Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Wintry Books For Curling up With

It's snowing!

I know this may be unexciting news for anyone much north of Oxford, but although it's been freezing here since Christmas, these stray flakes are the first for me.  So I'm inspired to recommend my favourite wintery children's books to curl up with - if you can - ideally on a deep window seat with the dusk falling and a real fire flickering in the room, watching the world outside turn white.

My first is John Masefield's 'The Box of Delights', given me as a present when I was seven, and re-read constantly ever since.  It's a wonderful, exuberent mixture.  Young Kay Harker, coming home for the Christmas holidays to his rambling old house of 'Seekings' encounters a mysterious Punch and Judy man who tells him, 'the Wolves are running'. From then on it's a mixture of magic, ancient history and modern villains as the wizard Abner Brown, in charge of a band of international jewel thieves, serially kidnaps the Dean, Bishop and entire chapter of Tatchester Cathedral in an attempt to capture the marvellous Box of Delights.  Snow, firelight, winged taxis, Arthurian camps and utter magic!

My second comfort read would be Alan Garner's 'The Weirdstone of Brisingamen' - especially the part where the children, Gowther and the dwarves are fleeing through the Cheshire landscape pursued by the terrifying mara, while their supernatural enemies call up the unnatural Fimbulwinter.   There's a brilliant description of the discomforts of clambering through rhodedendrons: and the final stand on Shuttlingslow is terrific.

My third - all these are books I adored as a child and still love - is 'The Silver Chair' by C.S. Lewis.  My favourite of the Narnia stories, and perhaps the least problematic, it too has wonderful descriptions of a cold and miserable journey over snowy moors, and then the children and Puddleglum arrive at the deceptive comfort and security of the giant's castle at Harfang.  I always wanted to try a giant bath large enough to swim in, and to get dry by 'rolling around' on giant towels in front of a fire large enough to burn a young oak tree.

On the same lines, I'd recommend the attempted journey over Caradhras in The Fellowship of the Ring'.  Nothing like reading about avalanches to make you feel cosy, curled up in a warm armchair: and you can follow the Fellowship on into the dark halls of Moria...

Coming more up to date, Garth Nix's 'Sabriel' is great for - again - atmospheric and arduous journeys through the dangerous death-haunted snows of the Old Kingdom: and if you haven't read his account of the nine other-worldly river gates leading into Death, do go and find it.  Nix writes amazingly well and his monsters are unusual and convincing.

B.B.'s 'Brendon Chase' is a charming book about three boys living wild in the woods, and the writer was a naturalist and can transport you outdoors into the snow or the summer with the utmost ease.

Finally, 'Jane Eyre' is another comfort book - Jane's privations at Lowood Academy, the Gothic darkness at Thornwood Hall, the meeting with Mr Rochester and his black dog on the icy road, her flight across the moors - what are you waiting for?

Let the snow fall!  Happy reading!


  1. oh but you've got to add the Secret Garden! perfect for a dark grey day because it's full of promise of a better time.

  2. Hello Kath

    I've always loved the Silver Chair best of the Narnia books too! Although I never really thought of it as a "snowy" book before.

    I only read the Box of Delights recently and thought it had a lot of echoes with another snowy children's book - Susan Cooper's "The Dark is Rising." I'm sure it must have been a (presumably unconscious) influence on Cooper. The pedlar and Cooper's "Walker" for example - and lots of other parallels too. And above all the atmosphere of English countryside drift deep in snow....

    Really enjoying your blog, Kath.

  3. I do like 'The Secret Garden', but I'd consider 'A Little Princess' more of a winter book. The scene where she stands in the slush and gazes at the bakery window.

    I should also have mentioned 'The Little Match Girl', even though it's so sad - and of course, 'The Snow Queen'!

    I did almost mention 'The Dark is Rising', Emma - so I'm glad you did!

  4. You must add anything by Jack London, including of course the iconic story, 'To Build a Fire.'

  5. Now this one I don't know. A short story? Or a novel? I'm intrigued!

  6. Harfang scared me silly in The Silver Chair.

  7. I've just found you here, K (thanks to Mary H, who has given you an award...I will say no more!). I so agree with all your choices--and with Emma's Dark is Rising--I always re-read that at Christmas. There's a marvellous snowy bit in The Once and Future King too, I think. Shall have to go and look up where, exactly, it is.
    Lucy at http://www.scribblecitycentral.blogspot.com

  8. Hey kath ... you're on my list!