The Frozen Heart

There are so many plotholes in Frozen that it drives me crazy.  (See here). Who is in charge of Arendelle between the king and queen’s deaths at sea and Elsa’s coronation? It obviously wasn’t Elsa, locked away in her room all the time.  I started thinking about this situation and realized that just a single character was needed to fill many of these holes.  This is his story.

Gustav and Nikolaus copy

Gustav wasn’t an ordinary boy.  He never felt like he belonged, even in his own family.  Sure, he loved the same stories of trolls and witches and warlocks as his older brother, Nikolaus, but his earliest memories had always been those of knowing he was different.  He didn’t have the same strawberry hair as the rest of his family;  his hair had been so blonde it was nearly white.  (His mother always called it “ice blonde”, which turned out to be only too appropriate.)

As a baby, Gustav was always too hot, kicking the blankets off of him even in the crib.  Every winter he was bundled up in thick jackets and mittens by his governess and shoved outside into the snow to play.  The instant he was out of sight of adults, however, he would strip them off and play barefoot in the snow.

In the snow was where he felt he most belonged, blowing snowflakes from his lips like kids blow bubbles.  His brother Nikolaus was jealous at first, trying to find out how young Gustav managed to pull off such a feat and demanding that he show him how he did it.  When Gustav tried the same trick indoors, the brotherly jealousy turned to fear.  “You can’t tell anyone about this,” Nikolaus warned.  “They’ll think you’re an evil warlock like in the stories.”

From then on, Nikolaus made it his personal duty to see to his brother’s safety, and to ensure that his secret was never found out.  There were endless questions and tests, trying to determine what could contain Gustav’s ever-growing powers.  After an argument between them sent a flurry of icicles hurtling from Gustav’s fingers like a dozen arrows shot from bows, Nikolaus made the connection.  Strong emotion was the key; to keep his powers under check, Gustav had to lock away his emotions.

His years as a young man were not easy.  He was never the popular one; that was always Nikolaus.  He never had to hide anything.  He never had to worry about a tiny snowstorm escaping from his lips with every uttered syllable.  Gustav began to hate the winter–not because of the weather (the cold never bothered him anyway), but because it would give away his secret.  Hot drinks would turn cold and icy the instant they touched his lips.  No hot chocolate, no hot tea, no cider.  Summer was just as bad.  It was always too hot, but fortunately his drinks were always cold–no need to use the ice the royal family bought from the ice cutters.  But summer, too, betrayed his secret.  His wintry breath would issue in smoky bursts in the summer heat just as warm breath does in winter.

He was as unlucky in love as he was in everything else.  There was only one girl that had ever meant something to him, and though he longed to touch her, to hold her hand or stroke her cheek, she always recoiled at his cold, icy touch.  His first kiss went horribly wrong–wintry breath and icy lips led to a romance frozen in its infancy.

He watched Nikolaus dance with his new wife, Ingrid, at their wedding, knowing such a future like that did not lay in store for him.  He would never marry, he knew–and he never would. The pain of a life alone so consumed him that he nearly exploded in a snowstorm right there in the ballroom.  Conceal, he repeated the mantra his brother had taught him all those years ago, don’t feel. 

From then on, he isolated himself entirely from others.   The Northern Mountain becomes his second home, a place of refuge and solitude for those times when he could no longer bear the weight of his repressed emotions within him.  There, he could release the storm inside him without revealing his secret or risking hurting anyone in the process.  He didn’t have the heart to tell Nikolaus that his solution wasn’t working, that it had never worked.  (Nikolaus was king now, and had more important things to worry about than his younger brother’s personal troubles). The more completely he buried his emotions, the more forcefully they would manifest as waves of ice from his fingertips or an icy windstorm from his chest.  But still, he continued to try, certain that if he tried hard enough, one day he could successfully control his curse.  As he left the mountain each time, he buried his heart away, never knowing that it was slowly growing colder with every passing day, destined to freeze entirely.

All of that changed when Nikolaus and Ingrid welcomed their first child, a girl they named Elsa.  As Gustav looked down into his niece’s crib for the first time, he saw the most amazing sight.  She had his same hair–ice blonde!  Suddenly, Gustav felt like part of the family for the first time in his entire life.  All of his childhood fears that he was some sort of aberrant freak, or an orphan taken in, were laid to rest at once.

He still had to make frequent trips into the mountain to release himself of the burden of his repressed emotions, if only for a time, but he always came back to visit Elsa. A surge of affection for this child so like him began to melt his frozen heart.  He didn’t think he could feel love like this anymore, and was surprised to find that there was a veritable wellspring of it ready and waiting as Nikolaus’ second child, Anna, came along.  He didn’t realize it, then, but he found his powers much easier to control when he was near his nieces.

Gustav never involved himself in affairs of state; that was his brother’s world, not his.  Nikolaus made Arendelle official trading partners with Weselton (Weasel Town, as some of the servants often called it in whispers behind their hands).  Gustav wasn’t pleased by this change, but in the intervening months Arendelle prospered, so he kept his tongue.

One winter’s morning, Gustav overheard Kai and Gerda, two of the castle servants, talking in the hallway outside his room.  “What is that girl doing in there?” Kai asks.  “She must have slept with her window open again,” notes Gerda.  “There was so much snow under the window that she was building a snowman.  Took me half an hour to mop the whole thing up…” Though they didn’t say which of the two girls had been at fault, (they were both still young and rather mischievous, even Anna who had only been talking for a few months), Gustav knows at once which room to go to.

He finds Elsa twirling her fingers and making rings of snowflakes in the air above her, Anna watching with awe and clapping her pudgy, toddler’s hands.  He doesn’t say anything–he had never overcome his fear of speaking, even among his family–but merely joins her in making snowflakes fall out of the air.  Elsa hugs her uncle, thrilled to know he shares her gift, for that’s what Elsa calls it.  He makes her promise to keep his secret, and he promises to keep hers.

After much fretting and doubt, Gustav tells his brother about Elsa’s powers.  Nikolaus is stunned–he had no idea! “Then she has the same curse as you,” the king says.  This comments stings Gustav; he had seen what joy Elsa’s powers brought her and Anna.  She had even called it a “gift.” But before the anger can rise up in him and cause his powers to manifest in retaliation, Nikolaus begs Gustav to help Elsa, to teach her to control her powers.

Gustav agrees, but he is crushed to burden Elsa with this so young.  Let her enjoy her youth before her life becomes full of secrets like his.  So, he does help Elsa, but by offering an outlet.  He can’t very well take her up into the Northern Mountain as he did when his control was on the brink of collapse.  They begin to have secret meetings–up in the tower, in the empty ballroom, behind closed doors.  For a short while a few times a week, he lets Elsa experiment with her powers, creating cyclones of snow flurries and mountains of ice.  When their time is over, Gustav makes her promise not to use her powers around anyone else.

He is amazed as the weeks and months go by how much Elsa’s powers grow, her control as well.  Gustav even felt a change within him; his powers were easier to control when he used them more regularly.  He took fewer and fewer trips to the mountains as a result.  Maybe this was the way their powers worked, he considers.  The release wasn’t half as violent when it was done in small doses.  Furthermore, he found he was actually enjoying creating wonders out of ice with Elsa for the first time since he was a small boy.

That’s when everything changed.

Gustav returns one day from the Northern Mountain to find Nikolaus and his family gone.  A sobbing Gerda explains, “The girls were playing and–and–” Unable to finish because of tears, Kai, explains, “It’s Anna.  They’ve gone to the trolls to try and save her.” They don’t say much else about the situation, for they don’t know much more.  Gustav, however, can guess.  Elsa had broken her promise and used her powers with Anna.  She must have wanted to share what she had been practicing with her sister, and been doing so for who knew how long.

Gustav’s guilt is overwhelming.  It had been his fault.  He had let Elsa believe that her powers were a gift, not the heavy burden they were.  She was a child and he was the adult; he was responsible for not teaching her better control, or making certain that she did not harm anyone.  Even now, Anna could be paying the price for his misdeed.

When the Nikolaus and his family return, Gustav sees the mark of his folly upon his niece’s head–an ice blonde lock of hair from where Elsa’s frozen bolt had gone astray and nearly froze her sister.  She is going to be all right, and he is relieved, but his punishment is yet to begin.  Nikolaus forbids Gustav from teaching Elsa anymore, and tells him that he is going to oversee to Elsa’s education from then on.

The castle undergoes a stark change, both in appearance and policy.  The gates to the castle are barred, the windows and doors closed to outsiders.  Most of the servants are dismissed; only Kai, Gerda, and a few others are allowed to remain behind, and they are all sworn to secrecy about Elsa and her condition.

“Anna can never know,” Nikolaus instructs, relating to them what the trolls had told him about Elsa’s powers.  “Fear will be her enemy, they said.  So she needs to control her fear.” Gustav hears the same words he had been told by his brother now spoken to Elsa: “Conceal, don’t feel.” Elsa’s gift was gone; it was a curse now, just like his.

The changes in the castle mean that Gustav is not as free to come and go to the Northern Mountain anymore.  But that doesn’t matter, anyway.  If the alternative would be to leave the castle permanently, he would much prefer the isolation of this empty castle if only he could be near his nieces.  Without the constant visitors, emissaries, dignitaries, and the many servants in the castle, Gustav can easily release his pent-up powers safely in a remote part of the castle.  This becomes harder and harder over the years as adventurous Anna spends her time roaming the empty halls, talking to paintings and riding her bike into the most unexpected places.  Only his own room is safe now; he locks himself away in it just as Elsa locks herself in hers.

He and Elsa grow distant, as do he and Nikolaus.  His brother has not forgiven him for what happened to Anna, and though he is not openly hostile about it, he makes it clear that a trust has been forever broken.  It’s easier for Gustav to harbor his brother’s scorn rather than his affection, anyway.  He just bottles it away like he always did: conceal, don’t feel.  His heart, once thawed, begins to freeze again.  The years pass, and they never heal the broken bond between them.  And after that terrible day, they never would.

Neither Gustav nor Elsa attend the funeral of King Nikolaus and Queen Ingrid after their deaths at sea.  Their pain is too strong, too raw to be controlled.  Elsa’s grief explodes out of her in the isolation of her room, never knowing that a few doors down, Gustav has encased himself entirely within walls of ice in the hopes that he can shut himself off from the world.  The cold is not enough to numb himself to the pain of losing the brother whom he had turned his back on but had never stopped loving.

Gustav is a reluctant regent.  He never wanted to be king.  That was his brother’s destiny, the popular one, the normal one.  He never agreed with Nikolaus’ policies about Elsa, but he continues to keep the doors shut and locked to continue protecting their secret.  He doesn’t know what else to do.  His three-year rule as regent is uneventful, for Gustav keeps himself locked away as always, rarely taking visitors and changing none of his brother’s policies.  After all, it’s not really his throne, but Elsa’s.  He’s just keeping it warm for her until she comes of age.

Gustav anxiously awaits the day of Elsa’s coronation, not because he is excited but because it means that his responsibilities will end.  However, this sends him into a spiral of regret as he realizes that his release from the burden of a ruler with a terrible secret means that Elsa’s will now begin.  And, unlike his, her reign will not be over in just three years.  Elsa has a hard journey ahead of her, and so Gustav resolves to make it easier for her.  He risks his own discovery to make the preparations for her coronation: the bishop, tutoring Elsa on protocols, etc.  But even as much as he had helped her prepare, in the end the terror of being in front of all those people overwhelms him and he loses control of his powers.  For his own safety and that of others–most importantly, Elsa, for he doesn’t want to upset her and send her into a fit of her own at her coronation–he locks himself away in his room.

News reaches him sometime later about Elsa.  She has attacked the coronation guests, run off and created an eternal winter in Arendelle.  Despite his own fears, Gustav emerges from his room to help with damage control.  He was the regent, after all.  He finds that Prince Hans of the Southern Isles has been put in charge of Arendelle by Anna, who has gone to find Elsa and restore Arendelle to its former state.  Gustav doesn’t argue with this; he’s happier being in the background.  He helps out by taking people of the town into the castle, especially children and the elderly, passing out coats and blankets and helping the servants light every available candle, lamp and fire.  He’s still afraid of people finding out about his powers, but in such a storm, he doubts anyone will notice.  He takes to the streets rather than staying in the castle.  After all, the cold never bothered him anyway.

He watches Hans carefully in the meantime.  It’s not that he mistrusts him exactly–not at first–but Arendelle is still his home and he is fearful of an outsider being in charge of it in such a crisis.  By this time, he has heard about his and Anna’s engagement, and understands why she chose Hans over her uncle to take charge.  It was just as impossible for Anna to coax her reclusive uncle from his room as it was to coax out Elsa, and time was of the essence.  Hans seems to be doing a good job, standing up to the Duke of Weselton and defending Arendelle’s interests. All of that changes when Anna’s horse comes back riderless.

Hans believes Anna is in danger and makes up a party to go and find her.  The Duke of Weselton sends some of his men along, which alarms Gustav.  He’s never trusted Weselton, and he trusts the Duke even less.  More so, he doesn’t believe Anna could possibly be in any real danger, at least not from Elsa.  He takes Hans aside, wanting to go with the search party.  He knows the Northern Mountain well, and wants–no, needs–to find his family.  “No,” says Hans.  “Anna put me in charge of Arendelle, but as the former regentyou should be the one in charge of your people here until I return with Princess Anna.”

This is when Gustav starts to suspect Hans’ motives.  Shouldn’t he have meant Anna and Elsa? Wasn’t the whole point to find Elsa so they can end the winter in Arendelle? “What are your intentions toward my niece?” Gustav asks shrewdly.

“I will bring back Anna safely, I assure you, Prince Gustav,” notes Hans.  This hasn’t answered his question.  “I meant Elsa,” Gustav retorts. Hans doesn’t answer, and leaves with the rescue party.

Hans’ assurances meant very little to Gustav, even less when Hans returns not with Anna, but with Elsa in chains.  Gustav goes to the dungeon, hoping to talk to Elsa, to work with her to find a solution to the winter she created.  He doesn’t know how to stop it himself–all of his ice creations always melted on their own eventually, but her winter is getting worse–but he figures that he can help her control her emotions enough to calm the storm.  However, the guards won’t let him in to see her.  These are Arendelle’s royal guards, but they are under orders from Hans not to let anyone see the prisoner.  And since Anna, the next in line, was the one to put Hans in charge, Gustav’s position as the former regent means nothing.

Gustav goes in search of Hans in the hopes of showing him that there is another way to end this winter, but finds out that he is with Anna, who has just returned from the Northern Mountain, weak and dying.  But when Hans emerges once more, he announces that Anna is dead.

Although Anna is dead, Hans goes on to say, they exchanged their wedding vows before the end, which means he is now the King of Arendelle.  He charges Elsa with high treason for Anna’s death, and goes to hunt her down and carry out her punishment.

At this news, Gustav is frozen–both literally and figuratively.  The tears he cries for Anna freeze on his cheeks.  To lose a beloved niece is more than one person can bear, but to lose her at the hands of an even more beloved niece? And soon, he would be losing the other one as well, doomed to die at the hand of a man whom he only met that day, who is now in charge of his kingdom? Gustav cannot control his powers any longer, and his rage and grief explode out of him in shards of ice so large and strong that they break the windows of the room where all the dignitaries are gathered, cracking the ceiling and floors and turning the entire room into an ice cavern.  The dignitaries go running for their lives, some of them screaming that Elsa must be nearby and others seeing Gustav for exactly what he is.  Nonetheless, having seen the strength of Elsa’s powers, no one wants to stick around to deal with this new threat.

Gustav, no longer afraid but full of righteous determination, sets after Hans even as the foreign prince is crossing the frozen fjord to find and kill Elsa.  Gustav avows that he is not going to lose the last of his family, no matter what Elsa may or may not have done.  He can barely see through the raging blizzard as Hans raises his sword to kill a helpless Elsa.  He cries out for her, but the storm is so loud that no one can hear him.

But then what does he see? Anna, alive! She jumps in front of Elsa and saves her from Hans, freezing into a block of ice.  Gustav watches, horrified, from the sunken deck of one of the ice-trapped boats in the harbor as Anna sacrifices herself for her sister, saving her life at the cost of her own.  All this time Gustav thought Elsa was the powerful one, and for so much of her life he had ignored Anna and never realized that she had a power all her own.

Gustav finds that, though his heart is breaking, it is anything but frozen.  There is no blast of ice from his fingertips, no whirlwind escaping him as there had been at Hans’ false news of her death.  His powers are completely under control despite his grief.  It’s not emotion that undermines his control, he realizes, but fear alone.  That’s why Elsa had such great control when she was a child, because she was not afraid of her gift but embraced it.  Right now, his heart was so full of love and tenderness for Anna–for both of them–that the storm inside him is finally at peace.  It’s not fear that grips him, it is loss.  Tears streak his face, and despite the cold, they do not freeze upon his cheeks.

That’s when a wondrous sight catches his eye.  The frozen Anna is slowly thawing, melting under the warmth of her sister’s final embrace.  The blizzard has calmed down now, and Gustav hears every word.  Elsa has come to the same conclusion as he, all on her own.  It’s love that can break the spell of winter over Arendelle, and with a sweep of her hands, Elsa does so.  The ice of the fjords melts and shatters, releasing the imprisoned ships.

Gustav’s ship, its deck once just a few inches above the surface of the ice, rockets upward.  Across the way, Elsa and Anna celebrate their victory with their new-found friends.  Gustav smiles.  He’ll go and talk to them later.  For now, let them have their moment.

Meanwhile, Gustav is pondering just how to get off this ship anchored in the middle of a now-unfrozen fjord.  Maybe he’ll make a bridge entirely out of ice.  Now that he’s not afraid of his powers any longer, the possibilities are endless.  Just then, Prince Hans bobs by in the water, a nasty welt beginning to form on his face.  I guess the engagement is off, Gustav muses with a smile.

“Can you throw me a rope?” Hans asks, looking a bit helpless in his watery defeat.  Gustav sighs, and throws him a line.  Just as Hans grabs it, however, Gustav surrounds Hans with a block of ice (all but his head, of course), the rope frozen to his hands inside the ice.  Gustav finds his way back to shore (freezing the water beneath him with every step) with Hans in tow, bobbing along behind him in the waves.  It’s now summer again, but maybe this way, Hans will arrive at the Southern Isles with a cold.

Note: Gustav is a character created by me.  Everyone else in the story is actually from Frozen.  Kai and Gerda are actually named characters in the movie.  Nikolaus and Ingrid are the names I decided to give the king and queen, who have no names in the original movie.  All artwork is from the movie, with the exception of the top picture of Gustav and Nikolaus, which is some clever Photoshopping of the king to make his brother.


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