A photograph of a lovely snowman in Nottingham by Elaine Aldred (@EMAldred) caught my eye today, but it was rather her accompanying tweet, ‘Before he melts’, that touched my sense of symbolism: the deep human sadness arising from an awareness of the transience of a super creation like this or of beauty, or youth, or goodness – the positive things of life that fade like Burns’ ‘rainbow’s lovely form, evanishing amid the storm.’
Such is the way of my mental processes that I leaped from this idea to the spectacular icicles I saw this morning, which will also melt, and thence to a story powerful in its icy symbolism, Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, which had me spellbound as a child; it tells of the love of two innocent children, a boy and a girl, blasted by evil in the form of the wicked troll’s transforming mirror (which turns beauty into ugliness), a sliver of which penetrates to the heart of the boy, Kay, and turns it to ice. This is truly a touch of Danish blanc, as the frozen foliage of their winter window panes, the crystals of falling snow and the person of the Snow Queen herself, who captures Kay and spirits him away to her ice hall in Lapland, are all, of course, brilliantly white and sparkling; to him, the Snow Queen is the image of perfection, but to the reader the embodiment of an evil cold and calculating: when Kay is with her, he can think only of the multiplication table and fractions and cannot remember The Lord’s Prayer.
Does Danish noir descend from this? I like to think so, for if ever there were a culture steeped in the vexatious transformation of conventional symbols, it’s Denmark’s. There is a powerful magic in the non-stereotypical and, although The Snow Queen presents the standard opposition of good and evil, there are various characters who are decidedly not clichéd, such as the little robber girl and the raven, who prove, unexpectedly, to be forces for good in helping the girl, Gerda, to find Kay again. It also presents a stalwart heroine (though her strength is, simply, her innocent purity) who never gives up her quest. Does Gerda prefigure Sarah Lund? (Sarah’s isolation – though it is mental, rather than Gerda’s, which is geographical – from others and her single-minded determination to overcome evil are both very similar to Gerda’s.) Unconsciously, perhaps, on the part of The Killing‘s author, she does!
The fact is, we love the symbolism of a good story and, especially, of one that challenges our perceptions, whether it is by Hans Christian Andersen or a modern storyteller. I’m of the view that Søren Sveistrup has the complex traditional fictional culture of his nation firmly embedded in him, though his talent no doubt derives from immersion in other sources as well.
Let us not be sad: The cold beauty of the icicles and the frozen magnificence of that snowman will eventually succumb to warmth, but are now captured by camera for us to see again at any time; though we are told that The Killing has come to an end, the boxed sets are there for us; the Snow Queen, thanks to fabulous storytelling, is a character who will also live on in the printed word.
As for symbolism, see whatever you fancy!