A few weeks ago we had a two-week book illustration course from Alexis Deacon, during which we had the opportunity to illustrate old stories from Hans Christian Andersen. As a brief aside, Hans Christian Andersen is far from my favourite author. His stories are grim and full of violence against women, who are usually either old hideous witches to be killed, or passive and compliant young ladies to be kidnapped and wed. But after reading through quite a few of his stories (and getting properly riled up while doing so), I finally got to the Snow Queen, and let me tell you, this story has some fantastic female characters! So much so that I am willing to put Hans Christian Andersen back in my good books.
You can find the full story here. But here's a brief summary: a mirror that reflects only ugliness gets broken, and its shards are scattered across the world. In some cases they become lodged in people's hearts, and these people become embittered and angry. One of the people who is poisoned with a shard of the mirror is a little boy named Kay, best friend and neighbour to a girl called Gerda. Kay becomes cruel and distant, and one day when he's out sledding, he ties his sled to a fancy sleigh and is guided away from the city. The sleigh's driver is the snow queen, and she takes Kay with her to her home in the north. And that's the last we see of Kay until the end of the story, because guess what - this story is all about Gerda and her badass journey to go and get Kay back! She meets all kinds of fantastic characters along the way, including a well-intentioned but rather selfishly maternal witch who just tries to keep her, a lovely romantic crow couple who help smuggle her into a castle, a prince & princess who help set her on the right path to go north, a very hyper and rather crazy robber girl who gives her a reindeer to ride north, and a couple of independent ladies living on their own in cabins in the far north. Notice anything about the majority of these characters? They're female, they have great, personality-filled roles, and they all work together to help Gerda get where she's going. And of course Kay gets rescued, because Gerda and these ladies are awesome.
Okay, that summary wasn't actually brief. Sorry. But Gerda is officially my favourite Hans Christian Andersen character by a long shot, and in the end I had a great time doing these illustrations. I chose to illustrate Gerda, the women she meets along the way, and the Snow Queen herself. Oh, and Kay gets an appearance as well.