The Truth In Fairy Tales

Danish fairy tale author Hans Christian Andersen was born on today’s date in 1805. So I scanned this gorgeous illustration of the Snow Queen from my childhood book of his work:
I was just mesmerized by it. It really captures the Snow Queen’s chilly, remote beauty, her sparkling cruelty and the feeling of being helplessly drawn into this journey to frosty places unknown.

There’s also a lot of truth in this fairy tale. The Snow Queen opens with this passage:

“There was once a dreadfully wicked hobgoblin. One day he was in high good spirits because he had made a mirror which reflected everything good and beautiful in a way that it dwindled to almost nothing, but anything that was bad and ugly stood out very clearly and appeared much worse. The most beautiful landscapes looked like boiled spinach. The nicest people looked repulsive…and their faces so distorted that they could not be recognized.

One day the hobgoblin was flying high among the clouds, maliciously flashing his mirror on all the countries below. Suddenly it slipped from his hands and crashed to the earth, shattered into millions and billions of pieces…and they flew about all over the world. If someone got a speck of the mirror in his eye, there it stayed. From then on he would see everything crooked, or else only see the ugly side of things. For every tiny splinter of glass possessed the same power as the whole mirror. The hobgoblin was so pleased he laughed until his sides ached, as the tiny bits of glass continued to whirl about in the air.”

And while this message is written in the language of fairy tales, I believe it actually happens to people. People are abused, picked on, lonely, exposed to horrible things and it darkens their outlook. They lash out with cruelty, because that’s how they see the world.

A couple years ago I was visiting a friend. As we were having coffee, her little girl came home from school crying because some kid in class told her she was ugly. Her mom hugged her and told her it wasn’t true. Then I told her about the hobgoblin in the Snow Queen. I said, “You should really feel sorry for this boy, having to go through life with that nasty bit of glass in his eye.”

We dried her tears and I’m not sure if she believed either of us. Throughout her life there will be lots of little boys with lots of bits of glass in their eyes. So I hope she remembers the story. Maybe The Snow Queen will be cold comfort in the best possible way.


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