The text is a masterpiece by Hans Christian Andersen, full of the strange beauty of ice-cold winter, and the warmth of true love.
We are using the Andrew Lang version from his Pink Fairy book of 1897. It was actually translated from the Danish by Miss Alma Alleyne.
Proofread by Claire Deakin.
There was once a dreadfully wicked hobgoblin. One day he was in capital spirits because he had made a looking glass which reflected everything that was good and beautiful in such a way that it dwindled almost to nothing, but anything that was bad and ugly stood out very clearly and looked much worse. The most beautiful landscapes looked like boiled spinach, and the best people looked repulsive or seemed to stand on their heads with no bodies; their faces were so changed that they could not be recognised, and if anyone had a freckle you might be sure it would be spread over the nose and mouth. That was the best part of it, according to the hobgoblin.
But one day the looking glass was dropped, and it broke into a million-billion and more pieces. Now came the greatest misfortune of all, for each of the pieces was hardly as large as a grain of sand and they flew about all over the world - and if anyone had a bit in his eye there it stayed, and then he would see everything awry, or else could only see the bad sides of a case. For every tiny splinter of the glass possessed the same power that the whole glass had.
Some people got a splinter in their hearts, and that was dreadful, for then it began to turn into a lump of ice. The hobgoblin laughed until his sides ached, but still the tiny bits of glass flew about.
And now we will hear all about it.
In a large town, where there were so many people and houses that there was not room enough for everybody to have gardens, lived two poor children. They were not brother and sister, but they loved each other just as much as if they were. Their parents lived opposite one another in two attics, and out on the leads they had put two boxes filled with flowers. There were sweet peas in it, and two rose trees, which grow beautifully, and in summer the two children were allowed to take their little chairs and sit out under the roses. Then they had splendid games.
In the winter they could not do this, but then they put hot pennies against the frozen window panes, and made round holes to look at each other through.
His name was Kay, and hers was Gerda.
Outside it was snowing fast. "Those are the white bees swarming," said the old grandmother.
"Have they also a queen bee?" Asked the little boy, for he knew that the real bees have one.
"To be sure," said the grandmother. "She flies wherever they swarm the thickest. She is larger than any of them, and never stays upon the earth, but flies again up into the black clouds. Often at midnight she flies through the streets, and peeps in at all the windows, and then they freeze in such pretty patterns and look like flowers."
"Yes, we have seen that," said both children; they knew that it was true.
"Can the Snow Queen come in here?" Asked the little girl.
"Just let her!" Cried the boy. "I would put her on the stove, and melt her!" The grandmother stroked his hair, and told some more stories.
In the evening, when little Kay was going to bed, he jumped on the chair by the window, and looked through the little hole. A few snowflakes were falling outside, and one of the largest lay on the edge of one of the window boxes. The snowflake grew larger and larger until it took the form of a maiden, dressed in finest white gauze.
She was so beautiful and dainty, but all of ice, hard bright ice.
Still she was alive; her eyes glittered like two clear stars, but there was no rest or peace in them. She nodded at the window, and beckoned with her hand. The little boy was frightened, and sprang down from the chair. It seemed as if a great white bird had flown past the window.
The next day there was a harder frost than before. Then came the spring, and then the summer, when the roses grew and smelled more beautiful than ever.
Kay and Gerda were looking at one of their picture books. The clock in the great church tower had just struck five, when Kay exclaimed, "Oh! Something has stung my heart, and I’ve got something in my eye!"
The little girl threw her arms around his neck; he winked hard with both his eyes, but no, she could see nothing in them.
"I think it is gone now," said he - but it had not gone. It was one of the tiny splinters of the glass of the magic mirror which we have heard about, that turned everything great and good reflected in it small and ugly. Poor Kay had also a splinter in his heart, and it began to change into a lump of ice. It did not hurt him at all, but the splinter was there all the same.
"Why are you crying?" He asked. "It makes you look so ugly! There’s nothing the matter with me. Just look! That rose is all slug-eaten, and this one is stunted! What ugly roses they are!" And he began to pull them to pieces.
"Kay, what are you doing?" Cried the little girl.
When he saw how frightened she was, he pulled off another rose, and ran in at his window away from dear little Gerda.
When she came later on with the picture book, he said that it was only fit for babies, and when his grandmother told them stories, he was always interrupting with, "But–" and then he would get behind her and put on her spectacles, and speak just as she did. This he did very well, and everybody laughed. Very soon he could imitate the way all the people in the street walked and talked.
His games were now quite different. On a winter’s day he would take a burning glass and hold it out on his blue coat and let the snowflakes fall on it.
"Look in the glass, Gerda! Just see how regular they are! They are much more interesting than real flowers. Each is perfect; they are all made according to rule. If only they did not melt!"
One morning Kay came out with his warm gloves on, and his little sledge hung over his shoulder. He shouted to Gerda, "I am going to the marketplace to play with the other boys," and away he went.
In the marketplace the boldest boys often used to fasten their sledges to the carts of the farmers, and then they got a good ride. When they were in the middle of their games, there drove into the square a large sledge, all white, and in it sat a figure dressed in a rough white fur pelisse with a white fur cap on.
The sledge drove twice around the square, and Kay fastened his little sledge behind it and drove off. It went quicker and quicker into the next street. The driver turned around, and nodded to Kay in a friendly way as if they had known each other before. Every time that Kay tried to unfasten his sledge the driver nodded again, and Kay sat still once more. Then they drove out of the town, and the snow began to fall so thickly that the little boy could not see his hand before him, and on and on they went. He quickly unfastened the cord to get loose from the big sledge, but it was of no use; his little sledge hung on fast, and it went on like the wind. He cried out, but nobody heard him. He was dreadfully frightened.
The snowflakes grew larger and larger until they looked like great white birds. All at once they flew aside, the large sledge stood still, and the figure who was driving stood up. The fur cloak and cap were all of snow. It was a lady, tall and slim, and glittering. It was the Snow Queen.
"We have come at a good rate," she said, "but you are almost frozen. Creep in under my cloak." She set him close to her in the sledge and drew the cloak over him. He felt as though he were sinking into a snow drift.
"Are you cold now?" She asked, and kissed his forehead. The kiss was cold as ice and reached down to his heart, which was already half a lump of ice.
"My sledge! Don’t forget my sledge!" He thought of that first, and it was fastened to one of the great white birds who flew behind with the sledge on its back. The Snow Queen kissed Kay again, and then he forgot all about little Gerda, his grandmother, and everybody at home.
"Now I must not kiss you any more," she said, "or else I should kiss you to death."
Then away they flew over forests and lakes, over sea and land. Around them whistled the cold wind, the wolves howled, and the snow hissed; over them flew the black shrieking crows. High up the moon shone large and bright, and thus Kay passed the long winter night. In the day he slept at the Snow Queen’s feet.