The Snow Queen Trilogy Critical Essays

Joan D. Vinge


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Snow Queen trilogy is Joan Vinge’s most important work to date. Although much praise has been lavished on The Snow Queen itself (it won the Hugo Award in 1981), the other two novels have attracted little attention. The trilogy presents a twisting plot full of ironies, peopled with exceptionally well-developed characters who move through a richly detailed and well-sculpted world that perfectly balances the familiar with the unfamiliar.

The Snow Queen openly owes allegiance to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of the same name. It borrows its characterization of Arienrhod as an insensitive queen from Andersen, and the growth of Moon and Sparks parallels the transformation of the fairy tale’s children. At one level, The Snow Queen is a coming-of-age novel and as such is linked to literally thousands of other stories. In its broader structure, it also is a novel of renewal. By the end of the novel, summer has replaced winter and Moon has replaced Arienrhod. Although her values and philosophies are entirely different, her goal is identical to her mother’s—to advance Tiamat sufficiently into the technological age that the Hegemony will no longer be able to treat it as a backward planet.

Taken together, Moon and Arienrhod represent most of the dialectical pairs that frame human lives: good and evil, youth and age, innocence and experience. Moon’s name links her to the perpetual cycle symbolized by the moon trinity of new, full, and old. The sacrifice of the reigning queen to the Lady of the Sea at the end of each cycle further suggests a renewal theme based in vegetation myth. Moon’s journeys, both physical...

(The entire section is 684 words.)