The snow we saw in Yorkshire a few weeks ago reminded me of why winter features so heavily in fantasy. From Narnia to Westeros to the myth-shrouded Britain of The Dark is Rising, the cold and ice are signs of dark times. The snow transforms the world visually, creating a bright yet unfamiliar version of what we expect. It makes life more difficult. It disrupts our comfortable routines.
Of course, it was even more transformative in the past. In previous centuries, before central heating and road gritters, snow could cut you off for weeks in the freezing cold. Untimely snow killed crops in communities with no fallback plan. If the cold itself didn’t kill you then the consequences could. Of course there would be stories of monsters and saviours wrapped in ice. Winter was a killing time, and people needed ways to get through it.
For most modern Britons, snow is an annoyance, not a threat. It can even be fun. But the struggles of the elderly and the deaths of homeless people remind us that it wasn’t always this way.
Winter is here. It’s a magical, transformative time. But that isn’t always a good thing.