Interview: Author Mari Mancusi Talks Crafting ‘Dangerous Secrets: The Story of Iduna and Agnarr’ [EXCLUSIVE]

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Image Courtesy Mari Mancusi and Disney Press.

Anna and Elsa’s story took the world by storm when Disney fans all over the world were transported to Arendelle as first Frozen and then Frozen 2 hit theaters. Now, fans are invited to step deeper into that world and discover the story of Iduna and Agnarr, Elsa and Anna’s parents. Frozen 2: Dangerous Secrets: The Story of Iduna and Agnarr author Mari Mancusi sat down with us to discuss what it was like to step into the Frozen universe (‘verse) and tell the tale of adventure, mystery, and true love between Iduna and Agnarr before they were royals!

Nerds and Beyond: First off, congratulations on Dangerous Secrets! It’s a fantastic book that just brings everything about Arendelle, the Northuldra, and their world to life in a very special way.

Mari Mancusi: Thank you! As a lifelong Disney nerd and Frozen fan myself, it was a true privilege to be asked to contribute to the Frozen ‘verse and I can only hope I did the fandom proud.

Nerds and Beyond: Tell us a little about the beginning stages of brainstorming for Dangerous Secrets. Where did you go for research and/or inspiration on expanding the beautiful world we see in Frozen and Frozen 2?

Mari Mancusi: Luckily, I was already a Frozen fan when I got the assignment, which is probably one of the reasons they picked me in the first place. My daughter was three when the first film came out and like every other family around the world, we became Frozen obsessed, with “Let it Go” playing on repeat in the car. I had even done some Elsa cosplay mashups with my bestie for DragonCon. So I was Team Elsa from the start!

But this was on another level entirely—and I wanted to make sure I got things right. And so I went back to the beginning, pouring over the first film and devouring the script for part two, which hadn’t yet been released in theaters. I also read several of the already published Frozen tie-in novels like Forest of Shadows and Conceal Don’t Feel to get a sense of what authors had done before me. Once the film came out, I saw it multiple times in the theater (luckily my daughter, now eight, was my eager movie buddy) and I read all the reviews, concentrating specifically on ones that brought up unanswered questions about the parents’ backstory. I became determined to answer all those questions—and more—in my book.

I also admit to Googling a lot of beautiful Norwegian countryside and village pictures to set the mood! And I did lots of research on traditional food and customs and clothing in Norwegian society during the time period the story took place. I never did get to taste Kransekake – the traditional Norwegian wedding cake – but it’s totally on my bucket list now!

Nerds and Beyond: In your acknowledgements, you mention that you worked closely with the creators of the Frozen stories. What was it like working with them and knowing your story is contributing to the Frozen universe? 

Mari Mancusi: Not to sound cheesy, but it was truly a Disney dream come true! I got my start working at a Disney Store in Boston back when I was in college as a film major. If you had told me then that someday I’d be contributing to an actual Disney franchise, never mind one of the biggest out there, I would have probably passed out in shock! But as Walt always said, “If you can dream it, you can do it” and in this case, he was right! It was a true honor to be asked to play in this amazing playground created by Jennifer Lee and Christopher Buck. At the same time, it was also a bit daunting! But my editor and the filmmakers were so amazing throughout the process, tirelessly answering my questions, cheering me on as I wrote, and giving me the freedom to expand on existing Frozen lore to create an entirely new story within the Frozen ‘verse.

Image Courtesy Disney Press.

Nerds and Beyond: You do such a fantastic job of including well-known elements from Frozen into the story, giving much of what we hear and see in those films a deeper meaning. Did you have a list of things you knew you wanted to include like “conceal don’t feel” and their love of chocolates?

Mari Mancusi: Absolutely. I wanted this to feel like a Frozen book, not just a story set in the world. As a fan myself, I thought back to all the things that made Frozen special to me and I sought for opportunities within the story to build in callbacks, Easter Eggs, little winks and nods to hardcore fans as well as more overarching familiar themes that could be tied into the films. The chocolate thing was a fun one—like mother, like daughters, right? Whereas “conceal don’t feel” introduced cross-generational, psychological trauma that linked Agnarr’s childhood with Elsa’s in a very real way.

Nerds and Beyond: Even knowing how Agnarr and Iduna’s story ends, I think readers are really going to connect with these characters and this world. Did any of the moments hit you harder knowing their eventual fate?

Mari Mancusi: Yes, especially writing as a mother with a daughter of my own. Those last few moments on the ship when she realizes she’ll never see her daughters again breaks me every time I reread it. I could feel Iduna’s helplessness very viscerally as I wrote. A mother who would do anything in the world—even at the cost of her own life—to ease her daughter’s suffering. It’s tragic and heartbreaking, especially after all she suffered herself when she was growing up. At one point she talks about how her whole life she had to hide who she was, and how she doesn’t want Elsa to be forced to grow up doing the same. I would love to imagine her looking down on her daughters now, seeing the strong, capable women they’ve become. (And for them to a get a glimpse into their mother’s life to see how much she loved them.)

Nerds and Beyond: The book is a beautiful, true love story between two characters that spans several decades in the course of 342 pages. How did you go about navigating those time jumps?

Mari Mancusi: It wasn’t easy! If I had my way the book would have clocked in at five billion pages and I might still be writing it! But we had to make some difficult choices of what to include in the final story. The folks at Disney really wanted to concentrate on those pivotal teen years, when their friendship blossomed into a forbidden love and how they eventually overcame the odds to be together. So I think we did a good job at balancing it out. That said, there’s a lot more story between the pages ripe for some talented fan fiction writers out there to take on!

Nerds and Beyond: We get a true, authentic sense of who both Iduna and Agnarr are as characters with the point of view shifting between the two. What inspired that choice over a 3rd person narrative or just one of their POVs?

Mari Mancusi: It was my editor’s idea to write it in first person and at first, I was surprised, as it wasn’t something that had been done before in previous Frozen books. But I think it really works in this case, especially for a character like Iduna, who harbors so many painful secrets. We really get into her head, feel her pain and suffering in a way I don’t think we could at a distant third person perspective. As for alternating POVs, as Iduna says in the prologue, this is Agnarr’s story, too. And by being in his head we can better understand the struggles he went through as well and the reasons behind some of the controversial decisions he made—especially with Elsa—and why he felt compelled to make them.

Nerds and Beyond: Iduna is definitely now one of my favorite Disney characters thanks to your book. She’s extremely intelligent, determined, and compassionate. What was it like to craft such a strong female character who faces so much secrecy and challenging circumstances early in life?

Mari Mancusi: One thing that was very important to my editor and the filmmakers was that Iduna should have her own agency throughout the book. She’s a modern heroine in many ways and isn’t about to just sit around, waiting for her prince to come. She has her own interests, her own life in Arendelle, her own struggles that have nothing to do with Agnarr. And I think that’s important both to her character and the reader experience. She had to be strong—a weaker girl would never survive what she did—losing her family and friends, being alone in a strange world and culture. A world where even telling someone who you are could mean a death sentence. Having to deal with prejudice against your own people and falling in love with the wrong boy. But she handles it all with the same strength and fortitude and grace we later see in her daughters in the films. I love the parallels between her struggle and those of Anna and Elsa later on.

Nerds and Beyond: Agnarr, too, faces unimaginable tragedies early in life, not unlike what his daughters will face. Were drawing those parallels of both plot and personality between Agnarr and his daughters, but especially Elsa, important to you?

Mari Mancusi: After the first film, a lot of people accused Agnarr of being a bad father—or cruel to keep Elsa locked away. I wanted to offer a different explanation. Agnarr grew up royal, in a world where “conceal don’t feel” was a mantra. A king can’t show weakness, or his kingdom will become ripe for takeover. Emotions were seen as weakness by his father and something to push down in order to better serve the people. Agnarr also grew up in a world where magic was distrusted, feared, and seen as the ultimate evil. The last thing he wants is for his daughter to suffer that prejudice and maybe even lose her right to the throne because of it. I’m not saying he did the right thing. But I do believe his heart was in the right place and I think readers will get a new perspective on that by reading the book.

Nerds and Beyond: I love the way you weaved moments from the movies into Dangerous Secrets to show us Iduna and Agnarr’s thoughts and feelings. Were those scenes easier or more difficult to write than scenes where you had free creative license with the characters?

Mari Mancusi: I remember as a kid I read the Empire Strikes Back novelization. And I adored it because I got to learn the inside thoughts of the characters I loved while they reenacted famous scenes from the film. (And whoa–were those Han/Leia scenes steamy!) With Dangerous Secrets, I had a lot of fun revisiting the scenes from the Frozen films and imagining what the characters were thinking as they played out. The heart-wrenching decision Iduna had to make to save Agnarr or herself. The horror of seeing Anna unconscious after the ice accident, not knowing whether she would live or die. Listening to her husband talk badly about her own people and not being able to say a word, except to sing a cryptic lullaby to her daughters. I don’t know if these scenes were easier or harder to write exactly, but they were definitely interesting, and I hope they will add depth to the scenes when fans go back to the films after reading the book.

Nerds and Beyond: Dangerous Secrets is more than just a love story. We also get both adventure and even a mystery as Agnarr must find the culprits behind sudden attacks on Arendellians and fight against the climate of fear it creates. Without giving away that great plot twist, can you tell us about creating those tense moments?

Mari Mancusi: From the very first film, the Frozen franchise has always woven together great internal conflict with heart-stopping adventure, and I wanted to do the same with my book. These subplots were fun to write, and I think they also showcase Iduna and Agnarr’s growth as future monarchs. As Agnarr laments many times, heavy is the head who wears the crown. But through these conflicts, we see him evolve from reluctant boy to a competent king, worthy of Arendelle.

Nerds and Beyond: I love that everyone in Iduna and Agnarr’s life seem to be silently rooting for them well before they admitted their feelings. Did you have a favorite secondary character to write?

Mari Mancusi: Kai and Gerda are such adorable side characters and I loved that they were secretly cheering on the romance from the sidelines, even as Iduna and Agnarr thought they were being so secretive. They also serve as stand-ins for the people of Arendelle who, it turns out, aren’t so concerned with political alliances for the good of the realm as much as they want to see their young prince happy.

Nerds and Beyond: Do you have a favorite scene or moment from the story?

Mari Mancusi: There are so many that come to mind! I love their travels to the mist, their early encounter with the trolls, and, of course, those angsty, romantic moments in the secret room in the library. But perhaps one of my favorites is the scene after they come back from the trolls the second time—when the trolls heal Anna after her ice incident. Agnarr presents the distraught Elsa with a special gift (that fans will recognize) to help her not feel so alone. It’s such a touching moment between a father and daughter and it tugs at my heart every time I revisit it.

Nerds and Beyond: What do you hope readers will take away from Dangerous Secrets?

Mari Mancusi: For one thing, it’ll answer a lot of questions they might have left over from Frozen 2. But I think that’s just the beginning. This is more than just a prequel. It’s an extension of the Frozen universe and readers will find many themes from the films carried over into the book. Iduna and Agnarr’s story, while tragic, is also heartbreakingly beautiful and I think readers will recognize a lot of Elsa and Anna in both of them. I hope the book will make readers laugh, cry, and fall in love with Iduna and Agnarr as much as I did when writing about them.

Dangerous Secrets is a book fans of Frozen definitely do not want to miss! It is available in stores and online today, so make sure to grab a copy and discover the story of Iduna and Agnarr.

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By Brianna
Brianna works full time in the publishing industry, passionately building books to bring to the masses. Her first fandom was Harry Potter, which she joined at age 11. Her love for books took her abroad to earn her Masters Degree at University College London, after which she lived in New York City, and now resides in Austin. She loves all things fandom including Supernatural, Doctor Who, and more. Ever the introvert, she can usually be found reading, playing with her dog, listening to music and practicing yoga. Brianna joined the Nerds and Beyond staff in 2018 where she unites her love for all things "nerd" with her passion for writing. Find her on Twitter here: @bookbag09
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