In the great Danish city of Copenhagen there once lived two poor children whose garden was no more than several flowers pots. Though they were not brother and sister, they loved each other as much as if they had been; they lived in attics just across the way from one another. The street was so narrow that the rooftops on each side almost touched and you could step right across from one window to the other.
The boy's name was Kai, the girl's name was Gerda.
Each attic family has put a flower box upon the roof outside the window and dilled it with rose bushes and cooking herbs. Sweet peas linked their long green runners from box to box and the rose bushes intertwined to make a flowery arch across the street. Thus, the two attics were connected by a little garden.
The flower boxes were quite tall, and the children knew they were not to climb across; but they were allowed to take their little stools and sit next to the arch. Thus passed many a delightful hour.
Winter brought an end to these delights: the windows were tightly shut to resist the cold. And when the panes frosted over, the children would heat a penny on the stove and hold it to the glass to melt the ice and form a little peep-hole; through these round holes would sparkle a little eye.
One day in winter Kai and Gerda were sitting together indoors looking at a picture book when suddenly - it was precisely five o'clock: the church tower clock had just struck the hour - Kai shouted out in pain, 'Oh, that hurts! Something pricked my chest.'
And then again, 'Ouch, something's in my eye!'
The little girl held his head still and inspected his eyes as he blinked hard, but there was nothing to be seen.
'I think it's gone now,' he murmured.
But it had not.
Truth to tell, he had struck by two glass splinters from Devil's Mirror. This was the work of a wicked magician who had made a Magic Mirror which he'd smashed into a million pieces; these now flew about the air, each one hardly bigger than a grain of sand. When a splinter entered people's eyes, it made them see things back to front: they saw only ugliness in beauty, and good in evil. Some poor souls were enough to receive a splinter in their heart, turning it in time to ice.
Poor Kai had these magic splinters in both heart and eye. His heart would shortly turn to ice and his eye would find fault with all it saw. Thenceforth he did not care whose feelings he was wounding; he even began to tease little Gerda who loved him dearly, and made her cry.
'Why are you blubbering?' he would shout. 'You look so ugly when you cry.'
'Look at that worm-eaten rose,' he shouted once. 'And look here at this one, how miserable it is. They're nasty, all of them, so's the box they're growing in'
And her kicked the box and tore up the lovely roses. Then he ran away to play outside with the city boys.
The most daring of the city lads would tie their sled to the farmers' carts and hitch a ride behind them; this they thought great fun. While they were playing that day a big white sledge drove by, bearing a person in a white fur coat with a white fur hat to match. The sledge drove twice around the square quite slowly and Kai hitched up behind it.
Off they went, faster and faster through the town. By now Kai was rather frightened and wanted to untie his sled, but each time he went to do so the driver turned and nodded as if to reassure him. It was as if they were old friends.
So Kai sat still and they passed on through the city gates; it was snowing so thickly that the boy could not see his hand before his face. He tried to undo the cord and free himself but it was no use. His little sled would not break loose. It was swept on as swiftly as the wind. Kai cried out thickly and the sledge flew fast. Every now and then it made a jump as if driving over a hedge or ditch. The boy was very frightened.
All at once the big sledge stopped and the driver turned to face him. And now he saw that the fur coat and hat were made entirely of snow. The driver was a woman: tall and slender dazzlingly white, her eyes gleaming like two bright stars.
It was the Snow Queen!
'Are you cold?' she asked as she approached and kissed his brow. Her kiss was colder than a block of ice; the cold went right to his heart, which was already all but frozen. He felt that he would die. Yet the feeling passed in a moment and he was no longer sensitive to the cold.
'Climb upon my sledge,' the Snow Queen said, 'and I will take you to see wonders beyond your wildest dreams.'
Kai looked at the Snow Queen. She was certainly very beautiful; a wiser and lovelier woman he could not imagine. Her eyes no longer appeared to him to be of ice: she was now so perfect that he felt no fear.
The Snow Queen smiled as he climbed into the sledge and suddenly Kai felt himself rising through the black clouds while a thunder storm was raging, out into the moonlit skies. They flew together over lakes and forests, plains and oceans, while the North Wind whistled, the gray wolves howled, the white snow glittered and the black crows flew cawing over the trees. Above them shone the big round Moon, so clear and tranquil.
Thus Kai spent the long, cold winter night, while during the day he fell asleep at the Snow Queen's feet.
To be continued
Retold by James Riordan
(R) thedailystar.net 2009