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Gerda is one sweet kid. She likes to sing psalms, and when Kai is pricked by the mirror shards, she "cried out of sympathy" (29.23). When Kai disappears, she's the one who goes looking for him, even throwing her favorite shoes into the river as an offering. That turned out to be a poor choice, since the river ends up carrying her away in a little boat. But even that doesn't get her down: once it occurs to Gerda that the river might take her to Kai, "that thought was a great comfort and she felt much happier" (29.56). Okay, this chick is bordering on annoyingly optimistic.
Gerda's quest to find Kai pretty much takes her to the ends of the earth (or the north of Finland, which, to us here at Shmoop, is basically the same thing). She wins her freedom from a robber girl who takes her prisoner, and gains the help of a Lapp woman, a Finnish woman, and a reindeer. When the reindeer asks the Finnish woman (who has some magical powers) to give Gerda some extra power, she replies: "I can't give her any more power than she already has! … she is a sweet and innocent child" (29.190).
As it turns out, this magical Finnish lady ain't frontin'. Gerda's power is actually so great that a bunch of angels appear and protect her from the evil Snow Queen's guards when she enters her palace. We're impressed.
When Gerda finally finds Kai, he is half-frozen. Never fear, Wonder-Gerda is here! She cries over him and kisses him to warm him. Her tears not only heat Kai up to a normal living temperature, they also wash out the splinters of glass that had been polluting his vision. Those are some powerful tears, girl; we might have you cry over us sometime. In any case, Gerda and Kai return home together, proving that a somewhat obnoxious tendency to always look on the bright side of life can pay off. Good for you, Gerda!
Kai used to be the peanut butter to Gerda's grape jelly. But as soon as some evil-mirror shards prick his eyes, he becomes a Grade-A Jerk. He stops playing with Gerda and even tears up her roses, which is the sort of thing that only heartless people who hate beautiful things could do. Even worse, Kai argues with his grandmother and imitates her mockingly. Who'd wanna hang out with a kid like that?
The Snow Queen would, apparently. Kai follows the Snow Queen's sled and hops on board. Then she kisses him, and the kiss goes "right to his heart, which was already half made of ice. He felt as though he were about to die, but it hurt only for a minute, then it was over. Now he seemed stronger and he no longer felt how cold the air was" (29.38). For Kai to stop feeling things seems like a bad sign. But, since Kai can no longer experience emotions and all, he seems pretty okay with the situation.
While living with the Snow Queen, he becomes obsessed with "arranging and rearranging pieces of ice into patterns. He called it the Game of Reason; and because of the splinters in his eyes, he thought that what he was doing was of great importance, although it was no different than playing with wooden blocks" (29.197).
C'mon, Andersen, playing with wooden blocks, or what we here in the 21st century call Legos, is a great way to spend your time. He's got a point, though; you can sit around tinkering all day like it's gonna get you somewhere and you might tinker your way into your 90s (… unless, maybe, you found a successful startup along the way).
But luckily for Kai, Gerda shows up to rescue him. Yay, he's not stuck in the Snow Queen's palace playing with important-seeming-but-really-inane crap forever! Kaie and Gerda return home together as adults, "yet in their hearts children" (29.221), which seems like a good way to be. Kai's evolution from a nasty, narrow-minded bro to a productive member of society with a childlike heart seems to have a lot to do with fairy tales' favorite l-word: love.
One winter's night, a bunch of snowflakes outside Kai's window come together to form the shape of a woman: "She was beautiful but all made of ice: cold, blindingly glittering ice; and yet she was alive, for her eyes stared at Kai like two stars, but neither rest nor peace was to be found in her gaze" (29.17). This is our first glimpse of the Snow Queen, and holy crap, she's scary! Cuz, you know, rest and peace seem pretty important to living a happy life.
The Snow Queens' palace is "empty, vast, and cold" (29.195), just like her (and your mom. Sorry, we had to.). It seems like no one ever has any fun there, except Kai when he's all tripping on glass-shards and ice crystals. But as much as this queen is a villain in Kai and Gerda's story, she never has a final showdown with our dynamic duo.
The Snow Queen is out traveling when Gerda shows up to fetch Kai, so we never get to see them duke it out. This is probably for the best, since seems like a piece of work. And how would you fight the personification of winter and coldness, anyway? Grab your hair dryers and get to the front line, soldiers!