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Skip to 0 minutes and 14 seconds The Snow Queen is Hans Christian Andersen’s greatest quest tale.No other tale of his is as close to being a regular romance. A little boy, Kay, is abducted by the Snow Queen. He is predisposed to come under her influence because he has been hit by shards from a certain broken mirror. His soul mate, the little girl Gerda, embarks on a quest in order to find him. After a number of unsuccessful attempts to find him she finally finds out where the castle of The Snow Queen is. She manages to get there and she rescues Kay. They return home where their grandmother is waiting for them. They are now adults, but, as we are told, still children at heart.

Skip to 1 minute and 1 second Many elements of the fairy tale are intact in this tale. We have got a supernatural being, the Snow Queen. The story begins at home. When Kay has been abducted, Gerda goes out into the wide world. Finally, she and Kay return home. On her way, Gerda finds several helpers, the crows, the Prince and the Princess, the little robber girl and the reindeer. But to what extent does she act like a proper heroine of a fairy tale? She embarks on a quest, of course, but how many obstacles does she overcome herself? Neither does she fight the antagonist in any kind of open battle. When she reaches the castle of the Snow Queen, the latter is not there at all. Why is that?

Skip to 1 minute and 52 seconds These questions are worth considering carefully. However, the first passage I would like you to focus on is this one, The Snow Queen Are you going to have the knife with you when you sleep? Gerda said and gave it a rather scared look. I always sleep with a knife! the little robber girl said. You never know what might happen. But say again what you told me about little Kay, and why you set out into the great wide world. And Gerda told her from the beginning, and the pigeons cooed up there in their cage, the other pigeons slept.

Skip to 2 minutes and 30 seconds The little robber girl placed her arm round Gerda’s neck, held the knife in the other hand and fell noisily asleep; but Gerda simply couldn’t close her eyes, she didn’t know if she was going to live or die. The robbers were sitting round the fire, singing and drinking, and the old robber woman was doing somersaults. Oh! it was quite terrible for the little girl to watch.

Skip to 3 minutes and 0 seconds Then the woodpigeons said Coo, coo!

Skip to 3 minutes and 4 seconds we’ve seen little Kay. A white hen bore his sledge, he sat in the Snow Queen’s carriage, which streaked down low above the forest where we lay in our nest; she blew on us young birds, and all of them died except the two of us two; coo! coo! What are you saying up there? Gerda called out, where was the Snow Queen heading? Do you know anything about that? She’s sure to have been on her way to Lapland, for there is always snow and ice there! just ask the reindeer who’s bound on the rope.

Skip to 3 minutes and 43 seconds There’s ice and snow there, it’s wonderful and marvellous there! the reindeer said; there you can run around freely in the vast gleaming valleys! there the snow queen has her summer tent, but her permanent palace is up near the North Pole, on the island they call Spitsbergen! Oh Kay, little Kay! Gerda sighed.

Skip to 4 minutes and 11 seconds This passage is an example of how Gerda a number of times persuade others to help her so that she can continue her quest. She tells her story so far. In this way the story becomes its own engine so to speak. This is just not a story about how Gerda rescues Kay. The story becomes the means by which Gerda rescues Kay. So while she is an innocent child, the story is very conscious about itself. Still, Gerda only finds the direction to follow by pure chance. It is a total coincidence that the pigeons overhear her telling her story to the robber girl. It was a total coincidence too that these two pigeons survived when the Snow Queen flew closely over their nest.

Skip to 4 minutes and 57 seconds What do you think is the significance of that? The second passage I would like you to focus on is this one, And the reindeer and the young reindeer ran alongside and followed them, right to the border of the country, where the first green signs of spring could be seen, where they said goodbye to the reindeer and the Lapp woman. Goodbye they all said to each other.

Skip to 5 minutes and 23 seconds And the first small birds started to chirp, the forest had light-green buds, and out of it on a magnificent horse, which Gerda knew (it had been hitched to the gold carriage), came a young girl with a shining red cap on her head and holding pistols in front of her, it was the little robber girl, who was bored with being at home and wanted to head northwards first and then in a different direction if that didn’t please her. She knew Gerda immediately and Gerda knew her and there was great happiness. You’re a fine fellow to go traipsing around! she said to little Kay; I wonder if you’re worth running to the ends of the world for!

Skip to 6 minutes and 12 seconds But Gerda patted her on her cheek, and asked about the prince and princess. So, why does Gerda not answer the robber girl’s question about Kay? Why does she only pat her on her chin?

Skip to 6 minutes and 29 seconds The final passage I would like you to consider is this one, Kay and Gerda walked hand in hand, and as they walked along, it was a wonderful spring with flowers and greenness everywhere; the church bells rang, and they knew the tall towers, the great city, that was where they lived, and they entered it and went to grandmother’s door, up the stairs, into the living room, where everything stood just

Skip to 6 minutes and 58 seconds as before, and the clock said: tick, tock and the hands turned round; but as they went through the door, they noticed that they had become adults. The roses from the gutter bloomed in at the open windows, and there were the small children’s chairs, and Kay and Gerda sat down on them and held each other’s hands, they had forgotten like some heavy dream the cold empty magnificence of the Snow Queen’s palace. Grandmother was sitting in God’s bright sunshine and was reading out loud from the Bible, Unless you become as little children, you will not enter the kingdom of Heaven!

Skip to 7 minutes and 48 seconds And Kay and Gerda looked into each other’s eyes, and suddenly they understood the old hymn, The roses are in blossom in the vale; There the Christ child too speaks without fail.

Skip to 8 minutes and 8 seconds There they sat, two grown-ups and yet children, children at heart, and it was summer, warm, wonderful summer. Is it a satisfactory end to a fairy tale that Kay and Gerda return to the same home? To what extent do you think that reflects a genuine development or maturation? I hope you have enjoyed listening to the passages from The Snow Queen and that you find the questions worth thinking about.

The strange quest in ’The Snow Queen’

‘The Snow Queen’ (1845) which is one of Hans Christian Andersen’s longest and most complex fairy tales touches upon themes associated with both modernity and a Christian view of human life.

To explore these, please watch the video above. In this video Professor Jacob Bøggild will point out the main similarities and differences between Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale and the genre expectations you have already been introduced to in Weeks 2 and 3 of the course. Andersen’s treatment of the genre in this particular case raises questions about the meaning of the different parts of the heroine’s quest. In addition, Jacob will reflect upon the way ‘The Snow Queen’ raises questions about itself.

You will also hear storyteller Kari Brinch read extracts from The Snow Queen. She will read three text passages that might be important for the analysis and interpretation of the text.

While watching the video, you might consider the following questions:

  • Is the little girl Gerda a typical fairy tale heroine?
  • How does she overcome the obstacles she is faced with in the wide world?
  • Is the ending of ‘The Snow Queen’ typical for the fairy tale genre?

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This video is from the free online course:

Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales

Hans Christian Andersen Centre