When I bought Seanan McGuire’s CD Wicked Girls, I thought my favorite song on it would of course be “Wicked Girls.” But it’s not. It’s a song called “The Snow Queen Dreams.”
There isn’t a version of the song online, but Seanan has posted the lyrics. I want to write about the song, so I’m going to write about it as though it were a poem.
This is how it starts:
“The Snow Queen dreams of glittering ice and honey,
While the King of the Summer dreams of the Snow Queen’s eyes.”
It’s about two characters, the Snow Queen and the King of the Summer. They are in love with each other, but they each rule different parts of the year, and they can only meet on the days when those parts of the year meet. During the days when one of them is inevitably dying.
“The Snow Queen sleeps in bowers of snow and ivory,
While the King of the Summer sleeps in the forest’s arms.
They’re both trying to do what’s right
Lost in the fading limnal light,
And they’ve never had any defense from the other’s charms.
And a season has little regret for the ones that it harms.”
They’re both circling with the year, necessary parts of the seasons and so keeping to their own places in that circle. They’re both trying to fulfill their respective obligations, as summer and winter. But “they’ve never had any defense from the other’s charms,” and so they dream of each other. This is the refrain:
“And she dreams of winter roses, fields of more than frozen snow,
And he dreams of summer blizzards, trees where arctic apples grow.
And they each dream of the other, and they each dream on their own,
And the days wear down the seasons as the sea wears down the stone.”
She dreams of roses, but in the only way she can: I imagine roses made of ice. He dreams of blizzards, but the only way he can: and here I imagine a blizzard of apple petals, falling. And the days wear down the seasons, and they wait for those liminal days between the seasons when they can meet again.
I think these are some of the most beautiful lines in the song:
“They’re both captives of what they are,
In a prison with days for bars,
And the years fade to ash before anyone knows that they’re gone.
And the hands reaching out through the dark always wind up withdrawn.”
These are images of time passing, of loneliness, of darkness. But still they dream of each other as the year goes round and round. And when they do meet, because they are opposites, they destroy each other:
“And the King of the Summer knows that her kisses burn.
And no matter how often they meet, they can never quite learn.”
They meet when the summer dies, when the winter dies. In autumn, in spring, in the liminal seasons. That is what they dream of during summer and winter, those days of meeting:
“And they dream forever autumn, when the frost first comes to call,
And the jack-o-lanterns flicker through the candied light of fall.
And the summer and the winter can go walking hand in hand,
And a queen can be a woman, and a king is just a man.”
Those are the days when they can exist not as mythological creatures, not as their respective mythic identities, but simply as themselves. I think that spring and autumn are my favorite seasons, the seasons of change and possibility. Summer and winter seems such stasis by contrast, although of course the circle of the year is always turning.
“The Snow Queen dreams of kisses as sweet as honey,
While the King of the Summer dreams of the Snow Queen’s hands.
They’re both circling round and round
On familiar holy ground,
And the King of the Summer knows that she understands.
And they’ll dance to turn the year, and they’ll dance for their lands.”
They both understand the conditions under which they’re living, they both know that the year needs them to turn the wheel. They both understand their places in the natural order. And so they stay in those places, even as they dream. This is how the song ends:
“They’re both circling round and round
On familiar holy ground,
And the King of the Summer’s hands cup the Snow Queen’s heart.
And they’re both of them dancing alone . . . and they’re never apart.”
They’re never apart because they dream of each other, but also because they’re both part of a natural cycle, two halves of one whole that would not exist without them. So they fulfill their duties. But when spring comes, and when autumn comes, they walk hand in hand, and the Snow Queen is a woman, and the King of the Summer is a man, no longer representatives of the seasons. For a while, at least.
The song is a love story that is both sad and beautiful, and I wish I could link to the version I have, but if you want to listen to it, you’ll need to buy the CD.
I love it when a song tells a story like that. And I love stories with mythological themes. But I will say, thank goodness our lives are not like that, that we have choice and agency. It’s common, in mythology, for the gods to envy us exactly that: our ability to choose our destinies. That’s both the gift and the burden we have as human beings. And I wouldn’t trade that for all the bowers of snow and ivory in the Snow Queen’s realm.