When thick snow arrives it transforms our world, for as long as it stays on the ground and on the trees, on the rivers and ponds.
The fascinating thing about snow – as an occasional visitor to our familiar landscape – is how it acts as a catalyst for the negative and the positive in human nature. However you see life, seems to be encapsulated in how you react to the sudden arrival of snow. As a child I was very romantic about snow. I never saw the negative side. But as adults we can see inconvenience, closure of schools and colleges, cancellation of social events, cars skidding and sliding, accidents and piles of dirty slush.
Or we can choose to see it as millions of exquisite, miraculous ice crystals, as an agent for transformation, as a way of seeing the world through new eyes, even if only for a relatively short period of time.
Near our home, the Saxon Mill pub, Warwick, is a popular venue. Situated on the river Avon by a bridge over a weir, with the atmospheric ruins of Guys Cliffe house on the horizon, it is a romantic, historical place to which people are attracted in huge numbers – at certain times of year. I love visiting it at any time of year but especially in the snow.
For some of my other posts about eerie, mysterious Guys Cliffe House, and about the romantic appeal of the Saxon Mill, click here and here.
I bought this book recently in a National Trust gift shop, and found it captivating. Rosalind Kerven explores the raw material from which many of our great fantasy novelists have derived their archetypes. She includes “mystical tales of faery royalty, mischievous goblins, helpful house-elves, changelings and enchantments across the British isles”, with spotlight features on “faery folklore, faery morals, the various faery tribes, and spells and dealings between faeries and mortals”. As a paranormal thriller writer I loved this wonderful survey of centuries of folklore and faery mythology in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
The book reminded me too of why I was so fascinated by the idea of supernatural malevolence hidden beneath mystical beauty (a common theme in faery lore and in Arthurian legends) which was part of my inspiration for “A Passionate Spirit.”
Rosalind Kerven covers all the major themes in traditional tales of the faery realm, including what she describes as “typical Faery perversity”, spells that are both mischievous and malevolent, and the toxic nature of any deals struck by a faery with a mortal. Reading these tales reminds us that any mortal who ultimately comes out well from dealing with a faery, is extremely lucky!
Shakespeare had it exactly right with his fairies in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, showing them having fun with and mocking the folly of the human beings, then putting things to rights once they have tired of their sport, wryfully signing off with the words, “If we shadows have offended…” In widespread stories down through the centuries, faeries are shown behaving towards mortals rather like a supernatural gang of brigands running a protection racket. These tales made me reflect upon how much they say of the life experience of their creators; an explanation for the changing fortunes we all encounter in this world.
There is so much here that we can identify with on the level of our own unconscious: “The transformation of a familiar path into an endlessly looping labyrinth” – for which a well-known antidote is to “remove one’s coat, turn it inside out and put it on again”; the experience of being “pixy-led”; the idea of obtaining “faery sight” which reveals a parallel world. I can see from this book how deeply influenced JK Rowling was by British folklore, in the Harry Potter novels: Dobby is set free when his master gives him an item of clothing; Harry is deposited as a baby on the Dursleys’ doorstep, by magical agency; and the idea of veritaserum, to name just three examples among countless others.
Highly recommended for adults interested in a survey of archetypal themes in folklore and mythology, though not suitable as a storybook for young children; they are best introduced to fairy tales and folklore through the many other books aimed specifically at their age-groups.
Greenwich and its neighbouring Woolwich in south London are part of my family background, and so this area has been familiar to me from childhood.
This made my return to view the Cutty Sark even more inspiring.
I found the whole visit very uplifting – appropriately so, as the Cutty Sark herself has been uplifted in the most amazing way!
The exhibition area beneath the ship is excellent, with its collection of ships’ figureheads.
And we were later delighted to find ourselves sitting at cafe tables with the ship apparently hovering just above us.
Everything about this attraction is first class, and it is a credit to London and to our British heritage.
The high standard is maintained in the shop, too, which is full of stylish souvenirs for sale. How could I, as a writer, resist buying myself an attractive cream and gold spiralbound notebook with the motto on the front: Where there’s a will, is a way.
This motto, carved into the ship’s elaborate decoration, is a play on the surname of Jock Willis who commissioned the Cutty Sark (launched in 1869).
For the twenty-first century transformation of the Cutty Sark can certainly be seen as a perfect illustration of this motto in action.
So says the heartwarming 1997 Christmas video “Annabelle’s Wish” (which I watched again with my 2 teenagers yesterday).
But the Christmas programming this year on BBC and ITV seemed to be all about dashing dreams.
King Arthur died; Maria was unmasked; the creator of The Snowman was revealed to be an old curmudgeon; and tragedy hit Downton Abbey again.
First of all, we learned that the real Maria Von Trapp seems to have carried off one of the most successful pieces of spin of the twentieth century.
The lovely Maria who danced and sang in the mountains, and transformed the lives of the Von Trapp children, turns out to be based upon a real Maria who was, it seems, a rather nasty piece of work – according to the investigation by Sue Perkins of the real story behind The Sound of Music. The testimony of Maria’s daughter Rosemarie was quite chilling. In fact the truth appears to be exactly the opposite to its portrayal in the Rodgers & Hammerstein film.
Then there was the end to the much-loved Merlin series.
We had tears on Christmas Day when we caught up with “Merlin” and watched the heartrending scene at the death of Arthur – and then saw a contemporary Emrys making his lonely way along the road, a wandering traveller many centuries later.
But, of course, as regards Arthur’s destiny, we know from Tennyson’s “Morte d’Arthur”, it had to be.
Excalibur had to be returned to the lake so that there might arise a hand, clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful, to receive the wonderful sword.
And then of there was a scene of cruel irony at the end of Downton Abbey – an irony perhaps many of us can relate to.
And finally, we were reminded that the creator of the gentle, poignant and enchanting film The Snowman, Raymond Briggs, was more like Fungus the Bogeyman.
There seemed an unusually high dose of sadness and grief and irony on TV this Christmas.
So where is the positive, hopeful light in this? For that, let us return to Charles Dickens.
His Christmas Carol encompasses all the sadness, cruelty and injustice of life, together with the mistakes we make, and an uplifting message of transformation at the end.
Ultimately, Scrooge “did all that he promised and much more.”
Thank God for that, and for the hope we can draw from the choice one man made after being visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve.