Video from BEYOND THE MIRROR OF REASON, an original interactive work, can be found here.
Finding the ‘Mirror of Reason’ while sailing the high Arctic.
It was the year of Frozen. It was the year of Elsa, Olaf and Adele Dazeem. It was 2014, the air was soaked with a steady hum of “Let It Go,” and “The Snow Queen” was on my mind.
Having heard that the Disney film was loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s long and winding fairy tale, I revisited the original. Rather, I revisited an English translation of the original, Snedronningen, written in 1845 in the Danish author’s native tongue. “The Snow Queen: An Adventure in Seven Stories,” follows Gerda, a young girl forced into the cold, wide world in order to rescue her best friend, Kai, who disappears early on, not to be seen again until the last of seven chapters. Between bookends with a boy, a chain of complicated, morally ambiguous women emerges, each character shaped by her distinct environment, guided by nature. Women and wilderness are at once dangerous and merciful, beautiful and unpredictable.
My own introduction to “The Snow Queen” came decades earlier via Shelly Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre, which held tight to its source material, despite some changes and omissions. (The Summer Witch, for example, is not an old hag. She is Lauren Hutten, and she is fabulous.) It had been a childhood favorite, and I was curious to see if memory matched reality. I wanted to touch base with the elements that make “The Snow Queen” so enduring—because, good Lord, I fear we have yet to reach peak Frozen. The lifeline of this tale, altered though it may be, endures.
I was delighted to find Andersen’s magnum opus as rich and complex as I remembered it, and much weirder. An interlude with necrophile flowers reads as a Shakespearean play-within-a-play on DMT. The bit about Gerda’s red shoes carries new significance knowing the shoes’ place in Andersen’s canon. But there was one point on which I did not find clarity, and I so wanted clarity. I so wanted to know if the Snow Queen had been a hero or a villain, because I couldn’t remember, or maybe I never knew.
This is where my adventure begins. It starts with a nuanced leading lady, an eponymous star who doesn’t hog the spotlight, because, as it turns out, she’s not even really the star. Not exclusively, anyway. She is good and bad, dangerous and merciful, beautiful and unpredictable, and she shares her stardust with Gerda: herself frightened and brave, naive and clever, good and better but on the brink of growing up and, consequently, losing the source of her power. I found myself wondering how Andersen’s perfect tale full of dazzling female characters might have been told if the teller was a woman. I got to wondering this, and then I got to work.
In the summer of 2015, I followed Gerda’s path (as best as I was able to manifest it on a map), starting in Hans Christian Andersen’s hometown of Odense, Denmark, working my way up through rivers and gardens, Lapp forests and Finnish saunas, finally setting eyes on the Snow Queen’s icy lake, her Mirror of Reason, while aboard a barquentine sailing vessel far above the Arctic Circle. The resulting work, “Tracking the Snow Queen: A (True) Adventure in Seven Stories,” is an in-progress collection of creative nonfiction, a platform through which I will share the stories of extraordinary women I met along the way—and our place in the strangeness of the world, and how that strange world shapes us, and what we keep and what we lose at the point where our innocence breaks.
The resulting written work will be accompanied by a series of visual art components.