THE SNOW QUEEN AND I by Karen Foxlee
In Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy there is an evil snow queen and she’s pretty much planning to take over the world. I’ve been asked lots of questions about her recently. Why I chose her to feature in my story. Was Andersen’s The Snow Queen a favourite of mine? Am I a lover of fairy-tales in general? What impact did fairy-tales have on me as a child?
The funny thing was the snow queen wasn’t there when I first started writing. And I had no inkling that she was about to arrive. I started with a small boy being kept a prisoner in a museum room. It seemed an exciting idea with many possibilities. I started to write his story. Quite soon I discovered he came from another world and quite suddenly he was being chosen to save that world from a terrible threat from the North.
And there she was, all ice and snow, teeth like razor blades, hair like a blizzard, coming over the marshes. She gave me quite a fright.
Of course the snow queen had been lurking around inside me for years I’d say, like half a dozen or so other fairy-tales, imprinted on my mind from childhood. When I was small my mother would read us fairy-tales. We sat either side of her, huddled under her arms to listen. She read us those stories in our little bedroom, in our little house, on our dusty street, in our small town in the middle of the desert, hundreds of miles from anywhere… oh the worlds she opened up for us.
Fairy-tales had a profound effect on me. I’m owning up to it – they did and they still do today. They were my first introduction to the very pure emotional power of literature. Sitting there beside my mother I experienced fear, betrayal, longing, sadness, anger. We wept together at the end of The Little Mermaid. Dawn is coming, you see, there is nothing to be done to stop it, the little mermaid will be dashed to sea foam. After everything she has given up! Later my sister and I read and reread it just to revel in the tragedy of it all. And the wind was knocked out of me when the snow queen’s sleigh slid to a stop beside Kai when I realized that she didn’t really mean to make him warm at all… but only wanted to steal him away.
In fairy-tales, I first encountered magic. Not “Disney” magic (although that was also an important part of my childhood) but the wilder, rawer magic of fairy-tales. Pulse-quickening magic. A girl breathing life back into a dead swallow, a mermaid giving her tongue away in exchange for legs, boys turned into swans, climbing suddenly up into the sky, shoes that dance you to death, magical mirrors smashed to a million pieces, the glittering shards wrecking lives.
And in fairy tales I think it is true to say that I experienced my first wonderment at the art of story-telling. A budding interest in writing. In The Snow Queen I loved that Gerda set off to rescue her friend Kai without thought of the peril. That the journey is the story! That I travel with her. That each page I turn she is arriving somewhere new, or leaving somewhere behind. That each page I am itching for her to make it to the snow queen’s castle even though I’m terrified. In those pages I first experienced the narrative arc, tension, the quest, good versus evil.
So in Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy our reluctant heroine, Ophelia, refuses to give up on the Marvelous Boy locked away in the huge crumbling museum. She must save him and the world against all odds before everything is turned to ice and snow. Ophelia must undertake perilous challenges and meet hideous creatures and open her heart to magic. And yes, to all of this, I owe so much to The Snow Queen and fairy-tales!
Karen Foxlee trained and worked as a nurse for most of her adult life and also graduated from university with a degree in creative writing. She is also the author of The Midnight Dress and The Anatomy of Wings, which Markus Zusak called “so special that you want to carry it around for months after you’ve finished, just to stay near it.” Karen Foxlee lives in Gympie, Australia, with her daughter.