October 19th, 2011
|03:47 pm - 31 Days of Halloween: Silent Snow, Secret Snow|
"Silent Snow, Secret Snow" is a short story written in 1934 by Conrad Aiken, which you can read right here, if you don't mind a typo or two. I'd never heard of it until very recently, despite the fact that it's Mr. Aiken's best-known story. I was intrigued when I learned that Night Gallery writer Gene Kearney had adapted the story twice: once as a stand-alone short in 1966, and again in 1971 for an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery. He also wrote an episode of Kojak called "Secret Snow, Deadly Snow," but apparently that's unrelated.
For the uninitiated, Rod Serling's Night Gallery was an anthology-style TV series that ran in the early '70s. It was similar to Serling's other show, The Twilight Zone, but where that show had a science fiction/urban fantasy focus, Night Gallery was devoted more to horror. Most episodes told more than one story, each introduced by Serling as he points out the macabre paintings of the Night Gallery.
As I've said, I'd planned to watch shorter subjects on days when I wouldn't have enough time in the evening to watch a whole feature film. When I found out that this story had been adapted twice by the same person, I thought it would make a nice double feature which I could watch over my lunchbreak.
The original story is short, simple, and beautiful. Everybody seems to describe it as a horror story, but I don't think I can give it that kind of credit. Yes, the story is a little disturbing, but I require certain things of the horror genre which are simply not present here.
Briefly, then, "Silent Snow, Secret Snow" is the story of young Paul Hasleman who wakens every morning to the sound of the postman's footfalls as he walks up to the house and knocks on the door. One morning the footfalls don't come, and he realizes that they've been muffled by a layer of new-fallen snow. Excited by the prospect of a winter wonderland, Paul leaps from his bed and throws open the window to find that no snow has fallen.
From this moment on, Paul finds himself increasingly distracted by daydreams about falling snow, and it's hard to focus on anything else. His schoolwork suffers, and his parents begin to worry. They bring in a doctor who examines Paul and finds no physical problems. "Is something bothering you?" the doctor asks.
"No," says Paul, "I've just been thinking about snow."
"What the devil!" cries his father, who presumably is a big overreactor.
By now the snow -- or the visions of the snow, or the spirit of the snow or something -- is actually talking to Paul. Promising that it will protect and shield him in its secret. That night while Paul is in bed, his mother makes a final attempt to reach out to him, but he shouts that he hates her and turns toward the wall and -- his consciousness becomes lost in his thoughts of snow.
Clearly, this story is about Paul's retreat into fantasy. I understand that. Other people have interpreted the story as being about Asperger syndrome, schizophrenia, or autism, and while I think this story might be used to illustrate metal illness, I really think that Mr. Aiken was depicting the rejection of reality, and nothing more. It's effective, and as I said, I get it. I don't know if it's worthy of so much consideration, however.
Kearney's adaptations of the story are amazingly similar, as if he were trying to get it right the second time. The older version is shot in black and white using a stark, expressionist style. The Night Gallery episode looks and feels much more contemporary (more than the difference of five years, anyway), and I think that's solely because it was shot in color. The two adaptations are of about equal length, though the TV adaptation gives Paul's fantasies a couple more minutes of screen time. They're not shot from the same script, but the newer version mimics a lot of the more artistic shots from the original. It's jarringly obvious when you watch one version right after the other.
There are no actors you recognize in either version, but I like the overall execution of the 1966 version better. The Night Gallery episode redeems itself by being narrated by Orson Welles. Somebody with more free time and greater enthusaism for the story than me might remix the 1966 version to have the Welles narration, but then again, they might not.
Clearly, I wasn't very impressed. I'm not sure what "Silent Snow, Secret Snow" is missing. Maybe a scene with bleeding walls, or a rubber suit snow monster. Or maybe Paul could have chopped off one of his hands and replaced it with chainsaw. That would've been good.
Anyway, both versions are online. Here's the Night Gallery episode, and here's the less well-known 1966 version.