Friday, September 23, 2005

The Snow Queen, and more

I did re-read Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen and, while I'm sure I could read many other fairytales in ways that tell me about my world, this one suits me well.

One translation begins simply: "When we are at the end of the story, we shall know more than we know now." Words to live by.

From Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen (from the first part, of seven):
You must attend to the commencement of this story, for when we get to the end we shall know more than we do now about a very wicked hobgoblin; he was one of the very worst, for he was a real demon. One day, when he was in a merry mood, he made a looking-glass which had the power of making everything good or beautiful that was reflected in it almost shrink to nothing, while everything that was worthless and bad looked increased in size and worse than ever. The most lovely landscapes appeared like boiled spinach, and the people became hideous, and looked as if they stood on their heads and had no bodies. Their countenances were so distorted that no one could recognize them, and even one freckle on the face appeared to spread over the whole of the nose and mouth. The demon said this was very amusing. When a good or pious thought passed through the mind of any one it was misrepresented in the glass; and then how the demon laughed at his cunning invention. All who went to the demon’s school — for he kept a school — talked everywhere of the wonders they had seen, and declared that people could now, for the first time, see what the world and mankind were really like. They carried the glass about everywhere, till at last there was not a land nor a people who had not been looked at through this distorted mirror. They wanted even to fly with it up to heaven to see the angels, but the higher they flew the more slippery the glass became, and they could scarcely hold it, till at last it slipped from their hands, fell to the earth, and was broken into millions of pieces. But now the looking-glass caused more unhappiness than ever, for some of the fragments were not so large as a grain of sand, and they flew about the world into every country. When one of these tiny atoms flew into a person’s eye, it stuck there unknown to him, and from that moment he saw everything through a distorted medium, or could see only the worst side of what he looked at, for even the smallest fragment retained the same power which had belonged to the whole mirror. Some few persons even got a fragment of the looking-glass in their hearts, and this was very terrible, for their hearts became cold like a lump of ice. A few of the pieces were so large that they could be used as window-panes; it would have been a sad thing to look at our friends through them. Other pieces were made into spectacles; this was dreadful for those who wore them, for they could see nothing either rightly or justly. At all this the wicked demon laughed till his sides shook—it tickled him so to see the mischief he had done. There were still a number of these little fragments of glass floating about in the air, and now you shall hear what happened with one of them.

That's the version I pulled off my shelf yesterday. The Polish version, unsurprisingly, maintains the same references to angels; the demon nears not only the heavens, but God himself. But checking another English edition (yes, I have many books of fairytales) I find the demon is a wicked magician, the "grins" in the mirror are "wrinkles." Elsewhere a goblin. Yet another secular version (online) features a wicked sprite who flies up to the stars.

I note now that the demon keeps a school. Their "education" is filtered. Know thy source.

How it frames my worldview:
That people are inherently good. Evil acts have an external source, in experience and environment.
That when one loses focus, strays from one's task, it is owing to treachery and deceit. Even then, the heart remains true.
That everyone, everything (the river, the flowers, the sparrows), "knows" things, but we cannot expect them to know things beyond their experience.
The power of tears to clear one's vision.

The seductive power of snow. The witch of that book with the lion and the wardrobe is surely based in this queen.

The universal experience of reading The Snow Queen (from Deborah Eisenberg as quoted here):
The febrile clarity and propulsion [of the story] is accomplished at the expense of the reader's nerves. Especially taxing are the claims on the reader by both Kay and Gerda. Who has not, like Gerda, been exiled from the familiar comforts of one's world by the departure or defection of a beloved?

And what child has not been confounded by the daily employment of impossible obstacles and challenges? Who has not been forced to accede to a longing that nothing but its object can allay? On the other hand, who has not experienced some measure or some element of Kay's despair? Who has not, at one time or another, been paralyzed and estranged as his appetite and affection for life leaches away? . . . Who has not, at least briefly, retreated into a shining hermetic fortress from which the rest of the world appears frozen and colorless? Who has not courted an annihilating involvement? Who has not mistaken intensity for significance? What devotee of art has not been denied art's blessing? And who, withholding sympathy from his unworthy self, has not been ennobled by the sympathy of a loving friend?

How it ends:
But Gerda and Kay went hand-in-hand towards home . . . They went upstairs into the little room, where all looked just as it used to do. The old clock was going “tick, tick,” and the hands pointed to the time of day, but as they passed through the door into the room they perceived that they were both grown up, and become a man and woman. . . And they both sat there, grown up, yet children at heart; and it was summer, — warm, beautiful summer.

Someone else's Snow Queen life.

More on Little Red Riding Hood:
Beauty, horror, wonders, violence, and magic have always tumbled thick and fast through fairy tales. Folk raconteurs gave their audiences what they wanted, indulging the desire for audacious eroticism, hyperbolic fantasies, and casual cruelty. For those gathered around the hearth, Little Red Riding Hood was not necessarily an innocent who strays from the forest path. In tales that formed part of an adult storytelling culture in premodern France, she unwittingly feasts on the flesh and blood of her grandmother, performs an elaborate striptease for the wolf, and manages to escape by telling the predatory beast that she needs to go outdoors to relieve herself. Firmly rooted in the familiar, she introduces us to the great existential mysteries, in a miniature and manageable form. Her irreverent behavior, effortless mobility, willingness to take detours, and daring resourcefulness modeled possibilities for those lingering at the fireside.

Read about Crane Maiden at Pratie Place.


Mamacita (The REAL one) said...

I love unabridged fairy tales!!! I taught them for sixth graders one year and they RAN to the library to check out the uncensored original versions after the bell rang. Blood, guts, gore, you name it, they loved it. And you should have heard the whining about how Disney ruined good stories!

Strip her naked, put her in a barrel studded with red-hot spikes, and roll her down the hill. Now she can't ever hurt any other children!!!

Anonymous said...

I, too, have several collections of fairytales (English-language and German) and can't help consulting them, comparing translations, etc.