Back in November, we profiled the work of multi-media artist Meg Fox, looking at the ways she and other writers and artists use fairy tale themes to discuss the difficult subject of child abuse. Now Meg has written to say that she's started a new blog specifically for this kind of work: Healing Through Visual, Literary and Performance Arts. The art above is one of the new pieces featured on the blog, based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen -- a writer we were speaking of just yesterday.
In an excellent essay titled "In Trance of Self," fiction writer and playwright Deborah Eisenberg discusses the young protagonists of The Snow Queen, looking at the ways that both Gerda and Kay claim our sympathy: "Who among us, like Gerda, has not been exiled from the familiar comforts of one's world by the departure or defection of a beloved?...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?...And who, withholding sympathy from his unworthy self, has not been ennobled by the sympathy of a loving friend?" (To read the full essay, seek out Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Women Writers Explore Their Favorite Fairy Tales, edited by Kate Bernheimer.)
In light of yesterday's discussion in the Comments section of the Hans Christian Andersen post, Eisenberg's description of Kay's experience caused me to think about Kay's story in a new way: as a metaphor for depression. I'd always viewed Kay as simply cut off from love, like a lover who has turned suddenly cold when his affection has been transferred to someone else. (Sandra Gilbert's Snow Queen poem cycle is a wonderful exploration of this interpretation.) And yet, another reading of the tale is that young Kay is cut off from life itself, from all feeling and all pleasure...which evokes the painful experience described by sufferers of clinical depression.
This is what I love about fairy tales -- that there are so many different ways to read them, some of which their various tellers and authors intended, and some of which perhaps they did not. They also contain much food for thought concerning the process of healing and transformation -- not only for those who are putting their lives back together after traumatic childhoods, but for everyone who has been scarred by life in one way or another.
I'd also like to list some memorable works of contemporary fiction inspired by The Snow Queen fairy tale -- starting with"The Snow Queen" by Patricia McKillip, an absolutely gorgeous short story published in the Snow White, Blood Red anthology, and Kelly Link's superb "Travels With the Snow Queen," published in Stranger Things Happen. Other good short stories: "The Tale of the Brother" by Emma Donoghue (Kissing the Witch), "In the Witch's Garden" by Naomi Kritzer (Realms of Fantasy magazine, October 2002), "The Lady in the Ice Garden" by Kara Dalkey (Firebirds), "Ice" by Francesca Lia Block (The Rose and the Beast), and "With the Snow Queen" by Joanne Greenberg (With the Snow Queen). (A.S. Byatt's fabulous story "Cold," in her collection Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice, also plays with a bit of Snow Queen imagery, along with imagery from other fairy tales.)
The afore-mentioned Snow Queen cycle of poems by Sandra M. Gilbert can be found in her collection Blood Pressure, and Adrienne Rich's poem "The Snow Queen" can be found in The Fact of a Doorframe. The Snow Queen by Eileen Kernaghan is a gentle YA novel that brings elements of Scandinavian shamanism to Andersen's tale. The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman is a magical contemporary novel that draws imagery from The Snow Queen, among other fairy tales. And, of course, there's The Snow Queen by Joan Vinge, a classic work of science fiction that draws on themes from the fairy tale.
You can read an annotated copy of Andersen's original tale over on the Surlalune Fairy Tale Pages, and also see Snow Queen illustrations from the 19th & early-20th centuries. The art in this post is by Meg Fox, Edmund Dulac, Arthur Rackham, Milo Winter, and W. Heath Robinson.