Being an adult at this time of year can leave you frazzled, rushed, and disillusioned – and convinced that you don’t have time to read. I’m here to help.
Instead of concentrating on preparations for one single day, take a hint from the ancient practice of Yuletide, which spreads the feeling of goodwill, fellowship, and enchantment over an extended season of twelve days (traditionally December 25 to January 6). You can even include the Winter Solstice, which occurred 2 days ago and celebrates our survival of the Long Dark.
I’ve gathered a collection of fantasy novels – many on the shorter side (no huge tomes, here) – and offer them to you as gifts of timeless magic in this season of cold, commotion, haste, and fraught news stories.
Kringle by Tony Abbott – Yes, that Kringle. As in “Kris”. An ancient story (complete with elves and flying reindeer) that recounts the coming-of-age of the white-bearded man in the red suit. I love the cover illustrated by Greg Call, and the long but gorgeous opening line in the first chapter.
Winter Rose and Solstice Wood by Patricia McKillip – I rarely know how to describe McKillip’s works – “dreamlike” is often the best I can do, but that doesn’t do justice to her spare, lyrical writing. Read these two novels together. Winter Rose is set in an ageless, mythical landscape; Solstice Wood is a contemporary fantasy that extends the narrative. I met the author at a World Fantasy Con a few years ago, and she admitted that Solstice Wood is one of her own favorites.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis – Well, of course, no list of this type would be complete without this one, set in a land where it is “always winter, but never Christmas”. I still love re-reading the scene when Lucy first meets Mr. Tumnus amid all the snow and pine trees.
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper – One of my favorite winter fantasy novels. Will Stanton turns 11 years old on December 21, and finds that he is the last of the Old Ones, charged with discovering six Signs to prevent The Dark from overcoming The Light. Rich with symbolism from English folklore, this novel is the centerpiece in the Dark is Rising series.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – This classic tale hasn’t lost its appeal for over 170 years. Extend your enjoyment by watching one of the various film adaptations, starring everyone from Alastair Sim to George C. Scott to Albert Finney as the “Bah, humbug” person himself.
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – One of my most pleasurable reads from 2017, this fantasy, based on Russian folklore, is set in deep winter and boasts a clever and resourceful heroine who matches wits with demons and forest spirits. The sequel (2nd of a series called The Winternight Trilogy), entitled The Girl in the Tower, has just been released.
Hogfather by Terry Pratchett – Grunting hogs instead of reindeer? An assassin hunting “The Fat Man”? Oh, and DEATH (the one with a scythe). A strange and hilarious take on all we hold dear in terms of holiday traditions, this tale also explores the nature of belief in its many manifestations.
Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett – In another comic gem from the same author, apprentice witch Tiffany Aching has been drawn into dancing the Dark Morris and attracted the attention of the Wintersmith himself. Fleeing his pursuit, Tiffany must find a way to bring the seasons back into balance and end the stinging frost and heavy snows.
And take a few moments to enjoy the chapter called Dulce Domum from Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows. It’s perfect for reading out loud on a snow-bound night. You can find it here at Project Gutenburg.
After the ripped wrapping paper frenzy is over, brew yourself some tea, whip up some hot chocolate, or pour a glass of eggnog, and sit before the fire. You still have many more days to indulge yourself in a great read (or share one with the kids). Open one of the books/gifts above and let winter cast its ageless spell over you, your family, your friends.