Welcome to Smugglivus 2012! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2012, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2013.
Who: Kate Milford, author of awesome Historical/Fantastical Middle Grade and Young Adult books.
Please give a warm round of applause to Kate, everybody!
Every year right around now I dig out an old paperback copy of The Dark is Rising that I’ve had for ages upon ages. Sometimes I go on to re-read the whole series, but not always. Mostly I revel in the first half of the second book, when the snow lays deep on everything, changing Will’s English countryside into a place out of time in the weeks leading up to Twelfth Night. I’m always rooting for Will, of course, but I’m always a little sad when the snow starts to melt, just as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe loses something for me when the White Witch has to cut her reindeer loose because Narnia has launched itself into a rapid and miraculous thaw.
I’ve always been a sucker for what I’ve come to think of as midwinter fantasies. Part of this is that I’m just as big a sucker for winter. Like Will Stanton, I always dream of snow on my birthday. I love snow. I love snow at night. I love the way string lights look under it. I love the hush, the strangeness of even the most familiar places, the way that shadows fall and footsteps crunch, the heaviness of the sky and the unmistakable smell of snow before it falls. (I don’t love snow the next day in New York City, when you have to go free your car from it, but whatever. We can’t have everything.)
I understand all the reasons why the turning point of winter fantasies comes with the breaking of the cold and the turn toward spring. Winter is a season of apparent death, when even the sun seems to need renewal, and we as humans have deep and instinctual responses to the season. We may never have had to fear starvation or wonder if our community would make it through to the spring, but our ancestors did. The shortening of days and the dropping of the temperature meant the onset of very real threats. In fantasy, where so often the story comes down to the clash of good and evil, winter logically aligns with the bad guys. I get it.
But winter holds a different kind of magic for me, a magic without alignment. The kind of magic that turns the real world into something other, something wildly, perhaps dangerously, beautiful. The kind that reveals things that might otherwise never be visible. There is the stunning chaos of white on the wind, the sharp icy edges of things so unlike the softness of the deep piles of drifting snow, the strangeness of the winter landscape…who needs a wardrobe? Winter is its own otherworld.
And the folklore junkie in me loves the endless lore that surrounds midwinter, the solstice, Christmas, the turning of the new year…there’s so much there to play with, if you’re inclined to be interested in that kind of thing. And that lore is wild, anarchic, carnivalesque, alight with torch and bonfire, wreathed in holly and ivy. With its many faces masked and jingle bells wrapped about its knees, it spins itself dizzy, ribbons streaming in the wind, chanting auguries and singing of ancient things. It’s Herne the Hunter coming to scatter the forces of the Dark with the Wild Hunt on Twelfth Night.
I want more of that world, always, and it’s always a little sad for me that it has to melt for the good guys to win. After all, a wintry world in the hands of a good writer is fabulous. Lucy emerging from the coats-and-pines and trotting through the cold with Mr. Tumnus to take tea in the cozy cave where she is so nearly kidnapped, Will being given the first of the Signs of Power by his neighbor under the frigid, snow-laden sky so full of the threat of the coming Dark…there’s more to these books than simply happening to be set during a frost. Winter lives in them, icy marrow in the very bones of these tales. Reading them is like breathing deep of the cold.
When I’m lucky enough to have a snowy night, I like to go walking after dark. It’s a sort of tradition that began when I was little, and my mother would take my sister and I, and then later our brothers, out for what felt then like a late-night walk. I try to keep this little tradition alive even now, and two years ago, when a couple feet of snow fell on Brooklyn, I took the pictures in this post. This is what I picture when as I read I hear Will and Merriman Lyon walk through time singing Good King Wenceslas, and when I imagine the grounds of Willoughby Chase or the White Witch’s sledge cutting through the snow with bells jingling on the red harnesses of its bone-white reindeer.
I intend to clock some time with a cup of hot chocolate in my chair by the Christmas tree. This past year I read and John Bellairs’ The Face in the Frost (which I’d been meaning to read for years) and Sarah Prineas’ much more recent Winterling, both which I think are going to wind up on my list of wintry repeat-reads.
And I think this year it’s about time I re-read His Dark Materials, beginning of course with The Golden Compass and that wonderful ending at the pole. But it’s been a busy year and I’m way behind on my non-research reading. What have I missed this year in the way of stellar winter fantasies?
How about you, folks, any suggestions of wintery novels?