Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Fairy Tale Fashion: The Snow Queen

One more post from Colleen Hill's Fairy Tale Fashion!
In her essay on Andersen's "The Snow Queen," Hill informs us that the fairy tale was initially conceived as a short, ballad-style poem about a young woman and her lover, a poor boy who was abducted by the Snow Queen. The Snow Queen was then more of a sexual predator. The story evolved into the tale we know today, of two children separated when the boy, Kay, gets a piece of an evil mirror lodged in his eye that turns him into a cruel boy who mocks the things he used to love and follows the Snow Queen to her ice palace.

The tale uses opposing imagery-the natural, warm beauty of the rose verses the stark symmetry of mirrors and ice/snowflakes. The mirror in this tale is unusual in that, while mirrors usually tell the truth (such as the mirror in "Snow White" that is bold enough to bluntly tell the Queen when there is someone more beautiful than she), this mirror is deceptive-it distorts reality, causing beautiful things to seem ugly. (In fact, I sometimes thought of this mirror when I was in my first trimester-when foods I usually loved became disgusting to me and activities I enjoyed lost interest for me because of the constant nausea-I felt like I could relate to Kay).

Mirrors usually represent vanity in stories. The theme of vanity is also developed in "Snow Queen" by the reference to Gerda's red shoes. When she goes to search for Kay, she intentionally puts on her new red shoes that Kay has never seen before, but when she goes to the river she is willing to sacrifice her prized possessions to gain information about his whereabouts (but the shoes are returned to her because the river does not know where he is). Interestingly, this tale was written just four months before Anderson wrote the infamous tale "Red Shoes" in which the desire for the colored footwear is completely and repeatedly seen as selfish.
From the "Snow Queen" section of the Fairy Tale Fashion exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Far left; white fur cape by J. Mendel, second to the left; not in the book, second to the right; Alexander McQueen Fall 2008 dress inspired by snowflakes, far right; Tom Ford Spring 2014 dress that imitates shards of a broken mirror

Hill interprets the red shoes as objects of pride, even for Gerda-saying that by wearing them she was initially hoping to impress Kay, but the difference between Gerda and Karen from "Red Shoes" was that Gerda was willing to give up her shoes. This may be, especially given Anderson's feelings about red sheos, but I didn't necessarily read it that way in "Snow Queen." It's natural for a child to be excited to show her friend a new toy or possession, without necessarily trying to impress or show off to your friend. If Gerda had taken a beautiful red rose and tucked it behind her ear with the intention of showing Kay, would that be interpreted as vanity? The rose would still be beautiful and displayed on Gerda, but fairy tale characters who request roses rather than clothes and jewelry are held up as the example of being non-materialistic, like Beauty in "Beauty and the Beast." Yet roses are a symbol of her friendship with Kay-when staying with the old woman, it was seeing an image of a rose that reminded Gerda of her quest to find Kay. Could the wearing of the red shoes even have been Gerda's attempt to remind Kay of their beloved roses, since a real rose wouldn't survive a long journey? The colorful roses of Kay and Gerda's childhood playdates are a stark contrast to the colorless white of the Snow Queen's palace.

Red Morocco leather shoes, from 1800-1810

Although, it was more of a natural assumption at the time to associate red shoes with luxury, since red dye was more difficult to produce, and therefore more expensive, so red was a color only the wealthier could afford. But it seems that illustrators to tend to intentionally bring out the contrast in warm colors associated with Gerda, her friendship with Kay, and her journey to find him, as opposed to the cold realm of the Snow Queen. See Arthur Rackham's illustration of Kay and Gerda in their garden, and Edmund Dulac's image of Gerda at the old woman's house:
Compared with the Snow Queen/her palace by the same illustrators:
Although, I may be too quick to defend the wearing of red, just based on our own modern culture, where bright colors are just as easily accessed as neutrals. If anything, we tend to associate good things with characters who wear bright colors, aligning them with bright, joyful personalities. What do you see as the significance of Gerda's red shoes?


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