Every folklore I’ve read so far had different variations based on the geography and the timelines. I’ve come across other folklore of Russian origins but nothing like the Snow Child…at least not until I came across Eowyn Ivey’s novel “The Snow Child”. Set in Alaska, the story details the lives of Jack and Mabel, a disheartened couple who leave the warmth and comfort of their Pennsylvania home to take up homesteading in the Alaskan wilderness. The nearest town is a couple of miles and there are no humans for miles together.
On one long winter evening that Jack and Mabel overcome their silence and build a snow child in their yard. They wake up the next morning to find that the snow child has disappeared and its wake are small footprints that look suspiciously human. Eventually, the couple meet a small girl whose only company seems to be a red fox and while Mabel instantly connects the girl with Snegurochka of the Russian folklore, the more practical-minded Jack unearths startling information on the girl’s background. The predominant notes here are the vast wilderness that provide an unearthly surrealism to the story. Ivey presents a modern twist to the otherwise haunting fairytale, setting the backdrop for the story in her native Alaska while retaining the myth surrounding the origins of the snow maiden who calls herself Faina.
As far as personalities go, Jack and Mabel represent the opposite ends of the spectrum. Jack is simple-minded but practical, loves farming and outgoing. Mabel on the other hand, enjoys reading and sketching, strongly believes in fairytales and prefers isolation to companionship. It seemed that just as their relationship was almost on the edge of breaking, Faina’s appearance and her subsequent attachment to the couple serves as a balm to their broken hearts.
Ivey’s use of symbolism in the story is subtle but tangible. The spotting of a red fox precedes Faina’s entry into Jack & Mabel lives while Garrett Benson spots Faina killing a huge Swan. While the fox symbolizes an opportunity to embrace change for the old couple, the Swan seems to symbolize the entrance of an enduring love for Garrett…for it is when Garrett is visibly disturbed on observing Faina killing the swan. The fox appears to Garrett also signifying an opportunity of a change. The fox and the swan are just two of the many animals that are represented, which makes this story all the more alluring. The traditional tale ends on a tragic note but here again, Ivey presents a beautiful twist without deviating too much from the core of the tale.