sad childhood, is actually that tiny speck of ice which once planted, sometime in her past, must be washed completely away, perhaps in an act of reparation for what she brought to Storybrooke. Yet “Letting it Go” isn’t so easy when one carries a lot of emotional baggage. How Elsa will figure in all this moral mess is a plot development rightly bringing anticipation among fans. But more than hinted by the writers is that Elsa, with her insight, and Emma, as she continues to grow, will fight The Snow Queen together, along with the other characters. Their struggle facing the cold--Regina and her shattered new family, fragile newlyweds Rumplestiltskin and Belle, and lastly, everybody’s rock, the dear Charming family--has unimaginable potential for a mid-season finale to knock fans’ socks off.
The cold does bother them.
The roses for now are gone.
But Spring will come.
And then as both “children and grown-ups together” within reach will be Andersen’s “warm, wonderful summer.”
If they have but the courage to believe in it.
Andersen, H. C., and Maria Tatar. The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008. Print.
Cirlot, J.E. A Dictionary of Symbols, Second Edition. Taylor and Francis e-Library, 2001.
Lewis, C. S., and C. S. Lewis. Preface. The Screwtape Letters: With Screwtape Proposes a Toast. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.Print.
Tolkien, J. R. R. Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings. London: Collins, 2001. Print.
Explore the Arthurian legend surrounding Lancelot, take a trip into the woods to discover the mythology behind Red Riding Hood or learn more about a modern day hero called Snow White. Origins provides unique insights and perspectives from talented writers into the characters we know and love, going far beyond the boundaries of Storybrooke.