This very imaginative story takes its theme from a children’s Russian fable of the same name, written by Freya Littledale and Barbara Lavallee. The characters are clearly defined as trailblazers, fighting the harsh winters and wilderness of Alaska in the early part of the twentieth century. Developed well, you can sense the contrast in the characters: Esther is larger than life, sturdy and sure-footed, Mabel is frail and tentative, George, a long time dweller in this seeming wasteland, is a wonderful kind, giving man and neighbor, and Jack is sincere and overwhelmed with his effort to develop the land and make it thrive, in spite of his age and inexperience. Faina is depicted as faerie like, magical and young, when we first meet her. Garrett, the Benson’s son, is a boy of the wilderness; he loves it and prefers hunting and camping to farming. The characters are wholesome and thoughtful, helping each other in times of need, living off the environment that they are taming.
Childless and bereft, Mabel and Jack, a loving couple tired of being ridiculed and stared at, as if childlessness was an affliction, decide to move away from family and friends to Alaska, where they can begin their lives again, alone, living off the untamed land. It is a tender tale of deep love and loss, told beautifully with reality and fantasy mixing together with an easy grace.
Struggling to survive a task far greater than they imagined, they grow a little apart, become depressed and forlorn, giving up hope of succeeding in their fight to overcome the climate and the barrenness. Fearing that they will not be able to thrive on the farm they are trying to create, afraid they will have to return to civilization in shame, they drop their guard when the first snowstorm arrives, and like children, they build a snow child dressed in Mabel’s mittens and gloves. They carve features colored with berries, provide branches for arms, they dance around with glee, rekindle their love for each other and renew their hope and efforts to survive.
When a strange child suddenly appears soon afterwards, wearing the mittens and gloves of the collapsed snow child, Mabel and Jack are astonished. For many years, she arrives with the first snowfall and leaves in the spring when the weather warms, witnessed by no one else, not even neighbors George and Esther, who often visit and have helped them to survive the toughest moments of their homesteading. Faina brings joy and warmth back into their lives, albeit briefly. That joy is always followed by a season of sadness when she leaves once again.
Faina, changes and influences their lives and they influence hers. She seems magical, like a spirit, and often strange events occur when she is around. Is she real or a figment of their imagination, resulting from “cabin fever”. Will she always return?
This is a very tender magical novel about dreams and nightmares, belief and disbelief, life and death. Love has the power to deal with all of these scenarios, or does it perhaps create them? How the issue of the snow child resolves itself, is the crux of this lovely little fairy tale.