The Snow Child: A Unique Re-Telling

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It’s no secret that I’m an avid reader of folktales.  At home, my shelves are full of new and old versions of Brothers Grimm and countless anthologies of Irish and English tales.  So when I heard about “The Snow Child,” I knew that this was a book I had to read.  What makes Eowyn Ivey’s “The Snow Child” charming is its ability to retain the old world feel of a classic fairy story while also connecting her characters and setting to a modern reality.

Everything about “The Snow Child” is exciting and magical, particularly because it is set in the Alaskan wilderness of the 1920’s.  Ivey captures the landscape perfectly with her precise yet delicate prose and despite the bleak setting, the world that she draws readers into is magical.  Magic is everywhere in this story: in the first snowfall, in the animals who visit Jack and Mabel and in the people that they meet.  Although the basis for this story is built around a Russian fairytale, Ivey does an excellent job of leading the reader into the magic of the story gradually.  For most of the book I found myself wondering whether Faina, the snow child, was truly magical or whether Jack and Mabel were in fact going crazy.  The subtlety in which Ivey introduces us to Faina and her strange existence creates a sort of mystery that beguiles the reader and keeps them wanting to know the truth.

While I am not usually drawn to tragic stories—and this one has an element of tragedy that is apparent from the beginning—Ivey drew me in regardless with her knack for creating whimsy.  When we first meet Jack and Mabel, their farm is failing, they are starving and it seems as though there is no hope for them in the wilderness.  As we grow to learn more about Faina alongside Jack and Mabel, it becomes clear that the true magic lies in the connections that are made between the friends and families that are created as a result of Faina’s appearance.  In particular, the characters in this piece are well rounded and interesting to read about.  Jack and Mabel’s neighbors are quirky and realistic, which goes a long way to lighten the occasional somber patch of plot.

Apart from creating a unique approach to a modern fairytale, Ivey has a unique stylistic approach to signal to the reader that something magical is afoot: each time that Faina appears in a scene she loses the quotation marks, which gives the narrative a dream-like quality.  Perhaps this was meant to create a contrast between the magic that Faina brings when she appears and the reality that exists when she is gone.  In any case, I think it is an inventive way to signal a shift in tone for readers to keep the flow of the narrative well paced.  As I have mentioned before, even though early in the story readers are aware that something tragic is going to happen, Ivey does a good job of creating suspense.  We are left wondering when will it happen? How? Thanks to a few well-placed discussions between characters, we begin to wonder if the event will happen at all.

Sometimes, re-writes are criticized for borrowing too heavily from their sources and not adding enough “flair” to the story that they are trying to re-tell.  Over the years, I have read many stories that seem more like an unfortunate bout of deja-vu, but “The Snow Child” is not one of them.  Where other re-tellings may leave something to be desired, Eowyn Ivey cultivates mystery and tragedy and in the process achieves a new kind of fairytale that is as unique as a snowflake, with prose that sparkles.

Details:

Published by Reagan Arthur/Back Bay Books

Publishing Date: Nov 6, 2012

Genres: Adult, Fantasy

Pages: 416 (Paperback)

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The Liebster Award

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I was so pleased to find a message from Angela Jardine in my comments telling me that I had won The Liebster Award the other day.  As I have mentioned before, I think that blog awards are a great way to show support for bloggers!

Here are my answers to Angela’s questions:

1. If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be? And why?

I would live on Rarotonga, a small island in the Cook Islands.  Why? Because it is quiet, has a great lagoon and also the coconut scones there are sort of addictive.

2.If you could be any historical figure who would you be? And why?

I think it would be pretty awesome to be Jane Austen, because she wrote some pretty awesome books.

3.What is your greatest regret?

That’s a tough one! I think we all have regrets in some way or another, but I’m not sure I have any great regrets.  Every time I start to think “Aw, jeez I shouldn’t have done that…” I discover that my choice has led me to a place that ends up being pretty great after all.  Then again, maybe I’m just an incurable optimist.

4.If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?

My tendency to be somewhat, completely, unabashedly neurotic.  i.e. the time in university that I was totally convinced I had Meningitis because I had a stiff neck.  (note: I had been hunching over my computer for a few hours… *ahem* I guess stiff necks aren’t always a death knoll…)

5.Which six people famous people (dead or living) would you invite to a dinner party and why you have chosen them?

Did you know that the second result in the google page for Roger Ebert is “alive or dead?” Huh.  Anyway, I’d invite him for sure, because he had a sharp wit.  Then I’d invite Shakespeare, Jane Austen, J.K. Rowling, Stephen Spielberg and Einstein and watch where the conversation went.  There would be a good story in there somewhere, I’m sure.

6.What do you worry about most of all?

It really depends on what sort of content I have been exposed to that week.  WebMD is always the source of some new fear…in 2009 I was sure I was going to die of the Swine flu…and when I haven’t been writing enough I have terrible zombie apocalypse dreams.

7.Tell me about your favourite book.

I’ve read all the “big” blockbuster books and the Harry Potter series is probably one of the best series of books ever written.  However, I have to admit that my heart belongs to another book which (alas) is not in a series, but it will make you fall head-over-heels in love with it: “Dust City” by Robert Weston. “Dust City” is set in a modern fairy tale world and the protagonist is the Big Bad Wolf’s son.  If you aren’t completely in love with the quirky characters (but you will be), Weston’s prose is smooth and precise.

8.Do you believe in a particular cause? Care to elaborate?

I don’t really have a cause at the moment, but I’m always interested in making a difference.

9.Why do you write?

Have you ever played “Zombies, Run”? If you haven’t, imagine the sound of hoards of zombies moaning behind you as you run through the wilderness.  That’s what my brain is like when I don’t write; it’s all fast-paced with no direction except for the neuroses.  Writing is like the antidote: it’s calming and (usually) there are no zombies/neuroses.

10. If you could be any animal what would it be and why?

On hot days, I fantasize about being a hippo in a lagoon.  On warm summer evenings I like to imagine that I would be a bat.  Mostly, I think it has to do with temperature.

11. Do you ever think you might have lived before?

If I have, I have yet to receive the stories.  Let’s hope I was someone interesting in a past life…like  a secret agent…or a geisha with a strong will…

In the spirit of sharing the love, here are some bloggers that I think deserve nomination for The Liebster Award:

poetreecreations

A Haiku A Day Keeps the Doctor Away

The Shine On Award

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Writing can be a solitary affair, for the most part.  Unless you count the myriad of characters who tramp through my imagination as if it were Union Station, I don’t really talk to that many people.  Blogging is my way of not hiding in my office and having prolonged conversations with my apathetic cat, Salem (oh, and my husband too).

Today, I saw a note in my inbox from Gabriel Lucatero over at Shape Your Life

(http://syl101.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/the-shine-on-award-2/) that I had won The Shine On Award! What a great way to show people that you appreciate them! Part of the terms of accepting the award was to share seven facts about myself, so here goes:

1. I am always reading at least three books.

2. When yoga doesn’t work, I make pie to calm my mind.

3. Despite the fact that they are often portrayed as villains in cartoons, I think bats are cute.

4. I will only go camping under extreme circumstances (i.e. in the Australian outback, when my choices were a) camping or b) sleeping at the side of the road with the crocs and that python I ran over).

5. I’m kind of obsessed with Disney.

6. Sometimes, I am still convinced that there is a monster living under my bed.

7. Occasionally when I am walking or jogging, I imagine myself into a broadway musical number, because it makes everything way more fun.

I think blog awards are a fun way to connect with people and show that you support them, so I decided to reciprocate the kindness with a few blogs that I enjoy myself:

Julie Israel

Angela Jardine

Emily January

Allison Forsythe

L. Palmer

Oliver Tidy

mysecretphdlife

The Mind’s Cabin

KiralynBlue

Cathy Writes Fantasy

Thanks for reading!

In a Jam

Strawberry Jam

Everything becomes a “son of a bitch” when it is hot outside and you have just scalded yourself for the fifth time while making jam.  Earlier in the day, it had seemed like a good idea to take on yet another culinary project, since as of late I have neglected my domestic goddess.  Matt, ever the practical one, was a bit concerned:

“How do we know it’s going to turn out?” he asked.  He eyed the canner as if it were a homemade bomb.

I gave him my very best “honey do” look and said, “How hard can it be? Mash the berries! Cook them! Stick them in the jars,” I said.

Thirty minutes into the jam-making experiment, I was singing a different tune.  It sounded a lot like “It’s a Small World,” but with a whole lot of swear words added in for good measure.  Our kitchen had transformed itself into the bowels of hell as the steam rose like an eerie fog, lit from beneath by the flickering light.  On the stove, boiling water popped and hissed.  We ran frantically from counter to stove a factory conveyor belt of two.

“Lid!” called Matt.

I dunked the metal clamps into the boiling pot, shielding my face from the steam and cursed as another splash of water scalded me on the wrist.  As I hopped across the floor and dropped the lid onto the jar, I wondered what could have possessed me to make jam on a hot summer day.

Meanwhile, Matt fished around in the canning pot for another jar.  “Shit!” he said, as a jar slipped out of the tongs and splashed into the water.  “It’s like bobbing for apples, but with third degree burns!”

We laughed.  Yet another ridiculous kitchen experiment gone awry…

It wasn’t until we had filled all of our jars with strawberry jam, its ruby contents gleaming in the sunlight that we had a terrible realization.

Matt hunched down to eye-level with the jars and wrinkled his nose.  It was a disapproving sort of wrinkle.  “What’s that white stuff?” he said.

I bent to look at it too.  “Google it,” I offered.

But Google didn’t have any answers.  Suddenly, the kitchen was cloying, the air seemingly evaporated leaving only a hot, sticky mess of crimson splayed across the walls, our shirts and the floor as if a massacre had taken place.

It was looking grim, to say the least.

Matt shrugged.  “Just keep going, I guess.”

“It’s not safe!” I said, “Botulism does not make a nice gift!”

“It won’t be botulised!”

“How do you know?”

“I know.”

“But HOW?”

We both eyed the strawberry jam.

“I guess we’ll have to take a chance,” said Matt.

I sighed.  “Fine,” I said.  “But if it’s poison, let’s say you made it.”

Another twenty minutes of processing and boiling (and cursing) later, the jam jars sat out on the counter.  They looked innocent, peaceful, like rubies in a forbidden temple.  (You know, before Indiana Jones removes them only to release a giant crushing boulder).  We both just kind of stared at them, unsure of whether or not the jam would be awesome of poisonous.

And then something miraculous happened: there was a click.  One lid had sealed, meaning it wasn’t going to turn into poisonous muck in my pantry.  More clicks rang out through the kitchen—the sound of success, tiny rounds of applause.  Success at last! We’d made jam, not poison!

Is it possible to relate jam back to writing?  I think so.  You see, lately, I’ve been shambling around in the drift of my latest story.  It’s felt weird, because I haven’t exactly known whether or not I was on the right track.  There have been some tense moments, too, where I wondered if I would have to start all over again and scrap what I had written.  But when I think about the jam jars and that satisfying pop that they made when I knew that they were just right, it struck me that plotting a story (when writing in the drift) is a lot like making jam for the first time.  There are a lot of times when I have no idea what I’m doing, but I keep on muddling through the drift until the story…clicks into place.  So what do you do when you’re in a jam for plotting?  Keep on wading through.  It may be a son of a bitch to get through, but it sure as hell is sweet when it all clicks into a place.