Struggling with the Snow Queen

I am not dead! I am busy, very wretchedly busy, but not yet dead.

Among the many irons I have jammed in the fire, I have lately been working on a retelling of the Snow Queen. I thought it was a novella, but we have made 11K without getting Gerta more than a few days down the road, so I may be wrong. We’ll find out, I suppose.

This is a hard story to work with, mostly because after about ten minutes, I want to drop-kick Kay into the sun. He’s about as sympathetic as dirt. Theoretically we should feel sorry for him because…uh…he’s a kid who had something bad happen to him that wasn’t his fault, I guess, except I kinda ditched the magic mirror bit as unworkably weird, so basically Kay is now a totally normal self-centered obnoxious angsty teenage boy, and I have no patience with him whatsoever and as far as I am concerned, the Snow Queen can have him and good riddance.

(In my own defense, Hans Christian Anderson did NOT give his much later retellers a lot to go on. Kay does nothing in the entire story except get kissed and be a jerk.)

God help me, Kay is basically a somewhat malicious McGuffin. You could change the whole story so that Gerta is trying to get back a rug that ties the room together and it would make just as much sense and also you probably wouldn’t want to punch the rug.

Obviously I am shipping the hell outta Gerta and the robber girl, but I am running into the problem where Kay is so profoundly worthless that I am starting to get impatient with Gerta for going after him in the first place. And while I am very sympathetic to “loyal and broken” as a character type, the whole story sort of hinges on them both being so damn young, and I am old and grumpy and sort of just want Gerta to stay home.

(Also, hoo boy, but this is a weird one. “Oh, yeah, your buddy the raven? Dropped dead off-screen, very sad.” “I’m outta paper, let me write this note on a fish. LIKE YOU DO.” I am having fun with some of it, like the plant dreams, but kind of worried that no one who isn’t familiar with the source material will find this story even remotely readable…)

  • reply Pam ,

    Maybe you should have Kay turned into the rug, Gerta gets to the castle, realizes that she likes him better as a rug, and than she and the Snow Queen open a design firm.

    Just a thought.
    -Pam

    • reply Escher ,

      For all that it’s one of HCA’s most famous stories, I never could quite get my head around Snow Queen. I know it’s heavy with metaphor and all that, but it just always struck me as the heroine wandering hither and yon with no particular plan or method in mind, just ricocheting from one circumstance to the next. They even call it out in the story; I think it’s Grandmother Finn who comments that Gerda makes everyone want to help her because of her pure heart (or something, it’s been a while since I read it).

      In a lot of ways I guess it reminds me of Snow White and similar stories, where it’s ostensibly about a female protagonist, but the main character still manages to have no particular agency in her own story. Gerda succeeds not because she’s skilled or strong or clever, but because she’s so “kind” and “good” and “pure” that circumstances just line up for her. She wins out through the application of magical rules that were never previously stated and couldn’t reasonably have been predicted or expected to work.

      I expect your version addresses all that; it’s just always a pet peeve of mine when a fairy tale “hero” wins through sheer luck and coincidence.

      • reply Mean Waffle ,

        I always though of the rewards for being kind and generous (and hard working – a lot of the old tales stress being willing to work) as being a shout out for the value of networking. You can’t be a lazy jerk and then expect other people to help you.

        I don’t remember the story that clearly. Is something bad going to happen to the world if the Ice Queen gets to keep Kay? Because that would make it important to free Kay without Kay being valuable himself.

        • reply Escher ,

          I want to amplify a few of my thoughts that I touched on in the previous comment and have been percolating for a few days.

          I dislike it when a hero’s entire victory is down to coincidence and good fortune. That doesn’t mean luck can’t play a role in the victory, but I like the luck to be something the hero has earned through the story, and (Chekhov’s Gun) it should come in a form that is consistent with the hero’s experiences to that point.

          For example, Luke Skywalker couldn’t have destroyed the first Death Star if not for Han Solo’s return just in time to shoot Vader out of the trench. The timing of that was lucky, but the fact that Han Solo came back was earned through the story. Throughout the story we see Han in a struggle between a good heart and a selfish front, and it’s Luke’s example that brings him back.

          As a counterexample, in the first Harry Potter book, I kind of strongly disliked the way the final conflict played out. While Harry has been actively attempting to breach the barriers protecting the Stone, and he actively works to trick Quirrel into thinking he’s useless, his survival and success are ultimately down to an accident of having the right backstory and a magical rule that was never previously explained.

          The movie did it somewhat better — the fact that his touch burns is still kind of out-of-nowhere, but at least in the film version he realizes that his touch hurts Quirreldemort and goes on the offense, actively trying to grab some face with the unexpected weapon. In the book, he does virtually nothing in his own defense from the time Voldemort’s face is revealed until the end of the book.

        • reply C. S. P. Schofield ,

          I have never liked the Snow Queen story much; the heroine is a sweet mess, and the boy puts me strongly in mind of the Barry Hughart comment about a character who should be spanked or beheaded, booth ends being equally objectionable. I always end up wishing the Snow Queen and the idiot boy joy of each-other, and hoping the girl will stumble across somebody nice who will make her forget the twit.

          I assume you know about Mercedes Lackey’s take on the tale in her Godmothers series.

          A lot of fairy tales make me want to shake everybody involved. A lot of “Great Literature” too, for that matter. One of my favorite books if Terry Pratchett’s NIGHT GUARD, which strikes me as Pratchett’s reaction to Les Mes. My Lady LOVED the musical, and I have to say the music is wonderful. The CHARACTERS make me want to grab each and every one of them and shake them till their teeth rattle.

          Although I would be interested to see a Japanese take of Javert; the Japanese have always made a lot of good drama about conflicts between types of honor, and between honor and duty.

          • reply E Wood ,

            I can’t believe I never noticed until now that Edmund’s situation in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is basically the Snow Queen- he gets bewitched/brainwashed by some magic stuff into going with the (snowy) Queen and becoming even more of a jerk than normal. I love how that ended up, how when he became a king he was called The Just because he sympathized with people who’d made the wrong choice. Being able to rehabilitate a character that everyone hates at first has got to be one of the coolest things a storyteller can do! So keep at it!!

            • reply gqbrielle ,

              Ahahaha okay so in my RSS feed this showed up sandwiched between a few of Scalzi’s posts on his Whatever blog – so I thought this was FROM HIM.

              I was like, wow, Scalzi’s doing a Snow Queen rewrite? That seems a bit out of his wheelhouse…and then I read further in and your tone and style is not at all like his and I was SO CONFUSED then write about the last line or so I was like…….wait a second *glances at title/url* OH THAT MAKES SO MUCH MORE SENSE OH LORD…
              hehe.

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