Except for a day here and there, we in Alabama seem to have skipped winter. The picnic-perfect weather has been nice and all, but I’m starting to miss the chilly months that passed us by. Since I tend to substitute books for real life a little too often anyway, I figured I’d make that work in my favor by reading a book that would make me think of snowflakes and cold days and cozying up to the fire. Enter The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.
The book, set in Alaska, is a reworking of an old fairy tale. Like a fairy tale, it’s magical and twisted and tragic. The isolation and depression in the first chapters of the book are so crushing that I almost put the book down — Ivey uses the wilderness and blisteringly cold Alaskan winter as the perfect metaphor for the bleak hopelessness the childless couple experiences at the beginning of the story.
I’m glad I kept reading. Like a spring thaw that comes slowly but surely, Ivey brings her characters back to life with hope and love, a process set in motion by the ethereal, mysterious Snow Child. Whether or not the child is actually magic or just a lost little girl is the question woven through the narrative. The plot device is fairly classic, but it’s worked out with a decidedly realistic, even feminist, spin that makes the book fresh and relevant where it could have become trite in the hands of another author.
None of the female characters are willing to sit back and participate in submissive, “womanly” activities. When they do, it’s an indication of illness and depression. Far from the defenseless fairy princess, the Snow Child is strong and powerful. In a lot of ways, she reminded me of Katniss from The Hunger Games (not least because she’s hunting, trapping and navigating a wilderness). The Snow Child certainly isn’t waiting for a rescue, either from her surrogate parents or from a handsome prince (or in her case, a handsome hunter-farmer).
Whether the Snow Child is a fairy or just a kid is not the point. The magic isn’t in whether or not the legend is true, but in the fact that the possibility of magic, the faith in something more, brings people together and makes human connections stronger. But the underlying question becomes whether a person (or a place or an idea) as powerfully free as the Snow Child should ever really be tamed, or whether something wild is harmed when it’s penned in and possessed, even by people who claim to cherish it.