Friday, January 18, 2008

The History of the Snowman

Since my travel book The Palace of the Snow Queen was published last October, some readers and reviewers have said things along the lines of, "I have to admit that Lapland is not the first country that comes to mind in my quest for good travel literature," and "That's one place I'm never going." In the Seattle Times, Lynda V. Mapes wrote, "This is the coldest I've ever been reading a book, but it was worth it." I'm glad she qualified that.

Okay, so I haven't converted everyone to my fascination with the far north of Scandinavia. On the other hand I have heard from a lot of people who love the northern climes and who have stories to tell about Scandinavian forebears and Sami relatives who emigrated to Poulsbo, Washington and Nome, Alaska, and who harbor fantasies of their own about ice hotels and dark, starry nights brushed by the northern lights. People who for mysterious reasons don't mind the cold and who are drawn to the cultures and landscapes of the far north, whether watery or icy.

One reader recently wrote me, "I go on my trips alone because no one I know can afford to go and also no one I know wants to go to the north. They want the tropics and warm beaches." A woman after my own heart, she had recently returned from not only Lapland, but St. Petersburg, and Tallin in Estonia. She wrote she'd also been to Iceland, the Faroe Island, the Orkneys and all those other cool (and cold and wet) places I'd traveled to myself in writing The Pirate Queen a few years ago.

One of my favorite Christmas presents this year was a lively little book by humorist Bob Eckstein (whose cartoons appear in The New Yorker). The History of the Snowman: from the Ice Age to the Flea Market (Simon & Schuster, 2007). I love books about topics that are hiding in plain sight. It turns out there's a lot to say about snowmen as cultural icons, and this eclectic book is by turns hilarious and erudite, with chapters such as, "Early Belgian Expressionism," "Early American Snowmen in the Seventeenth Century," and "The Dean Martin Years." He sniffs out some of the earliest representations of snow people in art and ponders why snowmen also are seen to have a sinister side ("Number of movies with snowman in the title: 22. Number of those in which the snowman is the killer: 6").
Copiously illustrated with color ads, postcards, magazine covers, and with as many black and white illustrations, including a great selection of the best of the snowman New Yorker cartoons.

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