I always thought I hated winter, with its cold dark days when the chill seeps into your bones and you just want to curl up in bed and sulk until the sun comes back.
My least favourite things about this time of year include: getting to work in the dark, leaving work in the dark, people on the bus taking turns to exhibit their hacking coughs, always losing at least one glove, and icy pavements, which I don’t seem able to walk across without imitating an elderly constipated penguin.
However, I have to – grudgingly – admit that the darkness brings something with it; there is magic and mystery in the shadows. Back in December I found The Box of Delights on DVD and watched it over a long weekend, nestled under a blanket on the sofa. This series is based on the children’s book of the same name by John Masefield and its events unfold during one boy’s snowy Christmas holiday. Clandestine villainous meetings are held in murky back streets, wolves give chase in the night, and at one point the antagonist calls up a blizzard to cut off the epicentre of events from the rest of the world. I can’t imagine this story working, or generating anywhere near the same amount of threat, if it was set during a blisteringly hot summer.
There are many other children’s books that I could say the same about; The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis, and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Jane Aiken are just three.
I think the reason for this prevalence of winter-time settings in children’s books of a fantastical and frightening sort is two-fold. Firstly, it’s easier to imagine the existence of mythical beasts or the occurrence of magical events when the world is in shadow. Again, I don’t think the bright light of day lends itself as well to the mystical. Secondly, we humans have retained our fear of the dark; of what could be lurking beyond the reach of the light that shines from our windows. It’s very easy to squint into a moonlit wood or even to walk down a darkened street and imagine you see something moving slowly towards you, a black shape full of evil intent.
Let’s face it, the dark still spooks us.
So winter is a gift to writers, particularly those who want to evoke the feeling that all is not well, we really aren’t safe, because something is out there in the shadows.
Maybe I like winter after all.