It’s the middle of July, so naturally my mind turns to all things Arctic. I look longingly at pictures of glaciers in Antarctica and dream of the day until I can finally go. And I watch movies and read stories featuring all manner of ice princesses and snow queens, often filled with delectable visual descriptions of glittering snow crystal-studded gowns, lustrous hair the color of starlight and skin as polished and smooth as marble.
The snow queen character, of course, represents a kind of remote purity, smooth, self-possessed and immutable, but it’s far from benevolent. In the original Hans Christian Andersen tale, the Snow Queen is a mysterious feminine force, forbidding yet alluring. She’s not a femme fatale that asserts her will upon the world around her; hers in an enchantment that draws souls towards her and then causes them to forget their earthly lives. The original fairy tale is highly Christian, and now I like to read the Snow Queen as a kind of symbol of the pagan spirit or Divine Feminine, as expressed through the particular imagery of the far north of the world.
But I also love to see the snow queen/ice princess character updated, shot through a modern prism. I was really fascinated by the Anne Hathaway character in Tim Burton’s version of Alice in Wonderland. Providing a pretty, crystalline contrast to the Red Queen character (played brilliantly by Helena Bonham Carter), she embodied a kind of sweetness and goodness, but in a kind of mad, daffy way. I loved her costuming in the film; that dress looked so exquisite, and that dark lipstick!
Loving the Snow Queen aesthetic is not entirely unproblematic, of course, with all that “whiteness equals purity” stuff skewing close to a lot of dialectics and beliefs around purity of race. There’s a tinge of it in the Tilda Swinton interpretation of the White Witch in the “Narnia” movies. The character was originally dark-haired in the books, if I remember, but Swinton wanted to go all-out Aryan with it and said so explicitly, which she mentioned in a Vogue interview ages ago. I thought that was a brave, interesting direction to explore.
But my favorite modern interpretation of the snow queen aesthetic is Daenerys Targaryen in the George R.R. Martin fantasy epic A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s a fascinating recasting of the stereotype that lots of people would argue that she’s far from a snow queen, despite the white hair: for one thing, she’s just learning to be a queen, and she’s spent most of the series so far in the desert, taking her out of her natural environment. But maybe the visuals are prescient: after all, a significant setting of the book is the Wall in the north of the fictional lands of Westeros, a land of snow and ice, and it wouldn’t surprise me if somehow its fate and Dany’s converged.
And of course, sometimes you just love pictures of clean, fluffy white clothes and white swans and ethereal blondeness, like these Tim Walker photos from a fashion editorial called, appropriately enough, “The Snow Queen.”