Click here to learn more about Caroline’s connection to “The Snow Queen.”
ABOUT THE MIRROR
Beyond the Mirror of Reason features original music and an adaptation of the final, climactic scene from “The Snow Queen”—for which visitors to the 2016 Hans Christian Andersen Festival in Odense, Denmark (HCA’s hometown) were invited to transform ice into imagery.
In Andersen’s fairy tale, a little boy named Kai is whisked away to the Snow Queen’s palace overlooking a glassy lake: the Mirror. It is a place of cold logic, well suited for Kai’s pubescent angst. He’s too cool to be soft, so he feels right at home on the Mirror of Reason.
The water is covered in floating sea ice—pieces broken into geometric shapes resembling a tangram: those children’s puzzles (often of brightly colored, flat wooden pieces) that can be arranged into any number of silhouettes. The Snow Queen tells Kai that he may go home as soon as he spells the word “eternity” with the ice, but he is unable to do so. It is only after Gerda helps him use his head and heart that he is able to make sense of what’s in front of him.
I adapted the Ice Puzzle of Reason (as per “The Snow Queen”) into a creative experience accessible to visitors of all ages. Atop a glossy, prismatic surface, guests arranged and rearranged mirrored tangram pieces into any design imaginable—knowing that their creations would soon be transformed and transformed again by other people passing by. This perpetual change, the shift in perspective, invited participants to go beyond the Mirror of Reason—to augment the rational mind with the freedom of limitless imagination, to step into a thread of continuity, to be open to different ways of seeing the same thing: a representation of the eternal shift of atoms, newness born from shared source material.
ALL THINGS AT ONCE
In the realm of fairy tales, it’s rather unusual to encounter strong and damaged and conflicted and morally ambiguous female characters—and here we find so many in one story. Is the Snow Queen a hero? A villain? Is Gerda, marked and written as “pure” and virtuous, also kind of a badass? After all, she sneaks out of the house, takes off her shoes and runs through the wild, befriending robbers and witches and making mistakes. She rides a reindeer into the Polar Night. She does this barefoot. By herself.
“The Snow Queen” dismantled the binary of good-and-evil that I encountered and absorbed in other stories as a child. Gerda isn’t a martyr or a victim or a scapegoat, nor is she impervious to threats. She can experience grief and fear—and she can move through them. Courage and sensitivity are not mutually exclusive.
She goes out into the big, wide world and encounters women from different walks of life—of different backgrounds, cultures and lifestyles, each very much shaped by unique relationships with their environments—Gerda’s innocence ushers us past first impressions, deflating our presumptions. The Summer Witch and Robber Girl are selfish and cruel, but they are also lonely and sheltered, and we fear them while at the same time feeling sad for them. We empathize with their dysfunction.
And so when Gerda helps Kai secure his freedom in the end, we discover that Kai’s sense of reason is not incompatible with emotion. In fact, it is only through feeling that Kai is able to make the most of his rational mind—a mindset activated by poison and adulthood. Just because they have to grow up doesn’t mean that Kai and Gerda must abandon their childlike sense of wonder; and just because they were once children doesn’t mean they are betraying themselves if they adapt to a world expanding beyond their rooftop garden. That’s what happens when we grow up. We are released into the wild, challenged to integrate the truest parts of ourselves with new truths as we learn them.