When I was a child, I always found the year’s slow creep into winter exciting. Yes, this was partly because I could see Christmas waving its coloured lights and presents at me from the far end of the year, but I also felt that there was something special, dangerous and mysterious about the coming of winter itself. Halloween fitted well into this strange, dark season.
Some of the books I loved most held that magical sense of wintry menace. How many of these sinister icy figures do you know?
Jadis the White Witch from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
Do not talk to the pretty lady in furs. Do not eat her Turkish Delight, or ride in her sleigh drawn by white reindeer. Do not listen to her lies. She keeps the lands locked in eternal snow, and is cruel beyond imagining.
The Groke from the Moominland books
A ghostly, lumpish figure with cold, staring eyes, the Groke glides through darkness, bringing a deathly chill with her. The poor Groke is not evil but simply lonely, forlornly pursuing light, warmth and company. Alas, the cold she carries with her kills plants, puts out fires and is dangerous to any creature who gets too close…
The beautiful Snow Queen lures away a little boy, and keeps him prisoner in her grand but desolate ice palace. She tells him he can only win his freedom if he can fit together jagged pieces of ice like a jigsaw to spell the word ‘eternity’. Why does she do this? Who knows? She is unreadable as snow.
And, my favourite… the Black Rider from The Dark is Rising
My father read this book to us aloud, and every time he stopped for the night my sister and I were in agonies to know what would happen next.
Will Stanton is nearing his eleventh birthday when bizarre things start to happen. Animals are afraid of him, people start to make strange, cryptic comments, and black birds gather ominously. All the while snow falls, and falls, and falls, until it becomes eerie and threatening. Will learns that he is about to come of age and join the forces of Light, and so the Dark is readying itself and on the rise…
Because I loved all five books of the Dark is Rising Sequence when I was young, Susan Cooper has always been one of my favourite writers. Then just recently I was asked to provide a short story for a collection of eerie winter tales called Twisted Winter… and discovered that Susan Cooper was going to be one of the other authors providing a story.
As you can imagine, I said “EEEEEEEEEEEEE!” and dropped all my papers.
Then I did this.
Here’s the short story collection, for those who like their scary tales slightly chilled…