Inferno, Canto V

Inferno, Canto V

A reader sends along this Collin Garbarino post about a Dantean theme in Disney’s Frozen. Excerpt:

Except, is Elsa really free? She’s trapped herself in an ice palace, and she’s all alone. She’s not free. By indulging her gift, she’s imprisoned herself.

While watching this scene I was overwhelmed with memories of Dante’s Inferno. In the Inferno, Dante takes a trip through nine circles of hell, telling about the sinners and punishments he sees along the way. When Dante gets to the very bottom of hell he finds Satan. But the bottom of hell isn’t a fiery pit, as most of us would suspect, it’s a frozen wasteland, and Satan is frozen up to his waist in ice.

Satan has six great wings, and every time he flaps them, they produce an icy blast that further freezes him in place. His wings were a gift, but since he is trying to use his gift to serve himself rather than God, his wings have become a curse.

Satan and Elsa suffer from the same desire. They both long to be free. Elsa wants the freedom to be herself by shedding obligations to family and society. Satan wants to fly. Nothing says freedom more than flight. In both instances their desire for freedom imprisons them in ice. Ice of their own making.

I also detect echoes from Milton’s Paradise Lost when Elsa sings, “No right, no wrong, no rules for me. I’m free!” Disney depicts Elsa’s fall in a manner consistent with the Western literary tradition’s picture of humanity’s descent into sin. We call license “freedom,” and it enslaves us.

Precisely Dante’s point.

I appreciate so much this advice regarding Frozen. Nora asks every night for me to read the next canto in Inferno so she can illustrate it. Last night was Canto V, the Lustful. You should have seen me trying to explain to a seven year old what Lust is. I think I managed to do it at a level she could understand, but only just. Frozen, which we haven’t seen yet, gives me a great entry point for putting the whole poem into context for her, and helping her to get whatever truths a seven-year-old can find in Dante.

By the way, the creature saying “GRR” above is Minos, who assigns newly-arrived sinners to their proper level in Hell. Francesca and Paolo are somewhere in the cloud of the Lustful blown about on the infernal winds.