The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson summarized here by Ellie Williams
The Devil had a mirror of ice, this distorted mirror of ice. Beautiful things become ugly in it. The Devil decided to take the mirror to heaven to mock the angels, but as he gets close to the gates of heaven, he drops the mirror and it shatters. But the shards are blown about into people’s eyes and hearts, making their hearts ice cold and their eyes unable to see beauty in the world.
Two children, Kai and Gerda are playmates. Kai’s grandmother tells them of the Snow Queen, who is the ruler of the ice and snow. She is seen where snowflakes gather—her snow bees—and Kai sees her out his window one winter’s day. Soon after, Kai is struck in the eye and in the heart with shards of the Devil’s mirror. He instantly becomes cruel to Gerda and mocks her mercilessly. He eventually leaves her to join the older boys in town, leaving Gerda alone in the rose garden that they used to play in.
One day, Kai is playing with the older boys when he hitches his sled to the carriage of the Snow Queen—a practice of most boys at the time, as you would attach your sled to a carriage and ride as fast as you could through the square. The Snow Queen kisses Kai twice: once to numb him and a second time to make him forget about Gerda and his family. But she does not kiss him a third time, for if she did she would kill him. She takes him to her castle where they live.
The following spring, the townspeople have determined that Kai must have drowned in the river over the winter. But Gerda is sure he did not. She takes her red shoes and offers them to the river, asking in return that she know whether the river took Kai’s life. The river returns the shoes to her, to indicate that it knows not where Kai’s body lies.
Gerda continues searching for Kai, coming across an old woman who kindly takes her in. But alas, the old woman was lonely and had always wanted a daughter. She casts a spell on Gerda to make her forget Kai, and traps her in an eternal garden to keep Gerda happy forever. Realizing that Gerda and Kai loved roses, the old woman lowers all her rosebushes into the ground so that Gerda will not see them and remember her quest. One day, Gerda cuts her finger on a thorn and begins to cry. Her tears cause the old rosebushes to bloom and when she sees them, Gerda remembers Kai’s plight. The rosebushes whisper to her that Kai is not dead, for if he was, they would have heard his soul singing in the earth. They heard nothing, so he must still be alive. Gerda thanks them and runs away from the old woman’s cottage to continue her search for Kai.
Soon, Gerda meets a crow, who tells her that it had seen a boy who looked like Kai with a princess in a palace. Gerda reaches the palace and finds a prince who looks very much like Kai, but is not the boy she seeks. However, the prince and princess give her a fancy carriage and many clothes to wear as she continues to look for Kai. But the carriage and fancy clothes attract robbers who capture Gerda and bring her to their camp. Gerda befriends the young robber girl, who frees Gerda after her doves tell Gerda that they have seen Kai traveling with the Snow Queen, heading towards Lapland. Gerda is joined by Bae, a captive reindeer, and together they head towards Laplamd, Bae’s native home.
In their travels, Gerda and Bae meet two women: a Lapp woman and a Finn woman. After the pair ask the Finn woman for help, she explains that Gerda alone has the power to save Kai. “I can give her no greater power than she has already,” said the woman; “don’t you see how strong that is? How men and animals are obliged to serve her, and how well she has got through the world, barefooted as she is. She cannot receive any power from me greater than she now has, which consists in her own purity and innocence of heart. If she cannot herself obtain access to the Snow Queen, and remove the glass fragments from little Kai, we can do nothing to help her.”
Gerda finally reaches the Snow Queen’s palace and must overcome several obstacles to reach Kai. First, the snow bees guarding the palace stop her. Gerda prays the Lord’s Prayer and her breath takes on the shape of angels to resist the snowflakes and let Gerda pass unharmed. Gerda continues and finds Kai alone in the throne room, which is a throne sitting upon a frozen lake called the “Mirror of Reason.” Kai was tasked with spelling the word “eternity” out of shards of ice—if he accomplishes this task, the Snow Queen will set him free. But with the mirror shards in his heart and his eyes, he cannot see the puzzle to complete it.
Gerda runs to Kai, embracing him and weeping over his numb body. Her tears melt away the shards in his heart and Kai begins to sob, his own tears washing the mirror shards out of his eye. Gerda kisses Kai and the power of her love heals him. Kai is able to complete the puzzle and is freed from the Snow Queen’s palace. The children return to their home with the help of Bae the reindeer, the Lapp woman, the Finn woman and the little robber girl. When they reach their village, Kai’s grandmother reads a passage from the bible over the children as they lie asleep.
“Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)