Science Fairy Tales

Beauty and the Beast is not my favorite fairy tale.  It may be my favorite as adapted by Disney, but that’s not the story that has drawn me time and time again over the years.  That’s not the one I have three different books of, all with the same name.  It’s not the story that drew me to a book on my dad’s shelves more than fifteen years ago.  It’s not the story Disney failed to retell.

That would be The Snow Queen.

The oldest of my three books is, of course, by Hans Christian Andersen.  It’s a beautifully illustrated copy that I’ve always enjoyed coming back to over the years.  But I haven’t reread it lately, not that I need to.  The newest of the three is, even less surprisingly, by Mercedes Lackey.  It’s an entry into her 500 Kingdoms series, which I haven’t yet covered on this blog.  But that day is not today.

No, this is the middle book, in terms of when I personally acquired it.  Or in terms of publication date, since Hans Christian Andersen is long dead, I bought the Lackey book when it had just come out in paperback, and today’s book was published before I was born.  This is The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge.


Right away, Vinge introduces the reader to the planet Tiamat, where the Summer and Winter are each over a century long.  It’s located convenient to a black hole, which offworlders use to travel between a network of planets.  Of course, Tiamat is n a binary star system which plays havoc…meaning that the black hole is only passable during the Winter season, and not at all in Summer.  So the Winter people are much more technologically inclined than the Summer.  And yes, the planet is divided into the two groups, one who is in ascendance during the Summer and one during the Winter.

Sounds more like standard eighties science fiction than a fairy tale, right?

Well, what are the elements of the Snow Queen as a fairy tale?  There is a girl and a boy.  The boy is taken by the Queen, who has set a piece of glass or ice in him, that freezes his gaze and makes him uncaring towards the girl.  The girl sets out after him, growing as a heroine on her journey.  She is captured by bandits at one point, but escapes with the help of the little bandit girl who is selfish, but learns to care enough to let her go.  She reaches the Queen’s castle, finds the boy, and manages to melt his heart and restore him to her.

This book is The Snow Queen in every sense of the word.  Every element of the original story is present in some fashion, though there is a lot more going on.  After all, my children’s book is only 114 pages long with illustrations.  This novel is 536 pages long with much smaller type, more text per page, and no images save the cover itself.

When I first read Vinge’s The Snow Queen, I enjoyed the book for the story it presented.  However, the more I reread it, the more I realize how faithfully she recreated the old fairy tale in a new setting.  Which makes me very happy and excited as I read and say “yes, exactly!  This is The Snow Queen!”  It’s not a reaction I have when reading the more conventional retellings of various fairy tales in the fantasy genre, probably because they’re much closer to the original just by being fantasy.  Vinge isn’t the only person to trasncribe a fairy tale to science fiction, nor would I assume her to be the first.  Still, I like to find my old favorite skilfully transformed into a new adventure that is still recognizable as its former self.

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