Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

"The Snow Queen": Queer Coding in Male Directors' Films

Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

"The Snow Queen": Queer Coding in Male Directors' Films

Article excerpt

By any evaluation, Hans Christian Andersen's story "The Snow Queen" (1845) hardly instantiates sex normativity.1 Concerning mutual (sexual) attraction between a young boy (Kai) and an adult woman (the Snow Queen); mutual (sexual) attraction between two children (Gerda and Kai) who, though not biologically related, are raised as siblings; and mutual (sexual) attraction between Gerda and the various women and girls she meets on her travels, the tale explores a variety of arguably homosexual and homosocial relationships as well as arguably heterosexual and heterosocial ones.

The term homosociality, associated with queer theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (Between Men), refers to a range of apparently nonsexual same-sex relationships, including friendships. With its less familiar counterpart, heterosociality, it draws attention to the institutionalization of specific kinds of interactions between and among the sexes. Thus, for example, when homosexual relationships become conventionally tabooed-consider, for example, the number of North American jurisdictions failing to legalize or otherwise opposing same-sex marriage-homosocial relationships are rarely proscribed. Yet when heterosexual relationships are normative, heterosociality- especially in close dyads (between two individuals)-is not. Consider how often the idea of close friendship between a (nonkin) woman and man precluding sexual relations is represented in popular culture as an impossibility. Eventually, the two will realize they are really in love, as, it appears, do Kai and Gerda at the conclusion of Andersen's "Snow Queen."

Incorporating but not condemning taboos such as adult-child sex (sometimes characterized by the slippery term pedophilia), incest (between social if not biological siblings), and lesbian attraction (most obviously between the Little Robber Girl and Gerda)2 in one story, without nineteenth-, twentieth-, and twenty-first-century readers seeing the narrative as unsuitable for children, might seem quite a feat.3 Yet many literary critics deny this manifest content in the plot. It has been described as a "Christian allegory" (Boggild 272-75), a "Romantic allegory" (276-78), and "a fine example of the double articulation of Andersen's fairy-tales [sic]. The ideal child listener . . . will take pleasure in the happy end after all the troubles and digressions, while the ideal grown-up reader . . . might find he [sic] is left with some questions worth thinking about" (280). Similarly, Joan G. Haahr notes: "Juxtaposing doctrinaire piety with colloquialism, sentimentality with irony, 'The Snow Queen' addresses both child and adult audiences. On one level about 'the victory of the heart over cold intellect' (Andersen, in a letter), it is also a perceptive psychological allegory of male adolescence, depicting an evolution from alienation to sensibility through the power of love" (478). The alibi that this story is on some level children's literature-for example, Maria Tatar includes it as one of Andersen's "tales for children" (ix)-means that adult readers and critics may simply presume that young readers and hearers will not understand the sexual and/or erotic implications. Or, as Perry Nodelman indicates, "Children's literature ... is almost totally silent on the subject of sexuality, presumably in order to allow ourselves to believe that children truly are as innocent as we claim-that their lives are devoid of sexuality" (30).4

Critics like Jacob Boggild posit that "The Snow Queen" has different valences and values for children than for adults-apparently without actually seeking opinions from individuals from either group. Most live-action "Snow Queen" films similarly presume audiences of various ages, evident in paratextual material from colorful DVD cases to G ratings to "family" genre designations on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).5 I am particularly concerned with understanding queer valences in these films-supposing neither that such readings are solely available to adults nor that any particular audience member will read the movies in this way. …

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