So that dusting of snow I was expecting . . . It looks like we are going to have a white Christmas after all. I still enjoyed a nice walk this afternoon and managed to squeeze in a few errands and a most delicious lunch despite the heavy snowfall. And then it was time to read, and how fitting since I read Susan Hill's Lanterns Across the Snow. It is, I think, going to be a perfect holiday read that I will happily return to again. The refrain in this novella is "last night, the snow fell. And then I began to remember. I remembered all the things I had forgotten. Or so it had seemed." Last night the snow fell, and today the snow fell, too.
Lanterns in the Snow is a reminiscence in more than one way. It is the narrator's remembrance of one magical, perfect Christmas--the sort of Christmas that only happens in those years of childhood that are so full of wonder. It is also a story that loosely recalls the Nativity. It is filled with gorgeous descriptions of nature and food and family. You can easily read it in one sitting (best enjoyed with a hot drink and maybe some gingerbread). If you plan ahead you might even read it in three short sittings since the story is broken into three chapters--Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and St. Stephan's Day.
The narrator looks back on the childhood of her ninth year when she lived with her family in the vicarage of a small village. Her brother is her best friend and also her, at times, biggest annoyance. She both admires her father who is so important to the community and bemoans the fact that even on the most loved of all childhood holidays he must work. Death and birth take no holiday and so her father must attend to those most in need. This underlying message of hope is quite nicely presented and not heavy handed, but I especially appreciated the descriptions of the natural world, which make the story quite vivid.
"She stood at the window, looking out. Christmas Eve; and the snow fell like goose-down."
That sounds oddly familiar to me today! I just need a lantern to make it complete. Lanterns, and perhaps the light or the illumination from them can do double duty both as a feeling of warmth and beauty but also hope. And lanterns are threaded through the story--from the carolers on Christmas Eve to the lanterns on the ice where Fanny watches her parents happily skate hand in hand.
Another youthful reminiscence I read recently is Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales, which is another gorgeous story. Since Thomas is a poet you can imagine how lyrical his prose is. Another snowy story, which is what I imagine for Wales at this time of year.
"Years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors, and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse, when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed. But here a small boy says: 'It snowed last year, too. I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea."
A Child's Christmas in Wales is much shorter and more impressionistic. It is less a story than another child's observation of Christmas Day and all the treats and wonders that it contains.
Both books have beautiful illustrations and both will grace my shelves permanently. I had only read Hill's stories of suspense and the macabre, so this was quite a change, and I have never read Dylan Thomas, but now I will certainly seek out his poetry. As holiday celebrations are taking place, I'll leave you with a few happy images and hope your holiday is equally as lovely.
"I sit here, beside the window, and watch the snow, and the blackbird who comes and sits under the flowering bush, and after a while hops out further, to find the food that I have thrown. The yellow flowers of the bush are dusted with snow, and the bare branches of the tall tree are outlined delicately in white. And I sit here, beside the window, and my lamp throws its light in a pool onto the ground below, but there is no snow so close to the building, the overhang of the roof above deflects it."
"And all last night, and all today, I have sat here quietly and remembered. Remembered joy and sorrow, nights and days, summer and winter, in that perfect place."
"I remember my room at the very top of the tall old house, and the view out over the churchyard, and the gravestone of my two dead brothers. Remember the stone church and the fields beyond, remember the wood and the lanes and Ladyman Barrow."