Femslash Friday: Gerda/The Robber Girl: Love and Knives Under the Northern Lights -The Toast

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This Femslash Friday is brought to you by Hans Christian Andersen. Yes, that’s right, Hans Christian Andersen, of such straight friendzone classics as “The Little Mermaid” and ladies-be-frail stories like “The Princess and the Pea.” Allow me to bring your attention to his work “The Snow Queen: A Tale in Seven Stories” — or, as I like to think of it, “A Tale in Six Stories and One Massive, Dripping Slice of Unintentional and Delightful Lesbian Subtext So Blatant that it is Honestly Barely Even Subtext.”

(Sidenote: the text never says how old everyone is; they’re old enough to traipse around multiple countries alone, ride horses, carry guns, etc., so let’s say that they are old enough for a homoerotic subtext reading. And if they aren’t, let’s age them up in our minds the way Game of Thrones did for all the kids so that everything wouldn’t be super-gross.)

Here they are:

Gerda and the little robber girl gazing soulfully into each other’s eyes. As you do. Gerda and the little robber girl gazing soulfully into each other’s eyes. As you do.

Now, this is a Femslash Friday entry for which the original text is fairly short, and could be pretty much reproduced here in its entirety without commentary. The sophisticated readership of The Toast might be tempted to merely skim it with their practiced, femslash-detecting gazes, and then just snort quietly into their hands. But I’ll give it my best shot. Here goes!

The story starts with Gerda and Kay, who are just your typical run-of-the-mill childhood best friends. You know, they live next door to each other, and you can pretty much assume they’ll get married and live happily ever after because…because one is a girl and one is a boy, and they know each other, I guess? That’s enough, right? [Surveys the majority of Western literature, television and movies] …Yup, seems to be plenty. Carry on.

Then a giant, evil satanic troll mirror (Satanic Troll Mirror…good band name; yes/no?) ascends into the sky and shatters all over everything. A shard enters Kay’s eye and immediately turns him into just a complete, classic teen dirtbag. He tells Gerda she looks dumb when she cries, kicks her rose box, makes fun of her, stands behind her and imitates her in front of other people when she doesn’t realize it (that is the worst!), and then abandons her to run off and play with the other boys. You can take out the troll mirror and it’s basically what happens to a lot of kids in middle school.

Of course Gerda is hurt and confused and devastated, and I just want to take her aside and say, “Listen Gerda, sometimes this happens. Your childhood friends and/or secret middle school romantic partner may very well become mean overnight, shun you, declare you uncool, and find other peopleto play with. Don’t fall for that ‘oh, a troll mirror shard entered my heart through my eye, you’re not invited to this sleepover, let’s have the boiler room make-outs be our little secret’ excuse-making bullshit! You find yourself someone who likes you for you, who wants to hear about everything that’s happened to you, who sees you and immediately recognizes you as someone special, who will sacrifice for you and make you feel more free, who would totally hold your hand in the hallway and not give a shit who’s watching.” Oh WAIT [Spoiler alert for, um, later on in this article]: YOU WILL.

Anyway, Kay goes to drive his sled with the other boys in the town square, apparently the equivalent of doing donuts in the parking lot for teen dirtbags in 1800s Denmark, leaving Gerda behind. He then accidentally hitches his sled onto the sleigh of the mean and hot Snow Queen, who takes him away to her icy palace in the far North. No one in their town decides to take any action in this child-kidnapping or appears to give a crap beyond shedding some tears and proclaiming he is dead. Gerda decides she will go into the unknown to rescue her dirtbag childhood friend/sorta boyfriend. It’s pretty admirable, really. Girl may be painfully naive, but she’s got certainly got pluck.

Blah blah blah, Gerda meets a bunch of people on her journey up to the Great White North to rescue Kay from his cold, withholding, beautiful girlfriend/mother figure. Gerda learns, she grows, she talks to flowers. This brings us to the Fifth Story.

The Little Robber Girl.

Here is where femslash enters the scene. Gerda rides out of a straightforward, heterosexually defined kingdom ruled by a traditional Prince and Princess, into a dark, forbidding forest. Her carriage is instantly set upon by robbers. She first meets the little robber girl’s mother, an old robber woman sporting a long, gender-non-conforming beard, who drags Gerda out of the carriage and threatens to eat her. There is an overwhelming sense of risk, transgression, and otherness—the dark wood, the glittering knives, the threat of cannibalism, the rule of law disappearing. Gerda is, understandably, terrified.

Just then the little robber girl leaps onto her mother’s back, bites her mom’s ear like a tiny, feral Mike Tyson, and prevents her mother from murdering Gerda. Why? What does the robber girl hope to gain by risking herself to rescue Gerda from death? Okay, brace yourself. You’re about to get a faceful of multi-layered homoerotic subtext. The little robber girl says, with her first words in-story, “She shall play with me… She shall give me her muff (!) and her pretty dress (!!), and she shall sleep in my bed (!!!)” [direct quote from the story, escalatingly scandalized exclamation points mine].

Wow! Fast mover! But hey, who hasn’t seen a girl with a certain je ne sais quoi and just thought, I wouldn’t mind if she stripped naked, got into bed with me, and…gave me her “muff”?

Per Hans Christian Andersen in “The Snow Queen,” the robber girl is kind of a Byronic girly dreamboat: “as big as Gerda, but much stronger. She had broad shoulders and a darker skin. Her eyes were quite black, with almost a melancholy expression.” This description enables me to picture her as a deliciously scowly Michelle Rodriguez-type. Or, I don’t know, someone in the Fairuza Balk vein, or even a Buffy-era Eliza Dushku?

The robber girl then gets into the carriage, puts her arm around Gerda’s waist, and proceeds to establish herself as the dark, thrilling, violent, scary, protective lesbian girlfriend you both crave and fear. “They shan’t kill you as long as I don’t get angry with you. You must surely be a princess!” Nice sweet talk, robber girl! It’s telling that robber girl immediately sees Gerda as a princess even though the story’s established her as just a normal girl. She immediately assumes Gerda is a “princess,” a word that is basically fairy tale code for something special, beautiful, unique, desirable. The robber girl’s whole vibe here is impulsively, romantically chivalric, with an edge of scary longing.

(Now, I definitely don’t condone this in real life. If you find someone who thinks you’re a princess but also explicitly says that you won’t get killed unless they get angry with you, please immediately start building your support network and planning your escape because that is some murder-suicide, crazy dark talk right there. But hey, this is fiction, so I feel like those rules don’t apply and we are free to revel in sometimes unhealthily obsessive lady-loving.)

Now I’m going to have to stop pointing out the blatant muff-related subtextual imagery because I am beginning to feel like an immature perv, but only once I note that the robber girl then dries Gerda’s tears and, direct quote, “stuck her own hands into the pretty muff, which was so soft and warm.” What? Come on. There is absolutely hardcore porn less suggestive than this passage.

After their romantic carriage ride, the robber girl takes Gerda to her intense, gothy castle-house deep in the woods, which is all ravens and crows and cracked walls, blazing fires in smoky halls and huge bulldogs leaping up to greet or maybe eat you. Robber girl keeps her many pets here, including hundreds of doves and a reindeer. Also, there is always a giant pot of soup boiling. This might just be me, but robber girl’s house sounds pretty awesome.

Little Robber girl straight-up making eyes at our Gerda. Also, muff. Illustration by Donn P. Crane. Little Robber girl straight-up making eyes at our Gerda. Also, muff. Illustration by Donn P. Crane.

The robber girl has Gerda sleep with her in a corner spread with straw and rugs; robber girl by the way always sleeps with knives, young-Angelina-Jolie-style. The robber girl “laughed and pulled Gerda down into bed with her,” whereupon poor vanilla Gerda nervously asks, “do you have that knife by you while you are asleep?”

“I always sleep with a knife.” Oh, baby.

But the next part is genuinely intimate and tender. Robber girl asks Gerda what her deal is, and then actually listens; she honestly wants to know what Gerda’s life has been like, wants to hear about the people Gerda cares for and the reasons Gerda has ventured out from her obviously sheltered existence into the robber girl’s infinitely wilder, wider, and more dangerous world. “So Gerda told her all about it again, and the wood pigeons cooed up in their cage above them… The little robber girl put her arm around Gerda’s neck and went to sleep with the knife in her other hand, and was soon snoring.” Aww. So sweet. With an underlying note of kinky-scary. That’s just how little robber girl rolls, I guess.

Later that night, when robber girl hears Gerda sighing her boyfriend’s name, she says, “Lie still, or I shall stick the knife into you.” That’s uh, pretty phallic, I guess. I’ll just leave that one there.

The next day Gerda tells her new friend that she needs to go to Lapland to rescue Kay from the Snow Queen. The robber girl “looked quite solemn, but she nodded her head and said, ‘No matter, no matter!’” and asks her reindeer to take Gerda to Lapland. So obvious. Little robber girl is concealing her feelings at losing Gerda under a veil of brave carelessness. She’s that girl who can’t quite articulate her rough affection, but wears it on her sleeve. But whatever Gerda wants, Gerda gets — and if Gerda wants to go to Lapland, little robber girl is going to get her there.

The next part is legitimately so sad, and also completely glossed over in the story. Robber girl says they just need to wait for her mom to get drunk and pass out, and then she’ll sneak Gerda out. She gets up, greets her mom, and mom “filliped her nose till it was red and blue, but it was all affection.”

Robber girl! Gerda! That is not affection! That is just plain old abuse! And it really helps to explain the robber girl’s creepy, desperately sad “I love you so much I’ll kill you” ethic. Oh, and her eyes! It also explains her melancholy eyes! She only knows violence, and sadness, and hurt! Gerda, help her! Save her! She’s so damaged and vulnerable and kind under her hard, violent, unpredictable exterior! We’re going to spend the entire story saving douchey ol’ Kay just because he got some so-called “troll mirror” stuck in his eye? When we have a legitimate, bruised, inwardly tender, outwardly swaggering, dark hero right here, hiding her pain? You can live with her in her awesome gloomy castle full of cool pets and all-the-time soup!

No? Okay. Fine. Gerda still wants to go to Lapland and get her boy. And then what happens? Scarred, angry, obsessive, possessive robber girl…lets Gerda go. Just like that. She sees that Gerda has her own story, her own life, and doesn’t try to keep her, even though she could. And then she liberates her own pet, her reindeer, from its chains, to help Gerda on her journey. She’s defying her past, she’s defying cagedness, she’s—she’s defying gravity! (All together now: “Something has chaaanged within me! Something is not the same…”) She lifts Gerda up onto the reindeer, chivalric to the end, and then physically ties her on (BDSM undertones until the end, also). She gives Gerda her own stolen boots back to keep her feet warm but (this is the last one, I promise): “I will keep your muff. It is too pretty to part with.” Man, robber girl. You are…super into Gerda’s muff. Okay.

Then, in possibly the greatest romantic gesture humanly possible, robber girl gives Gerda a giant ham sandwich. I mean, fuck the romance noise. Fuck flowers. Fuck teddy bears. We’re talking a giant ham sandwich here. Like with two full loaves of bread. I am not making this up. I think we can all agree that this pushes robber girl over into absolute grade-A, that’s-a-keeper territory. She’s that one girl who will drive you to the airport so you can fly away from her to Paris or Istanbul or what have you to pursue your dreams, and maybe you’ll never see her again, after that one perfect summer, and her shoulders are hard in the driver’s seat and she won’t say anything and she won’t quite look at you and it’s breaking your heart how much you’re breaking hers, and then, “Here,” she says, gruffly, and hands over a giant sandwich from that one place you love, with the dressing included and lots of extra napkins, because “There’s never anything good to eat in those frou-frou places,” and you fling yourself on her and kiss her neck and she asks “Why you are crying, loser?” even though you’re both laughing through your own tears.

You knooooow.

Then the little robber girl sets her free. The little robber girl sets Gerda free. She cuts the halter binding her reindeer with a knife and says to the reindeer, “Now run, and take care of my little girl!”—Id. Gerda reaches back with her mittened hands to the robber girl, to say one last good-bye, but the reindeer is already rushing off, racing through cold air, over briars and bushes, forests and plains, across the night sky, under the great northern lights, and Gerda is free and fast, flying to her future.

Also she has a giant ham sandwich. YESSS.

Bye-byes! I super love you! Bye-byes! I super love you!

The End (?)! Actually, no!

We see robber girl just once more, as you do with that amazing ex-girlfriend you still think of now and then, and when you think of her, you smile. Gerda’s saved Kay, with, like, the power of prayer or some shit, and on their way back they run into all the people Gerda met on her journey up. They come to a forest. Birds are singing, flowers are budding, and then, as if in some fairy tale lesbian fantasy, out canters a young girl on a beautiful horse (okay, sure, she stole the horse from Gerda initially. Details! She’s a robber, it’s right there in her name, what do you want!).

It’s the robber girl, looking fly as fuck, in a scarlet cap with pistols in her belt, “riding northwards to see how she liked it before she tried some other part of the world.” Gerda recognizes her, in the story, with delight. Robber girl calls out Kay, her princess’s comparatively lame current boyfriend. “I should like to know if you deserve to have somebody running to the end of the world for your sake,” she says, a hint of warning, a hint of threat. Id. Hey. You treat my girl right, or there’s a knife with your name on it, buddy.

Little Robber Girl swagging out as she says good-bye/obliquely threatens her ex’s current boyfriend. Little Robber Girl swagging out as she says good-bye/obliquely threatens her ex’s current boyfriend.

Gerda pats her cheek, robber girl asks how everything went, and then robber girl takes their hands, all debonair, Humphrey Bogart at the close of Casablanca, and says good-bye before “she rode off into the wide world.”

GERDA! For fuck’s sake. GO WITH HER. You can always go home some other time. For now you’re young, she’s here, and the whole wide world is laid out before you, full of possibility. There’s magic out there, and danger, deep forests, fields of snow reflecting back the resonant glow of the northern lights. There’s the possibility of flight. There’s a girl, a girl grinning into the cold wind on her face, looking at you, calling you princess, a girl whose got a knife in her pocket and is happy to see you. She’ll watch your back, she’ll give you the shoes off her feet, even if she did steal them from you first. Go, Gerda, go and don’t look back.

Go live happily ever after.

Victoria Don is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She is currently working on a young adult adventure novel featuring Asian American protagonists, wolves, boarding school, freeways, the desert, hereditary magic, underground murder syndicates, complicated family dynamics, and that weird dead LA light.

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