Hans Christian Andersen Would Be Delighted With Sanna Annukka's Illustrations

Annukka enhances the reading experience of The Snow Queen and The Fir Tree with her distinctive artistic approach.

The Snow Queen

Publisher: Ten Speed Press
ISBN: 978-0-399-57850-2
Contributors: Sanna Annukka, Jean Hersholt
Author: Hans Christian Andersen
Price: $16.00
Format: Hardcover
Length: 88 pages
US Publication Date: 2016-10
UK Publication Date: 2016-10

The Fir Tree

Publisher: Ten Speed Press
ISBN: 978-0-399-57848-9
Contributors: Sanna Annukka, Tiina Nunnally
Author: Hans Christian Andersen
Price: $16.00
Format: Hardcover
Length: 48 pages
US Publication Date: 2016-10
UK Publication Date: 2016-10

When Walt Disney passed away in 1966, he left behind a healthy stash of feature film ideas that never quite got off the ground. Animator and film director John Lasseter was given an unprecedented amount of access to this secret stash when he returned to the Disney Company in 2006. One of the ideas that Lasseter felt held promise for an animated feature film was an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale The Snow Queen, a grim and meandering story that was drastically reworked into the Academy Award-winning movie Frozen. If any children or parents sought out The Snow Queen after watching Frozen, they discovered that some movies can be so far divorced from their source material that you wonder why anyone would bother uttering the words "based on" when describing the plot.

Renewed interest is still interest, however -- an idea that British artist Sanna Annukka has seized upon by illustrating two new publications of the Andersen tales The Snow Queen and The Fir Tree. Annukka has a distinct style of matting and printing, one that has carried her reputation far and wide around the world. The simple shapes she weaves together to accompany these two stories is heavily reminiscent of her Finnish heritage. In both hardbacks, her miniature biography states that she "spent her childhood summers in Finland, and its landscape and folklore remain a source of inspiration." Andersen may have lived and worked in Denmark, but Annukka understands that his tales cater to no particular nationality. The illustrations she conjures perfectly capture a combination of folkloric images and mythical mystery, the perfect reflection of these twisted tales.

Her layout and execution for The Snow Queen was probably the most challenging task of the two. Working off a recent translation by Jean Hersholt, Andersen's jumpy narrative takes the story from one action to the next in a very short span of time. Between two pages of text, six or seven things can happen to the characters, forcing Annukka to choose which aspect of the story to portray on the corresponding page (a majority of the images fill up the odd-numbered 9" by 4.5" pages). The Snow Queen is also Andersen's lengthiest fairy tale, another aspect that yet again forces Annukka to judge when to illustrate and when to let the text do the talking. The Fir Tree, on the other hand, is roughly half the length of The Snow Queen, and its singular storyline likely made Annukka's job much easier. The two books could have easily been combined into one volume, but the colored cloth wrapped around the hardcovers is a nice touch. I don't need to tell you which one is blue and which one is green.

The Fir Tree has a very straightforward message within its story: live in the moment. The story follows a solitary fir tree from its youth to its ashes. Along the way, the tree is always looking forward to the next phase of its life or is wishing to go back to a previous phase. When older trees are chopped down and hauled away, the younger fir tree longs for the same fate. When it is eventually chopped down for a family's yuletide purposes, it misses the outdoors. When it's taken to the family's attic after Christmas, it misses being a beloved Christmas tree. After rotting for an extended period of time in the family's attic, it's dragged outside and burned. Hans Christian Andersen gets the point across as directly as he can without saying it outright.

The Snow Queen, on the other hand, is about as convoluted as a good-versus-evil fairy tale can get. The story is less about the title queen and her magical powers than it is a story about the friendship between two young children. Kay, the boy, and Gerda, the girl, live very close to one another and love to pay each other visits while admiring the roses. Things go bad for the happy playmates when a mirror shatters from the heavens. This mirror, constructed by the devil, has the ability to reflect back an ugly impression of whatever subject happens to be nearby. Certain pupils of the devil take to the skies with the mirror, determined to show God his own ugly reflection. When the mirror breaks, pieces are scattered everywhere, including in Kay's eye. His mood sours and he loses all interest in being around Gerda. He is instead smitten by the mythical Snow Queen, a spirit that Gerda's grandmother warned the young children all about. He grabs his favorite sled one day and is whisked away from the center of town by the mysterious Snow Queen.

From this point forward, The Snow Queen is about Gerda's bizarre journey to get Kay back. In her travels, she comes across a lady with talking flowers, two married crows, a robber woman whose daughter wants to keep Gerda for a playmate, a reindeer held in captivity, and a prince and princess who supply Gerda with a coach. Rescuing Kay from the Snow Queen is remarkably easy. The danger of the Queen’s powers (killing people with three kisses) is never made out to be that important. Kay and Gerda return home to a happy grandmother who recites a passage from the book of Matthew, stressing the importance of remaining childlike so that one may enter the kingdom of God.

Sanna Annukka's colorful prints provide warm company should you find yourself thrown off track by Andersen's manic-depressive prose. The author and the visual artist may not share the same homeland, but there's still a clear link between author and illustrator present within the pages. From another angle, their relationship could be more of a ying-yang variety than a complimentary one. The image of the Snow Queen that adorns the blue cover has a facial calm that belies the dark elements within, and I'm almost certain that Andersen would be delighted with such a skewed notion.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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