The title and theme of this blog were suggested yesterday by my wonderful housemate Hannah Whitehead, so if you were hoping for a post about libraries then blame her! (Alternatively, if you’re very glad to have me shut up about libraries and Classics for a bit, then she’s the one to thank!) It has been snowing on-and-off in Muswell Hill for the past few days, and thus the theme for this post came about when Hannah and I went into raptures over the snowflakes spinning past our windows, and discovered our mutual love of them.
As a child, I thought snow was one of the most wonderful things on the planet, and that view has never wavered. It amused me greatly last month when Franco Manca’s offered a free pizza to people born in January, as if we needed consoling for some misfortune. I love winter, and would hate to have been born in summer. For me, nothing compares to the hush of waking and peering out of the window to see a blanket of untouched snow. Or to rushing inside for hot chocolate after being out in the cold. Or to looking up at the sky and seeing feathery flakes tumble down towards you. I know snow is really just frozen water, but to me it is infinitely more magical.
I know this predisposition towards winter is not one that everyone shares, but it has left me wrestling with one particular question for years: why is winter almost universally portrayed as evil? I mean, if a character in a book or film controls darkness, or cold, then you can be almost 100% certain that they are one of ‘the baddies’. Think of Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen, or the Winterking in Alison Croggan’s ‘The Riddle’, or the White Witch who makes it always winter but never Christmas in Narnia. (I always particularly like that qualification, with its implication that eternal winter might not be so bad if only there were a few Christmases thrown in!)
This injustice first occurred to me when I was about 11. We were in the process of moving house, and my sister and I had consequently been dragged around shop after shop looking at carpets and curtains and kitchen appliances, and a host of other things which we found dreadfully dull. And on this particular day we were on a shop floor where there were lots of fridges. Fridges are more exciting than most appliances, I think, and I have vague memories of us running around seeing which ones had automatic ice-cube dispensers (a luxury which we had seen in the film of The Borrowers, but had hitherto not experienced ourselves).
The other great lure of fridges (the big, flashy ones, at least) is thinking about how easily you could hide in one of them and then jump out at people. At this moment, the thought of fitting inside a fridge coupled itself with my righteous indignation regarding the persecution of ice-characters in literature, and I immediately began writing a story where the heroine was shopping for household appliances with her family, and opened a fridge door to discover a beautiful ice city under siege from an evil fire-race that were determined to melt it, and all its inhabitants, to nothing. Naturally, the heroine would go on to vanquish the fire-race and save the city, but I never got that far.
So, you can see, this dilemma has been troubling me for quite some time! Of course, rationally, I know why stories and films have taken that slant. Winter is cold and dark, and very little grows during it. Ice makes everything treacherous, and melting snow turns paths and gardens to sludge. Thus winter is full of things that are dangerous to us, and since most novels or films have human perspectives it is natural that characters who exploit those weaknesses should be villains. After all, Demeter condemns Earth to eternal winter when her daughter is kidnapped precisely because she knows humans will start dying because of it. (ok, Classics had to sneak in somewhere!)
Still, I remain convinced that the balance ought to be restored somehow. If eternal winter is so bad, what about a kingdom scorched perpetually by the summer sun, where there is no rain and all plants wither in the dust? Or where daytime stretches on and on, so people have to work 22 hour days for only 2 hours’ rest at night? If a character who controls darkness is so frightening, then what about one who can manipulate sunlight to blind their victims? Perhaps such books or films do exist – after all, I can only watch or read so much! – and if they do I hope to be able to swell their ranks one day!