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Death and The Snowman

When I picked up The Snowman DVD box set for Saskia’s stocking this Christmas, I was really just thinking of it as a cosy Christmas classic, feeling sentimental about watching it as a child and imagining how she’d love it. She has absolutely adored it, and this rainiest of Januarys has, in our household, been a snowy one, with regular viewings (I confess often several times in a row when I’ve bowed to her toddler-dictator demands) of both the original 1982 film and the modern sequel The Snowman and the Snow Dog.

But I’d completely forgotten, and perhaps just been so swept away with the gooey Christmas nostalgia that surrounds the film, that it’s as much about death as it is about flying through the air and meeting Santa. Both films end with a young boy knelt sadly beside a mound of snow and a few clothes – all that remains of his melted snowman friend.

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In the Snowman and Snowdog sequel, death appears right at the beginning of the story too, when the boy’s dog dies and he and his Mum are seen burying him in the garden.

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When I watch this scene I am struck by how resonant it is of our recent trip to Ben’s grave. There’s a tree, a mother and a child, and treasured objects laid on the grave. I’ve been watching to see if Saskia has made this link and I don’t think she has, certainly not as strongly as I have. I don’t want to push it, but I did mention once as we watched that the tree was like Daddy’s special tree. She didn’t really say anything, and usually now when we’re watching, she adds her own commentary for me (in case I’m getting lost in the complexities of the plot) and when we get to this point she let’s me know “the doggy’s died, Mummy” in the same, rather pleased with herself way that she narrates every other scene. No great feelings of poignancy apparent!

What I like, I guess, is that these films deal with death in a way that is matter of fact, and sensitive. I know that both films are sentimental, and that the 1982 film sugar-coated the original Raymond Briggs story by adding the Christmas elements, but I don’t mind that so much. I just appreciate the fact that on some level the stories are teaching Saskia the idea that death is a fact of life – we will all die, just like a snowman will always melt. So far we haven’t come across many stories (either in books or on film) that feature death so this has been an interesting first for us. I would be really interested in recommendations for stories that deal with death sensitively from anyone reading this – it’s a theme I’d like to revisit in a later post I think.

Finally, for your interest, here’s a link to an article in the Independent in which Raymond Briggs talks about the theme of death in his book and how the story was ‘hijacked’ by Christmas.

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