Kelly Link’s Travels with the Snow Queen is certainly a deviation from The Snow Queen. The main elements of the story remain intact: Gerda goes on a journey to the Snow Queen’s palace to find Kai, and the supporting characters that she meets along the way are reminiscent of those in the original. However, this story definitely deviates in that the “happily ever after” seems to be missing and in that the story is much more explicit in content – where the Snow Queen may have been able to pass as a story for all ages, this one has language and sexual references that are not appropriate for children.
This is reminiscent of the way that Deerskin is more explicit than the original Donkeyskin. Further, we can also draw a parallel between Travels with the Snow Queen and Deerskin in that a deeper dimension is given to the story. In Deerskin, the reader witnesses Lissar’s strength as a survivor as she overcomes an absolutely horrifying experience. In Travels with the Snow Queen, we see that Gerda is not stuck in a relationship with Kai – she can leave him if she chooses, and she does so by choosing to become a tour guide for the Snow Queen. This makes Gerda a very powerful heroine – she could have rescued Kai, but she chose not to, deciding that Kai was not deserving of her rescue.
I think one of the main differences that struck me between Travels with the Snow Queen and Deerskin is the point of view. Deerskin is told in the more conventional third person, whereas Travels with the Snow Queen is told in second person – at times it is difficult to place whether we are on Gerda’s tour or whether we are simply along for the ride with her in the story. In either case, the reader is very close to the story – in some cases, the story even seems to address the reader directly. This gives a very different effect from Deerskin, where there is more distance between the reader and the narrative.
Classmates be warned: if you haven’t finished reading Deerskin, the rest of this post contains discussion of the story’s ending. It’s a good read so you might want to make sure you’ve read it before continuing to read this.
Anyway, I really liked the ending of Deerskin. I was hoping simply for the fairy tale happily ever after with a prince, but this was even better than that. I love that we see Deerskin face her father and reunite with Ossin, and that the story manages to include both magic and believability. I especially like that Lissar is at last able to share her true self and true story and that even with this huge step she is not magically back to being the young, innocent girl that she started as – Lissar’s strength is impressive, but at the same time we still see that she has not shed her old wounds. I really like this aspect of the story because it’s so inspirational – if Lissar can survive her ordeals and find a way to live her life, surely we can fight to overcome the challenges which we face in our lives, too. I also really like that magic helped Lissar through her troubles rather than solving them for her.
Aside from its more than satisfactory ending, I also just genuinely liked reading Deerskin. This was the type of book that I didn’t put down for long, because I was constantly curious about what would happen next. McKinley did a great job of pacing the story and keeping the reader’s attention – and I also really like the values that the story seems to encourage. From Ash’s bond with Lissar, we see the importance of loyalty and friendship. We also see the importance of helping others and of accepting help as Lissar travels. Further, we can also see that Ossin and Lissar do not seem to fit perfectly into their worlds – but that they fit together nevertheless, which is something I love to see in stories, because who really feels as if they fit in all the time? Finally, and probably most importantly, Deerskin also shows us that perseverance enables us to survive just about anything – although I’m less convinced of the truth of this statement outside of fairy tales, I would really like to believe in it which I think is why I found Lissar’s story so captivating.
In comparing Deerskin with Allfur, I have noticed some crucial differences. In Allfur, the princess escapes by playing a trick on her father and then escaping – she is then “rescued” almost immediately, only needing to fend for herself briefly before finding a new home in her bridegroom’s castle.
On the other hand, Lissar’s struggles are much deeper, much more prolonged, and require her to develop persistence and perseverance in order to survive. Lissar seems as if she is left a much more broken character than the princess in Allfur – even after some time has passed, we still see that Lissar is unable to acknowledge the horrors that have happened to her. This is especially moving in the way it is written, for example: “But Lissar persevered; perseverance was the central lesson of all she had learned since … since Ash and she had first set out on their journey.” Not only does this speak to the strength and perseverance that Lissar has developed, but the way in which it is written makes obvious Lissar’s memory blocks. Lissar also must endure a cold winter before emerging back into the world, which seems to have symbolic value, too.
Lissar also requires help from the Lady to heal and find the strength and ability to continue on with her life – Allfur does not ever seem so in need of help. However, as Lissar’s ordeals seem much more serious, it is only logical that help is needed to overcome them.
Lissar also seems to be much more of a well-rounded character than the princess in Allfur – but perhaps this is simply due to Deerskin being a much longer story where more detailed characters are required to hold the reader’s attention.
In addition, I also found this section of the story interesting – it seems very fitting that Lissar has found her way to Ossin, the prince who sent her Ash. I have to wonder if they will ever figure out who she was and where Ash comes from, and whether Ossin’s role in Deerskin is analogous to that of the bridegroom in Allfur. It already seems as though Lissar may have some kind of feelings for Ossin, so I am really curious to see how this will develop and whether her true identity will surface.
I wasn’t expecting to like reading Deerskin – we knew prior to reading it that there would be incest and sexual assault, so I was admittedly wary. After all, while these are important topics to be aware of, they are also generally sad in nature, and when given the choice I tend to prefer happy reading material as a way to forget about all of the sadness in the world around us. I will admit that I did not have high hopes for Deerskin; I figured it would be a book I would get through, but probably not one I would enjoy.
And I was wrong. Yes, Deerskin is sad, and yes there’s incest and rape and it is probably the most disturbing story we have read so far – not simply for its content, but for the manner in which the content is presented. For example, rape also occurred in Sun, Moon, and Talia, but it was much easier to set that story aside and put it out of my mind – it was a short story, and while its events were alarming they were only temporarily so.
Not so with Deerskin, which lets the reader grow attached to Lissar before horrors befall her. I was already rooting for her by the time the rape occurred, which made it genuinely distressing to read. Even though there was ample foreshadowing, I still hoped that there was some way Lissar would be able to escape, so it all came as quite the shock. I can’t help but feel terrible for Lissar at this point in the story – nobody deserves to go through what she has gone through.
But even through all that, I’m still rooting for her. Her escape from the palace even while injured shows that Lissar is strong and that she’s got some fight in her personality, which I hope will make the rest of the story interesting. I will be curious to see how she continues to cope with her new situation. I’m even enjoying reading about her tale in the meantime – it’s so well-written that even the sad scenes have beauty in the way they’re told. The story is captivating and I’m intrigued to read more.