Greetings, fellow snow-burrowers.
We got some moderately serious inches in the Hudson Valley yesterday (though it has almost all melted today– what is this weather even doing).
If you seek more wintry reads to warm your soul –or chill your heart– I’ve got you covered:
The heavy-handed religious message of this series flew right over my head as a child and it honestly does not bother me as a non-religious adult reader. I loved these. Lewis spins a helluva yarn, symbolism or nay. The series is excellent, but The Magician’s Nephew and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader were my favorites, other than TLTWATW, which is the most popular and most film-adapted. I wonder which came first: adapted for film because it was so popular, or popular because it was adapted for film? Does anyone know?
If you’re looking to buy the series, buy the editions with cover art by the incredible Leo and Diane Dillon.
In this story, the Pevensie children are living with their uncle in the country, to escape the London air-raids. The youngest child, Lucy, discovers the world of Narnia in a spare room wardrobe. The land has been cursed by The White Witch so that it is always winter and never Christmas– and only the Pevensies can thwart The White Witch, who is a vicious, bloodthirsty ruler.
“There was crisp, dry snow under his feet and more snow lying on the branches of the trees. Overhead there was a pale blue sky, the sort of sky one sees on a fine winter day in the morning. Straight ahead of him he saw between the tree-trunks the sun, just rising, very red and clear. Everything was perfectly still, as if he were the only living creature in that country. There was not even a robin or a squirrel among the trees, and the wood stretched as far as he could see in every direction. He shivered.”
Back to my favorite: the macabre and the spooky. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike books are terrific, especially if you like dark detective novels. Another recent series that will tick that box is the Bill Hodges Trilogy by Stephen King.
But we were talking about snow. Rowling’s dark tale begins on a snowy night when a troubled and beautiful model, Lula Landry, hurls herself from the third story balcony of her chic London flat. The authorities rule her death a suicide– but her brother refuses to believe that she’d kill herself and hires Ret. Army Investigator turned PI Cormoran Strike and his tenacious assistant, Robin Ellacot, to investigate. (Trigger warnings for this series at the bottom of this post.)
“The buzz in the street was like the humming of flies. Photographers stood massed behind barriers patrolled by the police, their long-snouted cameras poised, their breath rising like steam. Snow fell steadily on to hats and shoulders; gloved fingers wiped lenses clear.”
It’s not often remembered that the framing device for the story is in the form of letters written by a sea-captain to his sister in London. Captain Walton and his crew are on an expedition to the Arctic when they rescue Dr. Frankenstein and hear the tale of his creature’s birth.
The story is surrounded by ice and ends with the creature escaping Walton’s ship and going to his death in an ice raft.
The tale of Frankenstein‘s writing is almost as infamous as the story itself. Mary Shelley wrote it in 1816 while staying in a house on Lake Geneva with her husband, Percy Shelley. Nearby was their friend Lord Byron, Byron’s then-mistress Claire Clairmont, and Byron’s personal physician, John Pomidori. They were often joined by Matthew Lewis, author of The Monk, one of the first Gothic novels.
On a day in the summer of 1816, the friends were trapped inside by the absolutely awful weather. Byron, as the tale is told, proposed that the writers each create a ghost story to share with the group.
What is less known is why the summer weather took such a turn. 1816 was often referred to as “The Year Without a Summer,” or “Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death.” Due to the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia, there were several years of unpredictable weather, known as The Little Ice Age, of which 1816 was the most dramatic.
Having begun the tale during weather so chilly that it prohibited venturing outdoors, it follows that the story itself would be full of weather– and many passages read as though they could be about the weather-bound Shelleys themselves.
“Last Monday [July 31st] we were nearly surrounded by ice, which closed in on the ship on all sides, scarcely leaving the sea-room in which she floated. Our situation was somewhat dangerous, especially as we were encompassed all around by a very thick fog. We accordingly lay to, hoping that some change would take place in the atmosphere and weather.”
Recommended Listening: Cello-based rock group Rasputina’s 1816: The Year Without a Summer. They also have songs about The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, The Donner Party, Rose Kennedy’s lobotomy, and many other historic events. Check them out.
This is an obvious snowy choice; a bit “on the nose,” but a classic.
Last year I listened to Neil Gaiman’s performance of the tale, and I plan to do so again this year. Interestingly, like Frankenstein, A Christmas Carol was written and published in 1843, at the tail end of The Little Ice Age, but even more intriguing to me is that Charles Dickens is largely responsible for the concept of a “white Christmas.” Six of his Christmases in childhood were snowy and snow figures largely in his work, which informed the Western White Christmas aesthetic (and also a secular Christmas celebration, which I’m all about). Then Irving Berlin, Bing Crosby, and Danny Kaye picked up the slack of course.
I only like to read A Christmas Carol at Christmas, not when I’m trying to summon my will to live in February and Christmas is as far behind me as decent weather is ahead of me, so I’m hoping these wint’ry tales will carry me through until spring. I’d love more suggestions– what do you like to read when the weather outside is frightful?
TWs for The Cuckoo’s Calling: death, gas lighting, mental illness, suicide.
TWs for the other two Cormoran Strike novels also include: incest, mutilation,rape, trafficking.