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The Ice Maiden by Hans Christian Andersen

Instructor: Dori Starnes

Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education.

When the Ice Maiden claims someone as her own, she will come and collect, even if it takes her years to do so, and even if she ruins all the plans a happy couple has made. This lesson looks at Hans Christian Andersen's story 'The Ice Maiden.'

Andersen's Fairy Tales

The short story The Ice Maiden was published in 1861 by Hans Christian Andersen, who is famous for collecting and writing down fairy tales and fables. Many of his tales were based on older legends. The Ice Maiden was one of Andersen's longest tales, and one of his last. It was first published in English in 1863, only ten years before Andersen's death. This lesson will focus on the Hans Christian Andersen's tale, The Ice Maiden.

Rudy of the Swiss Alps

A handsome man, a young girl, and a vengeful glacier queen make up a strange love triangle. This story is set in the Alps in Switzerland. A little boy named Rudy is trying to sell little wooden toys. Rudy lives with his grandfather, but he would rather play in the mountains or listen to stories than go out and sell the toys. Rudy is also in charge of taking care of his grandpa's goats.

But poor Rudy has a tragic back story. When he is a year old, his widowed mother was crossing the mountains when they fell into a crevasse. Though rescuers came, the mother was already dead, so little Rudy was brought to live with his grandfather. Rudy's grandfather said he was a happy baby, but now he's very solemn. His 'laughter had left him in the cold ice-world into which he had fallen.'

Here, we learn that Rudy has been claimed by the Ice Maiden, queen of the glaciers. She promises that she will come and claim him one day.

Rudy Grows Up

When Rudy is eight years old, he is sent to live with his uncle. The journey is dangerous, and Rudy sees strange, 'misshapen, wretched-looking creatures, with yellow complexions.' He's terrified that his uncle will be one of these creatures, who Andersen calls 'cretins.'

Rudy's uncle is not a cretin, but life is strange. Rudy's uncle teaches him to hunt the chamois, the antelopes that live in the area. One day, when Rudy and his uncle are out hunting, an avalanche kills the older man. Rudy's aunt tells Rudy that he must now support their household.

Rudy falls in love with the rich Babette
Rudy falls in love with the rich Babette

Rudy grows up and becomes the best hunter in the village. He is very handsome, and the village girls adore him. But Rudy has eyes only for Babette, the daughter of a rich miller. There is a shooting competition, and Rudy enters and wins it. He is finally able to talk to Babette, and she tells him to visit her at her home in Bex.

Testing his Love

On the journey back to his uncle's home, Rudy is approached by a girl with 'unearthly' eyes. He knows she is a servant of the Ice Maiden, and he is scared. But she laughs and disappears, and Rudy hurries home.

Rudy travels back to Bex, to visit Babette and ask her father for her hand in marriage. The miller refuses, saying that his daughter is too rich for Rudy. Rudy says nothing is too high for him, so the miller tells him to go and capture a baby eagle. If he can bring it home alive, he will be allowed to marry Babette. The task is difficult, but Rudy succeeds. So, he brings the bird to Babette's father, who agrees that he can marry Babette. The Ice Maiden watches.

Rudy must prove he is worthy enough to marry Babette
Rudy must prove he is worthy enough to marry Babette

Love in Trouble

The miller, Babette, and Rudy are traveling by train, and the Ice Maiden sends down an avalanche to kill them, but it misses. Then Rudy meets Babette's godmother and her children. One of them, a tall blond man wearing all white, pays a lot of attention to Babette, and Rudy is very jealous.

Turns out, he has good reason. The man is staying at her house, and Rudy sees him heading toward Babette's room. Babette and Rudy have an argument, and Babette tells him to leave.

So, Rudy stomps off into the mountains, while Babette stays home and cries. In the mountains, Rudy meets a girl, and later kisses her. Rudy gives her his ring and then heads home. Meanwhile, the girl, who is actually the Ice Maiden, watches him.

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