Magic, Myth and Science — Frozen II: Forest of Shadows Interview with Kamilla Benko

Oh, thank you! I had Frozen, the short films, and the Frozen Broadway cast album on background almost every time I wrote. I was also aware that director Jennifer Lee allowed the actors to inform and influence the characters, and so I listened to many, many interviews, both Frozen-related and non-Frozen-related with Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, and of course, Anna herself, Kristen Bell. Finally, Forest of Shadows was a huge team effort, and my editor and I would sometimes go through multiple rounds with the filmmakers to get a line just right!

This book is brimming with awesome themes. I love the discussions around magic, myth and science, including Sorenson’s notion that “all myths contain a kernel of hard truth”; as well as Anna’s faith in stories. Another favorite line of mine is: “Wolves did exist, yes, but so did rainbows and sisters.” Which themes were important to you such that you felt compelled to include them?

Kamilla Benko
Kamilla Benko

What a great question! Like Anna, I have faith in stories. Stories help us make sense of the world, and they are safe spaces for us to explore our own thoughts and feelings. Stories also provide answers. “Seeking answers” is a major theme in both Forest of Shadows and Frozen II,  and it was important to me to show how stories can be found in many places. In books, of course, but also in artifacts from the past, in our communities today, and in science. This is why a Librarian, a Scientist, and a Journalist all play a major role in Forest of Shadows!  

Another important theme for me was “Fear.” And as I mentioned, I listened to many interviews by Kristen Bell, and she’s very open about the need for mental health and her own struggle with anxiety. This is also something close to my heart, and so I wanted to tackle this struggle that real kids may face and show how one can live with fear and still do great things anyway.  

Beyond the films, what resources did you look to for inspiration for Forest of Shadows?

I did a ton of research on Scandinavian folklore and myths. Nattmaras and Hulderfolk are prevalent in tales from that region, though I did put a bit of my own spin on the ones you encounter in Forest of Shadows!  I also read a lot about the Vikings and explored their family sagas. Aren of Arendelle is loosely based on famed explorers Eric the Red and Leif Ericson who sail out looking for adventure and food to bring back to their families. Aren’s tale is also inspired by Beowulf, an ancient British poem based on Scandinavian sagas. In it, the hero, Beowulf, faces a dragon. ;)

What character and his or her experiences resonates most with you and your experiences? 

Elsa! Though I was never locked away or created an eternal winter, I relate to her struggle to be perfect, even when no one else is requiring or expecting that. Like Elsa, I’m also an oldest sister, and I have a huge responsibility to be a good role model for my younger siblings and I am also very protective of them. 

Who is your favorite Frozen character and why?

Anna, of course! As an Elsa, I’m so in awe of Anna’s ability to always be herself, no matter the circumstance. It takes courage to wear your heart on your sleeve and her ability to love is just as powerful as Elsa’s snowy magic. I also adore Olaf, because he is the best part of both sisters’ imagination and he should never be underestimated!  

What did you think of Frozen II?

It is daring and brilliant and gorgeous! It is so rare for an animated film to center a female character, let alone two female characters. Frozen pushed the boundary of what a princess story could be, and Frozen II absolutely shattered that boundary. And Elsa’s story in Frozen II? Incredible! Normally, her destiny is reserved only for people who look like Gandalf or Harry Potter or Luke Skywalker or Spiderman—whereas Elsa is a twenty-four-year-old woman grappling with self-doubt. More of these kinds of movies, please! 

What do you hope fans get out of Forest of Shadows?

I hope the book gives readers permission to love fiercely without shame, and to know that it’s okay to care. That big emotions are normal and good and necessary—and that talking to friends always helps. And, of course, I hope they walk away feeling they understand Anna, and Elsa, and Arendelle just a little bit better and love them even more.

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