Hans Christian Andersen fairytales are often the first port of call for many teachers, preschooler carers or parents looking for short story book gifts - the short little stories seem to have an enduring and timeless quality.
But is the popularity deserved? Is every fairytale story deserving of merit and praise? You can trust kids, both preschoolers and young adults, to give an honest answer. The truth is, many children would rather watch these magical short stories on T.V, on DVD or at the movies or theatre! But why?
On hearing about the very latest young adult fairytale retelling to hit the book store shelves, I decided to re-read Hans Christian Andedrsen's 'The Snow Queen.' What a tome I found it! Yet I was surprised - the story was familiar to me, so why had I not noticed it's cumbersome layout and over-sentimentality before?
It's possible of course, that The Snow Queen fairytale story about little Gerda's rescue of her best buddy Kay from the icy cluthces of the freezingly beautiful but cold-hearted Snow Queen had been read to me. It's just as well, because the three-part intro to the fairytale short story would have been enough to deter even the most committed pre-schooler.
Many locations (the wicked elf's workshop,the little wooden house, Gerda's riverbank,the Ice Palace) are presented both independently and sequentially - providing a challenge of staying-power even for young adult readers. It's almost as if the fairy story kidnapping of little Kay by a fur-clad stranger in a snowflake spattered old-tyme sled was first conceived of as a drama or children's play.
Doubtless The Snow Queen fairytale has other attributes, not least the glittering descriptions of snow and ice - so evocative that only a child could imagine them in such detail - for example the fat, softly white flakes of pure driven snow that almost seem to form themselves into a conjured image of things magical as they settle and grow. The glacial fortress palace of the evil Snow Queen where Kay is imprisoned has similarly icy description, as does the little boy's interminable struggle with 'an educational toy' learning game - an ice puzzle that has no solution - and therefore no prospect of early release for Kay.
However, all these settings have more the effect of 'sets' than fairytale backdrops, and they make for complicated story-telling and reading, especially for children. The first scenario (that of a wicked elf's workshop where an evil mirror is fashioned with the intent of causing a poisoning of the optimistic soul whenever the icy shards pierce an eye or a heart such as little Kay's), is almost forgotten before Hans Christian Andersen 'wraps up' the denoument. In Kay's case, it causes his childish delight in all things beautiful and innocent to turn to cynicism, derogatory observations and caustic remarks which send a shiver through little Gerda's warm and trusting heart.
These seemingly feminine qualities are shown as redeeming and brave as Gerda leaves all that is warm, reassuring and familiar to set out alone on a perilous journey of adventures to rescue her loved friend. This she does by melting through the shard of icy glass his heart has become with her warm and loving childish tears!
So, as far as the enjoyment appreciation of history, tradition and European fairytale culture are concerned - I think I'm with the kids on this one! The Snow Queen, with all it's lavish glacial imagery, chilling heart-freezing malice and warm, optimistic 'win-throughs' is a fairytale that actually NEEDS retelling - or talented reworking of its scenarios into glittering 3D animation!
Young adult fairytale retelling fans are already signing up for Cameron Dokey's retelling of The Snow Queen - which is now available to read about and pre-order from Amazon and for Beauty Sleep - an interpretation of Beauty And The Beast.