Friday, 17 December 2010

Dark Lords, Witch Queens, and Snow: Sue Purkiss

It's just stopped snowing. We very rarely get snow in this corner of Somerset; last year was the first time for many years that we'd had more than a sprinkling. Today, it seems we are in what for us is the extraordinary position of having some of the heaviest falls going. I don't think I've ever seen so much - certainly not here; great mounds and billows of the stuff.


A couple of weeks ago, we didn't have much, but it was so cold that what there was stayed on the ground. And then one day there was an amazing hoar frost. The hut where I write was festooned with cobwebs (outside, not inside, I'm happy to say) that looked as if they were made out of silver string. Here's one.


I took our dog, Jessie, for her usual walk up on the Mendips. We went up through the woods, then looped down over the hill, so that we were facing the view which stretches out across the Vale of Wedmore to Glastonbury Tor in the distance. (This is the view that's described at the end of my book Warrior King, through the eyes of King Alfred. The peace between him and the Danes was finalised at Wedmore.) There wasn't so much frost in the woods, but out in the open every tree, every twig, every blade of grass was thickly etched in white; it was magical. The sky wasn't clear, it was a mixture of greys: the sun was a silver gilt disc behind thin pearly grey cloud.


I tried to pick up a stone to throw for Jessie, but I couldn't shift it; it was frozen solid to the ground. It reminded me of The Grey King, in Susan Cooper's series, The Dark Is Rising, where the dog Pen is fixed unnaturally and immoveably to the ground by the power of the Grey Lord, channelled through a warestone, which is also held tight to the earth. I heard crows calling, and took a picture of them when they perched like black cut-outs on silvery branches. They seemed the only things moving in the silent lanscape, and I thought of the title book of the same series, where rooks are messengers of the dark, inhabiting an unnaturally frozen landscape.


There's some sort of link I'm trying to find, something to do with the way snow changes the feel of a landscape, concealing what is normally there and creating something new - between that, and what makes some of the best-loved children's books work. (There's Narnia, too, when Lucy et al first enter it: a glittering forest, enchanted by the witch so that it's 'always winter, but never Christmas.') Snow changes what happens, we all know that: ordinary life holds its breath. You can't work any more, so you might as well play. But there's something else, something much deeper than that. We are taken back to an older time, when we were bound more closely to nature; to a time when people must have wondered if winter would ever end, and if they could possibly survive it even if it did. The children who are the heroes and heroines of all those wonderful books are not just fighting a dark lord or a witch queen - they are fighting the beautiful cruelty of a fierce winter.


And finally, just because I like it, one more picture.

Merry Christmas, one and all!
























12 comments:

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

I came looking this morning for a post on the snow and ice and there was your blog Sue and magnificent photographs that brilliantly connected to stories of ice from older times. Right now the snow is hurtling down in London. I've never heard the city so quiet and wonderful. This afternoon I get on a plane and head south for 2 months. And all I want to do is stay in this strange white world. You're right... there's enchantmnet out there.

Sue Purkiss said...

Thanks, Dianne - have a lovely time in the sun!

Penny Dolan said...

Oh dear! Have just seen the news/weather forecasts - they seem to have merged into snow and yet more snow. And more news about snow, so maybe you got your wish, Dianne?

Lovely photos, visual pictures and reminders of some books I now want to re-read, Sue. Merry Christmas to you!

adele said...

Lovely pictures and super post, Sue!And Dianne...hope you're not held up for too long but it's not looking good for flying today by all accounts. I had one of those wonderful silvery-iced cobwebs outside my study window the other day too. Gorgeous. We've had very little of the white stuff here in Cambridge I'm glad to say but it has been icy cold and the hoar frosts were most beautiful. I'd still prefer it all to thaw...am I being a killjoy!?? Merry Christmas to all on ABBA, and a very happy New Year.

Katherine Langrish said...

Lovely post, Sue - and since we can't help it snowing, we might as well enjoy it. Your pictures are beautiful!

karen ball said...

Happy Christmas, Sue!

catdownunder said...

Happy Christmas. Thankyou for sharing the snow!

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Well you get what you wish for! They closed Heathrow down as we stepped through the doors. Absolute chaos. No taxi's. No tubes. No hotel accomodation. Thousands of disgruntled people trying to get onto a seriously reduced Paddington Express and many head-bashing bumps by back packs, many achilles heel jolts by trolleys and much dragging of overweight luggage through the snow in thin-soled shoes without socks(I was after all heading off for Africa) I'm here back home staring out of the window at this iced world that's still full of enchantment... not sure I'll ever get on a plane but a wonderful Christmas to you all and thank you again Sue for a great post yesterday.

Linda Strachan said...

lovely post, Sue, it got me thinking and I've mentioned it on my blog-

http://writingthebookwords.blogspot.com

Marley said...

Stunning mood setters, your pictures are, especially for me here in the Southern States where it's thirty and sun shining. Found your blog through Michael Malone's and now I see more books I need to pick up. Merry Christmas! I loved the second pic best.

Marley said...

Stunning mood setters, your pictures are, especially for me here in the Southern States where it's thirty and sun shining. Found your blog through Michael Malone's and now I see more books I need to pick up. Merry Christmas! I loved the second pic best.

Sue Purkiss said...

Dianne, hope you make it onto an appropriate plane soon - it all sounds chaotic! Marley, welcome to Abba and glad you liked the pictures - it was amazing seeing the black crows swooping across this white and silent landscape; very dramatic!

Thanks for the Christmas wishes, everyone!