When Elsa is on the search for answers on her way to the magical glacier Ahtohallan and has to cross the Dark Sea, she meets the spirit of the water who takes on the form of a water horse. But why exactly did Disney choose to make the water spirit a horse?
The water spirit is a horse in Frozen 2 because Disney took inspiration from Scandinavian mythology where water spirits like the Norwegian nøkk appeared in horse form. In the film it is used to demonstrate the dangerous power of the water that Elsa has to cross to reach her destination.
I go more into detail about what kind of creature the water horse is exactly and what it symbolizes in the following (may contain spoilers).
Why is the water spirit a horse?
In Frozen 2 Elsa tries to find out what her powers mean by following a beautiful voice to the Enchanted forest and deeper towards a magical glacier called Ahtohallen where she hopes to find answers.
But on the way there she has to cross the Dark sea with its huge waves and dangerous water. Thats where she comes across the water horse. But it is not a pleasant encounter.
Since the movie is set in Scandinavia, the team from Disney actually took a trip there for reasearch for the second movie. That is how many elements form the nothern countries like Norway, Sweden and Iceland were integrated into the movie.
The most important one is probably the depiction of the people of Ahtohallan and their connection to the spirits of nature which are inspired by the native Sámi people of nothern Scandinavia. Not only do they have that close connection to nature and keep reindeers but they also sing traditional Sámi music in the movie.
Two of the nature spirits were also influenced by Scandinavian folklore: The earth trolls and the water horse.
The water horse has its roots in the water spirits myths from Scandinavia and parts of the United Kingdom. It has slightly different names in these countries but they all refer to one kind of Germanic and Scandinavian water spirit: the neck.
The water spirit usually lives in rivers or lakes and likes to trick people. They are shapeshifters and some of them appear in the form of a horse, others is the form of humans.
It seems like the original spirit might have always been a horse though because the word for all the spirits that are associated with the neck stemms from Old Norse nykr which literally translates to “river horse”.
This creature is still very prevalent in Iceland and the Faroe islands where it is called nykur. A counterpart is the southern Scandinavian bäckahästen which also translates to “brook horse”.
The Norwegian version of the neck is called nøkk. More recent tales descibe the nøkk as human male water spirits who play music in the lakes and streams they live in in order to lure women and children to them and make them drown. They are said to play beautiful and enchanted songs, usually on the violin.
But not all of them were that dangerous. The closely related nøkker, for example, were completely harmless. Some other similar water spirits like the Swedish fossegrim or some Scottish keplies even ended up marrying or living with a human they fell in love with.
Is the nokk a kelpie?
The probably most famous water spirit that takes the form of a horse is the kelpie from Scotland. But is it the same creature as the nokk?
A nokk is not the exact same as a kelpie. The nokk is a water spirit from Norway but the kelpie lives in Scotland. They share a lot of similarites though and have the same mythological roots.
Is the nokk a girl or boy in Frozen 2?
During Frozen 2 it is not mentioned whether the nokk is a girl or a boy. It probably is a stallion though because in Norwegian mythology the nokk usally is a handsome young man when he transforms into a human form.
Why did the horse try to drown Elsa?
When Elsa first encounters the water horse in the Dark sea it seems rather aggressive and even tries to pull her into the depth.
This behaviour is a reference to the dangerous character of the mythological nokk that I just described and demonstrates how dangerous and powerful the element of water can be. It might have also been especially angry because someone is intruding their land they tried to protect from the outside world for over 30 years.
However, Disney decided to take liberty in the adaptation of the mythological material for their movie and create their own version of the water spirit that obviously differs a bit from it’s mythological inspiration.
In an interview with RadioTimes the producer of Frozen 2 said that the water horse would pose a much greater danger to Elsa if it was in it’s original mythological form.
For the movie they however reinterpreted the water horse so it constitues a challenge for Elsa to overcome but nothing that could seriously harm her. So, it seems like, the water horse did not seriously intend to drown Elsa.
What does the horse symbolize in frozen 2?
Now, Disney took the nokk in horse form as the inspiration for their water horse for Frozen 2 but turned it into a bit less dangerous version of a water spirit.
Nonetheless the magestical horse demonstrates the power of the element of water and especially that part of the original mythological tales that described that it offered people to take them safely to the other side of the source of water that it lives in.
According to the producer, the water horse in Frozen 2 symbolizes a test for Elsa, in which she has to show that she is truthful and has a good heart. Because only then the water horse will help her cross the Dark sea and not harm her.
So it is basically a challenge for Elsa to overcome to reach her destination: the glacier of Ahtohallan where she hopes to find the answers to all her questions.
This fits into the bigger picture when you think about how Elsa has to overcome all of the challenges the 4 elemental spirits pose when she arrives in the Enchanted Forest. It shows that even to her with her strong powers, the elements of nature are incredibly powerful and challenging.