But something happens to break winter's spell. Spring. And spring brings sunshine, and with sunshine comes hope.
"Kay is dead and gone," said little Gerda.
"I don't believe it," said the sunshine.
"He is dead and gone," she said to the swallows.
"We don't believe it," said the swallows, and at last little Gerda did not believe it either.
How promising must have been the return of the sunshine in the old world, especially in the far northern regions. After the winter solstice, the days lengthened, promising an end to the hard, bleak winter.
So Gerda goes to the river, the place where Kai is supposed to have drowned, and throws her little red shoes into it in hopes that the river will return Kai.
Red is the color of blood, of sacrifice. Gerda offers up nothing less when she throws her shoes, "her most cherished possessions," into the river in exchange for Kai.
Thinking she has not thrown her shoes far enough, Gerda climbs into a boat and drifts away through spring into summer.
Here, another season spirit like the Snow Queen is encountered: "the old woman was learned in magic art, but she was not a bad witch, she only cast spells over people for a little amusement, and she wanted to keep Gerda." Like her winter sister, the summer witch appears to act as a force of nature, not out of maliciousness. She would keep the child Gerda in the drowsy forgetfulness of eternal summer.
The cherries that bring on Gerda's forgetfulness juxtapose with the fruit of the tree of knowledge in the biblical Paradise. But Gerda is not to be tempted with a natural Eden when she has the supernatural gift of love and true friendship.
|Eleanor Vere Boyle|
So the old witch causes Gerda to forget Kai and banishes the roses--those symbols of eternity and friendship that would remind Gerda of her love for Kai--but forgets to hide the roses painted on her hat. "This is the consequence of being absent-minded." Gerda remembers, and when her tears fall, the roses are released from underground. She asks them,
"Do you think [Kay] is dead and gone?"
"He is not dead," said the roses. "For we have been down underground, you know, and all the dead people are there, but Kay is not among them."
Like the sparrows and the sunshine, the roses speak the truth.
But they also speak to resurrection. Gerda's suffering, her tears, have brought them out of the ground. Like angelic messengers, they announce that the one she seeks is not dead but living. "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here" (Luke 24:5-6).
Then she goes to ask the other flowers if they have seen little Kai. But the flowers, as are so many others we encounter in life, are concerned only with themselves and their own dreams and stories. So little Gerda escapes out of the garden into the wide world, where it is no longer summer but autumn.