A Snow Story

A Snow Story

Sometimes you read a book and immediately want to tell everyone all about it. It’s that good. Fortunately I have a blog.

I just read the most marvelous book that we got from the library last week, A Snow Story by Melvin J. Leavitt, illustrated by Jo Ellen McAllister Stammen. After we came home from the library it was dumped into the book basket and forgotten until I excavated it at Ben’s nap time today. I’d pulled it off the shelf because the title seemed seasonally appropriate and the cover intrigued me. Then when I peeked inside and saw something about Granddad writing poems in the snow with his boots I suspected this might be a book for us. Oh and it was. I kept having to pause because my voice kept catching. I may have even had to wipe away a few tears.

Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be in print anymore, though Amazon did have a few copies. I’ve already ordered one for us because it was that lovely. The illustrations are soft and wonderful and compliment the text perfectly. But oh it was the story that grabbed me. It’s about a dreamy boy named Johnny growing up on a farm with practical parents. Sometimes in January or February on the day after a big storm he goes out to the frozen lake and walks back and forth. When his mother asks what he was doing, he explains that he was writing a poem, “In the snow. With my boots.” The pattern continues with his wife and then his children and then his grandchildren asking what he is doing. His answer is the same every time. And then…. well, poems written in snow don’t last… or do they? I love the way this book speaks to the heart of what a poem is: a marvelous thing that sparks more wonders. Sometimes long after the words have faded, when you least expect it, the magic reappears and your heart leaps up.

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  • Also woven into the story of the Fisher King is the story of the fool, in some works called Percival. The King is sitting on his throne, ill and unable to go questing for the grail, while the knights of his land are out looking for it.  The fool comes in and asks his king what ails him.  The king says, “I’m thirsty, I need a drink of water.”  The fool fills a cup and hands it to him; when the king drinks his illness fades away and he beholds the Grail there in his very hands.

    He asks the fool, “How is it that all my bravest knights cannot find the Grail, and you, a fool, find it here in my house?” To which Percival answers, “My lord, I am but a fool.  I only knew you were thirsty.”

  • Melanie, have you ever read any of Tim Powers’s books? Last Call deals with the legend of the Fisher King transposed to America, and The Waste Land and its imagery play a part in the narrative.

    It’s the first volume of a trilogy (the other two novels are Expiration Date and Earthquake Weather) which explore the “Kingship of the West”.

  • Karen, That’s interesting. I’ll have to keep it in mind as I re-read the poem. I’m not sure whether Eliot had that version of the story in mind or not.

    Mrs. D. I read Expiration Date within the last couple of years because several bloggers I know were raving about Powers. I’ve got to confess it wasn’t really my cup of tea. It just didn’t grab me, though I’m not sure why. However, I wasn’t aware it was part of a trilogy. Maybe I just was lost because I hadn’t read the first book? Maybe I’ll give Last Call a try.

  • Fascinating. I’m very intrigued. The film was the only time I’d ever heard of the Fisher King legend but it has been so long since I saw it, the recap is very helpful. Looking forward to more.

  • Katherine, Now I’m wanting to go watch it again. Such a good movie.

    Elizabeth, Oooh yes! Childe Roland definitely. A great pairing. I confess I have a strange love for the Moderns. I’m glad you’re coming along for the ride.

  • I couldn’t be more excited that you’re doing a series of posts on The Wasteland.  I love, love. love The Wasteland, and I’m loving your take on it.  It took me a while to get it—the first time I taught it, I just kind of threw up my hands in despair, because I’d never much loved the Moderns and all I knew was the “despair” take, too.  Now I love it, and I teach it in conjunction with Browning’s “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.”  There’s so much power in these poems—we need them!

  • Coming in late to the party because I only just now remembered to update your RSS feed in my reader and am catching up. 

    I loved your concept of the poem as being in “hypertext,” and I just wanted to suggest that as you go through this, it might be fun to create an actual hypertext version of the poem in which the links take you to the original texts to which Eliot is alluding. 

    I am a fan of Eliot too, and am looking forward to reading your posts and grasping some of the passion you have for him.

  • bearing, there are a couple of websites that present the poem in hypertext. Though neither of them is very pretty, they get the job done.

    The Exploring The Waste Land site was last updated in 2002 and looks it, though the content is good.

    I have no idea how old the tripod site is; but it also looks very functional.

    I’ve actually been using both of those sites for my text as I write these posts. Even though I have several nice hardcovers of Eliot’s works and this beautiful presentation of the poem: The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts Including the Annotations of Ezra Pound I really should go dig that out of the office.

    Also, Dom purchased a Waste Land app for the iPad last year and I still haven’t even glanced at it. Mostly because he is semi-attached to the iPad; but also because I’m afraid I might fall in and never get out.

  • Ugh, I keep losing my comment what with all the interrupting sick children. I thought sending them out might buy me time but then they kept coming in. Anyway, I was going to say it does sound like fun to build a hypertext site that is both pretty and functional; but the more I look at the two I linked to, I’m actually rather daunted. Throwing up informal blog posts in my spare minutes is one thing; but something like that would get my scholarly perfectionism ticking and I’m not sure I could cope with trying to get every jot and tittle right.