In the dead of winter

Darn you, Tim!  The one day I manage to get a post written while I’m stuck at the day job for more overtime, and you go and write it for me!  Of course, this could have been avoided had I checked the blog before writing but that’s not the point now is it?

Anyway.  Consider this post an extended comment on Tim’s post of yesterday.  In revenge the spirit of fellowship and goodwill, I’m going to switch off comments here and send any commenters to his post.

Onward.  Most of these aren’t strictly Christmas stories, but books that I find myself rereading in this season, for a number of reasons.

  • The Nutcracker — but not any of the chopped-down, bowdlerized, amputated versions pretending to be the real story. No, I’m talking E.T.A. Hoffmann in all his uncanny glory, the dreamlike aspects of the story cheek by jowl with the horrifying elements, Madame Mouserinks and the seven-headed King of Mice rising up through the floor amid sand and lime and crushed stone, right next to Princess Pirlipat and the traffic jam in the Land of Sweets. This is the good stuff, bizarre as fairy tales should be, and no ballet is sufficient after you’ve read it. If you can find the version read by Christopher Plummer, take a listen — and let me know, please? I have it on old cassette tapes, but they’re wearing thin.
  • The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming and The Lump of Coal, by Lemony Snicket. Children’s books…for a particular kind of child. Specifically, the kind of child who enjoys snarky dialogue and commentary on expectations and holidays both. Come to think of it, parents might enjoy these two more.
  • Hogfather and Wintersmith, both by Terry Pratchett. Hogfather was one of the first Pratchett books I read, and it was the first one that really clicked, probably due to the Hogfather himself and the shifting nature of belief. The Chicken of Happiness and the FTB didn’t hurt either. Wintersmith is, I think, more appropriate to the first thaw, but it also works for this time of year.
  • The Dark Is Rising, by Susan Cooper. Like The Nutcracker, this is a book I remember most from the audio version. I no longer have it, but I can still recall the music that is the harbinger of the shift between worlds. Signs and Sign-seekers aside, the book conjures up winter in many guises — joyous, mysterious, threatening, wild.
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis. I must be the densest reader on the planet, because I didn’t see the allegorical underpinnings of this book for years. (You know how Aslan implies that he has another name in our world? Yeah, I was convinced he was the Professor. The Professor had a beard! Lions had manes! It all made sense!) These days, even as the metaphor distances me from the story — I find I’m reading to seek out theological interpretations and quibbles, rather than immersion in the world — there’s still a part of me that’s completely enthralled by the winter that never ends.
  • Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis. On the other hand, every time I read this book I can’t help reading some elements of Christian symbolism into it. This book always, always makes me cry, and yet I can’t make it through the winter without reading it. (For something that isn’t as painful, Willis also has a collection of holiday stories (including “Miracle, which Tim refers to in his post), all of which break the mold of the usual holiday sugarshock. Her stories are what convinced me that it’s possible to write a Christmas story without either going overboard with sentimentality or getting irony poisoning.)
  • Winter of Magic’s Return by Pamela F. Service. Oh, my. I loved this story as a kid, and I’m still itching to read it again. This may mean that I’m remembering it through a hell of a nostalgia filter, but hey, I can deal with that. The winter is a nuclear winter, and the magic…well, that’d be spoiling it. (Plus, one of the heroes is named Wellington. I love this.)

More recommendations!  Post them over on yesterday’s article, so we can keep them all together.

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