This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Readercon convention for science fiction and fantasy literature in Burlington, MA. One of the panels was about heroes versus antiheroes: what makes the difference? How flawed must a hero be to swing to the antihero side? How about pushing all the way to villainy? After all, most people are the heroes of their own story, whether or not they seem evil to others.
It occurred to me that this is one of the reasons I enjoyed the recent Disney juggernaut “Frozen.” I’ve written before about the world-building, but it’s really the take on character that I appreciated most. The characters make and solve their own problems. They pursue their own goals (love, freedom, kingdom) with clear intent and enthusiasm. And Prince Hans is right out there, using different tactics to gain the leadership role he seeks.
The last of many brothers, he has no chance for such a role in his own kingdom of the Southern Isles. In the middle ages, spare sons might go to war, be given lesser positions in subservience to the heir, or even enter the church as another means of advancement. Hans wants none of this. So he travels to a distant realm, probably with the thought of meeting and marrying Queen Elsa. Instead, he meets her little sister, so desperate to be loved that she falls for him right away. He’s adept at fostering a connection with her, and thus, with the crown.
When Elsa freezes the kingdom and Anna rides of after her, Hans is given his big chance to prove his leadership, and he does so in spades, distributing blankets and needed supplies, opening the palace to nurture the citizens (in a way it has not been open for years). He collaborates with officials of the kingdom, as well as with its allies, and in every way shows himself to be an able administrator, and likely, a worthy king. When he brings Elsa back to face justice, he is not wrong: it is her power that has cast the kingdom into a possibly irrecoverable state, and it may be the only course to kill her.
We are encouraged by our sympathy for Elsa, built mainly through her relationship with Anna, to view this decision in a negative light. But if Elsa had not been able to balance her power and restore the kingdom, what alternative would have remained? Sure, I understand her urgency to escape from her prison, but what are the other choices for the kingdom, frozen by her magic? The idea of magic dying with the one who cast it is common in many magical realms–we don’t know if that limitation exists here, but it’s not unreasonable. Thus if Elsa neither removes the curse (Anna’s solution), nor dies (Hans’s solution), the kingdom will be ruined–and possibly many lands beyond. We don’t know how far the freeze extends.
Hans can thus be viewed as an antihero, taking actions in pursuit of an important goal (saving the kingdom, clearly heroic), but actions that will have a negative impact on at least one other character we have been led to care about, Elsa herself.
His refusal to kiss Anna is a bit more problematic. He knows that he doesn’t love her, and thus cannot save her. Honestly, little harm would have been done by his kissing her anyway. They could both have been heartbroken and confused about why it doesn’t have any effect, and she dies in his arms (exactly as he later claims she did). He could also have refused to kiss her as an act of personal integrity, knowing his “love” cannot save her, and thus refusing to succumb to that hope or allow her to do so.
But this is a Disney film, and, in spite of its unconventional approach to ideas of heroism, true love, and sacrifice, it can’t really go there–leaving the viewer with the impression of Hans as merely an ambitious young man, working to secure his goal. He does ask Elsa to bring back the summer, and she refuses, leaving him no alternative.
It’s interesting to view Hans as a person of integrity, having come very close to achieving a kingdom, and now doing his sincere best to work in its behalf, willing to make himself unpopular by killing the queen in order to save the kingdom. Any decent lawyer could get him off the charges, simply by pointing out that the only clear solution to saving the kingdom would be killing its cursed queen.
Readers, what’s your verdict?