Blogvent Calendar Day 19: Grant me a Winter’s Tale.

“When the storm began, it shouldn’t have been unexpected. The clouds had been hovering over the Thames basin for nearly three days, gradually darkening, hiding sun and stars and holding the temperature well below freezing. Puddles froze, breath froze, windows seemed brittle, too fragile to touch; automobiles huffed, steam billowed from grates, lines at the theatres were short and impatient, while lines at the Underground were not short at all.”

Charles L. Grant (1942-2006)

In my post concerning horror featuring snow and other freezing weather conditions, failing to mention Charles L. Grant was a bit of an oversight to say the least. He was reknowned for descriptions of the weather, often opening stories with them, and many of his tales have a wintery theme. ‘Snowman’, from which the above extract comes, is a fine example. ‘White Wolf Calling’ is another.

In that post I mentioned some stories in which wintery weather is the setting and others where it becomes more than that, part of the weird or supernatural menace itself. These examples fall more in the former category, although there’s something of the latter too in that opening to ‘Snowman’, in the way it evokes the merciless extremity of the severe cold and the effect it has on Londoners’ behaviour, setting the scene for the chilly encounter that takes place. He makes the snow and cold minatory in ‘White Wolf Calling’ too, even down to a “snowman with stunted arms and holes for eyes squatting awkwardly beside a solitary spruce”, make the old man at the centre of the story decidedly uneasy.

But anyone expecting ‘Snowman’ to feature such an effigy coming to life and attacking people, or concealing a corpse, will be disappointed. The subject of the eponym is Harry Kinnon, who might be a serial killer or just a lonely wanderer in search of female company. Yet even if the real reason is the second one, there’s something a bit off about him roaming the bitterly cold streets of the capital in search of “the woman of his dreams”. Exactly what the source of that feeling of unease might be, we’re never quite sure, but we fear for the safety of Elizabeth Stanley, the lucky lady he meets somewhere between Leicester Square and Covent Garden, or perhaps some, more indefinable place we begin to suspect, as the sudden blizzard begins to blur the boundaries between life and death, fantasy and reality. Grant’s prose is cool and melancholy, his horror as quiet as a sound-deadening snow-drift.

You can read both of these stories in Stephen Jones’ retrospective Scream Quietly: The Best of Charles L. Grant (Drugstore Indian Press).

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