The Ice Queen, by Alice Hoffman

The narrator of Alice Hoffman’s The Ice Queen, prefers the bleaker Grimm’s to the more hopeful Anderson’s fairy tales. Perhaps this is because she paints her life bleakly and without hope. Utlimately, what she finds is that life need not be black and white and painful to have meaning; that there can be color, and butterflies, and hope.

The narrator and her brother have been locked in a struggle for survival their whole lives–since their father ran off and their mother died on her 30th birthday (the narrator believes it was her wish that killed her mother and it is this guilt which colors her entire life). The brother survives by excelling, by removing himself from desperate situations through research and hardwork. Whereas the sister survives by creeping farther and farther inward, and underground, by disappearing:

Isn’t that the center of every story? The search for the truth. The need to know. Tear off the sealskin, the donkey-skin, the feathers, the shackles. In moonlight, starlight, lanternlight, bluelight. Wasn’t that what everyone wanted: to see and hear. Take the veil from my eyes. The stones from within my ears. Turn me around twice. Tell me. No matter the consequence. No matter the price. At least until it has to be paid. At least until the price blinds you, deafens you, burns you alive.

It’s not until after her grandmother dies and she is struck by lightning that her brother comes to her aid and brings her down to Florida to live near him and be studied by lightning experts that her life begins to slowly come into focus. It is here where she begins to thaw, see color again, taste, experience love. And when her brother dies and she is there to help him through it, she is transformed, reborn. In short, it is a modern fairytale, and one in which we can see ourselves:

The story is always about searching for the truth, no matter what it might bring. Even when nothing was what it appeared to be, when everything was hidden, there was a center not even I could run from: who I truly was, what I felt, what I was deep inside.

It wasn’t until I sat down to write about this book that I realized I do not know the narrator’s name. I just searched through again and it seems she is unnamed throughout–something, apparently, I didn’t miss. But what is the symbolism in this? Is she meant to stand for that part of all of us which shuts out fear by playing dead like a mole caught by a cat?

It’s a lovely book. Thanks to my pal Ellenfor passing it on to me.

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