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Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” is exquisitely designed and awfully strange. Its topography is made of atoms, lakes, castles, mirrors, and towns. Its seven stories (the language so house-like) tell a tale of friendship — here, between a little boy named Kay and a little girl named Gerda. A splendid example of the biological diversity intrinsic to old fairy tales, this world is teeming with species; hobgoblins, devils, angels, and bees join the small humans. Andersen, who also wrote experimental novels for adults, goes wild with language in “The Snow Queen.” Splinters of ice even spell out a word: ETERNITY.
So it makes sense that when my brother and I invited architect Bryan Young and his firm, Young Projects, to design a fairy tale for this series, we received this report: “We are making some great progress in the snow queen. Resin Bees magnetic swarms and defaced Barbie dolls.” In my line of work, that sentence makes perfect sense.
Most people associate “The Snow Queen” with, well, snow. And a queen. Not bees. Truthfully, it’s hard to find an American adult who can summarize the plot. One gets lost in its hive-like construction. Flowers and animals speak; girls sleep with knives by their beds; ice splinters in eyes; characters seem good but might be dangerous, or seem dangerous but might be good — this is a really challenging story to summarize. When I was a child it transfixed and confused me like no other tale could. I read it over and over again, never quite tracking the plot. Suddenly, roses are blooming! Then a girl threatens to slice open another girl! Oh dear, Gerda has forgotten her mittens! […]