Wednesday, 12 December 2012

silent snow, secret snow - "the snow was laughing: it spoke from all sides at once"

Conrad Aiken's Silent Snow, Secret Snow is a school study classic of American fantasy fiction, but less-known outside the States. Originally published in 1932, Conrad Aiken used some of Edgar Allan Poe's style to tell of 12-year-old Paul's withdrawal into an imaginary world of snow, repeating and alliterating words like a poem on a carousel. Gene Kearney's almost forgotten short 1966 film is a beautifully simple black and white version that captures the gradual unravelling of reality as Paul descends into mental illness in a mixture of images of trees, snow and scenes of the boy's world at home and school.

The flute and violin-driven soundtrack starts gently. So too does Paul's daydream, a daydream that he can't even remember the onset of, of waking to the postman's footsteps crunching through deep snow outside. It's apparently harmless. "It was as if, in some delightful way, his secret gave him a fortress, a wall behind which he could retreat into heavenly seclusion." When Paul looks outside his bedroom window, there's no snow.

But the daily daydream becomes something more as the days progress, and the soundtrack more insistent, more ominous along with it. Paul's love of the snow moves from the outside to within him. It becomes an obsession. He can't think of anything else, or focus on what anyone is saying to him, or even on the everyday tasks of daily life. His schoolteacher notices, his parents notice, the doctor is called in.

Paul's fortress becomes something to be guarded, and the snow becomes a sentient presence, a voice that tells him to push away the others, that beckons to him. "Listen Paul, listen, we have come to tell you the story we told you about. In this white darkness, we will take the place of everything." And then it does, and Paul turns inward, away from the world, and his face blurs into whiteness.

See also the 1971 TV version in Rod Serling's Night Gallery, with narration by Orson Welles, and Conrad Aiken's original story.

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