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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...)

"loyal and broken" does get old. nowadays I'd settle for "loyal and clueless" as a compromise, at least that character could be comic relief...

I haven't actually read much of S. with Falstaff, but wasn't that much of both his reason-de-enter, and his great popular appeal?

Cherryh went in for "(possibly) loyal and (derf'luy) broken" male characters and got that extremely old in its very many renditions...

Her early novels, the Morgaine Triology (which if you have NEVER read, !!) the male co-protagonist was just capable but beaten down, and that was as good as it got in many of her novels. Others were more balanced.

Could read the magic mirror bit as his need to see himself as he truly is, I suppose. The shattered image of himself, his partial self-understanding. Kay's vacuity allows him to be made interesting, if you want. Possibly though he was always hollow because he was never real: a supernatural creature from the get-go, and Gerda's quest is pointless because he cannot be rescued. He's the Snow Queen's son or lover or both and he belongs where he is.

"Kejthåndet" is left-handed, in Danish; kaj is a jackdaw. FYI. Maybe Kay is only a piece of herself that Gerda needs to find be complete, to accept: an imaginary part of herself (the mirror, again).

Thanks for checking in. Good luck on the story.

There may be some people in this world who don't know that "Frozen" started off as "The Snow Queen" but then the writers decided they didn't want Elsa to be a villain.

My favorite retelling of "The Snow Queen" is by Joan D. Vinge. I love it when a writer takes a fantasy story and turns it into a science fiction story. Of course that reminds me of "There and Back Again" by Pat Murphy. Where she did a gender flipped version of "The Hobbit" in space.

I just read this article about how "Let It Go" pushed Disney to rewrite the entire movie.

The fish is probably a dried stockfish. They're like planks. I guess you could write a message on one and then the recipient could eat it. Or the bearer could nibble carefully round the edges...

Flashbacks to What Kay Would Have Said/Done If He Weren't Heartless? (Ghost of Kay Past, hovering around and making annoyed comments!)

Depends on how you're working it, though, of course.

Re your last bit, I am sure that whatever you end up writing will be quite lovely, funny in bits, sad in places but overall a delight :)

Ultimately most people in english speaking/reading countries are likely to have at least a passing familiarity with the source material, that particular variation has been disneyfied enough that its an essential childhood story.

Not often told in the original, sadly, a bit more reality in those stories would be a good thing for some children I think.

Did you ever read The Wilde Girl by Kate Forsyth - a retelling of where some of the stories the Grimm brothers originally sourced. Its not a ..... happy story, it must be said


Narnia fans will be familiar with siblings wanting to rescue a bad little brother who went off with a mean queen in a sledge snow winter etc etc.

An experiment I have done with some of my own work: Would making Kay into a Kayla be more interesting? I had a character that I... well, I didn't even consider that I could write as female because "he" was a romantic interest and at the time (early 00s) I was told that no mainstream publisher would consider an urban fantasy (hard sell at the time, right before it hit big) with a lesbian couple. My character was... well, let's just say I have problems writing male characters, or at least did at the time.

It occurred to me a few years back that wait, Alex would do a lot better as an Alexandra (although she goes by Lex), and my rather stereotypical boring paint by numbers romantic interest turned into a kickass proud-as-hells-of-it dyke with an attitude and a half.

I don't know how closely you're trying to fit to the original tale, but this is the sort of thing I like to think about, myself. (I say, writing a very creepy lesbian Snow White where the Evil Queen believes Snow is the reincarnation of her lost lover... and Snow escapes during her debut and encounters the huntsman who has heard of the girl trapped in the Queen's castle and sweeps her off to the dwarves, who are actually mixed gendered, and Snow ends up falling in love with a lady dwarf. Because fuck no, I'm not doing the Evil Lesbian thing. It bears no real resemblance to the original tale but it's hella fun to write.)

So did the story with Lex ever see the light of day? Because it sounds really interesting.

Would Kay work as a relative, instead? "Don't like him much, but he's blood, so I have to at least try to rescue his bratty butt?" Just a thought, never mind me^^

This was my thought as well, fwiw.

Yes. I mean, YES. I was always a bit confusing: so, Kay is kidnapped and, for all we know, dead. Now, Kay and Gerta are both orphans. Why there were no efforts to get back the parents? Were they even greater jerks? (I wont even go in Onan story - if he was killed for being naughty, what did his brother did to get killed first?)
It would be nice if Gerta had some sensible reason, like she co-signed a morgage with him, or got pregnant and needs his ass for child support. Or at least wanted to go down in history as a first person getting to the north pole under her own steam and, ok, get Kay out while she is at that.
And absolutely, Gerta-robber girl ship is the best thing ever.

I think "I am going on a fantasy quest BECAUSE I CO-SIGNED A MORTGAGE WITH YOU" is like that most tragic adult fairy tale ever. *sob*


Not dead is good - and good luck and skill with the writing.

Is there a problem with making Kay a rug or a prize pig or whatever?

Who cares how it used to be told? Maybe that was just a first draft. you're telling it now, so tell it how you like best. That was a pretty winning combination in Toad Words and Other Stories.

Gerta/Robber OTP FTW!

He could be, or just be a useless jerk. But the point is, he is HERS and she isn't going to stand up and let any random witch that comes by take what is HERS, right?
(That's how I always interpreted it. He may be a jerk, but he's still a PERSON and you don't steal PERSONS, right? Actually looking at it that way I see a lot of parallels to the Wee Free Men...)


You know, that's the story I've always wanted to retell, but never succeeded. There's something about that ice in Kay's heart that he didn't ask for...something about the man who can't love...

Huh. Apparently I have THOUGHTS on this. Wall of words ahoy!

My interpretation is Kay is self-absorbed and self-centered and focused on his Ahhhhrt and takes Gerta for granted as a sort of non-attached appendage that takes care of the things he doesn't have a smidgen of interest in doing (cooking, cleaning, clothing, caring, other important life things that start with c...).

Gerta is equally young and immature and her ONE TWUE LOVE is Kay. She is very dependent on him and only longs to make him happy, her life has no meaning without him, she has no goals that don't involve him, yadda yadda teenage-obsessive-love-fantasy. Of course this makes beginning-Gerta fairly equally annoying and non-sympathetic but She Gets Better!

Separate the two of them and you eventually end up with a Kay who (despite having all his physical needs met) realises there are such things as emotions and maybe they aren't so useless and weak and gee wouldn't it be nice if I had someone to care about me but oops--he abandoned the only one who ever did without a second thought. His bad. ETA: A nice way to get Kay some character growth might be by showing him pictures of Gerta coming to rescue him. HE has no idea she is attempting rescue and sees her being all awesome without him with her awesome independent self and her awesome relationships with people (*cough*RobberGirl*cough*) who don't treat her like a doormat (all without needing his oh-so-important-center-of-the-world self around!).

Then you get a Gerta who realises she can be independent and she does have a personality other than a door-mat and hey maybe she deserves to be treated better but she's halfway round the world and she does love him (she thinks, mostly) and plus she can't leave anyone to a Monster... but she'll definitely kick his butt to the curb post-rescue if he doesn't pull his head out of it first.

And so luckily for Kay and Gerta's future non-adolescent selves they both mature and grow-up as a result of Ze-Snow-Queen and become people with an actual balanced relationship that has more of a chance of a snowball in hell.

Mercedes Lackey does a decent job with it in her romance imprint stuff (it's actually called _The Snow Queen_). Of course being a mainstream romance imprint it's heterosexual relationships all around and is annoying (not to mention despite fixing up K/G the other 'main' romances are crap and the main romantic lead dude is a jerk*). The SQ is her protag and the Kay/Gerta stuff gets regulated to a side-story while the SQ deals with an imposter/big bad. I found the twisting of the original to be the most interesting part of the entire book though.

*Maybe The Snow Queen just requires a certain amount of male jerk-itude?

Also, go Gerta/Robber-Girl!

Edited at 2014-09-26 01:12 am (UTC)

I quite like The Queen of Zeta Boötis, which retells The Snow Queen as a sci-fi adventure serial; it even succeeds in making Kay sympathetic.

(It does kind of cheat, though, by only giving us one actual chapter of the serial and leaving us to imagine the rest for ourselves.)

Gerta and the robber girl were my very first OTP when I was wee and reading the story in an already old set of My Bookhouse Books. <3

Also, isn't Kay a jerk only because he has the shard in his eye? Granted, if I remember correctly we are only told that he and Gerta are close but I always had the impression he was basically cursed with dickness due to the shard/splinter.