The Raven and the Reindeer is Ursual Vernon’s (under her ‘grown-up book author’ pen-name of T. Kingfisher) retelling of The Snow Queen. It’s fantastic, bloody, and dark without loosing the magic that is fairy tales. Vernon has a kind of no-nonsense, logic based method to her storytelling that appeals strongly to me. She also manages to incorporate animals in a way that makes perfect sense for those animal types, her raven feels very raven-y and her reindeer are very reindeer-y, yet still makes them unique characters- both archetypes and characters if that makes sense. This style is well-applied in this version of The Snow Queen.
This story follows the plot of the original Snow Queen pretty much verbatim. If you’re unfamiliar with it, or only know Disney’s version (though honestly, Disney’s is so far from the original it might as well be an original story but I’m not going there, I swear I’m not. I’ll never stop if I get started), Gerta and Kay are childhood friends and as they age up, sweethearts. One day the Snow Queen comes and Kay goes with her; having been infected by the ice and drawn to the perfection of the Snow Queen. Gerta goes to rescue him. Along the way, she meets many different people (often women) who help and hinder her journey in various ways. In this version she picks up a few travelling companions. There is a raven whose name is Sound of Mouse Bones Crunching Under the Hooves of God, shortened to Mousebones though he claims after the journey it’s going to be sound of Frozen Mouse Bones Crunching Under the Hooves of God and ,oh, do I love him. There’s also the robber girl Janna, whose role is much expanded in this version.
The Snow Queen is one of my favorite fairy tales. I love it for many, many reasons, though the original Hans Christian Anderson is heavily influenced by Christianity there is enough under that to entice me. I love the many, many retellings of the story that are out there, including Frozen even if I moan about how it’s so very distantly related to the original. One of the things that I really enjoyed about this version is how Kingfisher doesn’t ignore Anderson’s Christian influences, but she weaves them into the story along with older traditions to create a wonderful cultural web.
I found myself thinking about winter spirits in this book and it made me wonder how much C.S. Lewis was influenced by Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen when he wrote The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe. There are definite similarities between the White Witch and the Snow Queen, especially in how they interact with Edmund and Kay. On the other hand, I wonder if there is an older tale of a winter queen that both Anderson and Lewis drew from. This has very little to do with this particular book, but the book is what made me wonder.
I did find myself wishing that the book had explored some of the self-loathing that Kingfisher gives Gerta in this story. She’s a very mild type of girl, and not quite self confident and while I can see that part of the story is her gaining of the self-confidence, I wish it had been explored just a little more. That minor wish aside, it’s a really good book about love and figuring out what you are worth. The character of Kay, who is essentially in the princess roll (i.e. he needs to be rescued and is Gerta’s reward for succeeding) in the original tale, isn’t much expanded in this book but his cruelty to Gerta is the cruelty of indifference which in part leads to her lack of self-confidence.
This last bit is a bit spoilery, but I want to include it. This version of the story is a LGBT retelling. Gerta doesn’t end up with Kay, her romance builds through the later half of the book and it’s a lovely, realistic one. The two women grow closer together as they work together to rescue Kay and it’s one of the things I appreciate about the book. Children grow up, childhood sweethearts grow apart, and real love happens when you work with someone. I am a little amused that apparently my theme for October’s books is lesbians. This is the seventh (out of fourteen, though technically one of those seven books is a sequel) book I’ve read this month that incorporated sapphic themes in some form or another.
In short, I think this is a fabulous little book. I highly recommend it.