Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Snow Queen (Hans Christian Andersen, Digitally Remastered HD) by Hans Christian Andersen, Imagine Brothers (Illustrator), H.P. Paull (Translator)

Hans Christian Andersen wrote "The Snow Queen" in the early 1800s. The man has not left his footprints on the fairy tale genre, he's left troll prints. Big, fat, long-toed ones that make me wonder why I am even reviewing this tale. Reviewing a classic is like jumping into a bowl of jello at a Norwegian potluck. Or Tator Tot hot dish. We went to those a lot at my Lutheran church as a tot. Even my wedding reception was a potluck. (They don't do that any more which is too bad considering it makes for an affordable wedding.) Unless you've been to a potluck before, you won't get my humor. Fairy tales lose a bit of their historical context in the modern world. While "The Snow Queen" reads kind of fragmented and odd today, it was different from conventional 19th century fairy tales. For one thing, Andersen wrote using colloquial language and was considered as a writer that was not didactic. He wrote at a time when literature was shifting from being strict moral tales used to indoctrinate children to ones of amusement. He also had a religious bent to the ending of this fairy tale that seemed out-of-place, but represents the time he lived when it was commonly found in literature. On the one hand, this tale came across as somewhat moral and pious for me as a modern day reader, and on the other hand it was also fascinating and ambiguous.

Some parts seemed jarring and fragmented and for me to really understand this text I should compare it to another. Others I didn't particularly get, such as the robber girl. The scripture references at the end had me lost and yet, in the 1800s, the readers probably got his meaning right away. The historical context can be hard to understand, but with his universal themes that deal with common emotions Andersen's fairy tales continue to evolve as tales where readers gain a sense of value and place in a community. I did do some research and Andersen is known for inserting more details into his fairy tales than others at the time. He was immensely popular and successful. "The Snow Queen" is considered a more conventional fairy tale with a happy ending versus other works he did where the protagonist dies. I'll take a stab at the shards of seven stories or chapters that make up the whole piece.

A wicked hobgoblin or demon invented a mirror that made the good in the world shrink to nothing and the bad in it look monstrous. Amused by his mirror that distorted reality, he took it to school and had everyone see mankind in its true form. The demons at school carried the mirror to Heaven and dropped it to earth where it shattered into fragments causing humans afflicted with it unable to see any good in the world.

As I was researching this I found a reference book that said Erik Christian Haugaard was their favorite writer because he was fluent in Danish and English. They thought he captured the colloquial spirit of Hans Christian Andersen better than any other translator. I decided to read it and I am really amazed by the difference in the first chapter alone. There are more details so that the story makes sense and the dialogue is not stilted. In this translation, the evil troll is called the devil and he is headmaster at the troll school. He made a mirror that showed all that was good as evil and all that was evil as good. He was most amused when anyone had a kind thought and looked in the mirror because a horrible grin appeared on his or her face in the mirror. The troll told the students that a miracle had taken place and they could see the truth about humanity. They ran all over the earth with the mirror showing that everyone could be distorted in it. They decided to fly up to heaven and poke fun at the angels and God. As they went up to Heaven the mirror laughed so hard it vibrated and they dropped it. Wow. What a difference. Haugaard's translation is double in length compared to this one. I recommend that you buy his over this one. The transitions are much better and the dialogue explains parts better, resulting in a plot that makes sense. For one thing, the religious language makes way more sense.

Back to this translation. The second chapter shows Gerda and Kay as happy children before a shard of glass pierces his heart and a grain of sand ends in his eye. Kay sees nothing good or beautiful in life and is abducted by the Snow Queen. When she kisses him he forgets Gerda. He seems to represent the human emotion of grief or despair. The Snow Queen's abduction is kind of creepy. It seems that a psychoanalyst could have fun with this fairy tale. I'm not going to go there. Chapters 3-6 are Gerda's adventures to find Kay. She meets a witch with a garden where the flowers all tell her their own story. Gerda must decide if she is going to find her own story. She seems to be stuck with some indecision at this point. Later she meets a robber girl that wants her as a playmate but later decides to free her so she can continue her quest. I'm not sure if this signifies friendship or what changed the robber-girl's heart. Gerda gets help and direction from others and a crow going to the Snow Queen's palace. She meets nice people and mean people. She is pure of heart.

In the last chapter she meets Kay and weeps on him melting the ice in his heart and eye. He wonders how he ended up in such an empty and desolate place as the palace. I really like Andersen's image of Kay working the ice puzzle but not knowing what he was doing. What a great metaphor for so many things in life. Kay turns back to the happy boy he was before and the two head home. This seems to show the triumph over grief. Gerda's quest and her character is one of purity and loyalty. The two become magically grown at the end and the Grandma quotes some scripture. It sounds like when Jesus said you can't enter the kingdom of God unless you have the heart of children. Gerda seems to represent the innocence of childhood. That's why I didn't really get it that they were grown up and married.

The illustrations are gorgeous from many different artists. I particularly liked Edmund Dulac's work that has great details and a darkness to them that reflects the text. Kay Nielsen has a couple of pieces of artwork too that differ stylistically from the others. Her characters are elongated and she has a dreamy, surreal feel to her paintings. She's also not quite as detailed as Dulac and some others. There are some terrific monochromatic sketches and I admire the detailed work of Arthur Rackham. His watercolors are so vibrant and detailed. His sketches add humor and energy to the text as well. While this translation is fine, I think I would begin with one like Haugaard's to have a better understanding of what Andersen was trying to do. The end has author's notes that talk about different legends by Caroline Peachy. I liked the start and then didn't quite follow the end.

3 Smileys

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