Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Magic Of Winter Worlds

With Thanksgiving past and Christmas drawing near, I thought I'd share a few of my favourite winter worlds in Fantasy literature...

...starting with the Narnia of CS Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, of course. I  think that moment when, together with Lucy Pevensie, I stepped through the back of a wardrobe and into the snowy landscape of Lantern Waste was definitely one of the most magical of my reading childhood.

As an adult, Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness provided a similar defining moment, with the physical world of Winter (Gethen) absolutely dominating the cultural, sexual, and political landscape of the story.

And then there’s Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale — which is more like historical urban fantasy (meets the Gangs of New York) and is rich, mythic, magic-realism imbued — and where winter undoubtedly ‘colors’  the entire story.

More recently I’ve read Kate Elliott’s Cold Magic (the first of a “Cold’ trilogy) which also picks up the idea of an ice age realm where the ice influences magic — but in a world where alternate history means the Carthaginians fought the Romans to a standstill, retaining their maritime empire, and North African (Mali) magicians have emigrated (ahead of a ghoul/zombie horde) to hook up with Celtic druids. Fascinated already — you should be!

Joan Vingt’s “The Snow Queen” is another favourite and one where the prolonged winter world of Tiamat, but also the imminent transition to an equally prolonged summer, is essential to the story being told. 

Picking up on extended winter/summer worlds again, “Winter is Coming” in George RR Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, even if it is not quite here yet — but the giant wall of ice and the Night Watch definitely set the scene from book one, A Game of Thrones.

There are also distinctive winter elements to wider worlds, such as the Winter Country in my own “The Wall of Night” series, and the north of the Finnish witches and panzer bjorn in Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass.

The more I think about it, it seems fairly clear that winter worlds hold an enduring fascination, so now I’m thinking about why that might be… In part, I suspect it is because winter landscapes and worlds are so dramatic, stark and elemental. Physically, they challenge us — and the white on white of snow worlds is also a very strong aesthetic.

Can you think of any great winter worlds I’ve missed mentioning?

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