mirror writing (or: notes on mirrors and fairytales)

Fitting for a duplicitous subject, the French have two words for the mirror: glace and miroir. The latter is more common, referring as it does to the sort of mirror you might find in your handbag or your bathroom or your car; a word for the everyday modern mirror whose surface you skim shallowly, without thought. Glace, though, with its antiquated looking-glass tint, tells you more. I first heard it in Versailles, entering the famous Galerie des Glaces in December, a chill under my skin. There’s something about that other word; that sense of the ice that lurks behind it. Glace – from the Old French glace, from the even older Latin glacies – meaning: 1. Ice 2. Ice cream 3. Glass 4. Mirror. Hearing it used for the first time reminded me of that Anderson tale The Snow Queen, where the mirror gets all caught up in the glittering air and spells the boy’s heart glacial. The power of the mirror’s reflective gaze wielded against him as the shard stole in through his eye and shrank his mind to the limits of itself. I’ve always seen that tale as a parallel for the desperate narcissism of the mirror, for the power that we give it to reassure us (see also Snow White and the tragic queen so desperate for reassurance she spends all day alone inside; the mirror so powerful it speaks as she’s reduced to childlike rhyme).[1] I suppose what I’m saying is that I always thought that tale was trying to tell us our best reflections of the self come from those loved ones around us, not what shadow’s cast in a surface. Like how the boy is rescued in the end as the image of himself found in Gerda induces him to melt the mirror out with joyful, blinding tears. You’ll never see yourself moving with love or laughter or deepest rage like others will; a mirror only freezes. La glace, indeed. So, a note to self and to all the others: keep your eyes off your eyes. Trust those around you, listen to the bass beat of your organs, and don’t let the mirror’s ice into your soul. Keep dancing. Everything looks better that way.


[1] See how deep the miroir/glace mirroring runs? Snow Queen, Snow White. It is always glacial in the domain of la glace.

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