12 June, 2009

The Friday Babble: Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

I'm going away this weekend - flying down south this very evening! Now, to the majority of my readers, 'down south' means, 'to a warmer climate'. Sadly, when you live in the Southern Hemisphere, the further south you get the greater your chances of freezing to death are. My luggage is almost entirely packed with thermal underwear and woolen clothing, but if you never hear from me again it will mean there is a new, somewhat attractively-shaped icicle somewhere in the heart of Dunedin, New Zealand.

Dunedin is where I went to university, by the way. The student flats there are renowned for their shittiness, and generally it was a good five degrees colder inside your room than it was outside in the fresh air. Generally you got at least one text every day from a friend which simply read, "Fk its cld." It wasn't that we were deeply invested in using abbreviations in our SMSs, it was because it was so fucking cold we couldn't move our fingers.

I remember those years fondly.

Anyway, returning to the place where I (mis)spent my youth - or as one friend endearingly nicknamed it, "that shithole" - has made me think about books where winter, especially winters of ice and snow, play a particular role. Traditionally, winter is seen as a bad time, which is pretty understandable. Winter was for a long time - and still is, for many people - the time of year where you can't simply live, but must try to survive; there was no work and no income, no fresh food, and families had to try and keep themselves and their animals alive until spring. If you wandered outside and a snowstorm hit, you were a gonna. Grim stuff, I know. And people still seem to have a deep distrust of winter, even people who can afford gas-fires and insulation and snowmobiles and a sexy wool hats with a pompom at the top.

So, here are some books where winter is more than mere scenery. If you do reside in the Northern Hemisphere I know this may seem a little unseasonable, but I guess you could always save this post and come back and look again in six months' time.

Title: Hatchet Winter (1996)
aka Brian's Winter and Hatchet: WInter
Author: Gary Paulsen
Gary Paulsen wrote a book called "Hatchet", about a boy named Brian who finds himself alone in the Canadian wilderness after the plane he's on crash-lands. It's a pretty thrilling book, all about how he learns to survive - forage for food, build his own shelter, protect himself from wild animals, etc etc. Since it's a children's book, it ends with the kid getting rescued.

But a lot of people wrote to Paulsen saying, "Surviving in the summer is all very well, but how would Brian have coped with the freezing winter temperatures?" In response, he produced Hatchet Winter, in which the boy was never rescued and is stuck for the winter. Brian's chances of survival suddenly get a lot slimmer. Also, he's attacked by a bear! Awesome.

Title: Child-44 (2008)
Author: Tom Rob Smith
As well as cannibalism there was a hell of a lot of snow. Are there any Russian novels in which there isn't any fucking snow?

Title: Moominland Midwinter (1957)
Author: Tove Jansson
Finally, a story where snow is actually seen as being kinda cool! No pun intended. Moomins always hibernate over winter, but this year Moomintroll just can't get to sleep. Instead he discovers everything there is to know about this mysterious time of the year - he learns to ski, he learns to ice fish and he meets the Dweller Under the Sink; but he also discovers there is a dark side to winter, and that death befalls anyone who meets the Lady of the Cold...

Title: The Snow Queen (1845)
Author: Hans Christian Andersen
I loved this story as a kid, partly because it is a fairytale in which a girl rescues a boy and not the other way around, but also because it is one of the few of Andersen's stories which actually has a happy ending. Seriously, the first time I read the original ending to The Little Mermaid I nearly had a heart-attack. It was also the start of my long-term vendetta against Disney, but that's another story.

Anyway, it's a beautiful story, and as a child I completely missed the religious overtones (for instance, Gerda says the Lord's Prayer to enter the Snow Queen's palace - I don't think I even knew what the Lord's Prayer was when I first read that.) It did give me the lasting impression that Europe is a terrifyingly cold place, though.

Title: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
Author: C. S. Lewis
First of all, you know that atrocious movie version of this book that came out a few years ago? We're not going to talk about it. We're especially not going to talk about how badly they raped Prince Caspian which I'm pretty sure they did just to piss me off.

Anyway, I love the Narnia series and I love this book. Even the overt symbolism of Aslan (aka as my homeboy, Jesus) bringing spring to the wintery land of Narnia which has been overtaken by the evil White Witch does nothing to diminish my love for it. I reread the whole series about once a year (except for The Last Battle, sorry) and it still continues to amaze me.

Although my seven-year-old self was really confused by the concept of "Always winter, but never Christmas!" Christmas happens in the middle of summer and anyone who says otherwise is wrong.


In conclusion, I think what we have all learned today is that winter is a terrible time, brought about by evil women who enjoy making small children suffer. Winter may very well kill you, unless you are a small Finnish troll or happen to have an ax handy.

An important lesson for us all.


Sadako said...

Great post! I feel the same way about Disney b/c of Little Mermaid. Andersen rules.

HelenB said...

I keep wanting to write up a full post about Disney and fairy tales but I'm holding my horses until Frog Princess comes out...

Sadako said...

You really should! I would love to read that.

Kat said...

Hi there! Good blog!