Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Snow Queen

illustration by Miss Clara for La Reine des glaces Hans Christian Andersen, ed. Gautier-Languereau

Andersen, Hans Christian. Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales. Milo Winter, illustrator. Valdemar Paulsen, translator. Chicago: Rand McNally & Company, [c1916].

The Snow Queen by Debra McFarlane
The Pink Fairy Book
etching with aquatint

Art direction by Marcel Wanders and photography by Nicole Marnati. (via)

Illustration by Edmund Dulac for The Snow Queen By Hans Christian Andersen

You can read an annotated version of the Snow Queen Fairytale on Sur La Lune Fairytales. I watched Black Swan recently, which made me wonder about why the Snow Queen is depicted with geese (not swans?). Perhaps it was the deceptive mirrors which reminded me of the Snow Queen. I was thinking about her connection to the White Queen in C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The White Queen, who has a wintry realm (as the Snow Queen), also drives a sleigh and kidnaps a boy. In the Narnia books, she is later revealed as a descendant of Adam's first wife Lilith, made from earth like him, rather than a rib. Lilith claimed to be his equal and refused to submit to him. She appears in Jewish mythology. Her history is messy (from ancient Sumeria, through the Pre-Rafealites, wiccans, to modern feminist theory), debated and beyond my ken. Some claim her to be a daimon, succubus, a night spirit, screech owl or a conversely subverted mother goddess. C.S. Lewis' Lilith is half-djinn half-giantess. Like Lilith, the White Queen is the first to rebel, which makes for a particularly interesting, if loaded villain.

A young girl must travel to Svalbard (like The Snow Queen's Spitsbergen) to rescue a kidnapped boy, as in The Snow Queen, in The Golden Compass (or Northern Lights) by Philip Pullman. Incidentally, Pullman was no fan of the Narnia books. He lambastes him for sexism, racism, manipulative use of Christian imagery and rejection of sexuality (particularly in women like Susan, the adolescent who wants to grow up, but this ties clearly to Lilith as well). I read the entire Chronicles of Narnia seven times before the age of 12, and while I did think Lewis a good story teller - in fact, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was what first inspired me to read in English - as I grew older I did think that some of Lewis' ideas and theology insidiously seeped into my subconscious while I was unaware. The idea of not allowing a young woman to mature, or to embrace her sexuality, brings us full circle back to Black Swan. I wonder if I would have been a different sort of young person had I read His Dark Materials, rather than The Chronicles of Narnia.

One of the things that does attract me to The Snow Queen, is that for once, a little girl rescues a little boy.


  1. Hello, great blog. I'm also a scientist turned artist and work with glass (I made a jellyfish chandelier once), so I loved your post about glass too, and your prints.
    Strangely, this week I've been reading The Snow Queen, I went to see Black Swan AND The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and I had a conversation about the Golden Compass. You've brought all those things together in one post. I had the same thought about the similarities between the White Witch in the Narnia books & the Snow Queen. Pullman can too easily criticise CS Lewis for sexism, racism and overtly Christian imagery, because Pullman wrote his books in the 1990's and Lewis wrote his in the 1950's. In another 40 years, Pullman's attitudes will look equally dated. I'm off to check out your Mad Scientists of Etsy - can't resist!

  2. Hello, and thanks very much for your comment. I'm very interested in the cross-section of art and science and always glad to find people who have a passion for both. Jellyfish in particular make me want to learn to work with glass, and a jellyfish chadelier sounds perfectly apt.

    You make a very good point. Regardless of intentions, I'm sure that the cultural milieu will seep into any work of literature. Pullman complains that Lewis has imperialist attitudes, which could be argued about many works written at the same time and place. Though I do think Lewis a good story-teller, I can (now) see why Pullman might complain. It intrigues me to consider which ideas I might have absorbed unconsciously. It's also interesting to ponder what will look dated 40 years from now.



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