Many of us have grown up with fairy tales. Likely your parents read them to you for bedtime stories. Maybe you were like me and watched several of the Disney adaptations on an endless loop. There’s something about them that fascinates people, especially children. It stretches our imagination, teaches us lessons, and most of all gives us a great escape for a few hours.
Fairy tale retellings are never in short supply. There are a few television shows currently airing revolving around these tales and a few films that will be released in the upcoming year. Furthermore, there are many novels that infuse such stories whether it’s in a traditional way or in a fresh new twist. The Snow Child, a heavily praised novel of debut author and Alaska native Eowyn Ivey, took a more traditional route. It is based on Snegurochka, which translates into The Snow Maiden, an old Russian fairy tale. The Snow Maiden tells the tale of a childless old couple living alone in the forest; one day they build a snow girl that comes to life and visits every time winter comes by, bringing them more joy than they could ever imagine. In all the variations of the story, however, at the end of the story the small snow child melts away and never comes back.
As I mentioned, The Snow Child does have a traditional fairy tale feel as it follows the premise of The Snow Maiden. The story takes place in the 1920’s and follows a couple nearing their fifties, Jack and Mabel; they move to escape from their lives in Pennsylvania where being surrounded by boisterous family and their children was too much to handle. It’s a haunting reminder of what they have missed out on after having a miscarriage several years before. Jack and Mabel have a difficult time learning to live in their new Alaskan homestead. It’s unfamiliar territory that is stark, desolate and chilling; essentially far more than what they bargained for and not at all a place that could heal them. Jack realizes that his old body can’t work their land to provide the income while Mabel wallows in depression and cabin fever. In a rare moment of lighthearted fun in the snow, the couple makes a snow girl. The small child, Faina, breathes a new life into Jack and Mabel, helping them to find the strength to keep going on. But Mabel recalls a fairy tale her father told to her when she was young, a story that ends in a way that she hopes with all her might will not occur to her and Jack. As the pages turn, readers will anxiously wonder how Ivey will turn this tale. Will it mirror the storybook or stray into a new direction?
The Snow Child isn’t meant for young children but it certainly would be a great choice for teenagers and adults to pick up. It is a simple piece of literary fiction that will sweep up and ingrain itself into your minds. The Snow Child displays to the root exactly how powerful human connection is. One of my favorite things was the idea of resilient love. I never had any doubt that Jack and Mabel loved each other, but there was a dark cloud polluting their relationship and pulling them further and further apart. Whatever magic brought the snow child to life also gave a new purpose and hope to Jack and Mabel; it made their relationship that much stronger. Likewise, their neighbors, an insistent, loud, outgoing family, manage to weasel their way into the couple’s hearts and become their support system. They, as the snow child, touched Jack and Mabel’s life deeply and helped keep them from utter despair.
This wouldn’t be a review if I didn’t mention Alaska. It was truly a character in itself. Ivey effortlessly finds a way to capture the undeniable beauty of a harsh landscape. The writing was very detailed and descriptive of the stark wilderness found up north, easily placing you right there in the startling cold world with the snow crunching beneath your feet.
The Snow Child is a beautiful, and very quiet book. It’s for readers who appreciate subtle, lyrical prose. It’s also a perfect read to bundle up with in these last weeks of winter so do yourself a favor: pick up a copy and get lost in the Alaskan frontier.
Image copyright of Reagan Arthur Books.